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Teacher-Pay Experiments Big and Small in New Jersey, Michigan

Teacher-compensation experiments continue to proliferate, both in big districts and small ones. Here are a couple new examples that have caught my eye:

The first can be found in Newark's new teacher contract, which, as my colleague Jason Tomassini reported, will use some of the district's "Facebook money" to support bonuses of more than $12,000 for some teachers, if the tentative pact is approvd. (This is not unlike the bonus system in Washington D.C., which initially used foundation cash for funding.) The bonuses are getting a lot of attention, but to me, the more interesting feature about the Newark contract is that it explicitly ties regular raises to evaluations. In order to get an annual raise, teachers have to get a sufficient evaluation rating.

The contract also would establish a peer-review system, in which excellent teachers serve as mentors and evaluators for others. It will be interesting to see how this works in practice; as I've reported elsewhere, one limitation of such programs is that they're usually only for brand-new teachers and struggling teachers, so those in the middle don't necessarily reap the benefits.

Meanwhile, I finally touched base with Scott Moellenberndt, the superintendent of the Blissfield Community school district, one of only a few districts in Michigan to introduce a new compensation system per a state law there. (Background in this blog item, from earlier in the week.) He gave me a rundown of the system. Although the district got to set the parameters of the new system, the local union and teaching force had to agree to remove the traditional, step-and-lane salary structure from their contract, which they agreed to do.

The program now splits performance-pay incentives into units of $200 each. Each teacher can earn up to three units in the first year of the system. To get all three units, they'll have to satisfy a student-growth measure, get an "effective" or "highly effective" evaluation rating, and achieve 9 credit hours of continuing education.

As the system matures, the district wants to increase the value of the units for the best teachers: If a teacher has a "highly effective" rating for at least three years, the units would each be worth $400, and five or more years years, $600.

These units increase base salary, unless a teacher has already reached a predetermined salary cap. Teachers can also earn one-off bonuses for participating in extracurricular activities.

Mr. Moellenberndt said that the system will be flexible, so that he and the board can review it annually and tweak it in accordance with budgets and feedback from administrators and teachers, rather than being locked in, as under the former schedule.

"We really think that is a free-enterprise approach, in that you're rewarding excellence and you're keeping key contributors to your organizational success," the superintendent said.

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