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The Performance of Performance Pay

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The Florida legislature requires all districts to direct 5 percent of their teacher-salary budgets toward performance pay. Yet in one district, only two out of a possible 7,800 teachers have qualified.

Is performance pay an incentive for educators? Does the current "uniform" pay scale need reform? What pay plan model is the most fair and effective? Tell us what you think.

21 Comments

Performance pay should follow a rubric, as students' performance is monitored. Also as students are monitored, various items should be weighted appropriately. Elements of the rubric need to be decided and published as a standard. Thus, an action research project would approximate a student's "final paper" and might consist of 50-60% of the rubric. The action research project would follow a standardized pattern that can be replicated and a model or outline demonstrated on an accessible website. Other elements, such as attendance and participation at staff development workshops related to the project,collaborative research, and teacher-generated notes might comprise other eleements of project completion. Of course, there are other elements that may be sketched out by other professionals that would be valid additions; the main point is that the elements would be weighted, the elements, their weights, and an adequate model would be published, and a passing score known. A final element might be an opportunity for projects to be evaluated according to the proposed rubric, and non-passing projects to have the opportunity to resubmit valid data for a passing grade within a standardized time period, such as six months. Teachers who pass according to the rubric would gain the professional pay increase. We hold our children to these standars--why would ours be any more caparicious?

Performance pay should follow a rubric, as students' performance is monitored. Also as students are monitored, various items should be weighted appropriately. Elements of the rubric need to be decided and published as a standard. Thus, an action research project would approximate a student's "final paper" and might consist of 50-60% of the rubric. The action research project would follow a standardized pattern that can be replicated and a model or outline demonstrated on an accessible website. Other elements, such as attendance and participation at staff development workshops related to the project,collaborative research, and teacher-generated notes might comprise other eleements of project completion. Of course, there are other elements that may be sketched out by other professionals that would be valid additions; the main point is that the elements would be weighted, the elements, their weights, and an adequate model would be published, and a passing score known. A final element might be an opportunity for projects to be evaluated according to the proposed rubric, and non-passing projects to have the opportunity to resubmit valid data for a passing grade within a standardized time period, such as six months. Teachers who pass according to the rubric would gain the professional pay increase. We hold our children to these standars--why would ours be any more capricious?

One of the many difficulties faced by both public and private sectors is that of compensation, in this case for an individual teacher's performance. Seems simple enough; seems like common sense that one individual within a group would appear to stand out as more deserving than another, based on a generated metric, a specification, a standard. As a result, there are a plethora of performance-based compensation packages whose aim is to provide adequate proof to a higher authority that a. such has occurred, and b. at least one person or more have met or exceeded the aforementioned specification and, thus, are deserving of compensation per the stated policy.

The concept begins with a thought, a consideration that if left untested will gradually become a belief and then a truth, a linkage of cause and effect relationships that may not exist. Without a working alternative there is almost nothing to which one may turn with the exception of belief perhaps based on one's own experience - not a useful predictor of future events.

And yet we constantly see comparisons of individuals, schools, school districts, ethnic groups, principals, administrators and states as if in a competitive environment. Whereas one is awarded for simply being deemed "above-average", another is castigated and threatened for being deemed "below-average" (non performing). Ranking of the members of a group of individuals, be they teachers or states, takes on elevated import in such a competition. Jobs, budgets and reputations are on the line; one's future may depend on who, what, when, where, why and how the specifications are established, the collection process and accuracy of the data, and the level of understanding of those in positions of authority to "set the specs".

One may question why it is necessary to award an indivual, however described, based on performance. Are individuals in the position of competitors in a footrace, separated from each other and from the conditions in which they operate? Is this a healthy approach to improving the schools?

One might suggest a reconsideration of the basic belief that one of ten or fifty or one hundred teachers in a school interacting with perhaps thousands of students, administrators, counselors, law enforcement, parents and school boards, stands out from the rest.

I would suggest that performance in such conditions cannot be measured. It is not my belief - it can be shown that, given identical tasks, individuals will vary over time. It can be shown too that the same group will display variation which can be charted. A metric value today will likely have a different value tomorrow, from indivual to indivual, from period to period.

In your school, data may be gathered which would delineate the usual location and disperion elements, the mean and the range being the most common. If your group are under consideration, half will be above, and half below, average, if based on a specification, a metric, a standard. Would you suggest those that are above be rewarded, and those below be fired? Think about what that means before you come to a conclusion based perhaps on one's belief, or one's experience.

At the present time laws are being discussed having to do with firing of those who "don't meet the specs." Schools have been closed because they don't meet the specs. Conversely, some have been elected because they exceeded expectations, were above average, or were otherwise deemed desirable based on one's experiences.

As for the subject in question, an interactive system (school, office, school district, State school system) will produce outcomes based upon all the components, namely the teachers, students, administrators, counselors, parents and others with whom they interface. One individual cannot be compared to another on the basis of performance, since they are interacting constantly and their activities from period to period will vary.

A standard is just another form of specification; it is meant to delimit the activities to those designated as within and without the bounds of the specifation. This does nothing to improve the schools or the school system, but serves merely to reinforce beliefs, unfortunately without foundation. Too few administrators know next to nothing about their own school systems and the variation within the systems. As evidenced by administrators pitting schools against each other, they know even less about what to measure and how to measure it.

John Constantine, Researcher and Quality Consultant
Cave Creek, AZ

Those that do should get.

Paying a teacher for "performance", and having that pay also be fair, is the challenge. The way that some politicians want to pay teachers (for example, on a stictly absolute -how many kids are proficient, etc.- student performance on one standardized test per year), is ridiculous - and unfair- not just to teachers, but to students and parents as well. This type of system would serve to hurt the lowest performing schools and the lowest performing students by practically guaranteeing that they will get the worst teachers - after all, why stay in an underperforming school when you can move to another school that's high achieving - and get an instant raise.

Now, if it were possible to design a fair system, one where teachers are evaluated based upon many factors, including student achievement - then we could say that this could have the potential of not only paying the awesome teachers better, but encouraging all teachers to reach for that goal.

What would that look like? Well, let's say for example, first of all, we have a way of tracking individual student growth from year to year. (Right now in California, there is no system-wide way to do this. An individual teacher can do it sort of- manually, but it's not accurate because the tests are very different from year to year). But just for fun, let's assume that the average child grew by a certain amount(x) the previous year, and the students in my class grew x+ .25 that year. In addition to other factors, that could be used to help me earn 'performance pay'. Maybe the lower socioeconomic kids in the state grew just (x - .74) the previous year, and my lower-socio-enonomic kids grew (x + .05). Again, that would be ONE way to earn performance pay.

Or, even better, what if my whole school grew by that amount? As a team, wouldn't we deserve a bonus?

Under these kinds of models, I can work harder and be paid more. As a teacher, I have control over very few things in education. I don't have control of the standards, the curriculum, the school schedule, the number, quality, or identity of students in my class, etc. I do, however, have control over my teaching methods. Any 'performance' pay should be based upon what is actually within my ability to change. And, if all the teachers achieve it, all should get it.

In California, they tried giving out bonuses to schools who did very well on state exams, and they ran out of money after the first round of bonuses...see, the thing is, the politicians think that there are only a few good teachers out there...the fact is that there are a lot of good teachers out there and just a few bad ones. So, if you're going to start giving teachers 'performance' pay, you'd better have a big pot of money handy!

This is my 40th year in public education. I can tell you that performance pay will not work. I believe this because principals will choose the teachers who are their buddies, confidants and share the same philosophies. Parents will choose the teachers who give their kids good grades. I cannot think of a fair way to reward the best teachers. All teachers should make a decent wage.

Merit pay works if it is based on multiple measures and encourages teachers to become better at their craft. The Milken Teacher Advancement Program is an excellent example.
http://www.mff.org/publications/publications.taf?page=307
Pay increases based on National Board Certification are sound investments. PAR, or Peer Assisted Review, is a NEA-endorsed program that is absolutely needed to improve our field by providing help to teachers who need it or winnowing them out in an expedient manner if they don't improve. The combination of higher pay for Board Certification with a PAR program would go a long way to increasing student achievement and public trust in educators.
Funding should be provided to districts who volunteer to use merit pay so that successful models can be verified and fears diminished.
Merit pay programs based exclusively or mostly on student test scores (FL, AR, previously CA) will never, never work and are morally depraved.

I believe that Fairfax County had performance pay at one time. The criteria was published and teachers knew what was expected. The the program was abandoned when too many teachers qualified and the district ran out of money for the program.

One has to look at business(which politicans would like schools to emulate) to see what can happen with performance pay. Read how many failing companies give their top executives bonuses for a job "well" done. Look at the airline industry the highest paid CEO is at an airline that has been in bankruptcy for a long time and makes twice what the CEO of the most profitable airline, the auto industry etc

Performance pay will not deliver. So much of what makes a great teacher is not measurable.
The real question is, "Why not elevate the status of teaching by offering a wage that will attract the best and brightest to the profession?" Competition is the enemy of mediocrity.

I believe there are objective, universally recognizable ways to evaluate teaching performance, which would at least deny the "bad apples" this incentive pay. For example, teachers who consistently stop instruction after half a class period to sit at their desks and correct papers while their students do "home"work orteachers who consistently bully students are still protected by tenure in the State of Michigan, yet their better performing peers could feel that their efforts were noticed and rewarded by a reward system. As the previous writer notes, competition is the enemy of mediocrity. However, the competition should not be set up between teachers, nor should performance be assessed solely by MEAP scores or other "outcome based" measures. As in other professions, professional educators should be able to strive toward constantly improving performance based on well identified expectations for their classroom management skills and teaching that goes far beyond an "assign and correct" philosophy. Teachers should be clearly demonstrating personal involvement in their students and their intellectual futures. They should be eager to exchange ideas and participate in the life of their school. They should be able to make learning a joyful exploration of our world. Otherwise they become merely union workers who defensively demand protection from the slightest criticism or question.

We, as educators, need to "learn" from the world of business. Small and large companies, have bills ("a nut to crack") to pay each and every month. If they don't pay the rent, or the phone bill or any other "nut" they are soon shut down and out of business. If the business is "sales", each seller needs to include costs, expenses and, of course, a profit margin or else the business soon "folds". If the business is "service", each provider must attract, serve and keep their customers in order to continue. In all cases, sales or service, businesses meet needs, wants, necessities and desires. Isn't that what education is really about?

Having said that, how many salemen/saleswomen do you know that are on tenure? How many have three years to somehow prove they meet certain standards or performance criteria? Could anyone argue that just because someone has earned a degree they can sell enough "widgets" to keep their job (get their students to perform, show growth toward achievement, demonstrate proficiencies on standards)?

No, educators should not be responsible to show monthly profits with money, however, all educators must show growth toward achievement for each student enrolled in their classes. Imagine a school that took the time to find out what each student needed and then went to yearly contracts with each provider (teacher)to ensure that the needs were met. Imagine a school staff that knew, no matter what, if their school didn't meet their monthly goals (bills), the school would be closed and the students would go to the nearest other "Wal-Mart" school down the street.

Those businesses that best meet the needs of comsumers survive and become models for other businesses. Schools that best meet the needs of students flourish and become models for other schools. I would argue that performance pay for teachers should be a "given" in a year by year contract. 100% of my kids must show growth toward achieving identified goals for their own learning. If all of my students accomplish agreed upon goals, I've just done my job. Too bad, if I don't meet my goals, I get fired and have to go find another job. Isn't that what makes businesses successful? By the way, if I did meet my goals,don't you think I would have a pretty good chance to contract 100% next year and reach for a 10% bonus in pay if I meet the 100% goal and reach for 10% of those achieving students to get to "advanced"? That's performance pay! If we base payment to educators in "growth" for each students achievement performance pay will become a natural 'spiff".

1. How many members of this forum would consider themselves "above average" for the purposes of dispensing performance based rewards? Consider the meaning of the term 'average'.

2. Should the rest be fired?

3. A business is designed to make a profit. No such requirement exists, nor should it, when it comes to public policy that is by its very nature a "cost" in most eyes. Sadly, this is the first element when in budget cutting mode - cut costs. Those who make such decisions don't know what they are doing, yet they are making "business decisions".

Is that what you had in mind?

From the perspective of 40 years as a teacher and roughly 35 as a union negotiator, I have concluded that merit pay as defined in current proposals is probably impossible to develop. One problem is that merit pay already exists in many districts. In my district, teachers advance on the schedule by earning advance degrees and credits. They also receive increments based on years of experience and evaluations. A new teacher serves a three year probationaySince then, to advance on the salary schedule a teacher must earn six Professional Advancement Credits about every four years to pass three improvement levels. Once a teacher passes these three improvement levels (at about fifteen years), he/she must earn three more credits every two years to pass incentive levels. These incentive levels continue on for the teacher's career. In addition, every teacher must carry certification for h/her subject area. New teachers must earn several credits every six years (I'm not quite sure of the number) in order to stay certified.
In addition to the credits, teachers must pass evaluations to continue up the salary schedule. Teachers face evaluations for in each of their first three years of teaching, the probationary period. The probationary teacher can be non-renewed for any cause at the end of each year. Once a teacher passes the probationary period, he/she will be evaluated every three years. This means that a twenty-year teacher receives about nine formal evaluations. Teachers who receive poor evaluations can be held back from salary schedule advancements.

This is indeed merit pay.

During my career, our bargaining team faced several merit pay proposals. I will not attempt to describe all of them, but we met all of them with one question. How much new money will you add to the pot? The answer always--"None. We can't afford more mone." The premise behind all board of educationproposals was that the money would come from the current budge. That is, some teachers would lost pay to pay merit pay for others. That was usually where the discussion ended. I would suggest that boards of education will always want to finance merit pay out of current funds.

Mike

I believe that Fairfax has a performance pay plan at one time. The plan was known to the teachers and the teachers knew exactly what to do to earn that merit pay. The plan was so successful that the district ran out of money for it and the plan was discontinued.

Some say we should be like a business. Just look at the pay and bonuses of top executives of companies that are in bankruptcy e.g airlines and the auto industries. Merit pay and golden parachutes for teachers just like in business.

For those who feel that running a school should be more like running a business, I would ask them where they feel they should begin on the salary scale as a teacher? Would states support the kind of salary that a teacher would command in their field in private industry? I doubt it, and that is why it has become very difficult to recruit and keep good, experienced teachers, especially in technical fields.

The beginning of "merit pay" should be to recognize the merit of every single school teacher, K-college, and the ever increasing expectations of the public on them-especially as the pressures on parents to have dual incomes just to survive financially is reducing the amount of time parents have with their children. The overall pay of all teachers should be increased to attract and keep the quality that is expected and needed.

Next, might it not be possible for K-12 public education to begin looking more like colleges and universities as a model for merit increases based on training, years of experience, and exceptional activities beyond the normal "call of duty"? A more competetive, businesslike atmosphere would tend to reduce the cohesiveness of teachers in a school, as well as introducing a great potential for unfairness-both with unmerited promotions for those who may be in good with administrators AND with holding back excellent teachers who perhaps are in more difficult roles, work with more difficult students, or who do countless little things that are difficult to measure.

Performance pay does not work. Our products are not people. We are selling ideas, skills, ethics, and American democracy. I have witnessed how performance pay works. Teachers who are motivated by money spend all their time jumping through hoops and putting together a package to prove their worth -- instead of teaching. Why not pay doctors performance pay and subtract points everytime someone dies; or how about putting those lawyers on an incentive pay scale? You cannot put a price tag on a good teacher, but we all know what a decent, professional, pay scale looks like that also takes into consideration the standard of living in a particular community. Starting salaries for teachers should start at $50,000 a year in 2005 dollars and top out at $85,000-90,000. In some communities where the cost of living is lower than average, the starting salaries would be at $40,000 and top out at 75,000. Bottom line: We should be paid a comfortable salary. No one wants to get rich teaching school, but we should not have to take grueling second and third jobs just to make ends meet. It's an insult to a noble profession and the people who do the work, and a total disgrace to our American ideology. We should all be ashamed of this dirty little secret and stop blaming ourselves, the educational system and the children for our government leader's failure to lead in a society where ethics and fairness have taken a back seat to graft.

Correction to previous comment. It should read: Our products are not only the children we education, but also ideas, ethics, skills and American democracy.

As a conservative, I agree with school vouchers, school choice, and pay-for-performance. The latter invites many a different opinion based upon it "being fair" and taking into account the many different teaching situations. As a teacher of at-risk students, I marvel each year at the pure stupidity of some parents in this great country. At the beginning of each year, my student roster will contain 7th and 8th grade students who cannot read above a 2nd grade level and many 8th grade students who cannot divide five into ten. All of this aside, if we had pay for performance, I would always miss out because by the time they reach me, they are so far behind that they will never be able to reach fluency on the state standardized tests. Nevertheless, I do try to assist the students in achieving some mastery and show growth and improvement. All situations are different and require different standards of measurement.

My comments on performance pay are based on years of watching certain teachers receive political rewards at the expense of others who receive nothing because they did not have access to the right people or the right information. Previously I stated that our products are not people. I would like to correct that by saying that our products are the children we teach, who are people, and ultimately we must lead by example and teach them moral responsibility in a world that has a hard time discerning truly what is of God, and what comes from the Devil. Most teachers are not motivated by money in the same way that a pharmaceutical salesman is. Most of us work as a labor of love and are acting out of our true natures and temperments (a love of learning and an appreciation of its critical value to society). Test scores may accurately measure skills and there is a legitimate place for that, but I reiterate, tests are formative assessments to help teachers diagnose what to remediate, and to help students mark their growth. They are not meant to be the tools of big business and politicians, who do not understand education from the inside out; rather, they are set on quick fixes for a system that, especially in Houston, Texas, is not broken. Our educational leaders are exceptional, site-based managers, who realize and value the worth of their teacher leaders. Such models should be replicated. I have modified my opinion about performance pay, somewhat. To the extent that it does not replace an equitable pay scale, it can be a valuable tool for rewarding scholarship and true dedication. I think and pray this is the continuing goal of our current superintendent, Dr. Abelardo Saavedra, who seems to sincerely value the teachers who serve in Houston's public school system. As you can see, I am still hoping for an equitable pay scale because in a city where you have the kind of economic growth we have in Houston, it is shameful to penalize people for wanting to share their expertise and skills with the children. The state legislature did a great thing by taxing doctors and lawyers, who are ultimately, business people, whose intent it is to make money, and since they are wealthy, they must feel very privileged for this opportunity to give back to a thriving community that has made them rich.

When a car salesman sells a car he/she is paid comission. When a sales associate sells a $200 suit he/she is paid a commision. Why should this be different for teachers? I propose that students should be tested twice a year. At the beginning and at the end. When a student's performance improves, the teacher should no doubt receive a "comission", so to speak. I assume that if you are visiting this sight then you are an educator. So wouldn't you work harder to make sure your students learned if you knew there was something to look forward to? That would stand true for every career. I am not a teacher yet but I can say that I would most definately work as hard as I could to get my students to improve on test scores knowing that I will get a "comission". To me this offer of a bonus says to teachers: "We know you are working hard, here's a token of our appreciation." I think in the end students and teachers will be happy with their performance.

Every teacher HAS received a "commission": to go out and work in the harvest. And every worker deserves a fair and decent wage. Regardless of how long you work in the field, every laborer will receive the same reward. Perhaps an eternal residence in the peace of heaven or perhaps a piece of heaven will eternally reside in your heart for having given your life in service to others for no other reason than it was the right thing to do...

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