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Not Performance Pay Alone


Pay-for-performance may be necessary for higher achievement, but it is far from sufficient, write Theodore Hershberg and Barbara Lea-Kruger in this Education Week Commentary. Teacher incentives only reward some teachers, the best teachers, and do nothing for struggling teachers and their students, argue Hershberg and Lea-Kruger.

More than incentives alone, Hershberg and Lea-Kruger say we need large-scale systemic changes to improve the effectiveness of all teachers. These changes include better evaluation processes for teachers, more support for struggling teachers, changing the school calendar, and professional development spending reviews.

What do you think? Is pay-for-performance a viable strategy for educational reform? Would it be effective without other systemwide changes? How can it be improved?


Excellent article. Hershberg and Lea-Kruger provide many viable and even innovative strategies to fill the "black box" between getting the right people into the classroom, and measuring their work to determine effectiveness. They're right--pay for performance is the next necessary shift, but will work only over the long term. We do need systemic reforms to continuously fine-tune the daily practice of teaching.

Like so many educational initiatives, however, Operation Public Education's plan comes from a university-based policy center. Where are the voices of real, accomplished teachers in this article--the people whose work Hershberg and Lea-Kruger would replicate? The practitioners whose pay systems would be radically altered? What do teachers think about pay for performance?

TeacherSolutions, a team of 18 recognized classroom practitioners, has just released a report on how to structure professional compensation to reach educational goals:


It dovetails with many of the suggestions in the article, but provides an authentic endorsement for change, from the very people whose practice and pay would be changed.

Incentives appear to be a good path towards teacher improvement, but bonuses for student achievement have downsides as well. One drawback is that incentive programs fail to account for all of the teachers that influence particular students. No one single teacher is responsible for the achievement of students. Even elementary students, who have one teacher for most of the school day, attend "specials" such as P.E., Art, and Music. In higher grades, students are taught by teams of teachers, all of whom contribute to the overall achievement. Incentive pay to particular teachers, of particular subjects, at particular, tested grade levels may foster resentment among teachers, who by choice or chance,happen to be teaching untested material or grade levels, but who certainly contribute to the overall achievemnet of students. The incentive to teach should be the light of understanding that comes on behind the eyes of students when they finally reach that point of knowledge or mastery of a skill. If incentives are available, they should be granted to the entire school, equally, encouraging the kind of teamwork that makes any endeavor successful.

The discussion misses the point. Our goal is to maximize student learning. One neglected approach is to remove ineffective teachers from the profession. Another is to lower the pay of less-effective teachers. Still another is to adopt and enforce grading standards in colleges of teacher education, and in K-12 schools. Still another is to reverse the growing sin of credentialism in teaching. Truly, one need not indulge in seventeen to 20 years of formal education in order to effectively teach a kindergarten class.

Should we pay more to some teachers? Yes, I think that we should, to a very small percentage. But first, be sure that we define effective teachers, effectively. Effective teachers may, or may not, be those with vast hours of college credits, deep involvement in school activities, etc. I suggest that we still don't know how to agree on a detailed definition of an effective teacher. If we allow the definition to be set by teacher groups then we shall end with a system whereby nearly all teachers are above average, as are the children in Lake Wobegon.

Pay for Performance is a another form of distortion that naturally arises because the system of education is based on the fundamental operating models of control and compliance. With those operating models as a foundation, the use of extrinsic motivators and stimulus for instigating behavior MUST be considered. Pay for Performance IS necessary for higher achievement in that kind of a system BUT will only cause harm in the long run. As Bob suggests in his comment the discussion must shift away from extrinsic motivation for teachers and students and towards consideration and discussion of a system that supports the natural inclination of both young people and adults to learn, to grow, to improve and to make change. Again, as Bob suggests, it is the system that produces results and the system consists of the collective contributions of everyone involved (including the young people).

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Is there a possibility that pay for performance could be the start of a good thing? By giving teachers materials, support , a YEAR LONG - on going once or twice a month- professional development program- one of value. It would educate them about all information that pertains to teaching such as the most recent education articles on teaching, current educational trends, research-based techniques, leadership skills, behavior management skills, etc. This, I think, would help produce effective teachers plus eliminate those that are non-effective. How? Well, giving teachers information or knowledge of teaching may produce an effective teacher. If this is true, then you will produce effective teachers who will impact student learning and should get paid for their performance. The performance could be evaluated on a pre and post testing situation(portfolios) versus evaluating teachers on standardized tests. The pre and post testing would be based on the standards set for each grade and subject. Educators are smart enough to determine the most effective form of evaluation. The non-effective teacher will either become effective or leave. Research states some scaru results based on effective versus non-effective teacher. Teachers will grow during this process and be worth their weight in gold- which I think means more money. Oh, the money should also be substantial.
This is just a thought!

I don't think that I have a big issue with pay for performance if all areas of a teacher's job are evaluated. Much in the same way that a student SHOULD NOT (even though they are) be weighed and measured strictly by a State Standardized test. Our students are not summed up by test scores and neither should teachers. There is far more to developing productive human beings than their ability to bubble a scantron.

I am not sure about other states, but in Texas, the Professional assessment system consists of 2 5 minute walk-throughs and a full class period observation. For teachers with 3 consecutive acceptable reviews, teachers can opt for plan two which includes three walk-throughs (5-10 minutes each). Can you evaluate a teacher's merit in less than two hours? I am not sure.

While I consider myself a pretty good teacher (but I am new--year 4), I don't have total confidence in a system that is so imbalanced in its measurements.

I cannot agree with the use of performance pay or any incentive pay. Nearly all dedicated teachers I have met in my 26 years of teaching are not money driven, which is one of the reasons they are still in education!

What educators need most is support, mentorship, education, and the time to learn and grow. American teachers are the most overworked education professionals in the world. We need time, daily, to work on improving ourselves, our curriculum, and our schools.

If teachers were supported and paid like other professionals, our education system would be the best in the world. And, teacher turnover would be a thing of the past.

Additionally, teacher unions do a very poor job of improving the lot of teachers. If they modeled themselves after the AMA, the status and pay of teacher would improve tremendously.

Can you imagine incentive or performance pay for ? ... for lawyers? ... for politicians?

Why are educator always thought of as people who can be "made" to improve? Why are teachers always treated as inferiors? Why do politicians always want to control education? (What expertise do they have?) Why do others always have the answers?

One of the reasons I retired from teaching was I was tired of everyone telling me what is wrong with education. I want someone to tell me what is right with it and then support me to become the best I can be and to help me support what works.

Most caring, professional educators are not money-driven. We teach because we love children and want to help them obtain the skills needed to become the best they can be in order to improve the world they live in.

Dangling money in front of the face of a teacher is, in my view, an insult. We want the same thing that we want for our children - love, support, and education! Why is it that no one can say what teachers really want - love, support, and education?

Is that viewed as weakness? If so, perhaps that is what is really wrong with education.

Christopher says:

If teachers were supported and paid like other professionals, our education system would be the best in the world. And, teacher turnover would be a thing of the past.

Can you imagine incentive or performance pay... for lawyers? ... for politicians?
Actually, I think you're making a case FOR performance pay here. Teachers do need to be paid like professionals--more compensation for their relevant skills and knowledge, their ability to stimulate genuine student achievement, to excel at the job they were hired to do.

The practice of law is the ultimate performance pay occupation--who gets the million-dollar trials? Lawyers who win cases. And politicians who have great skill in influencing opinion and change get those speaking engagements and book deals during their political careers and lobbying positions afterward. "Professional" implies personal responsibility for accomplished practice.

As far as the sin of "dangling money" in front of teachers goes: who says teachers are missionaries, who must work for substandard wages because of their dedication to making a difference for kids? Teachers do want love, support and a quality education for all kids. So tell me why this means they should not be paid more for their efficacy? Pediatricians want good health for their patients. Dentists want children to brush their teeth and eat vegetables. Architects want to build schools where students can learn. And none of them feels that their work should be undercompensated, because it benefits children and community.

I do not see how performance pay could work fairly. It is not unlike NCLB where teachers are punished for kids who come unprepared. We would not do that to a dentist who just began to work with a client with years of neglect. We are already seeing major inequities in that those of who are nationally board certified, but not teacher board certified, are being denied the extra compensation that teachers are getting. Administrators are biased for the most part and performance pay would be very subjective. They often have favorites that get more than others already. If a teacher decides to work for the hours that they are contracted should they be punished? If a teacher works overtime, which we all do in education, shouldn't they get a contract which fairly compensates the amount of time it takes to be a good teacher? We should focus our efforts on providing compensation for a very tough job, made tougher by those who do not teach and do not set foot in a classroom. I used to love my job and I still love the kid contact and challenge of helping them succeed but the over regulation and lack of understanding what our job entails is demoralizing to many of us. Just be fair in the first place!

I am not so sure pay for performance in education is a way to go. Having been in Industry for a number of years and the Military for over 30 years before becoming a teacher, if all things are fair and the criteria is specific to the students you are teaching, perhaps an incentive pay could work. We must be careful that we don't shoot ourselves in the foot because we don't have answers we'd like to have. Do Accountants, Lawyers, Engineers get "Pro Pay". If we are professionals, as we claim, we must look at what and who we are dealing with. In my classroom, I finally got a student to want to come to school and stay most of the day (after 8 months). No one else had been able to get the student to come to school regularly and stay in school regularly. Is this a consideration for Pay for Performance? I think not, but in order for me to teach him, I had to first get him to want to come to school, want to learn and stay. I personally think we need to relook at who becomes a teacher, and what is their true reason for becoming one. Teaching was not my first career, but my third and only after I saw that I made differences in student's lives and comments I received from parents, colleagues and students. My advice to anyone who says he/she wants to become a teacher is... You've got to love it! I don't have three months off. I am always in school or some professional development workshop or some type of training to improve myself and student learning. Do I need a vacation, you betcha! Do I love my job and my kids? Indeed I do!

I'm not sure I can improve on some of the great comments already made, but my frustration level with this topic is high enough for me to try. I work at a very low SES urban high school; many of my students are Mexican and nearly 50% of the parents I deal with do not speak English. I have students who might be the first in their family to earn a diploma. I have others who are 15 & homeless. I have students who drop in & out of school on a regular basis. My students will not do homework (in some cases, they cannot, due to circumstances beyond their control). Most have no computer access at home, and my school is so poor that they rarely have access there either. This is my first year teaching h.s., after 11 years teaching at the junior college level. I have no mentor and very little support at all from administration, other than to be criticized about my poor management skills. So exactly how am I, and the countless others in my situation, going to be judged as effective in order to earn performance pay? How can I be held to the same standards as a colleague who teaches at a wealthy suburban school a few miles away? I already work 70+ hours a week; do I need to work more? With 5 college degrees, speaking 4 languages, and a richly varied c.v., I earn a bit over $30,000 annually. I am not willing to sleep less than 5 hours a night for this paycheck, no matter how much I want to help kids learn.
The elephant in the room, my friends, is that our society does not truly value education. If we as a nation really wanted an educated populace, we would stand up & scream about the deplorable condition of American schools. Instead everyone passes the buck and the result is NCLB. Will pay-for-performance make anything better? I highly doubt it. The only effective mechanism of change is a values paradigm shift, which requires parents, educators, and even (gasp!) students to take responsibility for achieving an authentic, meaningful education. I do not expect to see this in my lifetime, unfortunately.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Cheryl Stewart, biology teacher: I'm not sure I can improve on some of the read more
  • Vernice Taylor/SpEd Teacher/Intervention Specialist: I am not so sure pay for performance in education read more
  • Sindy Sands, SLP: I do not see how performance pay could work fairly. read more
  • Nancy Flanagan: Christopher says: If teachers were supported and paid like other read more
  • Christopher Barrett: I cannot agree with the use of performance pay or read more




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