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Performance Pay?

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The Houston school district has launched a large-scale plan to pay teachers bonuses based on the year-to-year improvement of their own students' test scores. ("Test-Tied Bonuses to Take Effect in Houston," Jan. 18, 2006.) The plan is expected to put millions more dollars into rewards for teachers whose students show better-than-average improvement compared with similar groups of students.

Unlike some districts that are overhauling old pay plans for a purely "performance pay" policy, Houston is sticking to a traditional salary framework, pegging salaries to years in the classroom and college credits. Bonus money will come on top of regular salaries.

Critics say the plan might falter due to teacher skepticism linked to the almost exclusive use of test scores to determine bonuses. What do you think? Does performance pay make sense?

37 Comments

I don't agree with the proposed incentive. It is supposed to be based on student's improvement. What if your students are already at the top? What if your students are performing at the best of their ability? Are you to be penalized because your students didn't "show improvement"? What about students who have made up their mind for whatever reason that they just don't care and have quit trying? Most of the teachers I know are working as hard as they can to just get their students where they are. We try all kinds of interventions, some work, some don't. But we keep plugging a way only to be told we will get incentives or pay raises if our students "show improvement"? Thanks but no thanks!

The rewards for teaching well do not always come when we want them. Sometimes we do not see the fruits of our labors for many years to come. The rewards will come, but not every student will improve, and not every student will improve during the year we teach them.
There is the law of sowing and reaping. We will reap what we sow, but not always WHEN we want to, and not always during the year we sow.

While in theory it sounds like a good idea, in reality, I don't see how it could be fair. We are only a piece of the puzzle in a child's education. At what point do the parents have responsibilty? I have perfectly capable children in my classroom, but because their parents aren't supportive (for whatever reason), they are not performing as well as they should. I can lead the horse to water, but I can't force him to drink. And maybe those "horses" are holding all the water they can at the time I'm trying to get them to drink.

I think it is very sad that this kind of question is even asked. As a teacher for the past 30 years I have gained great satifaction that can't be measured with test results..... my student's feelings of pride in having mastered a skill that they have laboured over many months. The sens of achievement when the group have completed an enquiry learning project. The joy displayed when a student 'suddenly gets it'. None of these and thousands of other daily students' achievements can be measured by test scores. How do you measure the warmth,inspiration and learning that happens when students work together in friendship and co-operation in deciding on the best strategies tp problem solve.\, or when working as a team, negotiating and debating the meaningful issues in their daily lives. In comparison, test scores hardly matter and certainly don't impact or contribute to a young person's meaningful life.
Test scores are a suoerficial way of ascertaining what people know and can easily be manipulated by teachers who end up teaching to the test, rather than teaching students. How sad and what an indictment on our craft and profession. NO amount of money will ever make a difference on the quality of my teaching. My teaching strategies improve by learning from my students and by my enquiring with my peers of what works. My students and I continually learn together and I am a member of the learning community of the school. I never cease to learn. test scores don't count in our learning community and if I want to know how effectively my students are learning we evaluate together and find out. We do not need test scores.

I strongly disagree with this. I work in an inner city school where there is much diversity. Many of my students are on a Special Education Plan. Of the ones who are not, several are behavioural problems and do not care about marks or school no matter what the teachers do. Unfortunately, the students who do care and try their best have great difficulty keeping focused many days because of others in the classroom. Middle school test scores in our school are usually lower because our school is surrounded by group homes and home where the environment is not the best. Why should test scores add insult to injury?

I very, strongly, disagree with performance pay. I teach at a very low income, high Hispanic community school. The majority of our students come to us directly from Mexico with very limited or no English knowledge. To base our teacher's bonus on test scores would be horrible. Yes, our students' gain knowledge, but some of them not enough to score high on any test. Besides, we are one of the lowest paying states with one of the highest number of National Board Certified Teacher counts in the nation and we would lose more teachers if our bonus were based on test scores. What am I talking about, we don't get bonuses, and we barely, and sometimes never, even get a raise.

Though offering incentives for student improvement sounds good on paper, in reality it is flawed. The incentive pay works well in the private sector. Work harder, produce more, and you receive more money. As a teacher I work most days from 7:30am to 5:00pm at school. Then I take work home. I work with special needs student who have learning disabilities and/or behavioral/emotional problems. Their families are mixed (functional vs. disfunctional). Their abilites vary. I am constantly thinking of ways to motivate and educate. Now tie in test scores to my already limited income (I calulated it once and I make around $2.00 an hour) and what do you get? I love my profession and love to see my students grow and learn new things (many things not found on a test). Offering incentives for good test scores just doesn't seem fair or make sense.

It is unfair scientifically to compare one teacher's students to another teacher's students as well as comparing the same teacher's students one year to that teacher's students the next year. There are far too many variables at play over which the teacher has no control. However, if you were to pre-test the teacher's students at the begining of the year and post-test them at the end of the year and then base pay on the percentage of increase, that would be a fairer assesment of the effect of that teacher's teaching skills.

A good teacher is going to do their best to reach each child in thier class and try to get as much growth in person and education as they can for the year. A teacher who does not care will not. How ever add $ to testing scores...a good teacher will do their best to reach each child in their class. A teacher who does not care will teach the test and get the extra pay. The comments above are so correct.

You can't measure what kind of morning your student had before they came to school. Did they get a good nights sleep? Did someone tell them they were loved and valued before they reached our doors? Did they have supper last night or breckfast this morning? Did someone in their life tell them they are not smart, so why bother? Did someone in their life tell them their teacher is A&(&^^%*&*(^ and does not have the right to tell them anything or what to do, plus they do not know any thing any way? Did someone call the teacher and tell them to back off, let their child be a child, they can learn what they will need to survive after they are grown? Was the child tormented by a bully on the way to school? Heaven for bid the child has gone home and lied on the teacher to tick the parent off about the child:s treatment or that they gave an assignment that takes more then a week to finish the night before it is due? How do you factor these things into merrit pay?

I also work hours and hours to try to reach the students in my life. They are my children for the hours they are at school and I want the best for them. I want them to be kind respectful hard working adults, but there are more times than not that I am the only one who does and that includes the student themselves. How can you attach that to merrit pay connected to testing.

With all the paper work, meetings and projects being added to our work day to prove that we are teaching, I have added hours to the week just to prove I am teaching, I have less time to work on what my students need, let alone the grading and...and...and... I work 10 to 14 hours a day, just to stay behind. What more can I do to help my students? More money will not make me work harder. Would I like more money for my work and amount of education...duh? Working 24/7 and added pressure to perform at a higher level than I am, does not help my teaching, it only burns me out! Even with the money, I will still be burned out! And the teacher down the hall who shows up 5 minutes before class and almost beats the students out the door, even though we have specifice time of work before students start and leave, who teaches the test and undermines education in general, will be the one who gets the pay, because they have learned to work the system.

Teachers work hard enough. Houston ISD has had a great concern over cheating on tests. Attaching stipends to test results can only increase the desire of teachers to ensure their students perform well. This is nice and all but the reasons for students to do well now will be tied to the tests. Is there something wrong with this picture? Yes we want our students to do well on any test, however do we really want our teachers just teaching to the test? The majority of teachers do their best for their students just because that is their job, and they generally like being a teacher. For these teachers the stipends become the icing on the cake. But for teachers who have burned out and have the propensity to cheat the stipend is what they work for, not what is best for our students. I would love to see all the money going into the stipends to be used as an across the board raise for all HISD teachers. I think this would send the message that teachers are professionals. Stipends only create an atmosphere of cut-throat competition.

I understand the goals of performance pay--but I agree with the writer that said the variables are too many. It scares me that in Houston they plan to base the pay primarily upon test scores and that administrators, too, will reap the bonus pay--in much greater amounts. I foresee administrators haggling teachers to follow the "book" and to do more and more test practice in an effort to boost their own paychecks--with little to no understanding of what works for learning and children.

Furthermore--how do you keep classes even and thus teachers on a fair playing field--at many schools the loudest, most aggressive, or most "popular" teachers often get the easiest students because the classes are formed by people who wish to please those particular teachers. So they get the merit pay, too?

One person in this discussion suggested a pretest/ postest solution--certainly more fair and accurate--but haven't we replaced enough of our instructional learning time with testing time? Look at the present results of the standardized "accountability" movement. I see schools everywhere adding benchmark and prebenchmark testing into their school days in addition to the big test which takes a school week away. Meanwhile, those countries we are supposedly competing with? Teachers from their schools come to the US and ask, "Why do you guys test so much?" Good question!

Finally, I am thinking ideas like the one put out by the Miliken Foundation some years ago are a better answer. Form 24 levels of teaching based upon experience, success, mentoring and such. Have paraprofessionals as well as mentors that act as instructional leaders over groups of teachers (no, not like the present mentoring where they mee their mentees after school). At least then the merit pay will seem like a real goal for teachers that teach well and have a commitment to student learning.

Sorry--post above I meant 2 to 4 levels of teaching--not 24!

Teachers already do their best to improve test scores. That's our job. But performance pay for the students might help motivate some of them to do their best.

This is the most ridiculous thing you can do to a teacher. If all kids, being equal in all areas of thier lives, are put in the same class, maybe this would work. However, when you have the brightest of the brightest and the lowest of the lowest in one class; and then throw in the mentally retarded to teach, this is in no way just or fair to teachers or the other students in a class room. Stop making the classroom the place for social experimentation.

One has to wonder at the difference in amount of funds ofered to teachers compared with those offered to the Administrators - What ever does the administrator do with students to warrent a $25,000 bonus while those working directly with students - the teachers - are only offered $3,000. The educational system is not hierarchical, but rather, all are professional degreed employees. Such a difference in bonus is insulting to the profession and all highly qualified teachers.

I beleive this is fine, AS LONG AS certain criteria is met such as: the students need to be on a fairly level playing field (academically/emotionally); if you are working in an under-performing school, what are your options? Also the students would need to have supportive parental involvement at home & school. If that criteria is not met, FORGET IT! NOT FAIR AT ALL! P.S. (Warning - Everyone will only "teach to the test").

While I agree that teaching to the test is not at all desirable, as we should be teaching all the standards, and not just those set by the testing service, I disagree that more money is not an incentive to do better. Unlike most teachers, I came from the private sector, from a money management firm, and the difference in how professsionals are treated is tremendous. Teachers are in a "management" type position; that is, they are expected to put in more hours beyond the technical work day, and not get paid. That's all right when your salary justifies the work, but in no way do our salaries compensate for the work GOOD teachers do. It is flat-out insulting to be paid what we are paid. Unfortunately, the factory-mentality of the seniority system reinforces the miserable pay rate. Competent teachers are not necessarily the ones who have been there 30 years, but that's how we are paid, nonetheless. In LAUSD, there are some teachers who simply don't know the core subject material well enough (similar to the above writer who couldn't spell "merit," among many other words), but will collect a much bigger paycheck than mine because they have been punching that clock for many more years.

One possible solution is to break up the state tests into various components to be taken during the school year. Parts of standards could be measured, until the final test in the late spring determined whether standards in their entirety had been met. This could also replace the District tests, as the mandated ELA curriculum (OCR in LAUSD) doesn't rigorously match the state standards, anyway.

The above post discussing the TAP model from the Milken Foundation is the best I have seen on the topic - multiple components to promote fairness and equity throughout the process. Check it our at tapschools.org

It makes sense to pay people more who do a better job. The problem is the means of determining what a better job is.

Testing could work if all things were equal. But we know that troubled students end up getting grouped together and who gets that class? The students can of course improve with good teaching, but these things take time.

To implement merit pay it seems it should be based upon a number of items, not just test scores. Basing merit pay on one factor could end up encouraging some teachers to only teach to the test. It is said that you should bonus what you want more of. If test scores are the only issue then that would be the only focus.

I'm afraid I don't have the answers here, but it does seem we need a way to reward those teachers who perform better regardless of the number of years of service.

Incentive pay is where it's going! Our union states you do not have to have a lesson plan daily. If Columbus ever wandered what is wrong with their schools and low academic scores, this is it.

Bonuses linked to performance is not a good way to go in the teaching field. What about students who have problems taking tests? Who show remarkable improvement in class but fail a test? What about specialists like me who teach on a one to one basis students needing special skill sets and teaching methods in order to even make it on a day to day basis in the classroom? How is improvement measured for that?
Linking improvement to ONLY test scores is not the way a student's improvement is measured. Therefore, we teachers should not be "rewarded" on that basis alone. I don't mind the idea of bonus pay - but make the criteria a little more credible than an improvement on test scores only.

I think incentive pay based on students' performance is a terrible idea. First of all I only work with English learners (English is their second language). These students are not given time to learn the language before they are required to take tests and compete with native speakers. It is ridiculous.
I think the what incentive pay breeds is divisivness among teachers and/or promote cheating on the test.
We should be promoting cooperation and collaboration amongst teachers and amongst schools rather than have teachers compete over slices of the pie. I am totally against it.

Performance pay based on test scores causes major problems in special education because we do not necessarily take standardized tests so we are either left out or automatically in. Plus, those who do cannot often make the same amount progress that regular kids do. Plus, the less professional among us could simply write IEPs that will be easy to resolve and not do any work and still get the bonus.

As a kinder teacher and Reading Specialist in a very poor inner city school, I disagree with the incentive pay because it does not reward the early elementary teachers for the part they play in the student's growth and academic performance. We have our five year olds reading at a first and second grade levels before they enter first grade. The teachers and students work very hard to get to these levels. And you can be assured that any first grade teacher is grateful with students performing above level. Then these frist grade teachers send the students on to second grade above level. This continues on into the upper grades and helps students pass the tests.

Early grade teachers are being discriminated against, because they are not even given a chance to compete for a pay increase or reward. Where are our union lawyers when we need them?

There is the adage: garbage-in, garbage out. The point of this is that we have little if any control over the quality of the students we receive. The only growth pattern worth considering is pre- to post-test comparisons. Should that be the way rewards are allocated, then the issue of student attitude and individual effort must be considered. How can any performance pay issue be considered fair?

I hope all the teachers who are against pay-for-performance, also never complain about the low salaries of teachers. The two ideas are linked. In the private sector, not everyone makes big money, only the good performers, who have proven that they can successfully add to the goal of the organization get above average raises each year. In teaching we seem to be against the idea of figuring out who the best performers are.
I believe I am doing a better job teaching my subject than the teacher I replaced. Do I get any additional compensation, or have any reasonable expectation for future additional compensation because of this? No. I get "thank you's" from parents, students, administrators and other teachers, (which are greatly appreciated). Count me as a teacher who is willing to have my teaching evaluated and rewarded if it produces better results.
In Houston this is a bonus, on-top-of-salary program, to try to increase the results they want to see. Nobody gets a pay cut, but the better results get rewarded. Sounds pretty sensible to me!

It takes more than the teacher of a classroom to affect the learning and success of students. To reward the classroom teacher is fine, but what about the teacher from the year before, that gave her students who were ready to put it all together...the resource teacher who reinforces the learning, the tech instructor, where students learn research strategies, and presentation, and the music, art, etc. These teachers are not included in these bonuses, but they also contribute to the success of students. I believe that there should be a more equitable means of rewarding teachers who make a difference.

After a hiatus from education for almost 10 years, I re-entered the teaching profession in 1992 in Texas. I my enthusiasm was dampened when I discovered the lack of collegiality due to a system that had been in place for a number of years prior called “career ladder”. While I was not eligible as it was being phased out at the time, teachers were not inclined to share (and some were down right rude) anything in regard to what was going on in their classroom, materials, or ideas. The reason, I ascertained, was because they were compensated for having outstanding performance appraisals. Thus, the feeling was if teachers shared good ideas, materials, etc. it might jeopardize their chances of getting that extra money. I think principals had a limited amount they could distribute or some type of quota they had to adhere to. My feeling is that pay for performance is dangerous in that it will again promote this type of behavior which eliminates collegiality. I do also fear some will have the mistaken philosophy that only test prep types of work will get them to the level of extra pay. Also we will further tempt those who might use dishonest means to raise scores. However, I have issues with teachers who do minimal work getting the same pay as people like my self who put in many hours of planning, professional development, and parent and student contact. Marginal workers, however, are in all professions. I do support paying more to teachers who work in situations where over the top effort is needed to help students succeed, such as in high poverty schools. As much as we would like to think schools can be successfully be run like a business in all aspects (there are some such as how budgets are allocated), they can’t. The product/service that schools are charged with is in human change which can’t be trivialized like a widget.

Although the concern over a performance-based program fostering competition, the research actually indicates the opposite, especially if, in addition to providing individual performance awards, there is also a school-wide performance award. The Teacher Advancement Program conducts teacher attitude surveys that indicate the program does not impact teacher collegiality, but rather strengthens it. Moreover, Public Agenda (2003) found that 70% of teachers supported giving extra pay to teachers in "tough neighborhoods with low performing schools", 67% supported giving extra pay to teachers who work harder, and 62% advocated it for teachers "who consistently receive outstanding evaluations from their principals."
Moreover, talented potential candidates who might otherwise chose another career with more opportunity and higher pay, might take another look at the teaching profession if they believe their hard work, knowledge and skill would determine their salary, not the number of years experience or number of education credits (neither proven to improve student learning).

I am currently going to school to be a bilingual teacher and I am currently working as a teacher assistant. I strongly disagree with test being linked to a teacher's performance. I know I can't do much right now. But I hope to someday be able to change all this nonsense that is going on. It enfuriates me to think that I am going to be judged by the grades my future students will make on test. I intend to teach in a low-income area like I do now, and I notice how parents don't care about their children's education. More so that teachers that have been in this field for a long time don't care about whether their kids get to where they have to be or not because of where they come from. I would like to believe that I will still be involved in the education field when this craziness disappears.

When performance pay (with accountability) is implemented at the highest levels of government, we can just start to discuss its usefulness for teachers.

It sounds to me like teachers are afraid of being evaluated. If you are teaching that means some one is learning. If the students don't learn all you are is a presentor. It iws time that americans start demanding that our children are learning. If that means we have to do somethin like merit pay then so be it.

I'm doing a debate in my freshman highschool english class about this particular subject and I'm against it. So maybe I'm a bit biased, but there is a reason that I chose to be against it. Simply put, it's because I loathe standardized testing. Do I believe that there needs to be a way to judge students against the whole country? Yes. Do I believe that teacher's need to be paid more? Yes. But does this have to be the way it's done, just because it's the way it's always been done? No! I've spent time getting these test preps drilled in my head and I haven't seen the fruit of the labor. Even if my test scores improved, my intelligence didn't. Teaching kids only this is harming them and you as a teacher. Excuse my language, but for those of you who want the money don't you feel as if you are whoring yourself to standardized tests? Like it's taking some of your style out to be so focused on them? I am sympathetic to your plights... but for the sake of argument if nothing else, can't there be another way?

I agree with Emmy. However, when you teach your students in the way that you suggested, those test scores are going to exceed expectations! I also implement those methods of teaching into my program and my standardized test scores always show evidence of student learning despite our demographics. So, I think you can measure merit according to test scores. If you are teaching children to think, write and reflect you don't have to. I agree that not all students are 'good' test takers. However, if you provide students with quality teaching, you will see the results that you are seeking. I am proud to be in the teaching profession for over 32 years.

What an incredible list of whiners. Every possible excuse is given to preclude any accountability and REAL evaluation. Odd. Teachers spend years is rather interesting evaluations of students with the same problems they list in the preceding opinions. They live with their evaluation frailties. I will wager the way a teacher can be evaluated is a lot fairer, more concrete, and more sensible than the average teacher grading system.

I find the strictly negative responses to teacher pay for performance surprising and quite disappointing. I think there are many of us that believe pay for performance is a good idea – at least it is part of a good start. Is it perfect? Certainly not. Can it be improved? Certainly. Are there other/better approaches? Of course. Is it simply a matter of money? Absolutely not.

One of the very real issues that many have raised is the disconnect between team performance and individual rewards. There are alternative allocation mechanisms that can be used to help this – and I would hope that the team(s) looking at enhancing this program will consider some. But the basic fact remains: What you reward is what you get more of. That’s one of the basic tenets of our free market system and was a significant contributor to the collapse of the centrally planned Soviet system. What we want more of is student learning.

Should the focus be on “the test”? No. Should the focus be on teaching? I don’t think this is the right focus either. Teaching is a measure of effort or input; learning is the desired result. Everything we do should focus on increasing student learning. (For example, perhaps I can enable some students to help other students learn and that is more effective than having me teach them directly. Either approach should be rewarded as long as it results in increased learning.)

Although standardized tests are flawed measures of learning, they at least reflect some of what we want to achieve. The measure of good teaching is in the result – good learning. Could these measures be better? Again, the answer is, “Of course!” so we should also be working toward improved measures of learning. For now, the standardized tests are what we have and what are mandated at the state and federal levels.

My basic thinking proceeds along these lines:

1. There is an overwhelming national consensus that we can do a better job of educating our children.
2. There is a significant consensus that what we’re doing now isn’t working very well. (See The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2007, State of the Union – The Innovators, p. 88-103. Note particularly the chart on p. 97 that shows increasing expenditures, decreasing class sizes, increasing levels of teachers’ education, but flat student performance from 1970-2003).
3. There is an overwhelming consensus in the education research and practitioner community regarding the right things that should be done in classrooms to foster learning (see DuFour, Schmoker, Eaker, Marzano, Darling-Hammond, Eason-Watkins, many others).
4. For whatever reasons (there is disagreement here about the specifics), what we know should be happening in classrooms isn’t happening; what is happening isn’t providing the best results. These are “on average”. There are great teachers and there are dismal teachers, but all can improve.
5. Most people understand that doing the same things we’ve always done will not provide new and different results. (I applaud Dr. Saavedra’s initiatives to think and do things differently. New ideas and innovation are the keys to improved results.) But changing the way we think and operate is hard. It is uncomfortable. It can be threatening.
6. Programs like “pay-for-performance” are attempts to improve teaching/learning in the classroom. (Not perfect, but certainly a move in the right direction.)
7. There will always be “naysayers” for any new/different program.

My question to those that oppose “pay-for-performance” is, “What is your specific recommendation for improvement?”

I think there is a great opportunity for some good dialog here, but for any productive dialog to occur, we have to recognize “what’s wrong” and move past it to “what do we need to do”. The answer to this question needs to be specific and it needs to be personal: What is it that I can do in the near term to make at least something better?

For example, if I believe that I am a really good teacher:
- What is the objective basis for my belief? What results have I achieved?
- What is one thing that I can do to better enable students’ learning?
- What is one thing that I can do/share to help someone else enable others’ learning?

Think of the energy that would be created if we all asked (an acted upon) those questions.


Julieann Hague Gralinski:

You should contact your cousin Javier.
[email protected]

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