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Bonus Backlash


Recently, there have been a number of headlines around the country about controversies surrounding performance-pay bonuses that districts are either planning to hand out to teachers, or already have. Houston educators, in particular, weren't happy after a list of the beneficiaries was published in a local paper. Those not on the list, they complained, might be maligned as ineffective, when, in fact, some teachers of the year didn't even receive bonuses. How could that be? Well, many bonuses are tied to student performance, measured by standardized test results--in math and reading, mostly. So educators who don't directly impact those areas, or whose skills with students aren't apparent on paper, may not be considered.

What's your opinion of performance-pay bonuses? Are they an effective, fair way to reward teachers? Should "performance" be based on students' standardized test scores, a review of a colleague's performance in the classroom, or other factors? And should beneficiaries, along with their bonus amounts, be made public?


Have you ever heard of the 7 Deadly Diseases? The 3rd deadly disease is stated: 3. Personal review systems, or evaluation of performance, merit rating, annual review, or annual appraisal, by whatever name, for people in management, the effects of which are devastating. Management by objective, on a go, no-go basis, without a method for accomplishment of the objective, is the same thing by another name. Management by fear would still be better.

This space is too small to explain this in full but here is the short story. Performance is a outcome of a system and a system has many components. People and their performance are just one component in the system. People must be intrinsically motivated. Fear should be removed from the sytsem. Continual improvement of processes is the best method for achieving overall performance increases.

Each individual in the system must have a philosophy and practice of continual, never ending improvement.

Pay for performance and merit pay systems only make things worse.

The system needs to be redesigned.

Fair? I don't think so. They are based on students meeting the grade level standard. Since the trend to retain students is not in vogue, most teachers end up with a class of students varying in range of abilities. Trying to get a child that comes into a 5th grade class at a 2.7 reading level at the beginning of the year to a 5th grade reading level by the end of the year is impossible. It is simply an unrealistic expectation.

Do you want to motivate teachers? Then, perhaps give them the respect they are due and raise their salaries so they can support their own families with the basics. If you want to add merit pay on top of that, then why not base it on something in the teacher's control? Can a teacher go home with each student and make a child do homework? Can a teacher make a student focus when their is so much fighting going on at that child's home? Can a teacher erase the effects of poverty on a child's brain function? Pay for performance is just another way to drive good teachers out of the field.

If a pay for performance was instituted, why not base it on a student's individual progress? If a student comes in at a 2.7 reading level and has reached a 3.5 reading level by the end of 5th grade, then perhaps a reward for both the student and teacher are in order. And, perhaps the school systems need to get off their political "butts" and retain kids that need to be retained or institute more effective intervention issues.

On a football team, the starring quarterback is nothing without that offensive lineman. I would hate to think of a nation of citizens who can read and write, do math problems, and not have a clue how to vote. We've got our priorities out of whack. WAKE UP!

My advice to new teachers is: don't teach special ed or in school with a low socio economic population. Merit pay based on the students' outcome would surely make me rethink my long career in special ed if I were new to the system.

I am a second-year special ed inclusion teacher in a school with a primarily low-income population. I know that, regardless of what progress my students make, no matter what gains in performance we see, I will not be receiving performance bonuses because most will not reach grade-level standards. I'm not overly concerned about it, really, because I have made the choice at this point to do what I do. But is it fair? Absolutely not.

Being a fifth grade teacher, I do not have the luxury of choosing which students enter my class in September. I have about six hours each day to work with these students and help them achieve to their potential. I am able to choose what happens in these six hours. However, what I do not have control over is what goes on in the rest of these children's lives. They come to me from broken and impoverished homes, homes where no English is spoken, homes in which the student is expected to be a care-giver for a younger sibling, and unfortunately some come from abusive homes. Some students, on the other hand, go home to a nutritious snack and have parents that are willing to help with homework. To have my pay raise or bonus based upon a student's performance when I only see that student for six hours is unfair to me when there are so many other factors influencing what happens in that child's life. When the day arrives when all students are given an equal playing surface on which I can build knowledge, then let me know, and I may consider tying my pay to their performances. But until that time, I will do my best to help each student achieve to their best abilities-given all other environmental and emotional hardships.

To pay teachers according to a student passing a standardized test is not fair. I agree with Ms. Efram; raise teacher pay, allow teachers to retain those who do not meet the requirements to pass to the next grade and get teachers assistants in the high school grade levels. I teach Algebra 2. I have so many students who have been passed from Algebra I to Algebra II who have not passed their Algebra I state test. If we could find some way to alleviate the "other" influences that effect our students, then maybe more teachers will stay in the profession. I am part of a family of teachers, law enforcement personnel, military officers, etc. We take pride in working for our country. I was led to believe that teaching was a very honorable profession because a person couldn't be come anything until he or she received some form of training from a teacher. Teachers are paid as though what we do is just a "trend" and that something else will come along to help others learn. It takes a warm caring and loving person to withstand the pain and suffering we sometimes see in some of our students eyes. I love my position as a teacher and I put forth the effort every day to instill in my students not only about the subject but life.....because I care what happens to them after they leave me and enter the real world of life.

How profoundly unfair to expect a teacher to teach children who were born into poverty as much as those children who were not! And further to refuse them financial reward if they cannot!

But, is it then fair for the children of poverty to learn less? And to live a life whose financial possibilities are based on that lower level of learning?

i agree with many of these comments...it is not all the teacher's fault if they fail or pass. YOU do not know what is going on in the rest of the student's life...some parents may really be involved and help make sure their students pass...and then there are just some who do not care. The teacher's try their hardest to get the students to understand the material and some just dont...and then there are others who pass. So these bonuses really are not fair...teacher's do not chose their students

JBates is right on target. "We" have our priorities all screwed up. Why is it that the profession that helps create the most prominent individuals in the world, paid so little? I can't understand the mentality. How about compensation for each issue and role that we have to fill outside of instructing? For example, counselor, parent, referee, director, security, disciplinarian, etc.

Quite honestly, I have a hard time understanding why the focus in education is heavly on teacher accountability, merit pay, cutbacks, blah, blah, blah. Why haven't we declared education in a STATE OF CRISIS? We should be looking at the entire institution and figuring out how to produce students who work to their highest potential, while giving teachers support and compensation. By the way, why aren't the teachers ever consulted before making these big decisions? Is it that our opinions don't matter?

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • SweetD: JBates is right on target. "We" have our priorities all read more
  • tisha: i agree with many of these comments...it is not all read more
  • Margo/Mom: How profoundly unfair to expect a teacher to teach children read more
  • E Davis: To pay teachers according to a student passing a standardized read more
  • Jennifer Champagne: Being a fifth grade teacher, I do not have the read more




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