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Performance Pay: What do Teachers Say?


This week Barack Obama repeated his call for teachers to be paid for performance. He stated "Under my plan, districts will be able to design programs that give educators who serve as mentors to new teachers the salary increase they deserve. They'll be able to reward those who teach in under-served areas or take on added responsibilities. And if teachers learn new skills to serve students better, or if they consistently excel in the classroom, that work can be valued and rewarded as well.”

I was involved in discussions and research on this issue last year, when I participated in the TeacherSolutions project, Performance-Pay for Teachers; Designing a System that Students Deserve. The report we wrote was the first to put forth the views of leading teachers from around the country. I think there is room for discussion here, and teachers should engage in an active dialogue about what these systems should look like. This is not a new idea, however, and we can learn a lot from mistakes that have been made in recent years.

I read an insightful comment in an online forum last week, from a colleague in Oakland, who works at one of our middle schools. She writes:

Here’s the big thing I think should be linked to performance pay. I absolutely believe that more experienced/more successful teachers who choose to teach in under-performing schools should be paid more. I am increasingly finding myself in a hopeless place in Oakland where I’m afraid that my conclusion is basically that schools here can’t improve significantly until the teaching force is more experienced; until the district can attract skilled teachers and retain the new ones who are lured here. I’ve been working on hiring at my school this spring. I’ve listed job postings all over the country, on alumni sites all over the country, I’ve done job fair after job fair, I’ve contacted teaching credential programs…and in the end, we had a pathetically tiny batch of teachers apply for positions. Most had never taught; a few had 1-2 years experience. All were women; none were African American (which is the majority of our student population). My school can advertise itself well; it has curb appeal—small class sizes, arts integration coach, instructional coaching (that’s me), individualized summer PD opportunities, a lot of ways for teachers to make extra money, a beautiful garden, safe neighborhood, etc. It looks good on paper. And even so, we couldn’t get any experienced teachers interested…When I talk to friends in other schools, they are seeing the same thing. We all end up with TFA teachers who leave after 2 years, or now in Oakland we have the Oakland Teaching Fellow or Oakland Teacher Corp, very similar to TFA and with just as high of a turn-over rate.
Since I’ve started coaching, I’ve been reminded of how little we know in the first few years of teaching. It’s humbling. And frightening. While it makes me think a lot about what teacher preparation programs need to look like, I also need to put that aside, roll up my sleeves and get into the teaching/coaching of our new teachers. I enjoy it; many are eager and spongy. But it’s really hard when they leave after a year or two, for grad school, another district, another position in education. And so over and over and over our kids get teachers who don’t really know what they’re doing.
We need experienced teachers; OUSD needs to be able to pay experienced and effective teachers (and I know we need to define what effective means) a LOT to come here, and a LOT to stay.

I agree with this perspective. Many of our experienced teachers play a critical role in our schools, offering essential guidance to novice teachers. Even the best-prepared novices struggle to respond to the challenges they face their first few years. And when there are too few with experience at a school, the burden becomes overwhelming, and the support network gets stretched past the breaking point. Then the novices are left to sink or swim, with little guidance. Our schools need defined roles for mentors, with solid compensation to support this work. Going beyond mentoring, we need to expand the roles that teacher leaders play, in collaborative planning, curriculum, assessment and instruction, providing more of a career ladder for our profession.

Teachers need to be full partners in the process of designing these systems. The objective should be to motivate and reward initiative and commitment to the profession, so we have to be sure the rewards activate and inspire, rather than divide and demoralize. The biggest mistake education reformers have made in the past decade was in viewing teachers (and our unions) as obstacles to be overcome, or even eliminated. Teacher leadership can transform our schools, but we must be given a voice for it to emerge.

So what do you think? Is there a place for alternatives to the traditional pay scale? Or should educators take a stand against such proposals?


I followed the link to Teacher Solutions and read the exec summary. Very thoughtful and intelligent. Which planet do you think that will work on?
Sorry for the sarcasm. I feel strongly about this. I have experience working with the design and implementation of performance bonuses. Teacher Solutions says it is against those types of plans, but ultimately all will be based on either student test scores or subjective evaluations by appraisers who only stop by the classroom accasionally. Same thing.
In my experiences we put a lot of time and effort into plans that would be both an incentive to produce the best scores from teachers (actually, their students)and accomodate teachers who taught student groups who were typically low-scoring. Then the administration secretly made changes that reflected their favoritism and grudges. Many teachers were upset. The additional money did not make them more satisfied with their jobs. And I don't know of anyone who thought the performance pay was truly connected to what they were doing in the classroom. I just don't see this working with the current system we have of selecting administrators. I actually see lower morale resulting.
A necessary first step would be to change who and how we pick as administrators.
Also, I suspect this is a wedge tactic, designed to fragment our schools.
As for increased teacher involvement and input, I think that would improve instruction and lead to higher retention of teachers. I would love to see this happen.
This is a great blog! Thank you so much.

I completely agree with Anthony! We need to talk seriously about performance pay. We as teachers need to work out the kinks so it wont be tied just to scores - and we also need to find ways to have the principals not be able to use it inappropriately. Yet is it TIME to find a way to get it going - and we shouldn't wait much longer!

If we could avoid POLITICAL evaluations by administrators and all the brown nosing such evals entail, this idea might be worth another consideration.

I believe that teachers who really make a difference in the classroom generally don't have time or lack of depth required to suck up, and that might cause some problems with merit pay. Many of us already do struggle to mentor other teachers and help make programs better in spite of admins who want to micro manage everything and really do little to improve classroom teaching. It would be nice to be paid for the extra work and for the innovative things we do. It would also make sense to have mentor teachers who help others, encourage best practices, and have the power to create innovations that are required. Teachers are perfectly capable of new solutions if given the time and the trust of admins AND the power to implement what they create. Since so many admins have failed miserably to be educational leaders, it is time that teachers take over for themselves and get paid for doing the most necessary job in education today.

Thanks for listening. Someone can knock me off the soapbox now.

A different approach if you please. Why are our elem. and secondary schools training teachers? Why are colleges not turning out qualified teachers? It appears we remediate new teachers at the same rate colleges re mediate our high school graduates. It is a vicious cycle and must be stopped. A highly qualified teacher is well worth the increased pay scale. Hire experienced only pay well with no bonuses. Merit pay and bonuses are clearly signals that you folks are "cheapskates". Pay them well and the performances will be forthcoming. Teachers just want to teach and worrying about the bonus money or the unpaid college bill is counterproductive. Stop being cheap and pay for what you need. Our kids future depends on good highly qualified teachers. Produce them at the college level. Hire and pay accordingly at this level. Educating kids is not a hard job folks. Teaching around a bureaucracy is. Think about this, have you ever seen or heard of the district office hiring out of field administrators and the ones they do hire are all paid more than the classroom teacher. The system needs to be funded from the bottom up and not the top down.

Performance Pay has no place in education. We are not sewing machine operators working on the piece rate system.
The most important job in education are teachers in the primary grades. Yet we here talk of performance pay mostly in regards to upper grade and subject teachers. We need to spend the money in lower grades. The reading readiness rate in first grade at the school I teach in is 12%. How does performance pay address this most critical issue?

I agree that there needs to be a system to improve the teaching/learning process in our schools. What was said about schoolhouse politics, favoritism and combating the brown-nosing few is a huge hurdle to overcome. I served as a department chair and mentor in a large urban middle school where I found my self in the “wedge” described in a previous comment. When I ask teachers to take inclusion classes, where the Special Education students and low performing students with discipline issues were tracked, they refused citing that to teach that group was career suicide. As teachers of record our performance evaluations are already tied to test scores and all of the other bits of bureaucratic nonsense written into NCLB. I believe that performance must be tied to student population and what the teacher does with that group. Some teachers get the great kids with great parents every year and are worse teachers than the teacher who is in the trenches with gang bangers, thugs, and students needing a huge amount of assistance. On paper the weak teacher with great students looks great and the great teacher with students with challenges looks weak. Who would get the merit pay? If all we can see is standardized test scores the wheels will come off as the teachers who buck up and work with the toughest population will vote with their feet.

The moment we stop making excuses for poor performance and start taking on a business-world model is the moment we see teacher compensation increase. In the real professional world (ours is a faux-professional world because of terrible leadership and policies from all three ends of the triumvirate: admins, unions, teachers) there is not this deeply embedded sense of "fair" or "unfair". You are given a task and told to complete it. Sure, some folks get easier tasks than others but I would wager millions that 99.99999% of the time the cream rises to the top i.e. those who consistently perform well are valued and compensated well. Those who don't are passed over or eliminated. This isn't youth soccer, everyone should not get to play just because they show up everyday.

Alas, in education we constantly look for excuses to our problems as opposed to looking inward and seeing what we can do better. We enable poor teaching behaviors and habits by putting the blame on the students and their backgrounds.

And as a result the market for teachers(while also being controlled by archaic wage controls in which a teacher with 10 years experience who stinks is paid more than one with 5 years who is effective) leaves salaries very low.

When you remove all risk from the equation, teachers are never going to paid in accordance with our skills, efforts, and performance.

Performance pay sounds really great. I work in one of those underperforming schools as well. We can't find many teachers who will stay there for very long. However, bonuses will inevitably be tied to test scores that really don't accurately measure student achievement and those occasional evaluations from administrators who have very little teaching experience from which to draw. This is what I have problems with. You can't punish teachers for working in a district whose students and parents are only concerned with athletics and getting students out with as little effort as possible. I work really hard to instill a more self accountable attitude in my students. It would help if administrators would support these efforts and not give in to law suit threatening parents. It saddens me deeply that our nation has nurtured such a "give me" attitude. No one wants to put forth any real effort to succeed. How much would I recieve for trying to make better people out of mediocre students that may only score basic on assessments?

Judge Haugen asserts, "When I ask teachers to take inclusion classes, where the Special Education students and low performing students with discipline issues were tracked, they refused citing that to teach that group was career suicide."

I have to wonder what the excuse was for avoiding those classes in the days before NCLB, when there wasn't a focus on measureable learning outcomes and "those kids" weren't even required to be tested.

I remember an early experience in labor relations during a teacher's strike when I was in middle school (junior high at that time). We had a lot of substitutes. One teacher (I don't know if it is relevant that she was educated in another country) was there and explained that she didn't think it was right for professionals to strike. This has always provided me with food for thought--and I don't yet know that I agree or disagree. Where I do agree with her is on the notion that the behavior expected of professionals (that professionals ought expect of themselves) is different from that expected of factory workers. In a factory, in a capitalist system, the workers contribute the labor, while the owners control the means of production--creating an ongoing tension and the need for workers to organize to ensure that they receive their entitled share of the fruits of their labor.

This model is not such a good fit within public education. The public (which includes teachers, students, business, etc) is the owner. There is not a product that is sold at the end of the day for the benefit of capital. In essence, we are all shareholders. Imposing labor-management strategies onto this situation requires that administrators be cast as owners (capital)--and denigrated.

Guy asks, "have you ever seen or heard of the district office hiring out of field administrators?" Well of course they hire out of field administrators--as far as I can tell, the overwhelming preference is to hire teachers as administrators. Administrators who are knowledgeable about administration (and with experience in administration) are treated with even greater mistrust than the administrators that are hired out of the classroom. This might not be a bad situation if schools operated as cooperatives with joint acceptance of responsibility for the provision of quality education for all students (including those that we resist "including"). Test scores might then be recast as helpful tools of evaluation. Teachers might be more likely to engage in school-wide, as opposed to individual decision-making.

I honestly don't know, given the current situation, if performance pay would be a practical response to the current prevailing individualism, or if it would merely exacerbate the avoidance of professional behavior that responds to the needs of the students.

BTW--in the interest of full disclosure, I consider myself to be one of those "great parents," with a "great kid." This "great kid" is also a student "needing a huge amount of assistance."

higher pay for more difficult situations is not performance pay -- environmental pay differential due to working conditions is a different form of incentive pay and shouldn't be confused with performance pay.

there are three big categories on incentive pay: performance, credential and environmental.

performance pay is based on outcomes -- whether tests, progress, admin/peer/parent review.

credential pay is based on inputs: language, degrees, certificates.

environmental pay is based on starting conditions: challenging circumstances, social need

the three are independent: one can have high/low performance with/without credentials in hard/easy settings. All professions grapple with these questions -- and so many outside teaching come to the discussion with those concepts assimilated with puzzlement that only credential pay is engaged.

What about this as an idea to help with restructuring the schools to involve and incorporate teacher wisdom more into the process ... Everyone in the building needs to do some teaching, daily or weekly.

Interesting comments and discussion, but there seems to be a lot of talk about things that have already been answered - at least to a certain degree.
First, I teach science in an urban school with over 3,000 students. I also teach studens with language acquisition issues as well as learning issues in addition to those that do not have a particular designation. Two years ago, my district started a reward system and even though my department showed significant increases in our high-stakes test scores, only the AP teachers received bonuses. Similar experiences were noted throughout the district resulting in lowered morale and a lot of energy expended in unfruitful directions.
Last year the district went with a system that incorporates not only the high stakes test scores, but includes a projection of what is to be expected of each and every student. It is a huge amount of data that gets crunched, but the bottom line is this – each teacher can see what their individual efforts produced with any student. This is huge!
We know what the students did last year. We know (if they have been in district for any period of time) what their performance has been over time. Using past performance, there is a projection for what this year’s performance will be. At the end of the year, the data is analyzed and if student performance significantly increased, then bonuses are paid. My entire department received bonuses last year and it looks like we will get them again this year. In my opinion, it’s a system that works. The overall remuneration issue for teachers has not been solved with this, but it is a big step forward.

regarding the hiring out of field comment from Margo - we may have differing definiitions of "out of field." While Eli Broad has proposed hiring people from "true" administrative positions to take charge of and re-direct faiing schools, this is similar to hiring an insurance executive to be a general in the military. In that scenario, the soldier on the battle field wants to know that the orders that are coming down are from someone with empathy and experiential knowledge of what he or she is facing.
With that said, teachers that are trained, get advanced degrees in leadership and administration have the best perspective and thus the best chance of leading teachers and students well.

Years ago, when I was a beginning teacher, I was informally mentored by a colleague who taught the same grade level students I did, but for different subjects. She wanted her students to have a quality teacher and she just stepped in to help when she saw I was struggling. We had adjacent classrooms so she was nearby for me to observe informally as she interacted with "her" also "My" students- over time, we ate lunch together, had common preps and came to trust one another. I later had the opportunity to assign district-level mentor teachers to new staff and NEVER did I see the results in improved instructional techniques, class management, record keeping, etc. that happened informally by having my mentor in a classroom next to me. Performance bonuses should not go to those who have left the classroom--Find those site mentors who are already doing the work, who did it before and would continue to do it with or without merit pay--those are the heroes we want to reward and who kept the rest of us from quitting in frustration in our first years and helped us remain in the profession long enough to become great teachers

The bottom line is that teachers need to be trusted as authorities in their field, not as obstacles or factory workers who's only job is to carry out the wishes of administrators who haven't worked in a class room for ten years or so. We teachers are on the "front lines" if you wish to use that term, but simply we are in the class room working directly with the kids and parents, we know what is best for our classrooms and the profession as a whole, but our ideas, our experiences, our discoveries are rarely taken into account.

Ken's first post talks about tracking the student scores individually as they move through the grades. This is a better indicator, but still, there are problems. Why is there an expectation that a student will score higher and higher each year while learning NEW material? For example, if a student scores an 85 in Algebra 1-2 and then, a year later, an 84 in Alg 3-4, is the Alg 3-4 teacher really underperforming? I see real problems with this approach.

I agree with what Judge Haugen says about inclusion. It's not lack of professionalism that keeps teachers from agreeing to work in inclusion classes, it's fear (or perhaps lack of training?) of working with "difficult" children or children that "need special attention". And, of course, the very real fear that you will look ineffective if your test scores are poor.
Hauer says that "performance must be tied to student population and what the teacher does with that group." Absolutely! As an experienced special ed inclusion teacher, I work very hard to teach those in need of extra help, special ed labeled or not, whatever the rest of the class is learning, in whatever way they can learn it. This year I had a first year gen-ed co-teacher in a class that had an illegal amount of special ed kids. I informally mentored her, and she got support from planning with other "newbies." Our test scores, on which we are judged, were great, even surprisingly so. So who gets the merit pay: my co-teacher for having a great year? Me, for having the best scores (I taught all the math, and those scores were higher than the reading)? Both of us (we worked well together)? And what if we can't recreate the same success next year? What if I get a new co-teacher and an even more academically challenged class next year? How does one measure the efficacy of a teacher over time, especially with poorly "performing" students? There are so many variables involved, and if you include the 2-teacher classroom, (which, in my opinion, is a viable model, and the way we should go) the variables increase.
Just some things to add to the discussion.

I can only say AMEN! to all of this and give thanks for the excellent comments. But let's go back for a moment.

In order to properly discuss any of this we need several definitions:

. 1. What is the goal of education? (We all assume we know - - we DON'T!)
Is it:
. a) performance on tests?
. b) readiness for life?
. c) readiness to be a competent citizen?
. d) readiness for the next grade?
. e) readiness for the work force?
. f) readiness for College?
. g) realization of student's dreams?
. h) realization of student's talents?
. i) parent/caregiver satisfaction?
. j) administrative satisfaction?
. and on and on nearly forever . . .
This to give a taste of the myriad goals that somehow get mixed into one or a few “standards”.

Then they need to be prioritized! (Good luck!)

That’s just on the goal end.

. 2. Then we need to see how well we have reached those goals. What measures can we use?
. a)tests?
. b)longitudinal studies of outcomes?
. . and how do we measure outcomes?
. . i) earnings?
. . ii) “life satisfaction”? (measure?)
. . iii) # children?
. . iv) times in jail?
. . v) # of divorces? . . .
. c) horizontal studies?
. d) questionnaires?
. e) etc. etc.
By now one readily sees that the difficulties tend to exceed reasonable reduction to “formulae”. No wonder we have difficulty with “pay for performance”. In my years in industry, if I satisfied my boss, I got paid (well). As a salesman, I got paid by “incentive” (commission) and it didn’t matter if I was in a good territory by luck or grew one by my own expertise and hard work, I still got paid well! Of course, when I found myself in an economically failing area, I didn’t. In other words, circumstances often determined my compensation unlike school where I was paid based on education and years experience.

[By the way, here in Ohio, most schools will give a maximum experience level of 5-7 years if changing schools. So, after 8 or more years, changing schools tends to result in a pay cut regardless of your competence. What highly experienced/competent teacher would want to leave their present classroom for a less desirable circumstance and lower pay (unless highly motivated to “do good”)? Oakland - - check to see if maybe that’s why so few applied! (And have you looked at the cost of living out there??)]
In addition, somewhere in a teaching career most find a comfort zone within which they can work (regardless of competence) and can't look at uprooting to go back to the 80-100 hour weeks they had to put in as a newbie to learn all of the myriad things to get them to an excellence they can live with.

Dan - what world do you live in?? In business it's always who you satisfy (performance, external favors, brown nose or whatever) that gets you to the top! Only if performance is the sole interest of your superiors will the cream rise! Otherwise so do the curds of spoiled milk.

Frankly, my experiences and conversations with others have shown me (just went to my 50th College reunion) an excellent teacher knows if another teacher is excellent. In my 8 years as a teacher, I found I wasn't and retired. In my new role as a tutor, I meet many teachers and find the excellent ones are just that, excellent. They work hard and long hours, they are always looking for and trying new approaches (while comparing the outcomes they see to their prior successes), and recognizing what works in the faces, behavior, and work of the students. Sure this is anecdotal, but real teaching IS anecdotal! That's why "statistically significant" isn't. (Significant, that is.)
Teaching is an ART, not a science. (This from a Physics/Math teacher!)

Guy Barber - this is why colleges don't, can't turn out excellent teachers. They turn out potential excellence. The rest is up to experience, trial and error, guidance, desire, willingness to do hard work, talent, caring, etc. Do you think colleges turn out excellent scientists, corporate officers, salespeople, etc.? They don't!

Excellent teachers CARE - about the students as individuals, about the subjects they teach, about the families, about the world they live in and in this caring simply hope their significant efforts are rewarded. Usually the "Aha!", "Oh!", "Now I see!", and "Thank you!" far exceed the value of the paycheck, but an appropriate one would always be gratefully accepted.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this fascinating dialogue. I hope policy-makers stop long enough to consider the wealth of expertise available from educators.

I wanted to respond to the issue raised by Shelly L, who described a team-teaching sort of situation, and wondered how credit for the performance could be apportioned. One of the ideas that emerged from the Teacher Solutions report I mentioned in my original post was to have teachers working in teams be eligible for rewards. In that case, teachers who collaborate together, say in a grade level team, could share the credit and rewards when their students made progress overall. This would encourage collaboration and prevent people from feeling left out in situations such as the one you describe.

It is certainly about time for a change in the pay structure for educators. The conventional wisdom is that teachers make all other professions possible. If that is the case, then why aren't they respected as such? It doesn't necessarily just have to be reflected in teacher salary, but that would be a good place to start.

To address the issue of the high turnover rate of teachers, many come to the urban schools to get some experience (usually because that is where the only openings are), then leave after a couple of years to go where the pay is higher. The suburban schools are eager to snatch up a teacher who has the fictitious "edge" earned from working in urban schools. After two or three years, what kind of edge can one really have? As any seasoned teacher will tell you, it takes that long just to get your bearings in this profession. Teachers don't really feel comfortable about what they are doing and get their routines together until their third year. Now you have people leaving at that time, just when the school is about to make the transition it needs to make.

It takes about 5 years to transform a school. How can that happen if teachers are constantly leaving after 2 or 3? Now the schools in other districts that are already performing well are getting the benefit of these experienced teachers and the urban schools suffer.

I can't really blame TFA teachers. The program is designed for them to leave after 2 years and to affect change from a policy perspective. If they stay in teaching, that is a bonus, but that is not what they are intended to do. Maybe TFA needs to extend its commitment from 2 years to 4 years, especially since the teacher's Master's degree is virtually paid for. Part of the program requirements could be to join the school leadership team and document the experience. This information would then be used as part of that policy change that TFA seeks.

Basically, educators want to be respected for their time and effort. They all know they are in the business of students. In fact, they take an unofficial Hippocratic-like oath to do no harm and return a student to his/her family no worse than when he was presented to the school. Educators know that they have to return the child better than when they came. When teachers embrace this idea, why not be compensated for mentoring others to do the same? It happens in other professions, why not in education? School districts and chancellors are constantly trying to run schools like businesses when it comes to accountability anyway, so why not include the monetary component as well?

If educators were paid on a similar scale as other professions, they may not be so quick to "cut their teeth" in the urban school only to jump ship to their true goal - the suburban school with more money.

I have mixed emotions about "performance pay" for teachers. I agree with Chris who pointed out the clear difference between performance/credential/environmental pay as we with the Alan who clearly states that we need to clearly define what the goal of education should be.

If I know one thing, I do know that you cannot approach the business of educating our young people as a business. Children are not widgets to be molded out for sale. They don't all come to school in the same conditions, and to ask teachers and administrators to ensure that they all leave exactly the same is a ridiculous premise.

The question here is a question of value. And at this moment, I don't know if the powers that be that are in control of making the decisions about what we do and how much we get paid to do it really VALUE teachers. I can't think of any other profession that is guided, shaped, and dicatated by so many people who have NEVER spent a single day DOING the job. So I don't hold much faith in it being significantly changed.

I think the beast of testing had been unleased, and it will never be slayed. There is too much money tied to it. I teach in Texas, and it is clear that the system is flawed. So what is the answer....create another test. We have gone from TAAS (Texas Assessment of Academic Skills) to TAKS (Texas Assesmentof Knowledge & Skills) and coming to a classroom near you in 2012...EOC (End of Course Exams).

So funny that one poster said it...I have always felt that I take a Teachers Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. I try my best everyday to add value to my student's lives. Despite all the frustrations that the bureacracy of teaching brings, I work hard with my content team to plan and create meaningful lessons so that whem the bell rings...I am ready and in control of what happens between me and my students. And that's all that matters.

I hold onto infinite hope that change will come from above....but I am not holding my breath.

I have been teaching for more than 30 years and over that period of time when I have had a position that required extra work I have been compensated. I think that Barak Obama is confused like many others when he thinks this is not happening already in our schools.

Merit pay however is different. Merit pay means a teacher is paid because his/her students do better than the expected or perhaps better than everyone else. This type of pay system does nothing but divide and undermine the teaching process. Teachers become secretive about what they are doing. Why share if not sharing means your students do better? Why help someone else if it means that they might use your help and prevent you from being the best? We are all in this together and should be encouraged to improve together. However we cannot even agree on what constitutes improvement. Do we test children until all we teach is aimed at improving test scores? Right now teaching is completely controlled by the tests. Children have no time to experiment with ideas and explore the world on their own.

I read recently that new teachers make up the bottom 30% of those who graduate college. The article did not mention the source of this statistic but its very mention shows what the outside world thinks of those of us who go into teaching. Each day in many settings parents,administrators, and politicians remind us how little they think of our skill and expertise. Rather than dividing the profession by merit pay we all need to pull together to fight this image. We must be the ones to lead the districts in what is needed to make improvement, but we are not, and as a result those improvements continue to elude us, and our image in the larger world continues to be one that does not merit the salary it should.

I agree that teachers need to be paid what their worth. My disappointment lies in the fact that Americans on the whole do not truly value educations or teachers, though they say they do. Here in Minnesota, I often ask people how important education is to them and invariably they say it is extremely important. But... When I ask them if they are willing to pay higher property taxes to pay for better education they say no. I see so many communities vote down school levies and increases in taxes for education that I have become very soured on the value our society places on education.

I believe that education in this country will only improve when states take over education budgets and place them into the same basket as their state budgets. We cannot continue to allow citizens to make budgetary decisions for education. Would our representatives like to see their salaries and office budgets voted on by citizens. I think not.

In my school system in North Carolina, we have small class sizes; we have annual high turnover rates from Teach for America teachers; we have teachers who have been on staff for 35 years and are not truly opened to new ideas and concepts; we have parents who are high school dropouts and were teen parents; we have high unemployment; we have rural poverty vs. urban poverty; our kids starve for activities outside of school that keeps them focused such as a fitness center or local YMCA but they are not located in our rural communities; we have no incentive pay because the largest industry in our county is a federal prison farm; we hire ineffective leadership because the best administrators will not come to our area; we need an alternative school but can't afford one so we have kids with multiple behavioral challenges who share the same classroom space as children interested in learning. Finally, we have wonderful comments from my colleagues about the merits of performance pay, and as a dedicated classroom teacher who loves her job, I feel sad that we as a collective group are not willing to admit that we have a problem called disparity, disproportion, and inequity in how we fund, respond to, and approach school systems located in areas that need an infusion of every thing but rhetorical logic that does not match the crisis we face. I am burned out, stressed out, and now have health issues that can be attributed to both because I want to leave but just cant leave those bright eyed children who deserve what every child needs. How can anyone one of us conclude that teachers dont deserve bonus pay. You ae right, our kids are not pieces of equipment on an assembly line; they are much more valualbe to our future; yet, an entire nation is not willing to invest in teachers who are willing to suffer and endure, not to get an extra pay check, to teach a child and if they just happen to help that child that we already expect to be left behind--succeed, what is wrong with honoring that accomplishment with incentive pay?

Do you want to know why my mortgate is vastly different from that of other professionals? It is assumed that they deserve the pay they get without question. Teaching is the only profession that has members who dont make that same assumption about themselves.

Ken says: "this is similar to hiring an insurance executive to be a general in the military. In that scenario, the soldier on the battle field wants to know that the orders that are coming down are from someone with empathy and experiential knowledge of what he or she is facing."

I don't know, Ken. In my district there is no shortage of "retired principals" to fill dimly related positions such as the head of transportation, the head of customer service or labor relations specialist. I don't think soldiers are well served by retired generals when the qualifications of the position require actuarial experience. Schools need people with transportation training and experience, customer service training and experience and labor relations law training and experience.

As a candidate for the NC Senate, I am most interested in improving education for our precious children. I believe the best teachers in the best facilities in the second through fourth grades can have the most effect. Am I off base here?

Secondly, parents are in the unique and appropriate position to determine the best education for their children. Education options must be provided to satisfy that parental right. In consultation with the school district, the parent is to choose: traditional, charter, home, vocational, alternate, technical, school with in a school, single sex, private.

Thirdly, I firmly believe that teachers should have a salary track parallel to that of administrators so that our best teachers with the most experience can remain in what they do best - teach and educate children.

Fourthly, integrating parents back into the education process is vital. For too long it seems there has been a wedge between parents/children and the system that administers education. Legislatures are not giving local school adminstrations tools to help. Parents too often are told "that's the way it is." Unless the parent has the energy and has the extra time to pressure the system for help, unfortunately, many parents eventually resign themselves to "that's the way it is" and leave the school alone to teach their children. They are cut out of options.

Lastly, I believe that teachers' associations/unions have an opportunity and responsibility to provide a trained and qualified membership. A partnership with administration with laser focus on educating children is a great and essential combination.

How many letters inviting parents to schools for programs, special ed. meetings, etc. go unanwered? How many parents show up for awards ceremonies, discipline meetings, concerts? Of course we need parents to assist, but in case you haven't been reading the data, parents are under so much stress to work, make ends meet, buy more stuff for their kids, that they sometimes forget about school and send them to us to be molded and shaped. It isn't that they don't care, necessarily, but that other things seem to get in the way. Several sources have claimed that we tail-end baby boomers are the worst parents in history, and I believe it because I've been seeing it every day of my 21 year professional life.

My students today are far different from the students I had when I first began. They read far less, they spend far less time talking with adults, they have far less respect for any authority figure, they have many more electronic devices, and spend far too much time in front of a television or computer screen. Many of them have very little idea of social interaction, manners, protocols, and so many other things. Their parents love them, but some just don't have the time it takes to make a whole family life.

I, too, am frustrated with the "that's the way it is" attitude, but that doesn't usually come from teachers. It comes from administrators who can not think outside the box enough to solve people problems.

And how do you propose that teachers' association and unions provide trained and qualified membership? We have to fight tooth and nail to be treated as human beings, let alone highly trained professionals. We have little choice in teacher training (provided by colleges), are given little chance to make a difference among our colleagues (evaluations are done by administrators, and are often political and not for the betterment of teachers and education), and we have little input in policing ourselves (which is something we can and should do something about).

This is an entirely inflammatory issue, but our unions do not police our membership because it's hard enough to get teachers a break without students during the day. Never mind obtaining actual power to sanction members, approve training and improvement measures, and authorize college programs. Yes, we are professionals, but we need unions because we have never been treated as such and have to fight tooth and nail to be treated as well as the lowliest workers.

So, political rhetoric about SCHOOL CHOICE is nice, but is still just partisan rhetoric. We need to do something real together, and find the important thing that everyone ignores in the sea of words - students are the most important, and what is good for them should be the bottom line for every citizen. Who knows that best? The parents who are involved, and the classroom teachers.

Chuck, if you want to do something for our precious children, go visit a school. Go take a teacher's place for a day or two. Listen to the directives they have to address, the parents they have to appease who tell their kids that we are the enemy, the silly administrative interference that they live with on a daily basis. Then make your decisions about political action based on real experience.


I have absolutely heard "that's just the way it is," from teachers, as well as other staff all the way up and down the line within my district. It's so universal I sometimes wonder if it's a course at orientation.

As it happens, I am a parent who not only shows up for "special ed meetings," but also requests them as needed. It usually takes about 2 weeks to a month to commandeer the calendars of the required people (and one of the things that is "just the way it is," is that they are always scheduled during school hours--very bad time for parents). This is all so that I can try to train some teachers on what it really does say within IDEIA--not that they believe me (we don't do it that way). It happens that my professional life has given me a good bit of experience in writing needs statements, goals, objectives and identifying evaluative measures. Does this make me a valuable member of the IEP team? Not at all. Schools don't want parents to challenge them to actually do these things, and do them well (that is to craft a plan that can be followed and the results measured). What they really want is to throw together a bunch of unrelated sentences about whatever is griping them about this student, tell the parent something general about the kind of student they would prefer to teach (they call this goals) and promise to measure progress based on "teacher observation." They throw in some prewritten notion of services (ie: a special education teacher in a resource room) that no one can deny that they will provide--and ask everyone to sign.

Now as a parent, I can keep fighting to enlighten a new crop of teachers every year (this has been my tack--call me foolish), or just ignore the notices, or just show up and sign off. Sure--parents have a lot going on, but the boomers have been shown to lavish more attention on their progeny than earlier generations. This does not account for the disconnect with schools. Perhaps we should trying doing things in a different way?

I was certainly not implying that attention lavished students are the problem. Speaking in generalities can get one in trouble.

As for your horrible experience, I am sorry. As a parent of a special needs student who has risked my own job to see that my child was given a Free and Appropriate Public Education, I can certainly sympathize. Good for you for being the advocate your child needs. So many parents can not. By the way, do you have doctor's appointments during the work day? Why can't teachers schedule appointments during their own work days? We do plenty outside normal work hours, and try hard to accommodate parents who absolutely can not make it during those hours, but we have families, too, and we are never paid overtime.

All of the things I mentioned above contribute to the disconnect with schools. In fact, all the things mentioned above my post do the same. In what other profession are there so many people who do not have experience and/or training in the field who can wield so much power over that profession? Everyone has been to school, and therefore thinks he or she knows how to run one. That is not the case at all.

The education pendulum swings forward and back all of the time. Styles and gimmicks come and go. The people who survive are not the ones who try any desperate thing to come along, but who are reasonable, keep learning, and strive for the best for all students in spite of ridiculous requirements, petty competition for merit pay or whatever new "spark" rears its head, and never give up on kids, parents, and the world at large. We do change the world, one student at a time, or a class full of students at a time.

There are answers to getting our schools where they need to be. They lie in collaboration, trust among all involved, and support for those who work with students instead of divisiveness. Accounting for diversity among people and their communties can offer so many opportunities for improvement, and obviously there is no cookie cutter solution for everyone in this country. Parents and teachers need to realize that they are on the same side and get together to force their legislatures to do what's right for all students. If that's possible, merit pay will fall by the wayside because teachers will be paid a little better for what they are worth, and schools will truly be the inviting life long learning support centers that they are meant to be.

"By the way, do you have doctor's appointments during the work day? Why can't teachers schedule appointments during their own work days? We do plenty outside normal work hours, and try hard to accommodate parents who absolutely can not make it during those hours, but we have families, too, and we are never paid overtime."

Actually, I give preference in selecting service providers who have some flexibility in scheduling. Every year I get a notice from school reminding parents not to schedule dental appointments, etc. during the school day. My kid's pediatrician has evening hours, so does the counselor that we see regularly. A teacher's regular working hours are about 1.5 hours shorter than mine--yet they cannot stay past the bell in order to have meetings when they are free of distractions. Someone who is supposed to be there is always having to run out because they don't have a substitute. This doesn't help to build trust and collaboration.

If teachers were paid well, would merit pay really be needed? Wouldn't a decent wage actually attract candidates to the teaching profession and possibly retain them in the teaching field rather than quitting after 2-3 years for higher paying jobs? I am tired of losing co-workers that love to teach - but need to make ends meet.

I've gone back and forth on performance pay and have heard/read many an educator speak of it positively and negatively. As a teacher and new administrator I've seen enough of both the administrative and instructional ends of education and have to say the step pay scale is outdated and insufficient, performance pay is effective if given a model to work by and yet be flexible enough to fit the needs of the different districts throughout the country, and overall teachers just need to combine their efforts, work with their unions, and then go to their district offices to improve, at least, this portion of our somewhat flawed education system. If a teacher is effective and is willing to work in a struggling district/school I say pay more or create a attractive package, if new teachers are coming in they need to be trained by on site/effective teachers giving the teacher-coach a significant boost in benefits or pay, and so on. As an aside, I feel those educators not in favor of the performance pay are missing the point or afraid of it, to be paid for being an effective teacher is wonderful and if you're not quite so effective work harder, seek assistance, AND COLLABORATE - NOT COMPLAIN. LA city firemen make more money, have more time off, and get better benefits and you know why, their union is truly unified, if they work more they get paid more, if they do overtime or extra they get paid accordingly, and lastly they have full benefits w/out paying extra for addtional children as well their retirement package is phenominal (as high as 90% of highest paid year for retirement). If educators unite and take responsibility for their schools, their district and essentially their system then we won't have quite have so many issue nor struggling collegues.

I want to thank Anthony for responding to my comments. The use of merit pay should encourage collaboration, not drive a wedge between teachers. But I have another question: in a collaborative setting, would the co-teachers each get the same amount as a singleton teacher or would they each get half as much? I have never seen the inclusion model taken into account in any discussion of merit pay.

The concept of rewarding teachers who work as a team was suggested by the TeacherSolutions team, but so far as I know, it has not found its way into any actual plan -- so far. The details you asked about would have to be negotiated out in a thoughtful way, with the teachers having an active voice in figuring out a solution that accomplishes our goals. As you indicate, one of the keys is to encourage collaboration, so systems must be designed in a way that does this. And you have to get teachers thinking and problem-solving to make this work.

I'm not quite sure yet if I agree with the idea of performance pay. I can certainly understand the advantage that it would have and the incentive it would give our teachers however, I would rather pay everyone in the school system - the title and role of "teacher" is so much more valuable. The teachers who are already in the profession today and have been for many years, could be given the advantage of better teacher training. As students, attitudes and society changes over the years - if we could provide the teachers with a better "upgrade" on quality teaching that fits the student of the 21st century, we could all have the potential to be effective teachers. The teachers who are fresh out of college should be prepared with the latest, the greatest, and the best quality tools to be a teacher of the 21st century yet, when they come to us many are lacking so many skills that they need the "upgrade" as much as some of us do. I'd rather see a school have 100 quality and effective teachers being paid what they are worth rather than a just a handful of teachers here and there who are quality instructors and effective.

On the other hand, when that small group of teachers begin to enter a school that is plagued by unmotivated teachers and they are making more money because of the qualities they hold - perhaps it will motivate others (and the school) to begin to spend the money to get the training they are lacking.

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