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Administrator Magazine: Leadership
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Weigh In: Does Performance Pay Work?

A panel of education leaders give their gut-level reactions.

Is performance pay the future? 
Is performance pay the future? 

“Tax dollars should be spent on today’s teachers and kids”

Michael Bennet, superintendent of Denver (CO) Public Schools, says, “We have a performance pay initiative known as ProComp, which preceded my tenure (I’m in my fourth year as superintendent). But it is a measure I strongly support. The Denver Teachers Union and Denver Public Schools jointly ratified ProComp—it got 80 percent of the vote by teachers. “In our budget, we realized only $7 million of a $25 million budget was being spent on teachers, and that incrementally the bonuses were not making enough impact. But the program was renewed and substantially increased last fall and will total $31 million this year.

“Our criteria for performance pay is not wholly based on student achievement, but on a variety of metrics, including professional development, student achievement, faculty in high-need schools, and skills in short supply.

“A school-wide system inspires collaboration while maintaining elements of individualized incentive. In education, we have a lot of systems that are unaligned, and misaligned from the objectives of kids. It begins with figuring out exactly what we’re trying to measure.

We find a core dilemma in measuring the progress of one fourth-grade class to another. Student achievement must be analyzed at the individual, granular level: How did this one fourth grader fare in the third grade? In the second grade? We measure historical progress as well as individual progress by state comparisons.”

“We must honor the work of all our teachers”
if performance pay is to work, says Dr. Betty Sternberg, superintendent of Greenwich (CT) Public Schools. “Teaching is a profession in which we must foster collaboration of staff in the interest of raising achievement of all students. Traditional merit systems that seek to reward one teacher over another are counter-productive in such an environment. For a performance pay system to work, we need to develop a system that honors the great work of all teachers in a building and fosters cooperation, not competition, among teachers. We need a system that looks at the performance of individual teachers and looks at the achievement of the whole student body in each school. In other words, we need to develop a system that rewards the entire faculty body of a school for the work it does with the entire student body of a school.

“In order to make determinations about a school’s achievement, we need to look not only at achievement outcomes of students based on standardized tests, but also on outcomes that take into account the social/emotional development of students through sports, community service, and the arts.
“This can be accomplished through a teacher evaluation system that identifies research-based best instructional practices and sets clear expectations about levels of practice. In Greenwich, it has taken us two and a half years to develop and agree on the indicators and how we identify levels of performance.”

“The focus should be school-wide teacher performance,”
says Dan Weisberg, the chief executive for labor policy for the New York City (NY) School District. “In New York City, our program was launched a year ago, in December 2007, with 205 schools participating in a school-wide performance bonus program for teachers. Participating schools must meet targets in order to qualify for performance pay, based on the Progress Report grades.

“The Progress Reports are assessments of student academic achievement and progress, as well as student attendance and the results of annual parent, teacher, and student surveys about schools’ learning environments. All of this information is completely public and available on schools’ websites. If a participating school meets 100 percent of its target, then the school receives an amount of money equal to $3,000 for each full-time uft member in the school. It is up to the school’s compensation committee to decide how to split up the money in the school.”

“Performance pay undermines strong teacher collaboration,”
says Roger Rada, superintendent of the Oregon City (OR) School District, “as well as collegiality. That works against what we’re doing in the Oregon City School District. Over the last two years our state assessment scores have improved dramatically. Much of that improvement can be attributed to teachers working together in professional learning communities. We don’t need teachers competing; we need them collaborating with one another.

“Merit pay’s premise (and promise) is that teachers will somehow work harder in order to earn more money. That premise is fundamentally flawed. The vast majority of teachers enter the profession to make a difference in children’s lives. Although they expect to earn a decent salary, their biggest paycheck comes from the psychic rewards they receive when their students experience success. The accountability that policy makers seek from the education enterprise will not come from top-down evaluation of performance and the promise of more pay for improved results. Teachers are not entrepreneurs and they’re not salesman. They serve students much like a pastor serves a congregation or a doctor serves a patient.

“We find that accountability comes not from competition, but rather from collaboration. Historically, teaching has been an isolated activity where a teacher received a group of students, closed the classroom door, taught the subject, tested the students, and assigned grades. The teacher was accountable to the building principal who observed the teacher twice a year. As one might imagine, many less-than-average teachers could muster that many satisfactory performances each year.

“In a collaborative environment, teachers working in teams are accountable to one another. They share their students’ work and their students’ progress in achieving specific standards; they make decisions on how to teach struggling learners; and they assist their colleagues in mastering new teaching techniques. When teachers come together to discuss their students’ learning, an internal accountability develops that isn’t present when teachers work in isolation. They want to live up to their colleagues’ expectations and they learn from one another. It’s a powerful force. We have seen some average teachers improve significantly, and we have seen some less-than-average teachers decide to leave the profession rather than endure the pressure that comes with this internal accountability.”

“We reward all staff members—teachers, assistants, custodians—for success,”
says Karen Carter, principal at Meadowcliff Elementary School in Little Rock, Arkansas. “Meadowcliff began a merit pay program during the 2004–05 school year. After much discussion, we designed a plan that would provide monetary rewards based on student growth to all staff members, including teachers, specialists, custodians, nutritionists, etc.

“Two aspects of thi