Category Archives: Merit Pay

Teaching Today: Change is Afoot

DSC00329Teaching today is a much different profession than it was 30 years ago. Truthfully, it is significantly different from what it was nearly 15 years ago when I became a teacher. And the profession is likely to change even more in the next five to ten years. While some veteran teachers argue that many of the current changes to teaching are unspeakable, I am convinced that much of the reform to teaching is for the best (best for children, that is). Here are just a few areas where the teaching profession today and moving forward is significantly different from what it was just a generation ago.

  • Job Security Fewer teachers today, and most likely even future teachers going forward, will enjoy the degree of job security that teachers in previous eras enjoyed. A high degree of job security has certainly made teaching attractive for some. The reality of the profession has been that regardless of whether a teacher is effective, he can usually manage to find and keep a teaching job somewhere (often teaching our most vulnerable children). That era, however, is coming to an end. For many teachers today and most teachers tomorrow, job security will be dependent on their effectiveness. Teachers who cannot demonstrate their effectiveness, through their students’ performance on standardized examinations, will find themselves struggling to keep their jobs.
  • Seniority For generations, more senior teachers have enjoyed the privileges of having first dibs on ‘choice’ teaching assignments and greater protection during reductions in force (RIF). During RIFs it has been customary for teachers last hired to be the first ones let go, while teachers with seniority have been protected; a practice commonly known as LIFO (Last In, First Out). While LIFO and other teacher seniority provisions remain a part of some teachers’ collective bargaining agreements, such provisions are becoming less common. And in cases where seniority provisions haven’t been completely negotiated away by school districts, seniority privileges are being curtailed, giving district and school level administrators greater discretion in teacher hiring and retention. It will soon be the norm in public school districts that teachers’ hiring, retention, and transfer will be based on their effectiveness, not their seniority.
  • Teacher Salary Public school teachers’ salaries have long been determined by their years of teaching experience and their level of education (bachelors, masters, doctoral degrees). In such systems, all teachers with five years of experience and a masters degree would have the same base salary, regardless of their effectiveness. But teacher pay is now being reconsidered. Policy makers, researchers, and educational leaders are questioning whether current teacher salary models makes sense in the current era of performance-based accountability. States, school districts, and charter schools are now experimenting with different approaches to teacher pay including merit pay, performance pay, performance bonuses, differentiated pay by subject area, and market-based salaries. Aspiring teachers and teachers who are relatively early in their careers should expect that in the near future their pay will be be at least in part based on their effectiveness (as measured by their students’ performance on standardized examinations).
  • Teacher Leadership While teachers have always been called on to lead in various capacities, teachers are now being asked to take on school-level leadership roles like never before. Much of the change in the expectation that teachers lead may be attributed to the increasing popularity of distributed and shared leadership models in P12 schools. Anyone going into teaching or intending to stay there should expect to take on significant formal and/or informal school leadership roles throughout their career. Such roles might include department chair, subject area lead, professional learning community (PLC) lead, peer mentor, trainer, and school or district level curriculum leadership positions.

The Teacher Salary Schedule Must Go

Since my time as an early career teacher it has always struck me as odd that teachers’ pay is as regimented as it is. I can remember my introduction to the teacher salary schedule as a first year exceptional children’s teacher in the New Orleans Public Schools. As a new teacher, I remember coming to the conclusion that it did not matter how good a teacher I became, how hard I worked, or how much my students learned, my salary would be determined solely based on the number of years that I stuck around and whether I earned another degree. That message is not one that we should be sending to new teachers, veteran teachers, or potential entrants to the teaching profession.

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work with many teachers as colleagues, mentors, mentees, and students. Many of those teachers have been exceptional professionals, but a significant minority of them have not been. As I reflect on the teachers that I have seen and worked with over the years, a few things are apparent to me. First, there has not been a strong correlation between teachers’ years of teaching experience and their instructional prowess. While nearly all teachers take a couple of years to get the lay of the land and get comfortable with teaching, beyond those initial years I have seen immense variation in teachers’ abilities. I have worked with the third year teacher who could teach circles around the 10-year veteran, and I have worked with the 15-year veteran whose expertise in classroom management resembled that of a first-year teacher fresh out of a sub-par teacher preparation program.
Similarly, I have seen absolutely no correlation between instructional expertise and holding a masters degree. I have worked with teachers holding masters degrees in whose classrooms very few children learned anything, and I have worked with teachers holding only bachelors degrees in whose classroom no one–child or adult–ever left without learning. Now, after having taught in and researched teacher and administrator preparation programs across the country, I can completely understand why this is the case (I will explore this in a future post).
Here are a few things that I have learned about teachers: 
  • Some teachers are great. Some teachers are good. Some teachers are average. Some teachers are below average. Some teachers should not be teachers.
  • There is a strong positive correlation between great teachers and student learning.
  • There are a myriad of factors that contribute to great teachers being great. The list is as long as the discussion of the factors is complex.
  • Inputs like years of experience and additional degrees may be important, but these factors may or may not be positively correlated with student learning.
With all that said, we continue with a system where teachers are paid according to inputs (years of experience and graduate degrees) with no consideration of their outputs (student learning). This is preposterous. It makes absolutely no sense to me that a school district would pay two 10-year veteran teachers with masters degrees identically even when one teacher is clearly outstanding and the other is clearly not. It makes even less sense to me that a school district would pay a bad, 10-year veteran teacher significantly more for teaching 6th grade mathematics than it would pay a 5th year teacher who is clearly outstanding. What is even more ludicrous to me is that two teachers with identical inputs entering the profession in the same year in the same school district would earn identical salaries for the length of their careers regardless of whether they have differential development as teachers. What these realities say to me (and to teachers) is what we value most is you sticking around a long time whether you are good or not, and getting a masters degree. If children happen to learn anything in your classroom, that’s fine but not necessary; we are not going to reward you for it. 
As I am not one to mince words, let me go on the record here to say that I think the teacher salary schedule is ridiculous. While it may (or may not) have been useful in previous generations, it will not help us to encourage continuous improvement in the teaching profession or to steal top-notch talent from other professions in the 21st Century. The teacher salary schedule must go, and it must go now. It has already had an unbelievable negative impact on the teaching profession and P-12 student learning. We must eliminate its use immediately so that it can do no more harm.

Bill Would Provide Incentive Pay for Kentucky Teachers

A bill filed in the Kentucky Senate would provide incentive pay for Advanced Placement (AP) teachers in Kentucky. Senate Bill 13 would expand on a current privately funded initiative, Advance Kentucky , which provides pay incentives to AP math and science teachers in 44 participating schools across Kentucky for improving students’ scores on math and science AP examinations. Senate Bill 13 would expand the number of schools where teachers would be eligible for these incentives. The bill was approved today by the Senate Education Committee and will move forward for full Senate consideration. If passed, it would come at an initial price tag of $1.2 million to the commonwealth and the cost would increase as additional schools came onboard.

Although this measure would impact a relatively small number of teachers in Kentucky, if it is passed it could represent a growing willingness to consider models of teacher compensation outside of the traditional, regimented teacher salary schedule. Policymakers and education officials should begin to consider such ideas now; for I believe the day is near when they will be forced to dramatically revamp if not completely abandon current traditional notions of how teachers should be rewarded and paid.

Tying Teacher Evaluation to Student Performance in Louisiana

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has received considerable attention over the last couple of weeks as a result of his voiced support for tying teacher evaluation in Louisiana to student test score growth. Jindal said recently that a system which evaluates and financially rewards teachers based on student test scores is a central component of Louisiana’s Race to the Top proposal for overhauling the state’s education system; but that regardless of whether the Race to the Top proposal is successful, the state will move forth with developing and implementing the new evaluation system. 

The system that Jindal is pushing for would evaluate teachers in part based on “value-added” measures of student performance. In other words, teachers would be evaluated on the amount of academic growth that students make over the course of the school year. Value-added measures differ significantly from absolute measures. In an evaluation system using absolute measures for evaluation, teachers might be evaluated on the percentage of students that meet a fixed or absolute standard. An example of such a standard would be the expectation the 80% of a teacher’s class scores at the level of “proficient” on end of the year standardized exams; or that all students in a teacher’s class are reading “at grade-level” by the end of the school year. The problem with such measures is that they fail to take into account students’ levels of performance when they enter a teacher’s classroom at the start of the school year. It is really pretty ridiculous to hold a teacher to the expectation that her eighth grade students will be reading at grade-level by the end of the year if he started the school year reading at the second grade level. Value-added measures, on the other hand, are measures of growth; so they do take into account students’ levels of performance at the start of the year and for extended periods of time. Value-added measures can also adjust for special student characteristics such as limited English proficiency, or learning disabilities.
Louisiana’s proposed use of such an evaluation system has garnered the state an unprecedented amount of positive attention for public education. This is not to suggest, however, that the proposal has not been criticized by some. In fact, the Louisiana School Boards Association’s Board of Directors is cautioning local boards of education to “evaluate very carefully before making final decisions” to sign onto the state’s Race to the Top proposal, charging that the “changes proposed do not rest on proven research and have been challenged by well recognized national authorities.” Also, the Louisiana Educators Association (LEA), Louisiana’s largest professional educators organization, has voted to not endorse the state’s Race to the Top proposal, citing among other reasons, the State Superintendent’s and Department of Education’s unwillingness to work with them on the teacher evaluation process. LAE’s major dissatisfaction with the state’s proposed evaluation system is the percentage that the value-added measures would account for in teachers’ overall evaluation. The LA Department of Education has proposed that the value-added measures would account for one-half of teachers’ evaluation, while LAE leadership would prefer that the measures account for no more than one-third of teachers’ evaluations. Louisiana’s second largest teachers union, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT), also has disagreements with some of the particulars of the proposed evaluation system, but has chosen to remain engaged with the state in the development and refinement of the Race to the Top proposal, with LFT president Steve Monaghan reasoning that “Too many Louisiana children are too poor with needs too great to walk away from a share of the $4.4 billion Race to the Top funds.”
In the end, I have no doubt that Louisiana’s bid for Race to the Top funding will be successful and the state will probably go on to lead the nation in using student performance measures as a major component of teacher evaluation. While not perfect, the value-added measures represent not only a significant improvement over using absolute measures for teacher evaluation, but also a much more common sense approach to setting expectations for teachers. There is a widely-held misperception that teachers are flatly opposed to being held accountable for student performance. That is untrue for most teachers. What most teachers argue is that they should not be held accountable things that are beyond their control. A classroom teacher has no control over a students’ learning before coming to his or her classroom. Teachers also argue that special student circumstances such as disabilities and limited English proficiency must be factored into setting expectations. The use of value-added measures for teacher evaluation purposes moves us a step closer to being able to hold teachers accountable for student performance without making them the whipping children for factors that they truly have no control over.

NEA Change of Heart on Merit Pay?

Speaking to members of the National Education Association (NEA) at their annual meeting, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan challenged union members to consider the idea of linking teacher pay to student achievement- www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-07-02-teacher-pay_N.htm?obref=obinsite  Surprisingly, Duncan’s comments were met with what USA Today reported as “raucous applause and only a smattering of boos.” I think this is pretty big news. Both the NEA and the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) have been incredibly resistant to this idea. I don’t want to read to much into this, but could their response be a sign that the NEA is in the midst of an ideological shift regarding their stance on teacher merit pay. Or could it be that they see the writing on the wall that big reform is coming, like it or not, and it might be more advantageous to sit at the table and help decide what it’s going to look like than to continue to fight a battle that they will inevitably lose. 

What do you think?

Duncan, States, & Merit Pay

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U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said to officials at the National Science Board today that to solve the problem of finding good math and science teachers we should pay them more money. In Duncan’s words, “We pay everybody the same. We have areas of critical need- math, science, foreign language, and special education in some places. I think we need to pay a premium for that” (Holland, 2009). I have,in previous posts,addressed some of the concerns of teachers unions surrounding tying teacher pay to student standardized test scores. But in all likelihood, systems that differentiate teacher pay are an impending reality for most public school systems, if for no other reason than the opportunity to get additional federal funding. There are many different ways that this can be done, but as state education leaders move in that direction, my hope is that differentiated pay is used as a tool recruit and retain effective teachers.

What do I mean by effective? I mean teachers that get the job done. Researchers and practitioners agree that effective teachers are those that posses both the content knowledge AND pedagogical skill to bring about gains in student learning. Recent trends in legislation seems to place much greater emphasis on teacher content knowledge, but a high school teachers’ expertise in physics is of no use unless she/he can relay their understanding to their students. If he/she can not, then school districts are merely paying folks to stand in front of classrooms and be smart. That does students no good at all. Many of us have “not so fond” memories of brilliant college professors who stood at the front of the class and “taught” for an hour three times a week, and yet we learned absolutely nothing. That is not what we want to replicate in our K-12 classrooms.

So as states start to flesh out proposals for the new Race to the Top competition, my hope is that they will use differentiated pay to attract and retain good teachers; not just teaching applicants with impressive resumes (i.e. prestigious college, high gpa, Praxis test scores, experience outside of teaching), but teachers who can bring about student learning. The purpose for all of this must be student learning. That’s all that counts.

References

Holland, S. (2009, August 25). U.S. students fall behind counterparts in math, science, analysis says. CNN.com. Retrieved August 26, 2009, from cnnwire.blogs.cnn.com.

Merit Pay and High-Poverty Schools

The News & Observer reported today that the Wake County School Board (Raleigh, NC) is discussing the possibility of applying for a federal grant that would provide pay incentives for teachers at high-poverty schools. The idea of merit pay for public school teachers is an extraordinarily controversial issue, and it is not my intent here to weigh into the merit pay debate. Rather, I propose that we consider the idea of ‘fairness’ that seems to get thrown around a lot in these discussions.

The ‘fairness’ question posed by opponents of merit pay is usually something like this: Is it fair to teachers at low-poverty schools to pay teachers at high-poverty schools a higher salary? Let me say first of all that I think this is an important question to consider. However, this is a question of fairness to teachers. I believe that before any questions of fairness to teachers are considered, we must fully consider how our action or inaction affects the lives of children. That being said, I offer the following ‘fairness’ questions for us to consider:

1. Is it fair to students in high-poverty schools that most teachers wouldn’t even consider teaching at their schools without incentives?

2. Is it fair to students in high-poverty schools that administrators sometimes must resort to hiring less than top quality teachers due to small and/or weak teacher applicant pools?

As always, I would love to hear from you!