Pay for progress

The Teaching Commission — a group of government, business and education leaders — proposes basing higher teacher pay on students’ progress. Don’t hold your breath.

The group also recommends an increase in base salary for all teachers to make the profession’s pay more competitive; new paths for teachers to boost their pay and responsibilities without leaving the field; and financial incentives for teachers to serve in hard-to-staff schools or take on high-demand subjects.

Teachers’ unions oppose pay for progress, saying it would ignore teachers’ contributions that aren’t reflected in test scores.

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  1. Steve LaBonne says:

    Is there _any_ possible measure of teacher performance which the unions would be willing to consider as a factor in setting pay? Or are teachers supposed to be compensated like unionized factory workers (with top performers paid no more than drones of equal seniority), yet at the same time magically regarded by society as genuine professionals? Can’t have it both ways.

  2. I don’t think that a direct link can always be made between a teacher’s ability/skills and the student achievement. Maybe I’m a dork here, but doesn’t the student have to try to learn? Every time I hear these proposals, I think of the honors teachers with the motivated students. These teachers may or may not be better at teaching, but it is the students that achieve the results.

    Such proposals to link bonuses to test scores can only be fair to teachers if they have a diverse range of students. Without that, it’s impossible to really know how good a teacher is. Put an honors teacher in a special ed class and there’s no guarantee that there will be great achievements.

    I think that such proposals can be part of a series of bonus programs, but if that’s the only one, then there are going to be a lot of teachers trying desperately to teach only in honors academies, gifted programs, and such. And there will probably be lawsuits wherein teachers claim they were assigned poor students in an attempt to punish them.

    By itself, these proposals are dead and should be.

  3. Bill Leonard says:

    Seems to me we have more than one issue here. Among them:

    *Teacher’s unions seem routinely to oppose anything they didn’t think of, can’t control, or that doesn’t contribute to the increase in dues-paying membership.

    *There’s the matter of professional v. union member. Management employees (who are usually, but not always, professionals) frequently operate on a goals- or outcomes-based performance plan for a 6-month to one-year period; merit pay is based on these measurements, among others. Union employees typically work to contract. Among the many problems teachers face is the fact that they can’t have it both ways. They’re professionals, or they’re union employees — and in my judgement, they’ll remain union employees as long as the prevailing union attitude seems to equate the classroom with the factory floor.

    *There are problems to be overcome with the matter of merit pay for teachers; some have been raised in this thread. Some method other than achievement based on standardized test scores likely will need to be devised.

    *Meanwhile, there are good teachers, mediocre teachers and truly incompetent teachers. But there is no way to get rid of the incompetent. Seems to me the teachers and their unions could gain immediate credibility be finding some way to purge their own ranks of the incompetent, the time-servers and the dead wood. But that would mean the end of tenure?…Oh. I see.

    Ah, well. Perhaps we should just continue to follow the standard union position: trust us, and give us more money.

  4. Bill Leonard said summarized it nicely, I think.

    Another union anecdote demonstrating the ‘have their cake and eat it too’ attitude: Our company, like many in the industrial sector, implmented a combined merit pay and goals-based pay-for-performance approach. Merit pay increases are based on overall performance against specific, globally-defined criteria for that job level and attendant responsibilities (how good you are at doing your job). Pay-for-performance involves specific, measurable annual performance goals for an individual or group, where the pay includes portions based on company, division, department, and individual performance goals. For example, if the company meets overall goals, you get that percentage in payout, even if your division, department and you personnally missed achieving your goals. Company executives only get bonuses if the employees also get bonuses – that’s in the company’s corporate operating rules.

    The local labor union actually proposed, during labor contract talks, that their members should be entitled to pay-for-performance bonuses, that they should get them across the board at the maximum payout, that union members shouldn’t have to have personal goals to achieve in order to earn the bonuses, and that they should get the bonuses at the max. payout level even when the company didn’t meet performance goals. In my book, it takes a lot of sheer, unmitigated gall to ask for this, but the union negotiators were shameless in asking. There wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of their getting it, either, thank goodness.

    By the way, salaried employees were skeptical at first, until they’d been through it the first time. Now everyone feels as if they have some real control over their pay. Also, all available job openings must be posted on in a global electronic database, and anyone can nominate themselves for any job they’re interested in; you only have to have your supervisor’s permission if you’ve been in your current job less than 2 years. So you have control over your own job, and can even try something entirely new. If it doesn’t work out, you and your boss can mutually allow you to look for something else; you don’t get fired for trying something new.

  5. In thinking about teacher evaluation, I think it would have to be based on two things: 1) observations of the teacher in the classroom, unannounced, on several occasions (at least 6). 2) Student portfolios of work — the evaluator needs to look at samples of student work from the beginning of the year, the middle, and the end, and judge the growth of the student. A reflection by the student on their learning for the year should be included in this portfolio. This would free teachers to work with the toughest kids without fearing for their job or paycheck.

  6. jeff wright says:

    > Is there _any_ possible measure of teacher performance which the unions would be willing to consider as a factor in setting pay?


    > Or are teachers supposed to be compensated like unionized factory workers (with top performers paid no more than drones of equal seniority), yet at the same time magically regarded by society as genuine professionals?


    Steve LaBonne and Bill Leonard nailed it, although Steve is off-base in observing you can’t have it both ways. So far, the teachers have been able to pull it off. But they are not professionals. They can’t be. A true professional would never permit his or her profession to sink into such disrepair.

  7. “Put an honors teacher in a special ed class and there’s no guarantee that there will be great achievements.” The junior high school I went to (a very long time ago) did exactly that. Mr. Conrad was an exceptional honors math teacher. He also taught the “remedial” classes, and from what I heard did quite well there, too. And this was in his FIRST YEAR as a teacher.

    But five years later when my sister entered the same school, Mr. Conrad had quit teaching. Also, a teacher that could make 7th grade Michigan History fascinating had quit to become headmaster of a private school, and several excellent older teachers were retired. Meanwhile, the worst teacher I have ever seen remained there, in his 25th year of drawing pay for failing to teach anyone anything.

    The title of JJ’s post was “Pay for Progress”. That’s not pay for having good test scores at the end of the year, but pay for improvement over the previous year. Hand a good teacher a remedial class, and while there might be extra difficulties, there is also so much more room for improvement…

    It’s a bit different if “special ed” is also used as a dumping ground for unmotivated kids and gross discipline problems. (Some kids with real disabilities also have terrible attitude problems, by the way.) Teachers stuck with babysitting delinquents should get extra points just for keeping them from burning down the school – but a really good teacher should still manage to reach some of them.


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