Pay for performance

Denver teachers approved a pay for performance plan that’s contingent on passing a $25 million tax increase.

The Denver proposal would include pay incentives for student growth, measured by improvements on state tests and by objectives agreed upon by individual teachers and principals.

Other factors for pay would be professional development, including graduate degrees and teacher evaluations. Incentives would be offered for hard-to-fill schools or subjects.

The plan is very complex, and will be difficult to implement fairly. However, Denver did complete a two-year pilot that apparently convinced teachers to drop the old seniority-and-credits system.

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  1. PJ/Maryland says:


    It’d be nice if Denver actually ends up with a pay for performance plan, but I think you’re far too optimistic.

    I haven’t waded through the plan’s details (several PDFs can be found at this site), but the fact that it requires $25 million in additional taxes makes me think few teachers will lose by it. This short Chicago Tribune story notes that during the pilot phase, “Teachers got a $750 bonus for each objective they met, with an 88 percent success rate.”

    This press release from the Denver School system says that current teachers have 7 years to choose whether to join the new system (and they can choose to stick with the old system); new teachers hired beginning in January 2006 will automatically be included.

    My idea of a pay for performance plan would be a base salary with bonuses based on student performance or other objective measures. The Denver ProComp plan instead gives salary raises for (subjective) performance measures. Won’t this just lead to teachers working hard until they see their salary as adequate, and then slacking off?

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    Jane, you say Denver “apparently convinced teachers to drop the old seniority-and-credits system.”

    However, part of the story you cite says, “Other factors for pay would be professional development, including graduate degrees and teacher evaluations.”

    The devil is always in the details but this could be smuggling a lot of the “old seniority-and-credits system” back in. Graduate degrees require graduate credits. Around here a lot of “professional development” involves going to workshops and conferences, the usefulness of which is, um, uncertain. If you get more money for more workshops and conferences and everyone does several a year, then you have a seniority system.

  3. Mad Scientist says:

    One thing’s for sure.

    Unions will hate it.

  4. D. Cooper says:

    Seems the union approves…..

    “Becky Wissink, president of DCTA, said, “It’s fitting that Denver – the district that enacted the first collective bargaining agreement west of the Mississippi – has approved the first contract in the nation that will put teacher salaries on a par with many other professions and catapult K-12 compensation into the 21st century.”

    Hmmm … isn’t that interesting … I’m heading for the pop corn maker as we blog.

  5. Mad Scientist says:

    The basic fact is that “pay for performance” typically does not work. The basic reason for this is that there is too much bitching and whining that “Joe go a bigger bonus than me”. So everyone gets paid a straight percentage of their salary.

    Anyone who believes that any evaluation system is objective ought to go get their head examined. I have been subjected to a variety of performance evaluation systems in industry for the past 17 years. Every one requires that someone judge someone else on their performance. When someone makes a judgement, it is necessarily subjective.

    Now, to the “pay for performance” or bonus system, the way it typically works in industry is rooted in how well the company did according to its budget for the year.

    The company earns more than projected, then there is a payout; the company does not meet its goals and the payout is either severely reduced or eliminated. Exactly how is this supposed to work for a not-for-profit? And where is the protection against it just becoming another add-on to the base pay? Over time, it will become an entitlement, and the “for performance” portion will go away.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the idea of bonuses is great; I am eligible for one and received a nice payout this year, based on 2003 results. But it is rare that bonuses are paid out to people covered by a collective barganing unit (at least it’s been clearly stated in the policy manual for EVERY company I have worked at).

    Best leave the bonuses to the professionals who are not slaves to a union. That way it becomes an incentive and not a right.

  6. D. Cooper says:

    Soooo…. unions don’t hate it, but that’s because it really is just a disguised union contract with some trimmings ….. why didn’t I think you would like it? I’m quite fond of that little closing dig …. ‘best leave the bonuses to the professionals, who are not slaves to a union’ (can only I read the demeaning tone in that pearl of wisdom?).

    Mad, you like butter on that popcorn?

  7. Mad Scientist says:

    Once it’s in a contract, it automatically becomes an entitlement. Why not call it what it will turn out to be – a contractually mandated pay increase?

  8. D. Cooper says:

    Mad, I think you’ve got it… I like it… we’ll call them …. CMPI’s ….. I’m starting to like the way you think.

  9. Actually, REAL pay for performance works. The secret is to agree not only on the goals but on how you will measure them objectively BEFORE you do it. Then you either do it or not, as both you and your boss agree.

    In industry, we call them SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Trackable. They must also be in writing, and signed and dated by both you and your supervisor.

    Writing good goals takes work and practice. But it’s worth it when you get that nice pay bonus.

    And why should your friends be jealous? Whether you got a bonus or not is just between you and your boss. That is, unless you’re an idiot and can’t keep your personal business to yourself. Of course, a wise administrator will make it a matter of policy that bonuses and raises are confidential and not to be shared with others.

    Wouldn’t anyone like extra money to be something that is under their own control, and not subject to the whims of personal relationships and cronyism, or political fickleness.

    In my company, you get performance awards (‘bonuses’) as a percentage of your salary, based on the impact that your job has, or potentially has, on the company’s bottom line. An average bonus is about 6% of your annual salary. People with global responsibilities and impact get anywhere from 11 – 16%, and senior management can get 25%. If I choose to work hard and smart, put in extra effort and accomplish more than my day-to-day responsibilities, I can pull down a six figure income annually. It’s called ‘being a professional’.

    We’re trying it with the hourly, union folks. It’s not going as well, since they all want the bonus no matter what and irregardless of whether an individual has done what he agreed to do or not. Since the agreement for individual goals to achieve a payout is a legal contract, they don’t have much justification for their whining. I would expect the same kind of entrenched resistance from teachers, since their organization and behavior patterns in general more resemble those of hourly unionized labor than that of educated professionals.

  10. D. Cooper says:

    Claire, I’m sure Mad’s going to love your take on unions, entrenched resistance and behavior patterns. And that expression …hourly unionized labor … if that isn’t a degrading reference. Just how do you really feel about those lowly scum. I know you didn’t exactly refer to them that way and Mad didn’t exactly call teachers lazy.

    I’d be hard pressed to change your entrenched attitude regardless (not irregardless) of what I might say. My only comment is that I believe you’ve got some deep dislike for teachers based on your experience and I’d suggest that your comdemnation is narrowly based.

    Education is unique in that the bottom line is not a dollar amount, and is difficult to assess accurately. One school’s per cent passing on a particular standardized test may indeed NOT indicate a better performance that one having a weaker score. One tacher may knock themselves out to get poorer results than another doing less. Your surreptitious put down is not only demeaning, it is malicious.

    And, luckily, I too can work hard, take on extra assignments and responsibilites and pull down six-figures, but alas not annually (ten months). And, despite your generous characterizations, I am a professional.

    Union folks indeed … can you be any more condescending? You and Mad are why we have/need unions.

  11. Mad Scientist says:

    Claire, I agree with what you say. However, details of bonus plans somehow get out (i.e., percentages based on pay grades) and people can pretty much figure out where co-workers fit in the pecking order, so people can figure out approximately what bonuses people get.

    Three examples: One company gave out specific performance awards for exceptional achievements, and it was well promoted, so people would be motivated. What resulted was discussions along the lines of “What did Joe do that deserved that?”

    In another company, there was the concept of “at risk” pay. Certain pay grades were guaranteed 90% of salary, with 10% “at risk”. Other lower pay grades were guaranteed 95% with only 5% “at risk”. At payout time those with 5% “at risk” were pissed off that their bonuses were smaller in both $ and % terms than those that had higher “at risk” percentages.

    Finally, there was the case of the IDIOT in upper management who made a copy of his tax form, and left the original on the copier.

    In short – nothing is secret unless someone hands you a check and you keep your mouth shut about it.

    And by the way, my company works under a similar method – although the percentages are somewhat higher. Some 70% of the bonus is based on company performance, with the remainder determined how well you accomplished your goals.

    And for Cooper, there is a difference between “hourly” and “union”. In many companies you can be hourly, but not union. You can also be salaried but not exempt.

    And it’s not just my take. The evidence about union behavior is clearly out there for all to see – you just have to open your eyes.

  12. Mad Scientist says:

    While education is unique in that “bottom line is not a dollar amount”, it is not that difficult to assess accurately. You just need to define what you are trying to objectively assess.

    Say you and your department head agree on the following goal: Mentor two new teachers during the next school year. Once you have defined “mentor” and what that entails, you either do it or not. It has nothing to do with student assessment, it is directly dependent upon your actions (or lack therof).

    Once you move from the contract, and unions see their control slipping away, this concept will also go into the dustbin of history.

  13. D. Cooper says:

    First off Mad, Claire used the term ‘hourly unionized labor’ and that is neither here nor there. My concern is with her condescending remarks regarding teachers being compared to those lowly ‘hourly unionized’ people and of course by neccessity degrading them as well.

    Your contention that evidence is out there regarding ‘union behavior’ escapes me. I can cite some marvelous story about some teacher yadda yadda, and that won’t translate for you to all teachers. Likewise, some horror story about your Buffalo local doing something bizarre doesn’t translate either. I’ll stand on the record of NYSUT in NYS as having promoted the betterment of the teaching profession and education. I’d like evidence to the contrary if it exists as you suggest. And before you ask me for any, it’s you and Claire who are making the claims. YOU begin!! And, may I remind you, good research …. you did pontificate regarding research on another thread here a while back.

    And regarding assessing education results, you neatly stated that is was easy, all you had to do is define what you are objectivily assessing. That debate would be one hell of a thread.

  14. Mad Scientist says:


    Did you ever think that maybe I have a condescending attitude towards unions because they have earned it in my eyes.

    Did you ever learn to read the English language? I was discussing things that could be assessed objectively. And thing that were under an individual’s control. I imagine that taking responsibility for your actions is just too much for a unionista to comprehend.

    I guess it’s your blind union loyalty kicking in that prevents you from seeing anything outside of your microcosm.

    When I cite a case where the local UNIONS are screwing over the kids, does not mean that it is not happening elsewhere.

    There is a big difference between promoting the betterment of the teaching profession and education, and being a bunch of shills for the Democratic Party. NYSLUT is nothing more than a bunch of shake-down artists claiming to be “working for the children”.

    I, for one, am tired of being shaken down.

  15. D. Cooper says:

    Rant away Mad… prove it … don’t just yell on a blog about it. My local gives aways thousands of dollars each year in scholarships, is that an example of screwing over the kids? My union makes sure that the class sizes remain managable so that students can be better provided for. Is that screwing kids over? My union makes sure that only qualified teachers teach, is that screwing kids over? My union offers teachers courses in classroom management and discipline. Is that screw kids over? You made the comment …Here we have unions that conspire to make life miserable for students as well as ordinary people…. here, I assume meaning Buffalo … I’d challenge you to substantiate that claim with solid evidence and expalin. And, if you could show that to be true (I’m trying to get an image here of an executive meeting of the Buffalo’s teacher’s union conspiring to bring evil on children) why would you assume other unions are performing likewise?

    You still have not really documented the source of your hatred, but as I said, people with attitudes like yours is why we have/need unions.

  16. Mad Scientist says:

    Unions here get schools to boycott events that help ALL students because some of the money goes to charter schools.

    That is screwing kids over. I posted two links on that topic.

    The union went on strike in 2002. ILLEGALLY

    That is screwing kids and parents over.

    The Police union decided to run sobriety checkpoints at 7:00 AM on a weekday to make life miserable for commuters.

    That is screwing workers over.

    Maybe it is hatred; maybe it isn’t. Unions are one of the biggest roadblocks to productivity this country is facing. I, like many professionals, have no use for unions.

    But, as you would probably say: Workers of the world, unite!

  17. D. Cooper says:

    The police union?, where the hell do they come from.
    You sir have a job in a profession, but you are not a professional.

    Wow, the union went on strike illegally … 2 for 1 penalty I believe…

    A teacher strike does not necessarily screw kids… how many teacher strikes have there been over the years in NYS? … that don’t necessarily screw kids … for all I know, smaller class size and some other conditions were at issue that improved kids.

    Charter Schools … very few teacher union locals in NYS even have Charter Schools, and not all that do took this kid of action (as you say)

    So you’ve given a few lame specific examples in Buffalo that are hazy at best, threw in a police union…you’ve failed miserably. This you call validating your hatred? You need to check into an anger management program. No, Mad, not maybe hatred….hatred!!! Pure and simple. Hatred usually is a condition through which the truth is very hard to see.

    You never said if you wanted butter on your popcorn.

  18. Mad Scientist says:

    Cooper, you are either stupid or ignorant. I am having trouble deciding which.

    My experience with unions is that they suck. Your experience is obviously different. Warped, but different.

    Every example I come up with, you have a smart answer for. I note how you got off the topic of “pay for performance”, because some of us believe, and have witnessed that such a system will not work in a union environment. Your only rejoinder is that somehow “this will be different”.

    I never claimed to validate my hatred. One cannot validate emotions. I can validate my experiences; these mean nothing to you in your deluded little world.

    Now, try to act like the professional you claim to be.

  19. D. Cooper says:

    When all else fails, name call and marginalize. Excellent. Every example you come up with in no way justifies your claims, it only serves to verify your hatred and anger. Labor unions are by no means at the top of my hit parade, and although many serve their purpose, many have out lived it. However, teacher unions are somewhat of a different animal and have in NYS been very instrumental in their efforts to improve the quality of education. You know and can verify that if you wish.

    I did not say anywhere that I thought this ‘experiment’ in Denver would be different. I just noted that the president of the union in Denver was very optimistic regarding this ‘contract. Where upon you began your usual pooh poohing of the situation. Claiming of course that it won’t work in a union setting, unions screw over kids, and of course your usual elitist comment wherein you like to refer to yourself as a professional and those teachers as those union slaves. Maybe when you become a little less condescending (anger management will help here) you’ll be able to get down off the high horse you’ve been riding here. Like I said, your excessive anger is preventing you from seeing but one thing. And maybe your anger hasn’t been validated, but you sure have hung out here.

    I do not believe I’m stupid or ignorant, but it’s sure better than being angry and hateful. You’re probably very intelligent; it’s a shame you’re so bitter.

  20. Such hatred of unions is completely beyond my comprehension. Perhaps they are particularly bad in America? Our teacher union here in Australia (we only have one for all teachers and principals) has over 90% membership and our teachers have some of the best working conditions in the world because of it. We have only been on strike once in over 20 years and make our gains through negotiation/bargaining and the strength of the membership. United we stand, divided we fall. Employers are not all sweetness and light, bestowing better salaries ans conditions on their workers just because you ask them nicely. Sometimes you have to break eggs to end up having an omelette woth eating.

  21. Mad Scientist says:

    A guarantee of a job for life is beyond my comprehension.

  22. D. Cooper says:

    Thanks Jean, and no, they are not particularily bad in America, but as you can see, some are not overly fond of them. Like most things there are two sides and while all unions are not lilly white neither are they an evil organization conspiring to screw kids over.

    This guy has a problem with unions and has been non-stop in his criticism. He acuses NYSUT of being shakedown artists and a shill for the Democratic party. I myself have only voted for two of them, and one was my daughter’s best friend’s father. And his claim of a guarteed job for life is nonsense… I’ve seen very few teachers die on the job. A little levity is needed here, bitterness wears on you after awhile.

  23. Mad Scientist says:

    Once you have tenure, you can actually keep a job for life.

    Or, if you prefer, call it a job for your working life.

  24. D. Cooper says:

    Not for nothing Mad, but you really need to lighten up.

    Know what’s better then a job for your working life? …. a job for your working ‘wife’. Get it … working ‘wife’, then you wouldn’t have to do anything.

    I know…. doesn’t that sound like one of those lazy unionized “phone-it-in” teachers? Come on, kick up your heels … you’re a little too stiff.