Many ways to merit pay

Teacher Quality Bulletin’s merit pay round-up includes a story on a privately funded plan at an elementary school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Each teacher got a bonus based on the percentage increase in her students’ test scores.

For each pupil who made up to a 4 percent gain on the May test when compared with the pre-test last August, the teacher was entitled to $100. For each pupil who made a gain of between 5 percent and 9 percent, the bonus was $200. If the pupil’s gain was between 10 percent and 14 percent, the bonus was $300 and if the gain exceeded 15 percent, the bonus was $400.

Bonuses ranged from $1,800 to $8,600, and cost $65,000. The entire cost was $145,000 including testing costs and bonuses — based on the overall 17 percent gain of students schoolwide — to 25 other employees, including math and literacy coaches, the media specialist and maintenance and cafeteria workers.

In Florida, some districts give merit pay to many teachers; others have plans that make it impossible to qualify. The union wants it that way.

The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association was bitterly opposed to performance pay and helped set the eligibility bar so high that union chief Jade Moore said it would “make it nearly impossible” for any teachers to earn them.

Hillsborough is more flexible and leaves much of the bonus-granting power in the hands of principals.

Meanwhile Florida is having trouble with teacher certification scams (pdf). One 24-year-old claimed to have earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate within three months.

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Comments

  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    There is one thing especially nice about this plan. In most schools all teachers (with the same seniority and ed courses) are paid the same. But teachers with the best students get a significant amount of what economists call “non-pecuniary compensation.” For most teachers, it is just more enjoyable to teach better students.

    The better students are least likely to achieve large improvements. In fact, it is close to mathematically impossible. So teachers who are already getting a bonus in the form of better students won’t get much of this bonus.

    Set the bonus high enough, and some good teachers who now avoid bad students may actually try to get their classes.

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I would much prefer that teachers develop their own merit pay proposal. I have confidence in their ability to do so as long as someone locks the union rep in the closet while they deliberate.

  3. Roger Sweeney wrote:

    Set the bonus high enough, and some good teachers who now avoid bad students may actually try to get their classes.

    This would be opposite to what occurs now in which the teachers with the least senoirity and on the outs with the administration are the ones who get the worst students.

    Also, someone who wasn’t familiar with the delicate nuances of the situation might jump to the unfortunate conclusion that teachers can be motivated by their own self-interest.

  4. Nancy D says:

    Allen,

    I don’t understand your second paragraph. Will you explain.

    Isn’t everyone motivated by self interest to some degree?

  5. I don’t see any evidence of anything new that the teachers did, only that they were given explicit marching orders to teach to the test. A pot of money was laid at the finish line to emphasize the point.
    So, what got squeezed out. The music, the art, the physical education, and all the other untested subjects. this may or may not be progress.

  6. I teach the best and the worst, and I like the balance in my schedule. I learn a lot (and enjoy) both groups.

    I think if teachers had more job mobility, we might be willing to take on tough classes and schools. Realistically, I know I would burn out in an urban school, but I might be willing to do it until I felt the burn if I knew I wouldn’t take an enormous pay cut if I chose to move to another school after 7 or 8 years.

  7. SuperSub says:

    Atlas-
    One, if the test is designed well and based upon the curriculum, guess what – teaching in anticipation of what’s on the test leads to teacher’s teaching the curriculum. Wow.
    Plus, giving a varied set of measurement requirements would prevent complete focus on a test. A system such as this would also allow for specialty-area teachers to earn bonuses, although it would be much more difficult to gauge. I’m not saying all the merit pay systems are well-designed, but the priciple is one that can motivate teachers greatly.

  8. Supersub: If if if if. Sure if music were tested. but it wasn’t and you know it wasn’t and it won’t be. Math and science and that is it. Well mostly. By the way, I’m a science teacher

  9. Katherine C says:

    I don’t trust the process of trying to gauge all of student learning via multiple choice tests. It doesn’t make sense to me. For one, many students don’t take them seriously. My brother and his friends used to bubble in random answers on standardized tests. They figured they were boring and the results didn’t matter for them anyway. Some of my own friends in school were like this. In addition, some things just can’t be tested multiple choice and although I know they try on these tests to include some essay questions, etc, it seems to me as if the grading of those might be very rushed, etc, and that wouldn’t allow for the best or most fair results. Additionally, the person grading the test wouldn’t know the students individually and whether or not that was an improvement in their individual abilities and the results wouldn’t reflect this so that teacher could have helped that child out a lot and not gotten any credit for it because they still weren’t up to grade level. Anyway, just had to rant.

  10. Katherine C says:

    Oh, forgot to mention that I did notice this specific bonus did notice improvement in individual pupils. I just meant that usually things like this don’t seem to do that.

  11. Nancy D wrote:

    Isn’t everyone motivated by self interest to some degree?

    Oh sure. I’m just needling Mike from Texas who represents teachers-as-a-seperate-specie point of view.

    That’s the one posits that teachers are distinctly more compassionate, more caring, more sensitive then…well, that isn’t quite made clear although the fairly heavy-handed intimation is that it’s the balance of humanity.

    I’ve checked and teachers are entirely mammalian. So, of course teachers are motivated by self-interest. But in the public education system that self-interest is largely frustrated.

    Does it matter if you’re the best teacher in the school? Sure. To your students. To their parents. But does it mean anything to your travel agent? To your mortgage holder? To your credit card company? Of course not. The best and the worst teacher in a school, or in a state, have earnings that in no way relate to their skills and performance if they work for the public education system.

    It just seems obvious to me that if you worked in an environment in which your skills literally – and I hope the author of “Literally, a Web Log” won’t find anything offensive in my use of the word – have no value you’d find it increasingly difficult, over time, to take much pleasure in the use of those skills.

    Atlas wrote:

    So, what got squeezed out. The music, the art, the physical education, and all the other untested subjects.

    Every job has its priorities and in education the obvious top priority is the basic skills. If they aren’t larnin’ readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic then why are they learning life skills, diversity appreciation and, well, music?

    Get the the top priorities done, or at least make it incontrovertibly clear they are getting done and then you can put up the curtains.

    If getting basics accomplished means foregoing the enrichment activities, as they say in the trade, then so be it. Since society’s paying the tab then the skills important to society are the ones that get the emphasis. That’s the way it ought to be and that’s not the way it is.

  12. SuperSub says:

    Atlas-
    The world runs on “ifs.”
    You state the failures of immature merit pay programs, yet you fail to take into account that they are new and that there are those who will actively sabotage them in a district. Merit pay is a way to recognize those teachers who actually give a damn and try their best to improve their students.

  13. I would love to be rewarded for doing a good job in the classroom, but I’m not sure how it can be handled equitably.

    In elementary school, one teacher has her kids for all subjects, so any improvement a kid makes, pat that teacher on the back.

    In secondary (where I teach), how do you handle this with multiple teachers? A student may have one teacher one semester and a different one the next. If the test scores go up, who gets the credit? If I’m teaching Geometry, and the end of year test covers Algebra and Geometry, will I get penalized because the student may have had a lousy Algebra teacher the year before and doesn’t do as well in the Algebra skills?

    A lot of bugs need to be worked out before I can buy into a merit pay system for high school.

    FYI – I think students should be able to evaluate teachers in high school just like they do in college…gives a lot better picture of what’s really going on inside the classroom every day.

  14. ragnarok says:

    There’s no question that designing a merit pay system that will be broadly accepted as workable and fair is a real challenge. However, it’s at least something to work towards, and the fact that many organisations have merit pay is an indication that it can and does work, though not perfectly.

    The current union no-merit-pay system, on the other hand, absolutely kills any initiative; even the most dedicated teacher sees the droid the the next room getting the same rewards as he, and kills his desire to do better.

    Most groups know who’s good and who’s bad in the group. I suspect teachers are the same.

  15. SuperSub says:

    I’m not sure about your schools, but two of the schools I’ve subbed significant time in have had teacher and employee recognition… pretty much employee of the quarter or so. Yes, there is little definition to the criteria for whoever decides (its some sort of committee), but it allows for the award to be given to anyone- teacher, aide, janitor, cafeteria worker, etc. The main component is that the person did an outstanding job at making the school and students’ lives better. There is no pay benefit or anything for this, but why not tack on a little bonus? It may seem small and inconsequential, but even the smallest amount shows appreciation.

  16. Jill wrote:

    I would love to be rewarded for doing a good job in the classroom, but I’m not sure how it can be handled equitably.

    Which means that, by default, you’re opting for no meaningful recognition of your professional skills. The devil you do know over the devil you don’t.

    I can understand that point of view and, in some circumstances even support it. But it isn’t just your concerns that are at stake. It’s the education of all those kids and the responsible spending of public money that are also at stake.

    Does the absence of a means of rewarding teacher competence, and punishing teacher incompetence, serve the education needs of those kids?

    Obviously, no. A lousy teacher and a good teacher have precisely the same standing in a system that takes no note of teacher competence. But the effects of the lousy teacher aren’t just offset by the effects of the good teacher. It’s always easier to destroy then to build so that lousy teacher has a disproportionate effect on the education recieved by the kids.

    How important is a equitable system now?

  17. No financial reward isn’t equal to no reward at all. The notes (especially the notes dropped sneakily into the homework drop!) and small gifts from students and parents at the end of the year are meaningful, valuable, tangible rewards for me. I’m not saying money doesn’t motivate me at all, but it is false to say there is no positive reward system in there at all. It does bug me that other teachers don’t do their job when it comes to the kids — absolutely; when it comes to a sense of being cheated myself, I know I’m going to do my own thing no matter what, so I don’t worry about it in that sense (and my parents will back that statement up :)).

    Jill, we have students do a bubble-in evaluation of their teachers every year. A company called EBI supplies it. (I don’t know what it costs — our district gets it for free.) To some degree it gives a picture of the class, but I find some pretty wild answers in the results. Even the company tells you to take some of it with a grain of salt. I also wish some of the questions were better. Because my principals are in and out of my room all the time, and because I tend to work with the types of students who are in and out of THEIR offices all the time, I find they have a pretty accurate idea of what I do anyway. I also know what my rep is among the student body, and I consciously manipulate that a bit.

  18. RCC wrote:

    No financial reward isn’t equal to no reward at all.

    I don’t believe anyone suggested otherwise. However, one thing no financial reward is equal too is no financial reward. It’s not the financial reward that’s at issue here but the financial distinction between good and bad teachers.

    Currently, there is none and while there are probably some teachers for whom financial rewards are of secondary importance the majority, I would guess, don’t feel that way.

    when it comes to a sense of being cheated myself, I know I’m going to do my own thing no matter what

    Bully for you but the erosive effect of the knowledge that whatever good you do can be undone by someone who shouldn’t be a teacher is still apparent. Not everyone has the internal resources to withstand that knowledge and deal with it by either learning not to give too much of a damn or by leaving the profession. You probably know of people in both categories.

    Think of it as the educational equivalent of Gresham’s law – bad teachers driving out good.

  19. LOL. I’m never sure how to react when you tell me how I am, allen.

  20. Mike in Texas says:

    I’ve followed this discussion and there has been a lot of talk about how high school physics teachers should be paid more, since its such a difficult subject. As an elementary school teacher I have a different view of this arguement.

    Without some kindergarten and first grade who first taught that student to read the physics teacher couldn’t teach any of the students. And what about the other teachers along the way who developed the child’s reading and math skills to the point they could understand what the physics teacher is doing? Why are their contributions any less valuable?

    My school has an attendance incentive plan. We get $100 for having perfect attendance for the year. In the past 2 years I have not taken one single sick day for myself. My pride in what I do is what gets me to work each day. I missed 1 day one year b/c my daughter got sick as soon as we got to school, and I missed 7 or 8 days this year with a terminally ill parent.

    BTW, my two good friends, one a Wal-Mart dept. manager, and one a manager for a telemarketing company think my $100 attendance bonus is hilarious. They routinely get several thousand dollars a year in bonuses.

  21. ragnarok says:

    Mike in Texas wrote:

    “Without some kindergarten and first grade who first taught that student to read the physics teacher couldn’t teach any of the students.

    Why are their contributions any less valuable?”

    Because high-school physics is harder than elementary school stuff, and there are fewer teachers who can master it. We shouldn’t carry this too far, though, as even high-school physics is relatively simple stuff.

    As for your friends at Wal-Mart etc., remember they can be fired at the drop of a hat; no pension, no 9-5, no union, and so on and so forth. No guaranteed raises, either, it’s all merit pay.

  22. Think of it as the educational equivalent of Gresham’s law – bad teachers driving out good.

    One reason for that is the public teaching profession is highly political – and that the worst teachers are usually the best politicians, and vice versa.

  23. Because high-school physics is harder than elementary school stuff, and there are fewer teachers who can master it. We shouldn’t carry this too far, though, as even high-school physics is relatively simple stuff.

    Also, elementary school is less about knowledge and more about control through boredom and emotional manipulation. Elementary education has been dumbed-down more than any other stage of public schooling – to the point that the kids are forced to read “Dick and Jane”, or whatever PC guilt trip modern kids are forced to read, for six years straight, unless they are in a “gifted” program.

  24. Dick and Jane went out 40 or so years ago. Boxcar Kids, Lemony Snicket, Junie B. Jones, etc. come to mind as books my daughter’s mentioned as doing in school. Mostly it’s a lot of free choice at that age. That’s the influence of Whole Language.

    I don’t think high school math and science is very difficult. There may be a shortage of people out there who want to teach it, but it’s hardly the stuff of geniuses. Even I have enough college course work to be certified in science if I wanted.

  25. ragnarok says:

    RCC said:

    “I don’t think high school math and science is very difficult. There may be a shortage of people out there who want to teach it, but it’s hardly the stuff of geniuses.”

    Remember Sara Boyd, who thought 8 out of 80 was 1%? And Bob Williams, he of the 4th %ile verbal/2nd %ile quant on the GRE General TEST?

    And remember Sara Boyd’s suit?

    “White applicants,” the suit alleged, “have passed the CBEST at a rate of 80 percent, while African Americans, Latinos, and Asians have passed at rates of only 35 percent, 51 percent, and 59 percent, respectively.”

    You may feel it isn’t that hard, but would you really care to assert that most teachers agree with you?

  26. RCC wrote:

    LOL. I’m never sure how to react when you tell me how I am, allen.

    I’ll put it in terms of a question then.

    Does it bother you that there are teachers you know who couldn’t care less about the quality of the education they’re imparting, that the destructive effect those teachers have is beyond your power to repair and that there’s not a thing you can do to change the situation?

  27. I don’t think the teachers I work with think math and science are that difficult. I can’t speak for those I don’t know.

    allen: I don’t worry about stuff I can’t do anything about. Bad for my blood pressure. But there are no teachers like you describe in my building.

  28. Dick and Jane went out 40 or so years ago. Boxcar Kids, Lemony Snicket, Junie B. Jones, etc. come to mind as books my daughter’s mentioned as doing in school.

    OK, so I’m showing my age.

    Mostly it’s a lot of free choice at that age.

    There was none at my age, even – especially – for those kids who could handle it. One thing that hasn’t changed, is the wasteful repetition of the same material for the first six years. If the kids can’t learn it so early, why bother teaching them at age 6? Why not teach them at age 9 when they are more mature?

    That’s the influence of Whole Language.

    I doubt that Whole Language by itself is to blame. I agree WL is a poor way to teach English, or any other Indo-European language.

    I don’t think high school math and science is very difficult.

    Neither do I, but it seems to have trouble attracting those capable of teaching it.

    There may be a shortage of people out there who want to teach it, but it’s hardly the stuff of geniuses. Even I have enough college course work to be certified in science if I wanted.

    Most of the people (IMO) qualified to teach science and math are working in post-secondary academia or private industry (engineers, accountants, etc.) They are the ones who should be hired, not “professional” teachers steeped in cultish Educational Foundations, Educational Sociology, or Educational Psychology.

    None of these courses lend to teachers any practical knowledge of how to teach. But they are so political and content-free that they drive away prospective knowledge-based teachers, especially science and math specialists.

  29. The influence of Whole Language is lots of free choice in what to read and the ability to read at your own level, Beeman. It’s a good influence. Those phonics-based basal readers are what you’re railing against.

    You can’t hire those who don’t apply.

    I’m interested in what you think of my college transcript since you seem to think you know what is on it.

  30. RCC wrote:

    I don’t worry about stuff I can’t do anything about. Bad for my blood pressure.

    Of course. You’re a professional. You’re paid to do a job and no one’s going to be as concerned with your blood pressure as you are, right?

    But there are no teachers like you describe in my building.

    No? And why would that be? Some special, local condition which, like some wines, doesn’t travel well?

    Must be because I know of an large, urban school district which, on the evidence, hardly has any employees who give a damn about anything other then their paycheck. Certainly they don’t care about the quality of the work they do.

    Maybe they could use a touch of the magic that’s infused your building. You’d be willing to share the secret, right? Or would that have an adverse effect on your blood pressure?

    Those phonics-based basal readers are what you’re railing against.

    Six years worth? Try again. It’s Whole Language that’s so wonderful that it can’t accomplish in six years what phonics can accomplish in six months.

    Six weeks with a good teacher.

    You know, like the kind your building is stuffed with.

  31. ragnarok says:

    RCC, given the failing rates quoted in the Sara Boyd suit, how come you say “I can’t speak for those I don’t know.”?

    These are figures for California, one of the largest states. And remember, we’re talking about the CBEST, no Laplace transforms or Mean-value Theorems on it. If they can’t do this, how can they teach high-school math and science?

    It used to contain some trig problems (“What is the percentage of vowels in the word COSINE?”), but this was clearly discriminatory and the courts gave it short shrift.

  32. Actually, since you won’t believe a word I type, I’ve decided this is poor for my blood pressure as well. I’ve answered all these questions in the past, including the actual statistics from my district (which I’ve repeatedly said is not large and urban), and it’s readily apparent that you’re not really all that interested in what I have to say. It’s boring having a conversation in which no communication occurs. I’m going to move on to a conversation in which I can learn something (because there is quite a bit I do have control over and need to get right).

  33. The influence of Whole Language is lots of free choice in what to read and the ability to read at your own level, Beeman. It’s a good influence. Those phonics-based basal readers are what you’re railing against.

    That is entirely possible. Maybe the dumb normal earthlings need phonics. Many times elsewhere, I said that if everyone needs the same thing, it is a personalized curriculum. Only that would be fair.

  34. RCC said:

    “The influence of Whole Language is lots of free choice in what to read and the ability to read at your own level”

    Hmm, I thought there was a pre-defined minimum reading level for each grade. Nothing wrong with kids reading above grade level, but if they can’t read at the minimum level they don’t belong in that grade.

    Don’t know much about Whole Language, does it enforce a minimum level?