Merit pay

Merit pay may be gaining traction, observes Edspresso, citing this story on Illinois teachers’ unions surprisingly ho-hum response to Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposal to tie teacher pay to student performance.

Leaders with the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers — which together represent more than 210,000 educators — say they could support tying pay to classroom performance … if pay is not tied to test scores alone;

… if local teachers have a hand in designing the salary deal;

… and if it doesn’t shortchange teachers in schools dogged by poverty, high drop-out rates or violence.

“We’re not opposed to exploring this if it’s done in a way we believe gives our people a voice in the process,” Illinois Education Association President Ken Swanson said..

“Not opposed” is a rousing endorsement by past standards.

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  1. Nancy D says:

    Well, it IS important that the merit pay system actually reward teacher driven improvements in performance rather than demographics. If the system only considers one set of student test scores without considering improvement, all the system will do is push more teacher away from schools with challenging populations.

    Even within schools, every class isn’t equally likely to do well. A system that only rewards high test scores may reward teachers of the gifted who haven’t really taught anything and penalize teachers of special education students who have shown enormous gains.

    It sounds like Value- Added Assessment is the answer.

  2. Miller Smith says:

    Under a merit pay system, can teachers sue anyone who undermines their getting a bonus? Here is what happens now in my school system.

    I have several seniors who quit coming to class. They were failing my class and had a chance of passing the final, and thus the class. They went to their senior administrator who told them that they would be passed by him, so they did not have to worry.

    If an end of year test were administered to determine how much value I added to the students which was used to determine if I received a bonus, and the senior scores (all zeros) were counted against me for that bonus, and I did not get the bonus due to those zeros, is it reasonable to hold the administrator liable? (Sorry for the run on run on run on…)

    Most teachers here can detail outside influences that ruin the class averages for the end of year finals. I have students who don’t show up at all for the fourth quarter since they have passing grades for the previous three quarters. My county has a policy of failing a student for the year with ten or more unexcused absences–but the system forbids teachers from using the policy. We have seniors at my school with greater than 20 days absent (161 out of 627) who WILL be graduating tomorrow.

    What are my points? The teacher controls the classroom and grades all the way. There can be an appeal process, but system admin cannot undermine teacher authority. If an admin type–or parent even–causes a child to lower the average on the ‘merit pay test’ due to their bad behavior, then teachers should be allowed to drag them through court for tortuous interference with teacher pay.

    My other point: Why not just keep teachers that you consider good and raise all their pay and fire the teachers you wouldn’t give higher pay to? Merit pay is a coward’s way to not have to fire the bad teachers. Can you believe this merit pay idea? Good teachers get higher pay and bad teachers still teach children. That makes no sense at all.

    Keep the good and pay them all more and FIRE the bad.

  3. I agree with the above. In just about every commercial profession, you have a boss. That boss is responsible for monitoring your performance and deciding if you get to keep your job, get fired or get a raise.

    Sometimes, you get a good boss, sometimes you get a bad one. We all just have to deal with it. Good bosses find ways to monitor your performance without even being present. They set goals for you and track your progress towards the goals. They know that sometimes your progress towards your goal is impeded by things not under your control and they take that into account. Really good bosses (rare, but I’ve had them) challenge you in ways that develop your professional career better than you would have done left to your own devices.

    Why can’t this apply to teachers? What’s so mysterious about managing teachers that they can’t just have a boss who rewards the good and fires that bad?

    Sure, teachers have to deal with unknowns, like students and parents. But sales people have clients. Engineers have to deal with the vagaries of nature. A receptionist has to deal with the fact that sometimes all of the phone lines ring at once. You cope.

  4. The Teacher Advancement Program seems like a good compromise between these two approaches. It requires teacher buy-in. It pays teachers based on their performance, but performance is measured through both value added to student achievement as well as observer-rated performance on a checklist of teaching practices. The program provides support and training for teachers who struggle and it provides advancement opportunities for strong teachers while leaving them in the classroom.

    Minnesota has adopted something like this in its Q-Comp program. These approaches sound more sensible than Florida’s E-Comp, which seems more top-down and less able to handle nuances of teacher performance measurement.

  5. Prof210 says:

    RE: Q-Comp in Minnesota

    Here’s a link:

    Is it just me? Or do others get the sense that every time an idea is developed, lots of people want to implement it nationwide before it has had a chance to work — or fail.

    Let’s see some data on how Minnesota students are doing (controlling for any changes in the demographics of the students) and then talk about adopting their teacher evaluation/compensation system.

  6. No, it isn’t just you prof210, there is a rush to adopt or oppose these ideas before they’ve had a chance to develop. The reason’s obvious if you keep in mind the political nature of the public education system.

    The various stake-holders take a look at a new idea and if it benefits their interests then it’s a good idea and if it doesn’t, it’s a bad idea.

    In this particular case, the pragmatic response on the part of teachers is obviously to resist. It takes an unusually confident person to accept, or even welcome, performance-based accountability when you’ve gone your entire career without it. Why mess with a perfectly acceptable situation?

    To the union there’s no benefit in merit-based pay and, in fact, there’s a serious shortcoming: it creates distinctions between employees based on performance.

    Just keep in mind that of the two words “public” and “education”, it’s the first word that’s the foundation of the system.