Making merit pay work

Merit pay motivates teachers if they fear losing compensation, writes Patrick Brennan, citing a new study.

Researchers offered performance pay to two groups of teachers in nine low-income K-8 schools near Chicago. Half were told they could get up to $8,000 at the end of the year, based on their students’ progress. The other half got $4,000 up front with the chance to make more if their students’ made above-average gains or give back money if their students showed below-average performance.

“Gain” groups showed weak but insignificant benefits for student achievement, while the “loss” groups showed very significant gains . . . “roughly the same order of magnitude as increasing average teacher quality by more than one standard deviation.”

Apparently, “loss aversion” is known to be a more powerful motivator than the hope of gain.

Bloomberg’s $20,000 teacher bonus

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposes a $20,000 salary increase for teachers rated highly effective two years in a row, reports the New York Post.

If they ever get to vote, city teachers would approve merit pay even if their union opposes it, Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday.

“Will the teachers union stand in the way of their most effective members being rewarded for all of their work?” Bloomberg asked during his speech before the US Conference of Mayors in Washington.

Washington, D.C. teachers rated “highly effective” are eligible for annual bonuses of $2,400 to $25,000 a year.

Merit pay doesn’t work, responded Mike Mulgrew, president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers.

Arthur Goldstein, who teaches English to immigrant students at Francis Lewis High School, says no to Bloomberg’s bonus in the New York Daily News.

The bonuses will reward teachers who teach to the test and never challenge their principals, Goldstein argues.

Whatever happens, teachers like me — who advocate for kids, who have no qualms about making the odd phone call to an education reporter, who care about honest education more than test prep — are never going to get merit pay.

. . . We are role models. We inspire kids. We teach them to speak out, stand up, to express themselves. That will be particularly tough if we’re all placing knives in one another’s backs chasing bonuses.

We are not wait staff, and I know of not one teacher who got into this to work for tips. More importantly, I refuse to believe that teachers who don’t get merit pay are without merit. If, in fact, we do not have merit, we should never have been hired in the first place.

Margaret Coppolo, a middle school teacher in Manhattan, thinks the $20,000 offer is “worth seriously considering,” if the city can work out a fair way to evaluate teachers’ effectiveness.

We need to keep our best teachers in our most struggling schools and compensate them for their dedication.

The merit pay “efforts that have failed either didn’t offer a compelling enough incentive or linked bonuses to school-wide results and not individual performance,” writes Coppolo.

In Washington, on the other hand, where significant raises are tied to an individual teacher’s effectiveness, early results show improvement in teacher retention and achievement.

In my newspaper days, I was a member of the union, the Newspaper Guild. We received higher pay for up to six year of experience. After that, experience didn’t matter. We got small bonuses for working a swing or night shift and for certain jobs, such as copy editing or editorial writing. Beyond that, an individual could try to negotiate merit pay, known as overscale, with his or her boss. I never thought of merit pay as a tip. It was a recognition of the value I added to the newspaper.

If parents show up, teachers earn bonus

In some Idaho districts, teachers’ merit pay is based on parent attendance at conferences.

At Wendell High, up to 70 percent of the possible bonus is based on how many parents show up for conferences. To earn the maximum bonus, the teacher must inspire at least 40 percent of parents to attend.

Wendell Middle School bases half of the school’s pay-for-performance plan on the percentage of students who complete their portfolios for student-led conferences. Ninety  percent of portfolios must be completed to trigger the maximum bonus. The theory is that if students do portfolios, parents will show up.

Do teachers really control whether parents come to school?

The future of teachers means accepting parent power, writes RiShawn Biddle.


(Bad) Teacher of the Year

Bad Teacher, starring Cameron Diaz, is doing well at the box office. The black comedy is the “most scabrous portrayal of public education ever put to celluloid,” writes Sean Higgins in The American Spectator.

(Diaz’s character) doesn’t bother to teach the kids at all, regularly shows up to class hungover, solicits bribes from parents in exchange for good grades, embezzles money from school fundraisers and tells the one go-getter in her class to give up her dreams of becoming president in exchange for something more realistic, “like a masseuse.”

When I first started teaching, I thought that I was doing it for all the right reasons: Shorter hours, summers off, no accountability …” she explains.

Instead of teaching, she shows movies about inspirational teachers in class. Her job is safe — even when another teacher tells the principal she’s doing drugs on campus. He doesn’t want to tackle the union.

When she learns of a bonus for the teacher whose students earn the highest test scores, she tries to teach, but is lousy at it. So she tries to cheat on the test.

When her rival tries to expose her fraud, Halsey has her — a teacher who actually does inspire students — framed for drug possession and bounced out of the school. And that’s the happy ending.

I doubt viewers will see Bad Teacher as a documentary. It’s a take-off on Bad Santa‘s boozing, foul-mouthed safecracker, which nobody thought was telling the real truth about Santa Claus. Bad Santa is funny because we like to think of even department store Santas as jolly and kindly. Bad Teacher plays off the stereotype of the dedicated teacher. If that image didn’t exist, there’d be nothing funny about a kid-hating teacher.

Bonus doesn’t lure best teachers to worst schools

A $5,000 bonus hasn’t attracted board-certified teachers to high-poverty schools in Washington state, concludes a Center on Reinventing Public Education study. Washington gives every board-certified teacher an extra $5,000; those who teach in “challenging” schools get $10,000. However, fewer than 1 percent of Washington’s certified teachers move from low-poverty to high-poverty schools each year.

Gov. Christine Gregoire’s 2011–13 budget proposal calls for suspending the bonuses, which is projected to save nearly $100 million over two years.

A bonus for ‘gold-star’ teachers

If the teacher is good, students learn even in a large class. If the teacher is so-so, a small class doesn’t help.  Rick Hess proposes gold-star teachers who’d earn more for teaching larger classes. Students would be placed in gold-star classes only by request.

Teachers whose students post larger-than-normal gains for at least two consecutive years would be eligible to opt into the program. . . . Participating teachers would teach up to 50% more students than normal–say, 36 students rather than 24–and would be rewarded for their increased workload. Continued participation would depend on a teacher’s students continuing to make larger-than-normal gains.

Increasing class size by one student saves about $3,000, using average teacher salaries and benefits, Hess writes. A gold-star teacher who taught 36 rather than 24 students would save $36,000.

Awarding the teacher half that amount yields an $18,000 productivity bonus (a 35% bump for the median teacher). The state and district would split the other $18,000. Even on a trial basis in grades four through eight, such a program could help states shave school spending by two or three percent–tallying hundreds of millions in some cases while rewarding excellent educators.

Could this work?

Learn Anytime online classes at Kentucky’s Jefferson Community and Technical College pay instructors $65 per student. One very hard-working adjunct instructor earned $120,000 last year.  See Community College Spotlight for more.