Performance pay: a step forward or back?

money.jpgEarlier this year, the Oakland teacher’s union rejected $18.84 million in cash bonuses for its members — on principle.

To be more precise, the union’s executive board decided not to endorse the school district’s grant application for the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Incentive Fund. The hefty grant, if awarded, would give cash bonuses to stellar teachers (or teachers of high-scoring students) at high-needs schools for the next five years.

Betty Olson-Jones, the union president, argued there were too many strings attached. Although the idea behind the cash rewards was to share good teaching practices, she said, the system would only cause divisions among teachers.  She also said it basically amounted to merit pay, which is not part of the contract.

Why am I bringing this up now? Education Week today has an interesting article about performance pay, in its various forms, and it mentions the Teacher Incentive Fund. The story says that more than a half dozen states have launched programs to give teachers financial incentives based on test scores at the classroom or school level. (Sorry, I just realized you have to log in to see the story.)

It also mentions how similar efforts to retain top talent backfired or fizzled in the 1980s.

District spokesman Troy Flint informs me that Oakland didn’t win the grant after all, but that surely won’t mark the end of the differentiated pay debate.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Frank Oaks

    Getting back retired ineffective district administrators as highly paid consultants on matters they were unable to resolve when they were responsible for their compliant implementation is an outrage and insult to our Oakland students. It is also a clear indication that things have not changed in regards to highly paid outside consultants under the state take-over.
    We have heard from reliable sources that the former head of the district compliance unit, Pam Bouvier, who in more of one occasion angered the parents of bilingual students for her incompetence and neglect over the required English Language Advisory Committees (ELAC) is going to be hired as a consultant to provide training on establishing ELACs at the district schools.
    She retired last year in the midst of district serious violations regarding ELACs and SARC (which by the way triggered a lawsuit by Public Advocates) but now she is being hired as a consultant to provide workshops for district employees regarding ELAC committees at the modest price of more than $ 200.00 an hour ( over $ 2000.00 for 9 hours).
    It is a well known fact among parents of English learners and DELAC/ELAC members that when her office last year was charged with establishing these committees at the schools, she did not rehire the bilingual Teachers on Special Assignments (TSA) and instead, her monolingual TSA failed to establish the ELAC committees. Very few ELAC committees were finally established late due to the pressure of the DELAC members but most of them were merged with the School Advisory Committees (SAC) because she was against the ELACs.
    Isn’t this a very high cost for sharing her experience and expertise on how to alienate parents of English learners and how to maintain the district out of compliance with the state regulations related to ELACs and bilingual education?

  • Skyline Teacher

    If you pay teachers extra for test scores, many will want to cheat — whether by actually bubbling in the right answers, or by getting low-performing students out of their classroomos one way or another.

    Is that really what we want? Here’s what schools need to do:

    1. Support teachers properly in terms of technology, resources, training,schoolwide secuit, libraries, etc.
    2. Give them less class time and more prep and grading time.
    3. Have a meaningful review process that is done at least every 2-3 years for every teacher.
    4. Create professional levels that take into account both seniority and reviews.

    Tying pay to test scores is just a quick fix that causes as many problems as it creates.

    The vast majority of the problems in schools come from above and below.

    Above: Lack of resources, revolving door leaders + entrenched bureaucracy, educational policy written for political purposes by non-educators.

    Below: Underclass families where children are not supported, stimulated or cared for in a way where they can thrive in school.

    Sure, there are bad teachers. Fire them or retrain them. Anti-union folks say “You can’t fire a tenured teacher.” No, it’s just not EASY to do so IF you don’t do due diligence: Review the teacher seriously and regularly. If a teacher is properly reviewed, they can be fired. Most school administrations, however, are too overwhelmed or burnt out to do this. And the system trundles on….

  • http://ibabuzz.com?education Steve Weinberg

    On the issue of performance pay, I have examined the tests scores of many middle schools over the past 10 years, and I have never seen a very high correlation between good teacher performance and high tests scores. I haven’t even seen a consistent pattern of the best teachers showing the highest gains in test scores. It would be nice to think that offering more money to effective teachers to get them to work in hard to staff schools would help close the achievement gap, but you need to consider that a teacher who is successful in one type of school might not have the skills to deal with a very different group of students. Give hard to staff schools extra funds to reduce class size and to give teachers more prep time and more support and you will have better success.

  • John

    Skyline Teacher — It is incredibly difficult to remove a tenured teacher, and requires that multiple years of poor performance be documented and recorded. In addition, the documentation must be flawless, and it is quite easy for a savvy teacher to create additional barriers for administrators. While all this is happening, the teachers will continue to perform poorly with students year after year, and those students will continue to suffer from it.

    We cannot move the teaching profession forward if we continue to protect poorly performing teachers. There is no other industry in which a professional can continue to perform poorly year after year, but still maintain their job and receive salary increases. We need to move beyond that cycle.

    Also, if you look closely at the grant proposal the district was submitting, it actually did not award teachers based solely on student performance on tests. The proposal would reward entire teams of teachers and schools where high quality instruction and best practices were being implemented. The teachers and schools would agree to have a review committee come to their school and document these practices so that they can be shared with other teachers within the district. Ultimately, the goal is for all schools to have access to proven best practices that could raise the achievement of students across the district.

  • Venus

    Re: the removal of tenured teachers. I can say, after nearly 17 years in this district, that it is a rare principal who actually does the due diligence necessary, as noted by Skyline teacher above, to fairly and honestly evaluate teachers.

    The principals with whom I have worked have spent even less the minimum time supposedly required to evaluate me or any other teacher. It has actually been at least eleven years since I had a real evaluation. There is an entire process in which there is a pre-observation conference, the actual observation, and the follow-up conference. This is supposed to happen a couple of times a year, in addition to an unscheduled conference. This just doesn’t happen!

    Moreover, some principals use the evaluation process to air their personal grievances. Since I have been a teacher who often asks the “hard questions,” I have had principals, who didn’t even bother to do the actual observation, much less any other part of the process, write negative evals based, not on my teaching, but on my personality. Obviously, it’s easy to get these evals thrown out. It amazes me that they don’t follow the process.

    Most of my principals (maybe I’ve been particularly unlucky) have hired their personal friends and acquaintances and allowed many of these underperformers to fail in many ways. Last year, one of our teachers, who was a personal friend of the principal, missed the entire first month of school, and this was not due to illness or emergency.

    At the moment, the district is hiring principals who have only two or three years of teaching experience. The principals in Oakland are very, very young, and while youth itself does not mean incompetence, almost none of the young principals I’ve seen or heard of seems able to manage a staff of people who may be twice their age in many cases, and most lack the teaching experience to provide good evaluations.

    The process to which teachers are, by contract, entitled, is designed to help them become better teachers, not to fire them. If the principal was actually set on helping the teacher improve, rather than just trying to document what may or may not even be real shortcomings, rather than merely a tendency to ask hard questions, there might even be improvement. Very few people go into teaching having already given up. If that happens later, the principal should step in and help the teacher improve. If a teacher gives up, it’s probably due to the terrible conditions in which we are expected to function. When I consider how poorly I was treated as a brand-new teacher, and in fact, how poorly I continue to be treated, I often wonder why I stay. I know the answer is because I feel committed to what I’m doing and have a good support system and confidence, but the fact remains that although I have National Board Certification, several awards for outstanding teaching and a half-dozen credentials, I continue to be treated poorly for suggesting that problem may lie, at least, in part, with incompetent administrators.

  • http://ibabuzz.com?education Steve Weinberg

    In response to Frank Oaks’ criticism of Pam Bovyer at the top of this page, I’d like to say that in my role as a TSA working on implementing our School Site Plan I always found Ms. Bovyer fair and highly committed to making sure schools fulfilled all the many state and federal requirements.

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