Don’t call it merit pay. If you’re ever at a social gathering with a bunch of policy wonks, you can show you’re really in the know by offhandedly referring to “P4P,” a cute acronym I learned today at a conference about “pay for performance.”
New approaches to teacher compensation, which have come in and out of style, are definitely on their way back in. In fact, they are on the table right now in Oakland, as labor leaders and district administrators try to find common ground on a possible new parcel tax initiative for teachers.
Roberta Mayor, Oakland’s interim superintendent, and Laura Moran, the district’s chief operating officer, came to today’s conference to gain insight into the controversial compensation strategy that Obama has recently endorsed. Betty Olson-Jones, the Oakland teachers union president, and a couple of other local union leaders (who were skeptical, at best, of some of these proposals), also came.
“We need a breakthrough,” Moran told me after the first session.
The 8-hour event was put on by academics from Policy Analysis for California Education (a research center at UC Berkeley and Stanford), and by the Full Circle Fund, a San Francisco-based philanthropic organization.
We learned all about Denver’s program, named ProComp, which was largely funded by a $25 million tax levy and amounted to a 12 percent increase in money available to pay teachers. ProComp rewards teachers for a variety of things, including professional development, meeting individual teacher goals (set and agreed upon by each teacher and the principal) and student test score improvements (if more than half of the class outperforms the median test score jump at the state level).
In another panel, San Francisco’s union leaders and superintendent talked about the compromises they made to pass Prop. A, which gave teachers large raises — and included provisions such as extra pay for teachers at high-need schools.
Olson-Jones said she liked what she heard in a session she attended about the pay incentives in Minneapolis, Minn., an approach heavy on professional development and mentoring (I didn’t attend that session, but found a New York Times piece that touched on it).
Given the dozens of teachers in the audience, most speakers were careful to frame performance pay as a collaborative — if “messy” — effort to support teachers and improve schools. Dan Katzir, managing director of The Broad Foundation, wasn’t quite as sensitive.
“Other countries select teachers from the top quartile of college graduates,” Katzir said. “Not us.” While touting the potential merits of test-based performance pay, he then added that such compensation measures might attract “a different breed” of teachers.
Here’s the catch: No one knows if it really works.
Daniel Humphrey, associate director of the Center for Education Policy, SRI International, said very few rigorous studies have been conducted on merit pay, and that they have been inconclusive. While that doesn’t mean that it isn’t effective, he said, “We just don’t know enough to say definitely that, yeah, you’re going to get a student learning gain.”
I could go on and on, but I’ll leave it there. Would you support a new way of compensating teachers — paying them extra for working in tough schools, for example, or for teaching subjects that are hard to staff? For big test score gains at a school or classroom level?
What questions come to mind?
image from iwannt’s photostream at flickr.com/creativecommons