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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Why Performance-Based Pay for Teachers Makes Sense

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Up until now, I have stayed away from hot-bed political conversations but I am now right in the middle of one: Performance-based pay for teachers. I am currently managing a grant to implement performance-based compensation systems in ten charter schools and the fun is only beginning.

When I was a teacher, terms like career ladder, merit pay, and performance-based compensation were prevalent and I was intrigued about how teachers could be paid differently. It always bothered me that all teachers got the same pay, but didn't all do the same level of work. This seemed to be the immutable law and if a teacher wanted more money, they either stayed in the district for as many years as they could endure, or they applied to another district with a higher pay scale.

Later I discovered that this law was not so firm as I originally believed. When math, science, or ESL teachers were in short supply, all of a sudden, they were offered signing bonuses, language differentials, and hard-to-staff-position stipends.

To me, this opened the door to the idea that some teachers are more important than others, at least to the hiring officials. Conversations about career ladders, or master teacher positions popped up and then disappeared just as fast. But in my heart of hearts, I always felt teachers deserved to be paid according to their efforts.

A Value-Added Score

I have heard all of the arguments against performance-based compensation: creation of rivalry and competition, bad feelings and envy, strife and hostility are all predictions of what comes out of performance-based compensation plans. I know of several school districts in Texas that refused to participate in the state sponsored performance-based pay plans because they wanted to avoid the predicted negative consequences and didn't want the hassle, or didn't think they could design a system that is fair.

My feeling was that it is money for the teachers and the classified staff, why not let them have it? I figured the hassle of designing a system that approaches fairness was worth it if it put more money in teachers' pockets.

The lack of fairness was always brought up as an excuse. What about the teachers who teach the gifted kids, or worse, the ones that get the stupid kids (yes, I said it), or a teacher who inherits kids from poor communities, bad teachers or bad schools the previous year? Nobody could answer those questions until we looked at business and borrowed from them the concept "value-added."

In the last few years, state governments have been experimenting with performance-based compensation plans. A few have incorporated the concept of value-added education which means that the teacher measures the level of the students knowledge and skills at the beginning of the year, then at the end of the year, and the difference, hopefully positive, is what "value" that teacher added to those students. Now we have something that is fair.

So I ask, what is the complaint about performance-based pay system?

As a last resort response I always got, "I didn't become a teacher because of the money. I am a teacher because of the kids. If I wanted the money, I would have become a doctor or lawyer." Aside from being stereotypical, this answer always bothered me. Why not work for free then? Why worry about striking for fringe benefits and increased salary? Of course it is about money! Every teacher could use the money.

It wasn't until recently that I understood that the real concern about performance-based pay was not about the money at all. It is about performance of the teacher. Performance is shown when each individual student's progress is connected directly to his or her particular teacher or set of teachers. Based on how much the student learned, as demonstrated by the pre- and post- tests, a teacher will be assigned a value-added score. Teachers won't be able to blame the prior school-year teacher, nor the parents, nor society as some have done. If the score is low, it is either the kids are stupid, or the teacher is ineffective. We know that kids are not stupid, so...

How can a union protect a teacher from remediation, sanctions, or dismissal if the data shows clearly that the teacher is ineffective with the current students? It can't. And the traditional role of the union will have to change if it is to exist, just as the traditional role of the teacher must change.

What are your thoughts regarding performance-based compensation for teachers? I look forward to your comments.

For the counterpoint to this blog, check Gaetan Pappalardo's blog Elementary Educator Asks: Does Merit Pay Turn Kids into Zombies?

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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Comments (65)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Eric Ceresa's picture
Eric Ceresa
High school art/English teacher from suburban Detroit

Your article is called "Why Performance-Based Pay for Teachers Makes Sense." And then you go on to give examples of why it WOULD make sense... if students were interchangeable automatons and all schools were boarding schools.

When I can control all aspects of my students' home life, and when I can exclude that minority of students who, despite the best efforts of all those around them, just refuse to learn, then I'll cheerfully submit to performance-based pay. While students' lives outside of school continue to have MUCH more impact on their performance than anything I do in the classroom, and since performance pay has been studied and the studies have suggested it doesn't do any good, you'll forgive me for not being excited to be punished for the failings of society.

I teach some needy kids, you see. I like working with them most of the time, and I think I'm good at it. But they're needy. As long as I'm not penalized for working with them, I'd like to keep doing so. But once my pay depends on their home life, I'm going to have to think about supporting my own family first and start looking for another job. And I doubt the first-year teacher they replace me with is going to be as effective as I am, at least for a while. But by the time he is effective, he'll probably get tired of being penalized for his students' home life too, and will have followed me out farther into the suburbs, to the easy-to-teach kids.

Larry Hartog's picture

Having been in the business world for twenty years and also a big sports fan, the use of performance based pay can appear to motivate people to achieve outcomes that are remarkable, which is the hope for this tool in education. My experience and observations indicate the one key ingredient missing in education, especially for teachers, is some control over the variables that affect performance. In the business world, many companies are rewarded as suppliers for delivering products on time. How do they make sure they are on time? They invest in inventory to be reasonably certain they will make deliveries on time. The company awarding the performance doesn't tell them how much inventory to invest in, they leave that to the supplier. Similar examples could also found in the sports world. My point is that most teachers have no control over the inputs they receive that affect their performance. It is easy to quantify the effects on student performance where learning is occurring in environments that include run down schools, students struggling with poverty and administrators that create barriers, all of which a teacher has little control over. Lacking the ability to control inputs makes it difficult to motivate teachers to reach for higher outcomes by offering them more money!

John Robinson's picture

I only had to read the words "When I was a teacher..." in Mr. Johnson's post to know the relevancy of what he was going to say. It is easy to be an armchair quarterback. It is these ed "reformers" who are pushing their misguided policy ideas down the throats of those of us who know ideas like merit pay are exercises in futility. Mr. Johnson tries the old tactic of "dismissal due to union" too. He needs to spend more time in the classroom and working with teachers instead of reading all the current education reform drivel that's out there.

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator

Larry:

Larry thanks for your comments. I would like to reply.

I agree. Money is not the motivator. Perhaps we should call it value added teaching instead of performance based pay, because that is what it really what it is all about. Data is at the heart of the process both for the teacher and the student. I must add that value-added teaching will not work with the traditional school isolation, intense teacher collaboration is necessary.

You mentioned that things are out of the teacher's hand and that a teacher should not be judged for what they have no control over. We don't have control over those things anyway, and we never will. But is it too much to reward teachers for striving to improve the things over which they do have control?

Can a teacher improve how he or she teaches? Of course. Can a teacher improve the learning environment? Of course. Can a teacher help students to learn better? Of course. A teacher should be rewarded for that. Value added teaching should be rewarded.

Performance based pay comes after the hard work-- it should be based on multiple teacher observations, teacher professionalism, classroom student performance, and school-wide student performance. Such a system can be fair and motivational for teachers and students.

Sincerely,

Ben Johnson
San Antonio

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator

John:

You are welcome to read my other posts to know a bit about who I am. I don't know that I ever stopped being a teacher, so I should have said, "When I was a new teacher". I am currently working with ten charter schools, who take teaching and learning to new levels with the most severely needy student population. I think I know what is happening in schools.

I know that you are tired of people telling you what is wrong with education. You are correct that many of them really do not know anything about it. I have been in your shoes.

I need you to know, right off the bat, that a fair and representative performance-based pay will not work in the system that you are so fervently trying to protect and defend. The current system of teacher isolation and top-down bureaucracy are designed to maintain the status-quo, not growth. You must agree that we need growth.

The system that I am trying to establish (not from my armchair) is one that gives the teachers and and the administrators a structure that uses the best that we have learned from professional learning communities and monetarily rewards and recognizes them for extra efforts to help their fellow teachers and their students. I can't see why that would be bad. ...Or you can keep the current system, hide in your classroom, and be happy with your coffee mug you received on the Day of the Teacher.

Frankly it would do you some good to read research on how professional learning communities can revitalize the teaching and learning process (you might start with Rick DuFour).

(By the way, this is a federal grant and your fellow union buddies in Washington DC are the ones that are funding it-- are they pushing this down your throat?)

Thanks for posting your feelings. I knew this was a hot potato when I wrote this post.

Sincerely,
Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

[quote]I only had to read the words "When I was a teacher..." in Mr. Johnson's post to know the relevancy of what he was going to say. It is easy to be an armchair quarterback. It is these ed "reformers" who are pushing their misguided policy ideas down the throats of those of us who know ideas like merit pay are exercises in futility. Mr. Johnson tries the old tactic of "dismissal due to union" too. He needs to spend more time in the classroom and working with teachers instead of reading all the current education reform drivel that's out there.[/quote]

John Bennett's picture
John Bennett
Emeritus Faculty in the School of Engineering / University of Connecticut

I see lots of comments from very obviously caring and thoughtful teachers. I therefore have to believe they regularly self-assess the level of success of their efforts, making adjustments as needed. Why then are they NOT willing to join other interested people to find or develop assessment for all to use? Don't consider it punitive to assess all - most everyone is. As many have noted, $$$ does not motivate; I would think working for a good assessment, improving on areas found wanting, would be very positive and thus very motivating and thus satisfying. Why the apparent disconnect?

Joy's picture
Joy
K-6 gifted/talented

In a mock trial based on the book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! the Grinch states that he took away the Who's toys, gifts, and Christmas trees to show everyone in Who-ville that there was more to Christmas than just toys and presents. To his surprise Christmas came to Who-ville even without the presents. Everybody started singing, and the Christmas joy came even without the toys. Christmas didn't come from a store. Christmas does mean a little bit more.

It seems that today education comes from the store of specific instructional content, indicators, and data gathering evidence. Like buying the presents and toys, adults believe that by using this strategy or that program, scores will be raised and children are educated. Value added. Isn't education a little bit more?

Cheryl's picture
Cheryl
seventh -eighth grade Language Arts teacher-special education

As a special education teacher, I work with students that have not only missing skills but a history of failure. I do my best to encourage, model, and teach to missing skills (social, emotional and academic). Merit pay would most likely be tied into the student achieving the state benchmark for academic content areas...none of the students on my caselaod, or in my classes have achieved this goal, and many are 20 points below grade level (translates to 4 grade levels lower than their actual grade). If merit pay is enacted, I fear that teachers simular to me will not reach district goals and thus not make merit pay.

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator

Eric:

Thanks for your post. I know how you feel. At one time I felt the same.

I think it is important that we speak the same language about performance based pay. 50% of the performance is the teacher's performance on multiple observations. One part, usually 30% is based on the teacher's own classroom student performance, and 20% is based on the school performance. Also performance based pay is added to the current salary, not the sum total of the salary. So that means that you are not punished by student issues outside of your control and you are rewarded if you and your team find creative ways to motivate your students to learn more.

Having said that, performance based pay by itself, with no support and structure for improving teacher capacity, effectiveness and attitudes will fail. Those are the ones your studies talked about.

Here are just a few of the studies that say that teacher performance pay can improve teacher and student performance, not just because of the pay, but because of the systemic structure that is involved.

Lavy, V. (2007). Using performance-based pay to improve the quality of teachers. Future of Children, 17(1), 87-109. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Koppich, J. E. (2010). Teacher Unions and New Forms of Teacher Compensation. (Cover story). Phi Delta Kappan, 91(8), 22-26. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Slotnik, W. J. (2010). The Buck Stops Here. (Cover story). Phi Delta Kappan, 91(8), 44-48. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Podgursky, M., & Springer, M. G. (2007). Credentials Versus Performance: Review of the Teacher Performance Pay Research. Peabody Journal of Education (0161956X), 82(4), 551-573. doi:10.1080/01619560701602934

Odden, A. (2004). Lessons Learned About Standards-Based Teacher Evaluation Systems. Peabody Journal of Education (0161956X), 79(4), 126-137. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Milanowski, A. (2004). The Relationship Between Teacher Performance Evaluation Scores and Student Achievement: Evidence From Cincinnati. Peabody Journal of Education (0161956X), 79(4), 33-53. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Mack-Kirschner, A. (2005). Teacher Performance and Pay. California English, 10(4), 20. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Gallagher, H. (2004). Vaughn Elementary's Innovative Teacher Evaluation System: Are Teacher Evaluation Scores Related to Growth in Student Achievement?. Peabody Journal of Education (0161956X), 79(4), 79-107. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Thanks for your views.

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

[quote]Your article is called "Why Performance-Based Pay for Teachers Makes Sense." And then you go on to give examples of why it WOULD make sense... if students were interchangeable automatons and all schools were boarding schools.

When I can control all aspects of my students' home life, and when I can exclude that minority of students who, despite the best efforts of all those around them, just refuse to learn, then I'll cheerfully submit to performance-based pay. While students' lives outside of school continue to have MUCH more impact on their performance than anything I do in the classroom, and since performance pay has been studied and the studies have suggested it doesn't do any good, you'll forgive me for not being excited to be punished for the failings of society.

I teach some needy kids, you see. I like working with them most of the time, and I think I'm good at it. But they're needy. As long as I'm not penalized for working with them, I'd like to keep doing so. But once my pay depends on their home life, I'm going to have to think about supporting my own family first and start looking for another job. And I doubt the first-year teacher they replace me with is going to be as effective as I am, at least for a while. But by the time he is effective, he'll probably get tired of being penalized for his students' home life too, and will have followed me out farther into the suburbs, to the easy-to-teach kids.[/quote]

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator

Gaetan:

Thanks for posting. I am glad that you have an administrator that realizes that management of the school is the not the primary job duty. We need more of those administrators.

The performance based pay system that I trying to implement requires that the administrators work more as teacher coaches. Each teacher receives at least three formative observations not just the one every other year. This is more fair for the teacher and it send the message to the teacher that good teaching happens all year, not just once during an evaluation.

Thanks
Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

[quote]"My school is fortunate enough to have an administrator who does not deal with students and gets to focus a lot of her time on the teachers. Not only does she read my lesson plans and provide helpful feedback, but she steps into my classroom often to see what I am doing as a teacher."

This makes sense. This needs to be a part of teacher evaluation more than anything else. One of my colleagues brought this up in a PD meeting. In order for an admin to really assess a teacher they really need to know that teacher by consistent, productive feedback. If Admins spend all day with discipline problems and paperwork they can't do that. All teachers teach differently and are effective on many different levels. Admins need time to discover the teaching styles of all of their teachers in order to give thoughtful feedback.[/quote]

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