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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Should Teacher Salaries be Linked to Student Performance?

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

A classroom of students is the collective product of all of the educators, support staff, paraprofessionals, classmates, parents, and living conditions that have accumulated to that point.

Here's what I mean:

Let's imagine for a moment that you are a building contractor. You are called in to help finish a building and it turns out you are the fifth contractor to work on this building. Your salary will be based on how well the structure passes a variety of tests. It seems that the third contractor, to save on costs, did not use qualified personnel on the job.

Several suppliers to the second contractor gave defective materials but passed them off as adequate. The first contractor was novice, on her first job ever, and was quite conservative in procedure, staying within code but not providing adequate room for extreme expansion in the joints.

The contractor before you, the fourth one, saw many of the problems and did a large number of creative things to fix them but ended up leaving without fully documenting this good work.

Finally, you learn that the building itself is erected on ground that was not meant to support a building of the size of the current structure, without considerably more support being given to the foundation. When the building is evaluated, it's found to be wanting in some, but not all, areas and your compensation is affected.

With this scenario in mind, I don't believe we know how to adequately evaluate what a teacher accomplishes relative to the background of the students who walk in the door in any given year.

At the very least, we will need ways of building in historic and contextual factors in understanding what teachers accomplish relative to what is reasonably possible given their circumstances. We would not expect the fifth contractor in the scenario to be fully responsible for the building he or she was forced to complete based on the structure inherited.

There is a way to be accountable, but it must be far more sophisticated than what is being contemplated today in most instances by districts and public schools.

We will not attract the best individuals to enter education if we have a compensation system that is not sophisticated, appropriate, and, ultimately, fair. What do you think? Please share your thoughts!

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

Comments (28)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Deven Black's picture
Deven Black
Middle school teacher-librarian in the Bronx, NY

I venture to suggest that aside from the time-on-job issue Chris mentions (and do we really want to tie teacher pay to the number of hours in the classroom?) most of the issues raised concerning the inadequacy of certain teachers are indicative of school leadership problems.

The problem is not that unions sometimes protect bad teachers in their effort to afford all teachers due-process protection, it is that the school or district leadership has hired bad teachers and allowed them to gain tenure. As long as school administrators are not given the time, training and supervision to hire and evaluate more effectively, bad teachers will continue to work in our classrooms.

Lori Mayo's picture

One of the main topics that I feel is never discussed is the expectations of the new teacher. New teachers come to education and are given the same responsibilities, work load and job expectations as the experienced teachers. And often times they get some of the worst case scenarios starting out in the new job. In industry you would never see someone right out of college being given the same job as the principal engineer (someone with 20 years experience doing the same job) and expect them to get the job done as well, in the same amount of time and without training. Yes, there are mentoring programs but they do not alleviate the contrast in pay between a 10-20-30 year teacher and their having the same work load and the new teachers (<5 years) who has the same responsibility. Having come from industry to teaching this was one of the first things that struck me as out of balance. Yes, there are teachers from the school who may come to support you with questions, concerns, etc. but that is not necessarily part of their job.

What I see as one of the best ways to improve compensation, teaching and learning is to come up with a system that has labor grades (levels) that people have to work toward for achievement. Perhaps a scenario would have first year teachers not having the same workload as the experienced teacher, perhaps they team teach (this is different than student teaching) until they have met some defined criteria. The more experienced you become and meet certain job related criteria you move up to a new labor grade and take on more responsibility and more difficult tasks. Still, this does not resolve the issue about the things beyond the control of the teacher. As someone pointed out earlier, teachers can only do so much to make students want to do the work and do it well and there are so many factors that contribute to student achievement. Honestly, who would want to be judged by how they perform for one test? Everyone has days they do well, the tests do not indicate whether the student ate breakfast, had a good nights sleep, had an argument with a friend, family member, got bullied on the bus, received bad news, had to wear dirty clothes, etc., I could go on, but you get the point that all of these can affect how a student will perform on the day of a test. I do not want my pay tied to those factors and no professional in a different field would want to be measured based upon things beyond their control.

An example might be a seventh grade math teacher who has a student who has never tested proficient in math, why is that teacher going to be penalized because that student tests poorly on a seventh grade math test? In this case it is similar to the contractor, but perhaps the contractor has criteria to use to assess what they are taking on before they make commitments about the finished product and might stipulate that certain things need to be accomplished prior to them taking on the job. As teachers we expect the prior work to be done to code, but there is no guarantee.

What makes a teacher perceived as good or bad is very subjective and is often based upon 1-3 evaluations during a designated time frame planned by the administration, and then add word of mouth; what students/parents say on good and bad days, and test scores. Administration does not necessarily truly know what is going on in every classroom throughout the school, so expecting them to truly know which teachers are good or bad teacher may often come down to likability and how well they get along with others, and not tied to the learning occurring in the classroom. Pay according to increased responsibility, growth and accomplishment over time.

Liz Steinhart's picture

If we can look at where a student is when they enter a classroom versus where they are when they leave I think we can fairly assess teacher efficacy overall. If a student enters a teacher's room testing at the level of Below Basic (CA term) in mathematics and the teacher is able to elevate that student to Basic or Proficient that would be strongly indicative of good teaching. Most kids, with some exceptions, experience fairly similar external situations from year to year (with exceptions for things such as divorce, relocation, etc). However, things like home language, parental education level, involvement and follow through on the part of parents tends to stay fairly similar. We need to not look at a comparative analysis of the teacher's student population from year to year, but instead change in individuals from year to year. This is important because we need to recognize that a teacher's clientele can change remarkably from year to year. Have several GATE students one year, none the next, and so on.

Deciding what the measure of good teaching is needs to be objective and not rely on subjective administrative opinions nor pedagogical fashion/trend.

As a consultant working in challenged school districts all over Southern California I see some wonderful teaching in challenging socio-economic neighborhoods that deserves to be recognized and rewarded the way attorneys and doctors and salespeople are rewarded. However, I also see some appalling teaching that can throw me into an emotional funk for days at a time. We need to stop rewarding and protecting these teachers. We need to weed them out and replace them with teachers willing to connect to and control their classes, engage in new and research based pedagogy, try new things and fail and try again.

It is time to demand good teaching from our teachers and reward them well for it so the creme de la creme of our next generation are attracted to teaching instead of viewing it as undesireable due to status and income issues.

William Miller's picture

Another component, especially when you are dealing with urban kids as I do, is their attendance problems. Can you hold a teacher accountable for a student's lack of progress when that student has missed 60 % of their time in school?

I am all for assessing teachers and rewarding those that perform at an outstanding level. The problem is that creating such an assessment tool is incredible complex due to the issuesw at hand.

Dr. Mike Todd's picture
Dr. Mike Todd
Chief Learning Officer

Being familiar with negotiations at the table with teacher unions. The party line is no one should get anything more than the next guy. Mr. Black has it that leadership should make a great judgement and move teachers along that are getting it done. However, when leadership comes in and wants to move ineffective stumps in the way of progress they get hit with union retoric of "the teacher has always been high performing" or "you are harassing him/her". Union should follow contract and support putting that teacher on a NEAT program to improve or get them out.

Dr. Mike Todd's picture
Dr. Mike Todd
Chief Learning Officer

It is not bashing unions. Being familiar with negotiations, the party line is that everyone should be compensated equally. This hurts students. Mr. Black has it right! Leadership of schools do need to get rid of those teachers not making the grade before tenure or professional contract, however when leadership changes there needs to be support from the union to get rid of the stumps. Be it, the contract needs to be followed and due process given, but it can not be that we hide the teacher behind statements like "well they have always had high performing evals" or "you are picking on them". Union officials and leaders should work to support the improvement of that individual through a NEAT process.

Royce Albert's picture
Royce Albert
High School, Washington

Think about it... for teachers there is no promotion or advancement... unless you want to be in administration and then you have to go to school and add to your skill set.

The payment for test results in this discussion has its roots with the frustration between tenure and stagnant achievement. "How do we get rid of Bad teachers?" "I do not like giving COLAs to teachers who haven't done anything new!" In this world of innovation society feels the need to reward what works. It makes sense.

I like money and I love teaching. It is a dead-end I am happy with, but I know some days I could have taught a lesson better. I do not get paid to teach a lesson more efficiently. I get paid if I meet a standard on my yearly evaluations.... test results could be a way to get those dinosaur teachers motivated again and raise the standard. In the long run raising standards will support more pay for teachers.

Let's look at the issues with a different easy solution we can do today. A solution that will not involve a lot of money or a battle with the unions. We can have the bean counters to do a "Kevin Bacon study"... the six degrees of separation. The students that achieve in schools can be easily pointed out. Map who those students had for teachers--- If you can demonstrate a positive impact give a bonus and reward that teacher with a little money. Teacher programs should try to get them as mentor teachers. Also map back the low achieving students-- if there are clearly teachers who do not perform target them for improvement plans. Have them move to different career---with data the unions can not argue. Let's be honest...too many times evaluations are based on the ability to get along...not best teaching practices.

Merit pay for test results is an idea generated from frustration. I think we as teachers need to answer that frustration with some plausible and cheap solutions.

anthony yates's picture

A teacher does so much more then just teach, their friend, social workers, motivators, improve artists, relation ship therapist, psychiatrist and so much more. Now how can you measure all of that to base a teachers salary off of?

Laura Quimby's picture

As a special education teacher, it is difficult to judge my teaching on how well my students will achieve on state testings. Most of my students are 5 grade levels below and for this reason, basing my pay on my students' achievement is horrifying. I would feel like I am getting criticized even though I am at school an hour before class starts, I have well layed out lesson plans, and I make sure that each lesson is tailored to each of my student's ability level. Does this make me an unqualified teacher because my students' can not achieve on a state testing?

Liz's picture

I agree 100% with your thoughts. People rely solely on teachers to make it all better and right within the child's life...we are mere components to a much larger scale. I put in 100% to each and every individual in my room, so if it came down to basing salary on student test scores, I would not have to put in much more effort than I already am. I just feel that there are so many reasons outside of the classroom that contribute to student performance. I once had a student who was living in a tent outdoors during March, do you think that had anything to do with the fact that she had trouble reading and doing her work...I think so!

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