Professional Learning

Should Teacher Salaries be Linked to Student Performance?

February 19, 2010

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!

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