George Lucas Educational Foundation

Good Grades = Higher Teacher Pay: Compensating Teachers for Student Achievement

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association agrees to award educators for student progress.
By James Daly
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What to do about the low pay of teachers? Denver has an idea: Reward them for the academic progress of their students.

Recently, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association approved an overhaul of its salary structure that rewards educators for the progress of their students. Under the pay-for-performance plan, teachers and other school employees would earn raises if their students met or exceeded clearly specified academic targets. Teachers are typically compensated based on a number of factors, including years of service and the extent of their education.

Denver residents will be asked in 2005 for a property-tax increase to pay for the $25 million annual cost. The 70,000-student district has about 4,500 teachers.

The Denver plan also proposes rewarding teachers for getting advanced certification, as well as working in high-poverty schools or teaching subjects such as math and science, for which qualified instructors are hard to find. If approved by voters, Denver's new salary structure would take effect in January 2006.

Other cities have adopted limited measures linking extra pay for teachers with improved student performance, but none have attempted anything as ambitious as Denver has. Two years ago, Minneapolis began supplementing teacher salaries by up to $2,000 a year more if they successfully completed district-sponsored training courses. In Florida, all school districts are required to create salary systems tied in part to student progress. Nationwide, numerous districts offer incentives to teachers who volunteer to work in poor neighborhoods.

James Daly is the former editorial director of Edutopia.

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William M. Fox's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Placing almost exclusive emphasis upon test-score improvement as a basis for rewarding teachers is patently unfair and, when coupled with inadequate performance-appraisal systems, drives teachers toward unethical behavior or departure to other pursuits.

A primary reason the public has not been more supportive of higher funding for education has been the poor relationship between better funding and higher educational quality as revealed by a number of studies.

Use of an appraisal system based upon the following guidelines should go a long way toward turning things around.

Those associated with schools, need to fairly identify true "stars" and "inadequate performers" as one of the bases for:

justifying good pay for outstanding teachers,

providing for self-guidance on the part of newcomers and present staff,

and providing an important basis for terminating those who cannot, or will not, measure up.

Research findings show that evaluators achieve much better agreement about who are Stars and Inadequate Performers than they do about who are Average, Above-Average, and Below-Average performers. Yet, placing individuals in the middle-three categories is a time-consuming, often arbitrary, and resentment-causing activity that most evaluators dislike having to do. Also, clearly, an average performer in a superior organization deserves much more recognition than an average performer in an inferior one. No wonder that many teachers and their unions oppose conventional merit-rating systems!

To avoid a popularity contest, assure greater fairness, and provide for constructive self-guidance, there should be behavioral documentation for both Star and Inadequate Performer nominations via the Critical Incident Technique.
To lay the groundwork for this, students, parents, veteran administrators, and experienced teachers should be polled at to what specific, observable behaviors they associate with outstanding and inadequate performance for each important aspect of a teacher's job.

Then, required behavioral documentation for Star and Inadequate-Performer nominations from fellow teachers, adminstrators, students, and parents should be based upon the most agreed-upon behaviors, and the agreed-to relative weights that should be assigned to these.

The results of this analysis can also constructively guide the initial training and subsequent selection of teachers, as well as, provide a much-needed, qualifying context for the currently over-stressed evaluation factor of test-score-improvement.

This approach also sets the stage for more productive review sessions between the rater and ratee. Since the ratee has a sound basis for self-rating, the session should start with the rater asking "How do you rate yourself for this past period through the presentation of relevant, supporting behaviors?" No rater can be all-knowing, so if behaviors are mentioned that she or he is not aware of, the rater can postpone giving his or her evaluation to provide time to check out the validity of the assertions, if this seems necessary.

A sound behavioral basis for rating also facilitates the use of motivational goal setting during the review session. For example, if the ratee wants to be a Star, what specific behavioral goals does she or he plan to adopt by such and such a time? If stardom is not the goal, which specific, Inadequate Performer behaviors will he or she need to avoid?
This approach permits a rater to be more of a counselor and coach, than one who appears to sit in arbitrary judgment.

For discussion of relevant research and related citations, see: "Improving Performance Appraisal Systems" by William M. Fox, NATIONAL PRODUCTIVITY REVIEW, Winter 1987-88, pages 20-27.

William Fox
Professor Emeritus
Department of Management
University of Florida
(352) 376-9786

Melissa Summers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with the previous writer. I believe that the proposal of basing salary upon student performance is ridiculous. It's not always the teachers' fault if students are low performers. Some of them just don't care and can't be motivated anyway. Even if a teacher can positively influence or motivate one student, you can't expect them to sucessfully raise the bar for all students. So many kids have messed up home lives and are going through personal struggles-and they are not all in the inner cities or "trouble" schools.

I also believe that this perfomance scale would lead to unethical behavior on the part of many teachers. If a teacher could get more money if test scores/performance/grades were better, then they may create easier tests or grade papers less objectively. All in all, I think people are grasping at straw to try to educate our youth. How about basing salaries on the HEART of the teacher? That's the kind of salary base they really deserve.

Green Goat's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The idea is goofy! Teachers and schools do way more than can be reflected in test scores. Nothing is going to improve until there is real discipline in the classroom and the students take ownership in their own education. It would help if there were some responsible adults at home that actively participated in their child's upbringing. Kids can't raise their selves. Any official that supports this pay-for-scores scheme needs to be removed from their position. Teachers need to speak up and get the politicians and administrators hands out of their classrooms. Their role should be one of support, not hindrance, of the educational process. The idea is goofy!

Michelle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What happens to elective teaching staff under a merit pay schedule? How would a agriscience teacher or Family and consumer science teacher be evaluated? This idea is NOT the answer. I DO agree with national standards and even a national curriculum... this would eliminate the achievement gap seen in rich verses poor districts. Equal opportunity should mean just that EQUAL.

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