Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Teacher Developed Merit Pay Proposal

In response to this post about teacher merit pay and my question as to whether any teachers had a proposal or ideas about merit pay or pay for performance proposals, I got an email directing me to this site. I have read through the executive summary of the proposal, but not the whole thing.

While most proposals dealing with merit pay or pay for performance have been put forward by policymakers or interest groups, this is the first that I have seen that is actually developed by teachers. Some of the ideas have merit, but to be honest I had not thought about changes to the base pay system. What this proposal suggests is that changes to the base pay structure look at three levels of teaching experience, novice, professional and expert. Their thought being,
If you don't have a career ladder that encourages teachers to advance in their profession--and be paid accordingly as they advance--tinkering around the edges by provideing $2,000 bonuses for a handful of teachers will not secure the stable, high-quality professional workforce we need.
This is very true. I have always thought that if we are going to pay bonuses, they need to be real bonuses, on the scale of 20-25 percent of base salary. A bonus of $2,000 will be eaten up by taxes (bonsues are taxed at teh highest marginal tax rate possible, and then you get it back (if at all) in tax refund). Tiny bonuses won't do the trick. Reorganizing the base pay system would then, probably free up some money for merit pay. However, one cautionary note, when reorganizing a system so that a career ladder becomes clearer, there may be some short term losers and that would need to be addressed.

One of the items in the Executive Summary noted that teachers should be rewarded for helping their students make significant academic gains. While student achievement is the bottom line performance for teachers, it cannot be predicated upon a single test result. I whole heartedly agree and I hope that the full report has more information on this score, but I need some more input here. What do these teachers believe should be the basis or a factor to be considered in measuring student and therefore teacher achievement? Surely it cannot be the grades in their own courses, we need some basis of objective measurement. Without it we are simply floundering in teh dark of subjectivity and that serves no one's interest, least of all the students.

Finally, one thought that really jumped out at me was a team structure. Highly successful teachers and those most likely to obtain bonuses have an incentive not to share their findings and methods with others. What the proposal suggests is that performance pay plans should incentiving the sharing of professional knowledge. Again, I don't know the full details of what is being propsed, but the initial idea strikes me as both logical and expensive. If bonuses, real bonuses are to be paid out to a group then the cost gets higher. But by the same token we need to encourage the sharing of professional knowledge amoung teachers in the same school/system. I very much look forward to how this is proposed in the full report.

I will have more reactions when I get through the whole report.


Bill Ferriter said...

Hey Matt,

Glad you found the TeacherSolutions report. As one of the co-authors, I'm pretty proud of what we produced. As you say, it's the first report crafted by teachers on a topic that depends on teacher voice.

I figured I'd tackle one of your two questions here: Incentivizing the sharing of professional knowledge. That was a section of the report I worked closely on.

Our thinking was that schools have rewarded for the gaining of professional knowledge for decades in the form of masters credits or continuing education. Often, money spent on such proposals is completely wasted because teachers are rewarded for any new knowledge that they gain as opposed to new knowledge that is directly connected to the needs of their students.

In our plan, we suggest rewarding teachers who gain new knowledge, document the impact that new knowledge has on their own instruction, and then spread that new knowledge among their peers. We also suggest rewarding entire teams for performance on standardized tests rather than individual teachers.

Doing both of these things essentially incentivizes professional behaviors: Reflection on the impact that instructional decisions have on performance and collaborative work with peers to improve learning across an entire building.

Wouldn't that be a more effective way to promote growth in schools than a traditional system where teachers are rewarded for gaining any new knowledge they wanted?

Many people automatically assume that these kinds of behaviors automatically happen in schools already because they're a relatively common element of other professional work environments.

The truth is that these kinds of behaviors are not common in schools---and until we incentivize them, we're unlikely to get there!

Anyway, hope you like the report.
Bill Ferriter

Matt Johnston said...


Thanks for your comments. I am now working through the full report, but the press of my clients and work is making it a slow go.

I can't speak for others, but I really didn't think that much professional collaboration was happening in teaching, at least not on a regular, recurring basis. The reason, as far as my thinking was, is that most teaching activity is a relatively solitary exercise for the teacher themselves. There are not, for hte most part, days built into the calendar for teacher collaborative work sessions. There are professional development days, but from what I understand those sessions tend to be top-down exercises rather than a collective knowledge sharing amoung instructors.

If you read through some of my posts on teacher and teaching (leaving out the union bashing-of which I am guilty), I tend to think that of all the professions in our society, teaching is the one profession where knowledge sharing among practitioners is the lowest, in part because of the solitary experience. Sure, we can incentivize the sharing of knowledge a bit better through pay incentives. But I thing the biggest change that could be made is if during the collective bargaining process more emphasis is placed on peer to peer sharing sessions and not just within the school. I would complain not nearly as much if the "professional development" days were structured this way. If, for example, one or two or three of the professional development days were spent by teachers visiting with and sharing knowledge with similar teachers from other schools. That is how best practices are shared and hopefully documented.

Anyway, thanks for your effort Bill and I hope other teachers will take to heart some of your recommendations.

Nancy Flanagan said...

And about that other question--multiple measures to assess student learning: this is often thrown out as a red herring in the performance-pay debate. There *are* many ways to evaluate student learning increases, most at least as defensible as standardized testing, and yielding good data about all-important student growth. Lots of these "performance" assessments can be made reasonably standard: essays, constructed responses, lab reports, presentations using technology. In fact, standardized tests often cannot measure what matters most in student learning. Of course, they're convenient and single-number data points can be easily sliced and diced to identify "effective" teaching. But the group of teachers who wrote the report (full disclosure: I was on the team with Bill) saw standardized test data as merely one possible measure, certainly not the measure we'd choose to inform our diagnosis of learning, and designs for subsequent targeted lessons.

Thank you for reading and posting on the report. It's good stuff, indeed.

JohnN said...

The TeacherSolutions report, when considered as a whole, approaches performance-pay with the idea that targeted incentives can promote the policies and practices we have evidence can make a difference in teaching quality and student achievement. Teaming and teacher collaboration is one example -- rewards for substantive professional growth through meaningful professional development is another.

The report is frank about the reality that many policymakers expect performance-pay will be tied to evidence of student success. So how do we do that, without heavy reliance on narrowly focused standardized tests that are often testing for knowledge and skills for a 20th C economy that we can barely see in our rear-view mirror?

Educators need to figure this out. Simply opposing any link between pay and student performance may work in the short term, but not in the long term.

Mister Teacher said...

Hey Matt,
I wrote a post over the summer about my proposal for an incentive-based pay structure for teachers. Check it out