Can We Get Details on Your Merit Pay Plan?

July 30, 2007

I’ve said that I’m drawn to the idea of merit pay, but the details seem really hard to get right, as the Working Group on Teacher Quality has recently argued (pdf). Maybe so hard that it isn’t worth it. I’m not sure, and I don’t want to give up on something that seems, in the abstract, to have common sense going for it. But most of what I hear from the gung-ho merit pay crowd avoids the tough questions and instead simply asserts that people who who support merit pay, like Bloomberg (and maybe Obama) are courageous, and those who oppose it are pandering and stuck in liberal orthodoxy. But this seems like an example of an area where the details really matter.

So my question for Whitney Tilson, Joe Williams, Andy Rotherham, Edspresso etc., is . . . if you were a non-pandering reform-oriented superintendent, what exactly would your merit pay proposal be? Specifically, here’s 5 questions to start with:

1) Would you propose using value-added assessment, and what would you do if you were in one of the overwhelming majority of districts that don’t have the data systems to support that?

2) Do you endorse what Aspire schools do, and include school-wide measures of achievement and parent satisfaction surveys? Or would you base the merit pay solely on test scores tied to an individual teacher’s classroom?

3) How much weight, if any, would you give to the judgment of principals above and beyond standardized measures? Would there be any appeal process for teachers who felt they had been judged unfairly?

4) What about the areas that aren’t routinely tested? Are those teachers eligible for merit pay, and if so, who decides and on what basis?

5) Finally, if we accept as we must, that doing this right will cost more money (not the pay itself, but the investment in the assessment tools), how much should we be willing to pay?

This last one matters a lot since smart, not-stuck-in-liberal-orthodoxy school leaders like Emily Lawson, who are actually trying to implement merit pay, have argued that good merit pay plans are 1) costly to implement, and 2) would rank relatively low on her list of priorities for improving teacher quality.

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5 Responses to “Can We Get Details on Your Merit Pay Plan?”

  1. educationguru Says:

    It is OK to publish my comments
    More complete article can be read at EducationGuru
    http://educationguru.wordpress.com/

    1) Should merit pay be based solely on student test scores?
    No, student test scores should be included a one factor in a complete 360-degree review of a teacher. Never base a teachers pay solely on students test scores. Test scores are not 100% reliable. Overemphasis on scores causes scandals and cheating is encouraged. Student attendance impacts test score but teachers have no ability to guarantee the students will be available to learn.

    2) Would you propose using value-added assessment, and what would you do if you were in one of the overwhelming majority of districts that don’t have the data systems to support that?
    Merit pay should be part of a 360-degree review process. Merit pay should be determined by a formula that includes: observations of teaching, student test results, advising students & extra curriculars and Committees work and school wide initiatives.

    3) How much weight, if any, would you give to the judgment of principals above and beyond standardized measures? Would there be any appeal process for teachers who felt they had been judged unfairly?
    Principals should definitely have significant weight in evaluating teachers as well as peer teacher. Each teacher should be observed and reviewed by two administrators and a peer teacher. Parent and student surveys should be included in the review.
    If a there is significant disagreement between the reviewers a teacher could appeal and ask for a second peer review.

    4) What about the subject areas that aren’t routinely tested? Are those teachers eligible for merit pay, and if so, who decides and on what basis?
    Yes, all teachers receive merit pay. Music, Art, and other teachers whose areas are not tested should also include test scores in their review. Include test scores of the subject most closely related to what the teacher teaches. Let the teacher choose i.e. math scores for music teachers. Ask all teachers to make connections to other subjects when they are teaching. Music can make many connections to math with time signatures, patterns, and rhythms.

    5) Finally, if we accept as we must, that doing this right will cost more money (not the pay itself, but the investment in time and the assessment tools), how much should we be willing to pay?
    We should be willing to spend a lot on teacher evaluation in time and money because better teachers improve student learning. Assessment of teachers is essential to helping them improve and should be part of a comprehensive professional development program. How can you improve teacher quality without effectively measuring it?


  2. […] and EducationGuru have thoughtful responses to the questions I raised about merit pay plans (here and here). Joe’s bottom line is that merit pay right now would be “a total […]

  3. Edspresso Says:

    Edspresso welcomes the change to weigh in on performance pay issues. But let’s define what it
    means, because there are way too many definitions circulating. First, pay for performance in
    education is and should be used to describe only those pay scales/arrangements where a
    significant portion of an educator’s salary is determined by their accomplishments in educating
    children. There are different ways to calculate this, but we’d mainly endorse basing this solely
    on the value the teacher has added to each child, added up and averaged out over the classes
    he/she actually taught. That is one major part of paying for performance but as the Teacher
    Advancement Program (TAP) outlines http://www.edreform.com/jeanneallen/milken_tap.htm
    there are a few additional factors, including paying more for additional responsibility, skills, and
    some aspect of peer and management review. (Most of us have our own reviews for our work in
    which our attitudes, our work ethic, our efforts to jump into different things usually increase
    our worth to a group. It should be no different for teachers, but of course, that means that they
    can’t operate under union contracts that stipulate they can’t jump in and help others or go
    overboard for a student before or after school or egads, during lunch!)

    There are bonus programs masquerading as merit pay where entire faculties earn a bonus if
    various things happen to a school. That’s silly. It masks the people who aren’t pulling their
    weight and obscures those who are so great they should be receiving tens of thousands more!

    Obama called for merit pay, but we’d like to know if he was talking about union-backed bonus
    schemes. Some unions have voted for TAP; that’s a prerequisite for their going in, but that’s
    because it’s the actual classroom teachers as part of the union that asked for the program, not
    the leadership itself. Romney also has endorsed performance pay. We suspect this will be
    something Ds refuse to push for fear of union backlash. But people want it. Even in 2005 the
    Center for Education Reform found that 59 percent of Americans supported compensating
    teachers based on student performance and agreed that a teacher whose students perform well
    should be paid more.

    Teachers are too important to be paid like assembly line workers counting widgets or stapling
    bags. Americans understand rigor, naturally want to succeed and need incentives to do so.
    Beware of merit or performance pay schemes that need everyone’s “buy in” and are written in
    union contracts. They may be a step in the right direction, but they are a far cry from the real
    deal that is needed. Oh, and by the way — that doesn’t mean that teacher pay will be at the
    whim of management, as opponents often argue for why a teacher can’t negotiate her own pay.
    There are serious assessments today, sunshine and accountability that did not exist before, and
    oh, there is choice, so a teacher that doesn’t like what his or her school is doing now has a variety of
    options, and is much more in demand than when the market was flooded.

  4. Terry Brown Says:

    Saint Anthony School of Milwaukee is the nation’s largest Catholic grade school and educates over 1000 Hispanic children as part of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

    This past spring, I proposed a merit pay plan called the Achievement Reward Program modeled after the program in place in several schools in Little Rock, AR. Our 50+ faculty members approved the program with a 96% approval.

    The program pays each teacher graduated bonuses for each student’s Normal Curve Equivalent gains in reading and math. The teacher is not in competition with other teachers. Her bonus is based on the gains of her children only. The bonus is based on individual student gains and not class or school wide gains.

    A teacher can earn from $50-$200 per child based on the percentage growth in NCE gains from Sep-May in both reading and math. A teacher gain earn up to $4000 in bonuses for reading gains and up to $4000 in bonuses for math gains. This would be possible if 20 of her math students and 20 of her reading students each had a 15% or more gain on their NCE score from September to May.

    Merit pay was one of our latest reforms. I think we have implemented most of the research-based reforms in the last four years. Extended school day, data-based and assessmnent-based decision making, three-tier interventions in reading and math, three-tier assessments, Direct Instruction reading and math, Core Knowledge content sequence, etc.

    I bring the previous reform culture to your attention, because merit pay was not a very big leap for our teachers. They had 3 years of increasing accountibility for results, had seen the gains they were making with children, and now thought it was a good idea to get paid for their results.

  5. paul Says:

    We will be implementing a comprehensive merit pay program based on schoolwide goals dictated by expected results for the state of California as well as internal goals including acceptance to 4 year colleges.


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