The flaws of pay-for-performance in teacher salaries

Coming soon to the Chapel Hill/Carrboro school system:

The State Board of Education on Thursday approved a plan to provide up to $10.2 million over the next three years to six school systems to test their alternative models for paying teachers. The districts are planning to use different options, such as paying teachers more based on whether they take advanced leadership positions or have good student test results.

Lawmakers who ordered the state board to establish the pilot program are looking to see whether the district models can be applied statewide. “This is an opportunity for teachers to advance in their career while still working with students in the classroom,” said Bryan Hassel, co-director of Public Impact, a Chapel Hill-based education firm that is working with two of the districts in the pilot program.

As in any occupation, professional development should be rewarded. Advanced degrees, newly acquired skills, targeted certifications, these things represent efforts to improve one's capabilities and should not be overlooked or taken for granted. But this whole idea of imagining a subset of teachers who are a "cut above" the rest, and should be elevated to role models for the vast majority of their colleagues who are "substandard," is really nothing more than a backhand slap to the profession itself. And in an environment where nearly everybody can agree that testing as a tool for educating has gotten out of control, to throw extra money at teachers if their students score higher completely ignores all the new research that shows economic status is the main determining factor in student performance. A good analogy would be if you went to a grocery store parking lot and said, "These four rows of cars will race each other." And then be surprised when the Porsche wins. A few observations from Mark Jewell:

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said the group welcomes developing a system that provides teachers more opportunities to earn higher pay. But he questioned the state funding a pilot program at a time when he said teacher salaries are still too low and taxpayer money is being spent on programs such as vouchers to attend private schools.

“I’m concerned this piecemeal approach to teacher compensation will make it more challenging to recruit teachers because it’s at least partially based on a pay-for-performance model,” he said.

Another (faulty) belief put forward by Hassel is that putting "excellent" teachers in charge of five or six other (not excellent) teachers is a good idea, but schools are not factories, and "line leaders" are not needed to keep the peasants working feverishly on their assembly line. If you're wondering why I keep using the term "excellent," here's what Hassel had to say about class size reductions:

Why don’t these findings translate into statewide results? The answer’s pretty simple: A large-scale reduction requires hiring massively more teachers, dipping deeper and deeper into the applicant pool. It also reduces the number of students who have excellent teachers—the ones who produce more than a year’s worth of student growth each year, necessary to close proficiency gaps and help students leap ahead.

Suppose K–5 Elm Street Elementary has 100 kids per grade. If it has class sizes of 25, it needs 24 teachers. To get to class sizes of 17—what it takes to get the benefits cited above—the school needs 36 teachers, or 50 percent more. If the school’s district needed to hire 300 teachers per year before, it needs to hire 450 now. So, it gets the 300 teachers it would have hired…and then dips 150 ranks lower into its applicant pool for the rest.

In addition, if Elm Street is typical, it probably has about six excellent teachers among the 24. Those six teachers teach 25 students each, reaching 150 children total with terrific instruction. Under the new policy, they teach only 17 students each, for a total of 102.

What a huge loss: As research consistently shows, teacher quality is the single most important school-based factor in student learning. According to the research, any value gained through smaller classes gets more than offset by the hit students take when many fewer of them have great teachers, and many more of them have ineffective teachers—ones who induce far less than a year’s worth of student learning growth.

If you'll notice, he artfully dodged my earlier point about economic status of students by using "school-based" as a reference point for his quoted research findings. And you'll also notice he has settled on the 25%-75% ratio between "great" and "ineffective" teachers. Basically dismissing 3/4 of teachers as useless. These ideas are not new, nor are they "groundbreaking." It's merely one more prejudicial attack on the teaching profession, and should not be encouraged or embraced by anybody who claims to support teachers.



I am not a teacher

The closest I've come to teaching is standing in for one of my professors when he got cancer halfway through a semester, and he asked me to keep things going with our research presentations. I've also taught military tactics to foreign soldiers that had to be translated from English to French, then French to Arabic, and then back again when somebody had a question. That was a hoot...

But the bottom line is, I *don't* have personal experience with public school teaching in North Carolina, but I can't not cover this topic here at BlueNC. It's too important to skip over because I don't have first-hand experience. As such, any feedback some of you real teachers may have would be much appreciated.

Public perception of teachers

has been in decline for a couple of decades at least, driven by right-wing attacks and downward-spiral funding. Per pupil spending continues to shrink.

The result is a deeper stratification of education, with the have's getting more and the have-not's getting screwed.

In the calculus of education, I put teachers as the variable that matters more than any other. We should be taxing ourselves and paying our public school teachers at a level that honors their profession.

How about a bill that exempts teachers from paying state income taxes?

They are the most important

elements in our society. No other individual occupation can can influence our economy, our crime situation, our technological growth, or any other area, nearly as much as a teacher can.

Shifting money away from public schools and treating teachers like crap is the equivalent of eating our seed corn, and we will starve going down the road.

I know this is a kind of a

I know this is a kind of a crazy idea, but perhaps there could be some sort of program established that paid college tuition for top high school students that were willing to dedicate at least four years to teaching in North Carolina public schools. Maybe they could could call it something like, "Teaching Fellows"?

Here is another crazy idea. They could set up a separate pay scale for teachers that acquired a master's degree in education. It could be maybe a 10% increase in pay.

I know this is pie in the sky talk but why not just throw it out there.

I'm a moderate Democrat.

Yeah, Republicans act like

they've been forced to solve all the educational problems, that nobody before has lifted a finger. Meanwhile, they're tearing down all the things that were working, just because Democrats put them in place.

It's enough to drive you crazy.