Saturday, January 14, 2006

Merit Pay

A school district in Houston is experimenting with merit pay. It is good idea, implemented extremely poorly. Under this proposal, teachers receive bonus pay under three conditions, and can earn the pay under each condition, for a total of something like $3,000 extra annually.

Condition #1: Your school is rated acceptable or higher.

This creates incentives for teachers to gravitate toward already high performing schools. This is the exact opposite of how incentives should function. Teachers should receive up-front bonus pay for choosing to work in low-performing schools. The work is harder, the hours longer, and while the successes may or may not be fewer, they are more difficult to quantify and report. Teachers already gravitate toward previously high-performing schools; we should institute no change to make such gravitation easier, more appealing, or more financially viable.

Condition #2: Your students improve based on national norm-referenced tests.

See it: A teacher works in a low-performing school, teaching that school's lowest-performing kids and really does it. Those kids take off, and make many years of progress. But based on norm-referenced criteria, they have demonstrated little growth or none at all, still falling with the bottom quartile. This is a too blunt a measure. It allows for huge disparities that have nothing to do with the work that teacher did with those kids that year to effect the equation.

Condition #3: Your kids' reading or math scores do well compared to other districts.

Again, norm referenced. Progress can occur, growth can be made and no additional merit pay occur because schools in other district started higher.

When opponents call this plan not well thought out, they're right. It allows for previous trajectory and academic inertia to be rewarded in place of what was actually done or accomplished. It take far more effort, time, and effectiveness as a teacher to bring a student to proficiency than it does to keep them there. The worst aspect is condition #1, where a monetary incentive is created for more teachers to not even try. Why take on additional challenges when you can receive additional pay to stay at your comfy school. To make merit pay work, everything should be based on a single principle:


What did you do with your kids in that one year? It is not about who climbs to the highest point, it is about who climbs more. Not the final stopping point, but the distance covered. Growth-based analysis does not allow the confounding variables of SES, language ability, or pre-existing success to impede the analysis of teacher performance.

Teacher #1 moves a student from Far Below Basic to Basic.
Teacher #2 moves keeps a student from Proficient to Advanced.

Teacher #1 has performed better, and it does not matter that teacher #2's student finished higher. Now obviously, working with lower-performing students allows for higher rates of growth and therefore higher rates of merit pay. Good. This builds incentives for teachers to take on the challenge of working with the kids of most need. If it draws effective educators into school communities they would have otherwise avoided like the clap, so much for the better.

Growth. Where did the kids start, and where did they finish? Don't compare nationally. Don't compare locally. Don't compare across schools, or grade levels, or academic years. Look at the same kid at time-1 and time-2. If time-2 is higher, a teacher has done something special with those kids, especially as students need to improve and advance every year just to stay at the same level of achievement. Growth. Simple.

MORE: I also think funds should be made available to those teachers who have acted meritoriously in the areas of innovation and leadership.

Innovation: Bringing new instructional programs/ strategies to a school community and helping institute their use. Implementing new programs for reform or advancement. Bringing outside agencies into schools, such as speakers or after-school providers. Utilizing innovative teaching practices, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Leadership: Leading collaborative sessions. Taking responsibilities outside of contractual duties, whether in terms of instruction, discipline, or relationship-building with students.


Blogger posthipchick said...

I'm sold. Sign me up.

It's funny, people outside of education can't believe that the criteria could be based on level of the student and not include progress.

To them, I say, you wouldn't BELIEVE what goes on in education.

9:46 PM  

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