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February 1, 2000
Vol. 57
No. 5

Policy Link / Pay for Performance

      During the National Education Summit in fall 1999, policymakers, business executives, and educators were united about the relationship between teacher quality and student achievement. Among several key recommendations that arose during the two-day meeting was the mandate to more closely link teacher pay to performance and skills. The summit ended with a call for at least 10 states to incorporate pay-for-performance incentive plans into their salary structures and to give salary credits for standards-based professional development tied to student achievement.
      Educator pay-for-performance is not a new issue. England incorporated the practice into its education system in 1862. The "cult of the cash register" was eventually abandoned in the 1890s under charges that it narrowed the curriculum and stifled teacher creativity. In the United States, the idea of a "performance contract" debuted in 1969 during the presidency of Richard Nixon. The experimental efforts were eventually abandoned in the wake of concerns about fairness, objectivity, funding support, and poor results (Wilms & Chapleau, 1999).
      • Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and California will provide financial incentives for teachers who achieve certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
      • Idaho's governor has signed into law a measure offering annual bonuses for master teachers.
      • Mississippi and Oklahoma will offer new incentives for educators who seek advanced degrees and professional development.
      • Florida has enacted a performance incentive pay policy for school administrators and instructional personnel, as well as other measures to recognize and encourage teaching excellence at the district level.
      • North Carolina will offer financial incentives for teachers who mentor students. The state has also enacted hallmark legislation, the Excellent Schools Act, that not only rewards teaching excellence and knowledge attainment but also establishes remedial action for certified teachers in consistently low-performing schools.
      Cities and districts throughout the United States are developing pay-for-performance initiatives. One of the most publicized is Denver's two-year, pay-for-performance pilot program—the first of its kind in the nation. Approved by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the program affects about 15 percent of the city's teachers—making them eligible for bonuses primarily tied to improvements in student test scores. At the end of the two-year pilot, the teachers union will vote whether to accept the program districtwide. Denver's Board of Education also is developing a similar pilot program for administrators ("Denver Teachers Begin First-Ever Pay-for-Performance Pilot Program; Minneapolis Follows Suit," 1999).
      Teacher unions are also agreeing to performance-based salary incentives and bonuses. In Minnesota, St. Paul's school board approved a union contract that replaces automatic salary increases with proof of improvement for low-performing teachers, and Minneapolis teachers recently approved a two-year contract linking their pay to student performance. Unlike the Denver program, the Minneapolis performance measures are based primarily on peer review and other measures—not on student test scores.
      In New York City, one of the area's largest business groups—the New York City Partnership and Chamber of Commerce—is sponsoring a $29 million program to boost the salaries of superintendents, principals, and teachers if they improve their students' academic performance. Bonuses can be as much as $30,000 for superintendents and will be based on the results of statewide tests (Holloway, 1999).
      • A vehicle to reasonably measure student learning gains against state education standards;
      • A method to collect and analyze data that can generate a "value-added" correlation between individual teachers and student learning gains over time;
      • Appropriate appraisal of the data that emphasizes patterns of performance by students of individual teachers;
      • An initial corrective, but not punitive, approach to deal with teachers whose students show a pattern of poor learning (for example, additional teacher education or reassignment); and
      • A buy-in from teachers and parents.
      Allen urges educators to assume responsibility for the overall education environment, especially where there is a pattern of poor student performance in a school or district. Says Allen, The school or district environment must be changed to increase the effectiveness of all teachers. School and district leaders . . . should be held responsible for crafting a solution that makes their teachers and their schools more effective in promoting student learning. (Holloway, 1999)

      Allen, M. (1999, May). Student results and teacher accountability [Policy Brief]. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States.

      Britain: Caning the teachers. (1999, October 23-29). The Economist, 353(8142), 63.

      Denver teachers begin first-ever pay-for-performance pilot program; Minneapolis follows suit. (1999, October). Urban Educator, 8(7), 5.

      Holloway, L. (1999, August 26). Group will expand program to help troubled schools.The New York Times [On-line]. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/regional/082699bklyn-troubled-edu.html

      Merit pay for teachers and other related provisions. (1999, September 8). ECS Information Clearinghouse, 1-3.

      Wilms, W., & Chapleau, R. (1999, November 3). The illusion of paying teachers for student performance. Education Week, 19, 10, 48.

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