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What's the Future of Merit Pay for Teachers? (page 2)

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Updated on May 4, 2009

“The jury is still out on whether she’s going to make it,” Barbara Thompson said of Rhee’s compensation plan. Thompson, who heads-up teacher quality and leadership issues for the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization for state officials that oversee education, said proposals like this scare teachers. “The thought that if their students don’t make it to the level of proficiency required they could be penalized is truly disturbing and frightening for teachers,” she said.

Teachers’ unions across the country will play a role in ensuring that the programs put in place are well thought-out and fair for teachers. Rob Weil, deputy director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers, a labor union representing teachers and school personnel, says some of the key factors for fair implementation include:

  • Locally negotiated contracts.
  • Easily understood standards for rewards.
  • Adequate base compensation for all teachers.
  • Consistent funding. This is one of the biggest concerns on the table, because some of the money being used to get these programs going is coming from the economic stimulus package, which runs out in two years. Weil says schools will have to take a hard look at how they plan to fund these programs in the future.
  • Professional development support to help people reach goals.
  • Incentives that are available to all teachers. The concern is that if rewards are tied to a single test score, it puts some teachers at a disadvantage. “That could mean the difference between a student looking out a window during a test,” he said. In addition, Weil says schools should not impose caps on how many teachers will receive bonuses. “You have to develop the system in such a way that people see there is the possibility of them succeeding,” he said.

Bill Raabe, a former teacher and the director of collective bargaining and member advocacy for the National Education Association, the largest teacher’s union in the country, said the bottom line is that teachers have to trust and value the system, and that will only happen if the system looks at everything that’s happening in the classroom, not just student test scores on one particular day. That could include portfolio assessments or classroom evaluations.

But, it might also mean that teachers are given the opportunity to set their own goals. This is the kind of bureaucracy-free approach that Candace Shively, who heads up teachersfirst.com, an online resource for teachers, would like to see applied. “We need to give teachers the time to sit down and have that reflective process with administrators or other teachers,” the former teacher said. “It’s a reflective process that teachers take on because they want to improve. That’s what makes merit in a teacher.”

Shively also favors building-wide goals and rewards, so that staff members who don’t have classrooms, such as physical education teachers, guidance counselors, and school nurses, have a stake in a school’s success. “No parent would want a program that eliminates those people, and no parent would want to take those things away from their kids,” she said.

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