What's the Future of Merit Pay for Teachers? (page 3)


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Updated on May 4, 2009

When it comes to teacher dismissal, Weil, Raabe and Shively agree with President Obama’s stance: if a teacher continually fails to improve their teaching practices, that teacher should be shown the door--but, says Raabe, only after some kind of notice and fair process. “You have to provide the opportunities, skills, professional development to be successful,” he said.

One of the issues complicating implementation is that there is little data out there on whether these programs will work because many of the programs right now are so new. “People who claim that this is the best thing since sliced bread are basing that on opinion, not data,” Raabe said. The challenge won’t just be in gathering data, but making sure it’s accurate. Hopefully, the $44 billion in stimulus aid to establish teacher-quality reporting requirements for states and districts will help the cause.

And the cause is spreading. Here are some examples of states and districts working to develop and implement teacher compensation programs:

Denver, Colorado
Since 2008, Denver teachers have been working with a contract that includes a groundbreaking pay-for-performance program called ProComp where teachers receive bonuses for working in hard to staff schools, filling hard to staff assignments (such as middle school math and special education) completing professional development units, achieving a graduate degree or advanced license, earning a satisfactory evaluation, achieving student growth objectives, and exemplary performance on tests, among other factors.

Though the state’s Department of Education worked to push legislation for merit pay in 2008, the bill failed to pass by two votes. Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the Idaho State Department of Education, said the state teachers’ union was concerned that student achievement would be measured by standardized test results. The department has continued to meet with teacher union representatives in hopes of getting another version of a pay-for-performance system off the ground in 2010. “We’re really excited to hear both President Obama and Secretary Duncan talk about education reforms such as pay-for-performance because that’s something we’ve been wanting to implement.”

In spring of 2009, Representative Brain Bolduc tried to ban tying teacher pay to standardized tests in the state of Maine. "Judging a teacher on test scores of students is like judging a doctor by how healthy patients are," Bolduc said. "In addition, using test scores will force teachers to just teach test material rather than focus on the larger, more well-rounded curriculum." The bill was voted down. His colleagues in the state senate didn’t want to throw merit pay out with the bath water—partly because they know some stimulus funds are tied to the implentation of merit pay programs. "I would not want us to have something in law that would jeopardize our ability to receive stimulus funds," Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron told legislators.

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