Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why Performance Pay for Teachers is a Bad Idea

Abelardo Saavedra, HISD Superintendent, wrote a letter to The Chron today defending his performance pay program which rewards teachers who are “high-performing”. It seems that while some teachers think it’s a great program, most believe the program is a slam on teachers – a criticism to teachers who fail to rate performance pay.

Actually that is a narrow view. It doesn’t address the real issues of why this kind of program is a bad idea, no matter what Texas school district we are talking about.

And talking about talking. I can assure you that teacher’s lounges from one end of Texas to the other are filled with conversation on this issue.

Let me explain how this is such a bad idea by way of a short history lesson. Performance pay, in the past, was pinned to TAAS and TAKS test performance of the teacher’s students in high performance schools.

“…our previous performance-pay program rewarded teachers who taught in Exemplaryand Recognized schools as measured by the percentage of students passing TAAS. The truth of the matter is that high-performing teachers who were not in Exemplary or Recognized schools never received performance pay and, on occasion, teachers who were not being successful with students but were in Exemplary or Recognized schools did receive it.”

They had a bad criterion for performance pay, and finally recognized it. So the program was revamped and changes were made to the criteria that identified high-performance teachers.

“These changes require a major shift in our thinking to an emphasis on the academic growth of each child instead of just an emphasis on the state accountability ratings. In addition, I think most educators want to have their work, their success, compared with that of teachers who teach similar groups of children. The new system does that.”

This is so wrong on so many levels. First and foremost. If you are going to have a performance pay system in place, every teacher must be equally able to be judged as a “high-performance” teacher. Keep this in mind as I tick off three problem areas.

  1. When you emphasize academic growth there is not one Physical Education teacher who will ever be able to qualify as a “high-performance” teacher. You can arguably extend this to Health Ed teachers. Fine arts teachers might be included in this as well. In that area, you have the right-brain left-brain problem. Those students who excel in visual or graphic arts are not especially that way because of their teacher. Artistically creative students enter school with the gift.
  2. Teachers who specialize in teaching AP classes are likely to have students who are already at a high level of performance and maintain that by being highly motivated learners. It is very difficult to document the “academic growth” of a teacher’s students when they are already performing at high levels. So, OK I am concentrating on secondary level teachers. Try this third one on:
  3. Take for example a 5th grade teacher who inherits students from a 4th grade teacher colleague, who in some way instilled in their students a desire to improve. Rewarding the 5th grade teacher as a “high-performance” teacher ignores and slights the teachers who came before, those who may have had as much or more of an affect on their students’ success. Teaching is a team effort.

There’s the argument. If a performance payment system is an available benefit to some teachers but not their colleagues, then the system is inherently wrong. It is admittedly a better system than rating teachers based on their school’s rating, but it is wrong nonetheless.

Frankly, until there is a better monitoring and peer review system where the teacher is rated based on best practices, use of technology, sound application of teaching theory, organizational skills, and classroom management, no performance pay system will be fair and equitable.

Update 1/27/07: Muse has posted a take on this this morning and makes some interesting observations go here to see them.

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