Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Teacher pay could be linked to student performance, graduation rate

Good to see that there are leaders expressing concerns for a compensation system that hinges on test scores. These kinds of assessment measures might benefit some students and teachers, but clearly discriminate against others. This is even greater in states where graduation is contingent upon students passing standardized, high-stakes, exit exams. Important to consider the possible outcomes under a test-based compensation system that is currently being federally promoted.


By Amy Hetzner of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: Aug. 17, 2009

In the decade since he helped pass a new pay system in Manitowoc, union leader Jim Carlson has labored to spread the idea of reforming teacher compensation plans elsewhere.

Finally, he thinks, Wisconsin might be ready.

"I think the opportunity is here, probably at a greater degree than I can recall it being," said Carlson, who runs the Educator Compensation Institute in addition to being a director for a regional teachers union office based in Sheboygan.

He's not alone.

After lifting the 16-year-old controls on teacher compensation in the state, known as the qualified economic offer, Gov. Jim Doyle recently said he hoped the move would prompt more innovative approaches to paying teachers.

And state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) has announced she is working on a proposal to give extra money to school systems that create pay systems for teachers based on student performance.

"What a lot of people are telling me, both teachers and parents, is they really would like incentives for teachers to show they can significantly improve the areas we care about," Darling said. "There should be incentives for teachers to get together, roll their sleeves up and have some reward for it."

The catalyst for much of the talk has been the federal government's creation of a $4.35 billion pot aimed at spurring innovation in reforming public education.

Although state qualifications for that money hinge on a host of different factors, the U.S. Department of Education announced only two that would automatically disqualify states from participating.

One barrier was if a state had not qualified for other economic stimulus funds from the federal government.

The other was that a state must not prohibit linking educator evaluations to student achievement, as is currently part of Wisconsin statute.

Since the late July announcement of rules for the Race to the Top program, legislators from both political parties have introduced bills to eliminate that old prohibition. Some say they expect the change could lead to allowing student performance to be taken into consideration when determining teacher pay.

"I'm excited about the possibility, if we can simply strike down that law, then we can have a lot of opportunity and dialogue," said state Rep. Brett Davis (R-Oregon).

Most public-school teachers in the state are paid based on the number of years they have worked in the profession and the level of education they have attained. Several legislators said they would like to see new systems that would take into account student test scores, graduation rates or other measures of student achievement and create incentives for teachers to collaborate and improve.

"In any other job, if you don't produce, you don't continue to get paid and you sure don't get bonuses and tenure and things like that," said state Rep. Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee), who is sponsoring one of the bills to repeal the teacher evaluation-test score prohibition. "Why is it in every other institution around the world your compensation is tied into your performance?"
WEAC position

The unknown quantity in all of these discussions is how they will be received by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's largest teachers union and one of the largest players in state elections.

WEAC President Mary Bell said that, while her organization may be open to modernizing teacher pay structures, she prefers compensation systems that reward teachers for advanced skills and knowledge rather than basing them on scores from annual tests.

"If its strength was really in building a profession and building effectiveness and really raising student achievement, then I think it's worth talking about," Bell said.

Carlson, the Sheboygan teachers union director, also doesn't favor using student test scores to determine teacher pay.

Based in part on his experience in Manitowoc, Carlson developed a four-part compensation plan that bumps up teacher pay based on completion of a residency period, targeted master's degree or national certification programs and extra leadership duties or working in hard-to-serve positions.

"We should not waste the opportunity the Obama administration is giving us," Carlson said of the Race to the Top funds. "We need to help define how best to spend these moneys."

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