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Archive for the ‘Performance Pay’ Category

The National Education Association wrapped up their annual convention yesterday, where state delegates had a chance to debate a plethora of policy resolutions on the Obama administration’s education policy agenda.

There were many issues on the table for the 3.2 million member union, which represents mostly education support personnel and teachers. Some of their issues included turning around low-performing schools and the expansion of charter schools. Many attendees voiced opinions about Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s  new address discussing structural changes to the way teachers are being evaluated and compensated.

Duncan makes it clear in his speech that he does not think that test scores should be the driving factor in compensation, evaluation, or tenure decisions. He also thinks that it would be illogical to get rid of student achievement completely from evaluation.

Delegates at the assembly were happy to hear of Duncan’s efforts in continued education federal  funding but many weren’t too happy when Duncan suggested tying together evaluation and pay to test scores.  Many voiced their opinions and concerns about performance pay and how it is affecting unions across the board.

The NEA currently allows teachers who hold advance certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), who have taken on other responsibilites like mentoring teachers with less experience or who are helping hard-to-staff—-to receive pay bonuses.

The Obama administration put about $200 million more into the federal stimulus performance pay program, The Teacher Incentive Fund but many union members still have concerns about districts bargaining the pay programs as one unit with their local unions.

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By Jeff Pett, Fleetwood Group, Inc.

I just finished reading the review in this week’s NSSEA Essential’s Weekly of Teachers, Performance Pay, and Accountability: What Education Should Learn from Other Sectors by Scott J. Adams, John S. Heywood and Richard Rothstein.  If you missed it and have ever thought about how to better evaluate and pay educators it is worth your time.  I have not yet read the book, but it is now on my “to-read” list.

Having spent a few years in the classroom as a teacher, over 20 years in the private sector in large and small businesses, served on school finance committees, school boards and been employed as a school administrator I have seen the debate up close and personal.  Business people on school boards are often frustrated that teachers are not evaluated or paid based on their performance.  It most often comes down to years of service and level of education that most often forms the basis for determining pay levels for educators.  I will confess that I have sometimes been one of those frustrated businessmen.  However, over the years I have come to appreciate just how difficult this issue is to resolve.

There are two key areas of difficulty when it comes to using a “pay-for-performance” model in the classroom.  First of all teaching is a very different kind of work.  You are typically assigned to a room with 25 or so students.  You don’t usually teach in a “team.”  You don’t have the kind of ongoing interchange with other professionals over the course of the day usually experienced in a business.  And your “boss” rarely, if ever, sees you in action over any meaningful stretch of time in such a way as to be able to assess how effective you are.  And what objective measures do you use?  Using student grades would likely lead to inflated grades by many teachers.  And using test scores by any outside organization moves education toward teaching to that particular test when it may not be the best measure of educational achievement.

The second area of difficulty is the comparison to a business model—as if there is just one of those. That is just not the case.  As the book reviewed in Essentials this week seems to point out, the pay-for-performance model in business is not a uniform thing, and it is certainly not perfect.  The best ones do not JUST use objective measures but have incorporated subjective feedback on how a person performs to areas of importance to a particular company.  Objective measures are always a part of it to the extent possible, but good evaluations in the business world go well beyond that.  And yet it seems that most of the evaluation models in the education world have attempted to apply only the objective measures.

When educators try to respond to the directives of business people on their boards they are often chasing a very imperfect model.  And if they land on a plan to pay teachers based on objective measures alone they are missing some key elements that make good pay-for-performance systems work.  And why not combine subjective measures with objective?  Partly because it’s hard to do, partly because evaluators would have to spend “quality time” in the classrooms of those they are tasked to mentor and evaluate, and partly because allowing subjective evaluation requires someone to be “judgmental”, and that is distasteful to many.  However, businesses that do it well help weaker performers either improve or move on to different, ultimately more satisfying, lines of work; and stronger performers are recognized, better rewarded, and have greater ownership in the success of the organization and better reasons to stick around.  Applied properly in schools we should expect to see very similar results… and maybe fewer schools would be characterized as underperforming.

What should be the primary goals of evaluating someone’s performance?  They are to hold that person accountable to some level of expected performance, and to help that person to be more successful.  A stronger better performing person helps create a better and stronger organization that is much more likely to deliver a better more competitive product.  It works in the business world because there are often more obvious and easy to quantify objective measures of performance; and because someone has defined the subjective aspects of a job that are important to the success of the organization; and there are usually more opportunities to observe someone’s performance to those subjective expectations.

In a well performing professional athletic team everyone knows the objective numbers related to each persons performance in their individual and team stats.  But there are always many subjective aspects to an individual’s performance that are “obvious” to the fans of that team.  Many times the “best” players on a team will not have the “best” stats.  And sometimes the player with the “best” stats has to be traded for the good of the team because of their poor performance in the subjective areas.  You wouldn’t dream of having a professional sports team pay everyone evenly and treat everyone equally based on time of service.  The best players would leave for teams that were willing to pay them for their skills, and the worst players would not have that option so they would have to stick around.  The team would become so-so at best, and more likely move quickly to the “basement” of their league.

Having a good performance evaluation system that is applied evenly, reasonably, and consistently can help any organization to help its team members become better performers.  And it will help the weaker performers, those who may be in the wrong organization or the wrong profession, move on to find a line of work that they are better and happier at.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could put in place such a system in schools?  If it was easy we’d already have it.  There are many businesses and some schools that have done it well.  Let’s not be afraid of it, but let’s also recognize that the “business model” is not one size fits all.  It will take a lot of work.  But having great schools staffed by great professionals should be worth it.

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