Contract Negotiations: How Should Teachers Be Compensated? Will Merit Pay Lead to Higher Student Achievement? Will $$ Signs Encourage Average Teachers to Become Great Teachers?

Public employees for generations, including teachers, have been remunerated according to how long they’ve been working. Policeman, fireman, clerks and teachers work under a collective bargaining agreement with annual step and/or longevity increases.

Under the current New York City/UFT contract teachers begin at $45, 530, receive step increases twice a year for the first eight years and longevity increases at 10, 13, 15, 18, 20 and 22 year levels, after twenty-two years a teacher is paid $100,049 (Teacher Salary Schedule – May 19, 2008)

Teacher performance, the particular school, the subject area, plays no role – for salary purposes a teacher is a teacher. Whether pre-K or high school Physics or Special Education or Bi-Lingual Mathematics – a teacher’s salary only reflects years of service.

Around the nation traditional service-based salary schedules are changing.

The Houston School District offers “signing bonuses” for new teachers in “difficult to staff” certification areas. As school districts adopt and begin to implement teacher assessment systems the issue of tying pay increases to growth in student achievement data becomes a bargaining issue.

The problem, and it’s a significant problem, is that there is no incontrovertible research which supports merit pay, no research which shows that merit pay for teachers increases student achievement.

One of the largest merit pay plans was right here in New York City. In a three year project in 200 schools, a $75 million plan, the research conducted by Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist, was disappointing (Read Gotham Schools here)

“If anything,” Fryer writes of schools that participated in the program, “student achievement declined.” Fryer and his team used state math and English test scores as the main indicator of academic achievement.

200 high-needs schools were identified, the staffs had to vote to participate, if the schools reached pre-established goals a sum of money was divided up among the staff in a method determined by the staff. Most of the schools that achieved the targets divided the money equally among staff members.

Mayor Bloomberg quietly allowed the program to lapse,

The program had only a “negligible” effect on a list of other measures that include student attendance, behavioral problems, Regents exam scores, and high school graduation rates, the study found.

Researchers were also surprised to find that middle school students actually seemed to be worse off. After three years attending schools involved in the project, middle school students’ math and English test scores declined by a statistically significant amount compared to students attending similar schools that were not part of the project.

The study adds to a research literature on teacher incentive pay that is decidedly more lukewarm than much of the popular conversation about teacher pay. Fryer, himself a strong early advocate of experimenting with financial incentives to improve student achievement, calls the literature “ambivalent.”

Mayor Bloomberg continues to be a supporter of merit pay, although he now favors individual merit pay. In his 2012 State of the City address he avers,

… a merit-pay system that would award top performers with $20,000 raises and threatened to remove as many as half of those working in dozens of struggling schools.

Is the mayoral support for merit pay based on research or urban myth?

The Center for Education Compensation Reform, an arm of the US Department of Education, asks the crucial questions and collects the research, for example,

What effect does teacher compensation have on retention? Does evidence suggest that higher salaries reduce teacher attrition?

Half of all teachers leave within five years, some leave to move to school districts with higher pay, i. e., in NYC moving to higher paying suburban districts. One study shows “… 60% of teachers who left the profession cited low salaries, poor administrative support, low student motivation and/or a lack of control over school wide decisions as the reason for leaving the profession.” A few school districts offer a “signing bonus,” while others argue that raising salaries for new teachers will attract and retain novice teachers.

Research is not supportive,

… nominal reductions in exit attrition associated with higher salaries may not be worth the additional expenses … states and districts may be better served if they directed added resources into programs that provide support for novice teachers, increase student motivation, and bolster the teachers’ role in establishing and implementing school wide incentives.

The research clearly does not support teacher compensation as a “solution” to high rates of teacher attrition.

Scores of questions are have produced hundreds of studies dealing with the many faceted issue of performance and teacher compensation. Read the summaries of the research investigating the questions below by clicking here.

General Compensation
What effect does teacher compensation have on retention? Does evidence suggest that higher salaries reduce teacher attrition?
Does evidence suggest that some teachers are significantly more effective than others at raising student achievement?
Compensation for Teachers of Hard-to-Fill Subjects and Teachers in Hard-to-Staff Schools
Does evidence suggest that some groups of teachers are more sensitive to differences in pay and working conditions than others?
How much would salaries have to increase to attract and retain sufficient numbers of mathematics and science teachers, whose specialized skills and knowledge generally command much higher salaries in the private sector?
Does evidence suggest that additional pay could overcome teacher reluctance to work in hard-to-staff schools? If so, how big would pay increases have to be in order to be effective?
Does evidence suggest that additional compensation alone is sufficient to attract and keep good teachers in high-need schools? If not, what other changes does the research suggest are needed to solve staffing shortages?

Performance Pay
Does evidence suggest that teachers behave differently in schools that reward individual teachers rather than the entire school for gains in student achievement? Are they more competitive and less collaborative, as is commonly believed?
Does evidence suggest that teachers prefer one type of performance-based compensation system over another, such as group-based performance awards or individual performance awards?
What do we know about the relationship between teacher compensation and teacher quality?
What do we know about the conditions under which teachers and principals will support performance pay?
How large do performance incentives need to be in order to be effective?
Does evidence suggest that teachers prefer one type of performance-based compensation system over another, such as group-based performance awards or individual performance awards?
What do we know about the relationship between teacher compensation and teacher quality? Does evidence suggest that higher salaries would attract more highly skilled individuals to the teaching profession?
What factors affect teachers’ attitudes and beliefs about performance pay?
Does evidence suggest that teachers prefer some types of performance pay systems more than others? For example, are group-based performance awards that reward teams of teachers or all teachers in a school more likely to motivate teachers than individual awards?
What do we know about the conditions under which teachers and principals will work for performance pay?
How large do performance incentives need to be in order to be effective?

Measurement
How might states and districts that lack value-added measurement systems evaluate teacher and principal performance accurately and fairly?
What do we know about the components needed to build longitudinal data systems to measure the productivity of classrooms, teachers, schools, and principals?
What does the research suggest about ways to structure rewards so that teachers are not penalized for working in low-performing schools?
What does research suggest about ways to measure teacher effectiveness so that determination of performance-based rewards is accurate, reliable, and defensible?
How well do measures of teachers’ knowledge and skills predict student achievement outcomes?
How well do principals’ evaluations of teachers predict student achievement outcomes?

Building Teacher and Community Support for New Compensation Systems
Why is professional development important? What characteristics define successful professional development programs?
What effect does teacher involvement in the design and implementation of new forms of compensation have on program effectiveness?
How should states and districts structure compensation systems to increase the likelihood that teachers and teachers’ unions will support them?
Do surveys indicate that teachers, principals, and the public support new forms of teacher and principal compensation?
What factors affect teachers’ perceptions about the fairness of performance-based pay?
How should compensation systems be structured to increase the likelihood that teachers and teachers unions will support them?
What effect does teacher involvement in the design and implementation of new forms of compensation have on program effectiveness?

In spite of the overwhelming evidence that merit pay does not raise pupil achievement, or at best is “inconclusive,” the idea continues to gain traction.

Most states include school districts with some sort of performance-based teacher compensation plan (See national map here) and the number of districts negotiating plans continues to grow.

The research is clear; plans are far more effective if the teacher participation is voluntary. There are also generational differences: younger teachers are more accepting of the plans than senior teachers. Generational differences among teachers are a significant issue that Harvard scholar Susan Moore-Johnson continues to investigate. (Redesigning Teacher Pay: A System for the Next Generation of Educators

On a recent blog post a commenter wrote,

Teachers have families to feed, mortgages to pay, and colleges to send their children to. Without step increases nobody will be able to support their families as a teacher. If the city can’t afford to keep step increases then it is time to start laying off less senior teachers as that is the what the concept of seniority was created for in the first place.

It would be far easier, far less controversial to simply negotiate an across the board percent increase. It may not be possible: the fact-finding report may encourage some sort of pay for performance.

A few decades ago the teacher compensation issue du jour was “differentiated staffing,” a variety of roles for teachers with added compensation. The old Board of Education and the UFT negotiated a Lead Teacher title – a teacher would teach half the day and assist other teachers the other half of the day – with an added $10,000 in annual compensation. A small number of schools incorporated Lead Teachers in their organizations. (See job description and selection process here) A Lead Teacher may be a more effective way of increasing teacher effectiveness than merit pay schemes.

Occasionally I’ll enter a classroom that is electric – the class is alive – the teacher is a magician: should the teacher be acknowledged? Perhaps additional compensation? Would other teachers be resentful? The teacher next door may be minimally satisfactory. While merit pay may not improve student achievement should excellence be rewarded through higher compensation, or, is it too complex and controversial?

If the purpose of merit pay, or pay for performance, or whatever you call it, is supposed to encourage teachers to do better, to reach higher for the golden ring, it is doomed. Thr lure of the golden ring does not encourage teachers to “do better.” School leaders and colleagues working together raise the entire ship, not dollar signs.

The role of the school leader is to assess teacher performance, to conduct “frequent brief classroom observations with meaningful feedback.” to provide “space” for facilitated planning time, to coach, to lead. Some days I’d teach what I thought was a great lesson, the next a mediocre lesson, and sometimes great and mediocre on the same day. I’ve taught classes in which students rushed into the classroom, who couldn’t wait for the lesson to begin and other classes when I had to drag them out of the hallway every day. I prepped for the Regents exams – practice tests, disaggregated the answers and reviewed questions that students answered incorrectly, test sophistication strategies, played Regents “Jeopardy,” I was the coach practicing for the “big game.” Would I have worked harder or smarter if I was offered a financial incentive? I don’t see how.

Two schools in the same neighborhood – the same kids – one highly successful, one struggling – the difference: the school leader and the teachers. Pay for performance will not make for more effective teachers – a school leader creating a team in which the sum is greater than the parts is the core element. Does the staff spend after school Fridays imbibing and talking school at a local watering hole? Probably a lot more effective than merit pay!

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3 responses to “Contract Negotiations: How Should Teachers Be Compensated? Will Merit Pay Lead to Higher Student Achievement? Will $$ Signs Encourage Average Teachers to Become Great Teachers?

  1. Kenneth Karcinell

    Merit pay for ciivl service jobs are an invitation to corruption and skewered results.Where you find successful schools, be it in the so called ghettos of america or in its affluent communities, the underlying cause for that success can be traced to the Principal or headmasters door. It is that individual thru whatever screening mechanism he/she has set up and the on-going driven home philosophy of that individual that establsihes a “winning” atmosphere in that school. What that philosophy and its implementation is in practise however may be at variance with neighboring schools, who have similar philosophy or mission statement, but impractiacl or absent good implementation practises. Basic ingrediants like mentoring, coaching,on-going pd are delivered in a timely fashion in successful schools, in less then successful schools those provisions are often delayed, or interrupted.Codes of behavior and expectations in successful schools are clearly articulated to all players, students, teachers, parents,custodians, school nurses, dieticians,crossing guards, school security. Everyone in short understands their role in the game plan and everyone executes that role. In schools where there are issues, the above mentioned categories have usually been left to their own devices. No merit pay is not the answer, but money is a strong motivational factor for productivity. I would propose that teachers all get (as they have been doing) equal salary step increments as per their contracted service step allowances. With that said, I would further propose that in order for teachers to progress from one year to the next in that salary step, that they would have to meet a specific standard of achievement to do so, or be frozen at their pre-existing salary level. Like students who are left back at promotion time, but are allowed to apply for trial promotion to their right grade, such a “frozen” teacher could be allowed to apply for salary promotion sometime in the following year based on improved performance.

  2. Nothing shows the complete lack of understanding of the art of Teaching then the issue of pay. Education at its best is a human communications art. Strategies, skills, approaches, and materials can be duplicated. STYLE and CONNECTION can not! Therefore to reduce the discussion to dollars and nonsense is to insult the overwhelming number of teachers who never went into teaching for money. It debases the profession. It also serves as a convenient straw dog to divert attention away from the elected officials and the D. O. E. administrators to design an approach that hey can be held accountable for. It’s either a crime or a shame, not a solution!

  3. The problem of teacher attrition has been with us for quite some time now. Nationwide half of new teachers leave within their first five years. They knew the salary picture before they started, so that is not the reason for their deciding to move on. It has to do with the lack of respect and support they experience. Some are shocked at the physical environment in which they are expected to teach: crumbling and often unsafe buildings, oversized classes, lack of back up when there is a difficult or hostile student. Mayor Bloomberg always talks about getting rid of poorly performing teachers. He, and many others, should worry about keeping good ones. Most new teachers have a steep learning curve. It is just as they are becoming really effective teachers that they throw in the towel. What a waste of talent.

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