Thursday, November 09, 2006

Merit Pay on the March


Last week the Department of Education rolled out the first of their grants to urban school districts for merit pay programs. Denver received better than $22 million dollars to supplement their existing ProComp program, while Chicago got $27.5 million to begin a program. The Chicago program is targeted, reports the Tribune:

The extra money will start flowing to about 10 high-poverty schools in Chiago next year, for a total of 40 schools by 2010. District officials will select schools that have improved test scores over time, but also struggle with high teacher turnover.

Each school would receive as estimated $500,000 to $750,000 a year depending on the size of its staff, and individual teachers could see yearly bonuses of as much as $9,000 for superior work and student gains, Duncan said.

Chicago officials said the program will improve teacher quality in the city’s most challenged school by creating incentives for them to stay and by rewarding teachers who act as leaders or take on extra assignments.

I don’t have a problem with this, as long as there are results. Giving extra money to people to teach in high-need schools isn’t a good idea unless they’re actually effective teachers. I question whether it will actually work (how much money would it take to get you to go from a great school to a failing one?), but it’s worth a shot, and a rising tide raises all boats, so there.

Then I got to thinking about how merit pay would affect me personally. This year we started something new in 1st grade where we ability-grouped the kids: high, two middle groups, and a low group. I’m teaching the high group, which is a blast. I’ve got more kids than the others—we tried as hard as we could to keep the low group below 20—but that’s OK, because my kids are mostly independent and ready to run, where the low groups needs more practice with the very basic skills.

The trick is, that’s 5 hours a week that I’m not teaching “my” kids reading. I believe that what’s going on in the low group will be a good thing, but what if those kids don’t grow the way they should? Under some merit pay systems that would be my problem and I would be the one who would get the blame, ignoring the fact that it’s really a failure of the team and the Title department. If that’s the way it were, I’d have a hard time voting to accept any merit proposal.

That’s why it works better to reward schools, and even grade levels within those schools, instead of teachers as individuals.

I’m also not quite sure what happens to specialists (art, PE, etc.) and Special Ed under merit pay. I’ve tried to research it on the Denver ProComp website in the past, but I couldn’t get anywhere.

Bottom line: I'm for anything that gets more money to teachers, as long as its done fairly.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Merit pay done the Texas way is divisive and a waste of time. In a school I'm aware of, the first vote regarding merit pay resulted in a "NO" vote. The campus admin wasn't happy with that vote, so they campaigned and had a second vote--"NO" again.

Now, they're in the midst of a 3rd vote and some of the teachers have opted out of receiving merit pay, no matter what happens. Of course, this means they forfeit their right to vote, but they just don't care anymore. They've been bullied, pushed around, and grilled by the pro-merit pay folks--campus administrator and toady--to the point they just want to be left alone.

To heck with merit pay...don't just say NO, say "HELL NO!"

7:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rain,

Can you imagine any scenario that could reward achievement gains equitably?

Pre- and Post-tests with benchmarked expectations based on SES? Rolling three year average gains?

The notion of laying out what the "point" of education for a student in a year is to be has some appeal, and any system of rewarding merit must do that. I guess that means even if they optimally identified what should happen in schools and measured it, we would be better off.

But the mechanics of making it work and the psychology of such a work environment could be fatal to the idea.

jl

1:28 PM  
Blogger The Rain said...

And it's the last point that's the real killer, I agree. If you identified whole-school goals (i.e., "70% of our kids will make their growth norms on the MAP") you can make it a team effort, but even something like that risks marginalizing the PE teacher who doesn't really have a say in academics, or the poor special ed teacher who causes everyone to not get their bonus because only 30% of her kids make the goal.

From the mechanical aspect only a pure "your class, your pay" system seems feasible at all, but again--how do you include the specialist teachers? Or do you just let them go begging because they're not in the high need areas?

I've really got to find a copy of Denver's ProComp plan....

7:04 AM  
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5:13 AM  

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