Thursday, September 24, 2009

Performance Pay

Performance Pay is one of those ideas that I have endorsed over the years. I do believe that teachers who go above and beyond should be rewarded for their work, but in order for Performance Pay to work it has to be fair. TLN did an excellent report "Performance Pay for Teachers" that was written by 18 highly accomplished teachers suggesting ways that performance pay could be used to make that crucial difference.

Unfortunately very few of their models can be found in our county's program. Our system was a collaboration between the county and our Union and is approved by our state. Extra money, a one time $2330 minus taxes, is paid to the top 25% of teachers in our county. As I understand it, teachers are placed in different "silos" depending on what they teach and then the top 25% in each silo receive the extra compensation. While the system is designed around student achievement and teacher performance evaluation, unfortunately that means the weight is on a single day of testing. FCAT, our state test is used for teachers where it is possible. Other assessments, such as the DIBELS for K-2 teachers or county-made Music, PE, Art pre- and post-tests, are used in the elementary school and I'm sure any number of other assessments so that every teacher can put their name in the pot. That every teacher has a shot at the bonus is one of the positives.

With only 25% of teachers compensated county-wide, I'm glad to say that about 50% of the teachers at my school will receive the bonus. We are an A school and one of the few in our county that met AYP. However, these are some true, but strange circumstances.

1) We have a first grade classroom where two teachers team taught the same group of students all day. One took two months maternity leave during the year. The teacher that took maternity leave got performance pay. Her team teacher, that was with her side-by-side including teaching the class during the maternity leave, did not get the compensation.

2) We have two kindergarten teachers who team taught side-by-side the same group of students for the entire year. One got performance pay. The other did not.

3) Our second grade teachers are departmentalized. That means that one teacher teaches the Language Arts and her co-teacher teaches Math/Science/Social Studies. Each teacher has a homeroom and they switch classes mid day. Because most 2nd grades in my county are not departmentalized, there is not a silo for 2nd grade math teachers, so our 2nd grade Math teachers got their performance pay depending on how their homeroom did on the Language Arts DIBELS - no Math involved! Mind you, they never teach a single period of Language Arts but their performance pay depends on what is taught by someone else. If you are the Language Arts teacher in 2nd grade, your performance pay depends on your homeroom. In other words it only depends on what you do with half your students. I guess the other half don't count!

4) Or take this final example. Two fourth grade math teachers teach side-by-side. They have two sections of Math. One section includes a homeroom for each of them. Because of the way the class size amendment information has to be inputted into the computer, they each have a list of their own students in their homeroom, although they never have the homerooms divided for Math instruction. They always teach together. Two other homerooms (headed by two Language Arts teachers) make up their other section. So when performance pay is distributed, the Language Arts teachers and one of the math teachers gets performance pay and the other Math teacher didn't. Understand that these two Math teachers have worked with the exact same children in a room together all year, but because the children were required to be divided in the computer, one homeroom made the mark and the other didn't! One teacher gets the money, the other doesn't!

Does this sound as ridiculous to you as it does to me? Can you see where this could be divisive? Let's face it, the economy is tough. Teachers are not exempt from the financial stresses that are seen throughout our country. We have teachers whose homes are in foreclosure, whose husbands have lost there jobs, and money, especially right now, can be a dividing issue. Of course, really nice things happen too. I overheard the teacher in the first instance say to her partner that if they couldn't figure out how to get the money for both of them, then she would split hers. Such a generous gesture, but how ridiculous that they would even need to have that conversation. I am sure the first two will appeal, but if history is any indicator, it won't make any difference (if it does, I'll post a comment). They will be told there simply is no more money. It's all been given out.

One of the most disturbing trends over the years in my small sampling at my own school is fewer inclusion classes and Special Education teachers getting the bonus than the regular population teachers. That's not to say that none of the inclusion teachers ever get the extra money but it seems to be a lower percentage. I am bothered about how this will effect our inclusion teachers over time. Will they begin to feel that all the extra effort that they give in taking the most difficult children in our school is not worth it?

I decided to try to help figure out how compensation for Special Education teachers was designed so that our Special Education teachers could see why they are falling short (4 of the 7 are Nationally Board Certified). If at least 25% of Special Education teachers were getting better results than we were, I wanted to know how we could improve, but it was one brick wall after another. First of all the list is not published so you can't go to the high performers to search for strategies to improve your own student achievement. When I e-mailed our Special Education Department for information, thinking that there must be someone looking at high achievers and how to replicate their work, I received no response at all. And when I tried to question the process (Which children counted for me? If a child was in both Survey periods in my school but did not transfer to my class until the end of the second survey period, did that child count for me? Did all of the special education kids count for the general education teacher? How about those students who were on special standards? Who else was in my silo? Was I just considered with other inclusion classes or also with self-contained classes? Were all special Education teachers, regardless of what they teach, lumped together? and the list goes on), I was sent from person to person and really never got accurate answers. For the most part, it really seemed like they didn't know the answers, which begs the question, "Does anyone have their finger on the big picture?" When I went to the Union I was sent generic answers that basically said "see the web site." I yearn for a system of performance pay that would be an incentive to improve student achievement, instead of a mysterious system where teachers say, "I have no idea why I got it," and "I have no idea why I didn't get it." Transparency would go a long way.

With all that said, I am glad that some of our teachers will get a bonus because I believe that teachers certainly deserve it, but this is such a flawed system that you have to begin to ask, "Is it really worth it?" There are so many better ways to distribute performance pay, but our pay is so entwined in the political process, I wonder if it's possible to ever get it right? Our children deserve better!
P.S. - If any of my facts are incorrect, it is because the system is so cloaked in mystery and misinformation that it is difficult to get accurate facts. If I have misquoted in any way, I would be more than happy to write a retraction.


Patricia Wallace said...

Well, I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one confused about the performance pay distribution. What worries me most is that even with all your persistence, there is still no clear answer as to why things are the way they are.

Anyway, thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I would be so bummed if I had taught my guts out and ended up with low scores due to the socio-economic status of the kids that I taught and missed out on $2400 (if that realy mattered to me). I also wonder how fair it is to have math, science and ELA specialists "competing" against teachers that must be masters of all things FCAT. That does not seem right either.

Like most things in our ponderous school district, this will no doubt remain a mystery for a while longer...

David said...

Honestly, it's amazing to me that such a system can exist. If all of those examples can be drawn from one school, it would seem that these flaws must be glaring and widespread. It's a shame, because I share your interest in seeing some innovation in teacher compensation, but these kinds of failures prevent any stakeholders from developing any confidence in the concept.