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Pay for Performance: More States Brave Teacher-Pay Debate

Now that some U.S. states and school districts have stepped away from the 80-plus-year-old teacher compensation system, others are devising plans of their own. How they will fare long term remains to be seen. Included: Information about plans in four states for changing teacher compensation.

Pay for Performance Spurred by an accountability-conscious political climate and reports of school districts revamping pay models, several states have committed to developing teacher bonus or compensation programs related to student and/or teacher performance.

Among those states are Arizona, Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky. Education World takes a brief look here at their initiatives, and some of the potential obstacles to implementing them, including a shortage of details and funds. More information about differentiated pay programs for teachers in the U.S. can be found on the Web site of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE).


In November 2000, Arizona voters passed Proposition 301, which authorized a 0.6 cents sales tax increase to generate funds for educational programs, according to Francie Noyes, a spokeswoman for the governor's office. The $445 million in anticipated revenue from Proposition 301will go to increasing teachers' base salaries, performance pay, and site-chosen classroom initiatives such as additional teacher compensation, class-size reduction, or drop-out prevention programs.

Districts, however, have not yet received much direction about determining what constitutes performance-based teacher compensation, according to CPRE. School district personnel decide how much a school's or individual's performance counts toward performance-based compensation, Noyes said.


Florida districts are weighing similar issues regarding bonuses and performance. A state law that took effect in fall 2002 requires school districts to provide bonuses to teachers and administrators of up to 5 percent of their salaries; those bonuses are based on student performance, Kathy Mizereck, legislative affairs director for the Florida department of education told Education World.

Again, the responsibility for determining how staff members qualify for bonuses rests with the school districts. "The state has said to use data from the state's reading and mathematics assessment tests in grades 3 to 10, and scores from writing tests in fourth, eighth, and tenth grade," Mizereck said. "Outside of those grades, districts determine the criteria."

There is no separate funding for the bonuses; districts are expected to allocate their existing funds to cover the cost of the bonuses, she added.

While currently Florida has no plans to tie teacher salaries to student performance, public and political sentiment for bonuses has grown, Mizereck said. "There was just a general sense that teachers seeing gains in student performance should be rewarded, and now we have the means to measure that."

Pay for Performance

Education World examines the timely and often sensitive topic of pay for performance in this four-part series. Read the other three installments:

Pay for Performance: What Are The Issues?
The pros and cons of some of these pay-for-performance/skills systems.

Pay for Performance: What Went Wrong in Cincinnati?
A look at the crushing defeat of Cincinnati's ground-breaking teacher compensation proposal.

Performance Pay Can Work -- Heres How
Examples of pay-for-performance plans that are working.


The State of Iowa also tested variable pay in 2001-2002, but awarded bonuses to teams of teachers rather than individuals. "Our belief is that an entire building impacts each student, and every person in each building affects how students learn and teachers teach," said Kathi Slaughter, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Education.

Ten out of the state's 371 school districts participated in the pilot, and the state allocated $1 million for bonus pay. Iowa also increased its minimum pay for beginning teachers. The national debate about performance pay spurred Iowa officials to test the water. "It's an issue being discussed nationally, and we wanted to try it," said Slaughter. The department of education is reviewing pilot data this year to determine how or if the model should be altered.

"We want to see what worked and what didn't and get feedback about teacher satisfaction, recruitment, and retention," she said. "We also want to see if there was more competitiveness or cooperation."

During the pilot, school personnel developed cooperative goals to increase student achievement, decided which staff members would qualify for the incentives, and determined ways to measure progress.

"We think teachers will gain more satisfaction working as a team to improve student achievement," added Slaughter.


Kentucky is scheduled to launch a pilot differentiated compensation system this fall in at least five school districts, according to Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education. A recently passed state law mandates that the department of education develop a differentiated compensation plan for teachers. The department is considering models that would allow teachers to receive raises or bonuses based on performance evaluations, additional duties, training, or working in high-need districts or hard-to-fill specialties.

"We looked at the Cincinnati plan and plans in other states," Gross said. "We have to outline what needs to happen and we are taking grant applications." The state also is soliciting proposals from districts.

A state budget shortfall, though, could put those plans on hold. Currently, there is money in the state budget for the pilot program, but its start could be delayed if further cuts are made, Gross said.

Low salaries and anticipated high volumes of teacher retirements prompted the state to take action, Gross said. Kentucky has 176 school districts and about 40,000 teachers. "Kentucky is in the bottom 10 percent for teachers' salaries, and about one-quarter of the state's teachers will retire in five or six years.

"We've been looking at teacher quality for a few years," Gross added. "If we can hold schools accountable, then we can hold teachers accountable. This is a means to raise salaries, improve teacher quality, and attract more people. We have to find a way to attract new teachers and keep the current ones."


Article by Ellen R. Delisio