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School Systems and Teachers Unions Mull Over Performance Pay

Share School Issues CenterThe Cincinnati Federation of Teachers recently adopted a new salary structure that ties pay to classroom performance. A teachers union in Colorado continues to refine its three-year-old performance-pay system. Included: Tips for changing your school district's pay system.

While the country's largest teachers unions continue to debate -- and in one case condemn -- performance-based pay for teachers, two local unions are convinced it is the way to go.

Do you think teacher pay should be tied to classroom performance? The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers recently adopted a salary structure that includes performance evaluations. Is this a good way to reward good teachers? Perhaps you prefer the traditional salary structure based on seniority and education level? Click here to add your opinion to today's message board.
Members of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, recently voted 54 percent to 46 percent in favor of a performance-pay salary structure. The Cincinnati Board of Education approved the plan last May.

In another part of the country -- Douglas County, Colorado -- the Douglas County Federation of Teachers continues to fine-tune its performance-based pay system, which has been in place for about six years.

The 3,100-member Cincinnati union did leave itself an out, though; although the evaluation process has begun, changes will not occur until 2002-2003, Richard Beck, president of the union, told Education World. That will allow teachers to go through two rounds of evaluations before the new salary schedule takes effect. "People want assurances it is going the way it should," Beck said.

If at that point teachers are dissatisfied with the evaluation process, the union can vote to return to the old salary structure, although the evaluation process would remain in place. Seventy percent of the teachers would have to support retaining the old system.


Tips on Changing Pay System

The salary structure for teachers in most school districts takes into account a teacher's length of service and amount of education. Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, advises school systems and teachers unions considering changes to salary structures to remember the following:

* Keep the base salary schedule in place.

* Ensure that all teachers have access to compensation incentives.

* Make sure labor and management collaborate in developing a plan.

* Ensure agreement between labor and management about the kinds of knowledge and skills teachers need to support student achievement.

* Provide sufficient funding for the system.

Other AFT affiliates are following the Cincinnati decision closely, Jamie Horwitz, an American Federation of Teachers (AFT) spokesman, told Education World. "People are very curious," Horwitz said. "I think it's a wait-and-see attitude. There is interest and a lot of questions."

An AFT committee is studying the performance-pay issue and plans to release a report in the spring. "We are open-minded," Horwitz said. "Some of the locals are experimenting with it."

The Toledo Federation of Teachers, another AFT affiliate, is also considering changing its salary structure, said Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers. The Cincinnati plan is "a glimpse into the future," Lawrence told Education World. "It pulls together a compensation package based on observation, performance skills, and teacher knowledge."

Currently, the 3,400-member Toledo union, which includes 2,700 teachers, has some incentive programs that reward teachers for acquiring additional skills, Lawrence said.

When new-contract negotiations get underway next spring, Lawrence hopes to discuss "some alternate forms of compensation" with the administration. "I hope there will be some changes in the new contract, or agreement on a concept in the new contract."


The National Education Association (NEA) -- the country's largest teachers union -- remains opposed to merit-based salary schedules, said Kathleen Lyons, a spokeswoman for the National Education Association. Members voted against establishing criteria to analyze alternative pay systems in July, at the NEA's annual meeting.

"Our understanding of the Cincinnati decision is that it involves subjective administrator evaluations, which we oppose," Lyons told Education World. "We believe the single-salary schedule serves us well -- it recognizes that teachers become more proficient over time."


Under the new Cincinnati system, the level of education, including any additional credits a teacher earns, still counts in determining salary. Teachers fall into one of five groups, from apprentice to career level. Within the categories are steps, similar to the existing system, Beck said. Movement between categories depends on evaluations, and teachers advance to the next step within a category according to years of service.

The salary for beginning teachers remains the same -- about $30,000 -- but the salary for a teacher with a bachelor's degree and about 27 years of experience rises from $56,500 to $62,500, according to Beck.

Teacher evaluations are based, in part, on six classroom observations: two by building principals and four by other teachers. Evaluators use standardized criteria to assess teacher performance. Teachers also submit portfolios, said Beck. Student test scores are not included in evaluation criteria, and teachers can appeal their scores from administrators to a panel of teachers and other administrators.

"First we needed to decide the standards for good teaching, and it made sense for people to be evaluated according to those standards and be paid according to those standards," Beck said. The new plan applies to teachers with fewer than 22 years of experience.

As for the NEA's position, Beck said changing a salary structure is a difficult issue for teachers to discuss and on which to reach agreement. "I just think the national and local unions need to be moving toward accountability to the public," he explained. "We need to demonstrate that teacher quality is important to us and that we know when people are teaching at a higher level."


Among those closely following the Cincinnati decision is Robert Weil, president of the 2,500-member Douglas County (Colorado) Federation of Teachers, also an AFT affiliate.

Douglas County has had a performance-based pay system since 1994, Weil told Education World. Building principals evaluate their teachers. The principals have gotten better at the task since the program began, Weil added. "They realize what's at stake."

Union members reviewed the system in a 1997 report, Developing a Performance Pay Plan for Teachers: A Process, Not an Event, available on the AFT Web site.

In a departure from the Cincinnati model, the overall progress of Douglas County students is included in evaluations and will be factored into the teacher assessments being developed this year. The union still has a salary schedule, but teacher evaluations determine base pay. Teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations do not move up the salary ladder or even receive cost of living increases, Weil said.

The Douglas County plan also includes a number of incentive programs. Some of those programs include financial rewards for teachers who take on certain responsibilities or learn skills the school system needs. About 90 percent of the system's teachers participate in at least one incentive program, Weil noted. "We are taking the lessons learned over the past five or six years and expanding the system," he said. "The question is, what difference will the Cincinnati plan make?"

Evaluation procedures are a natural step in helping teachers gain more status as professionals," Beck explained. "It's what makes sense. It's what completes that circle of being a professional."

Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
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