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Performance Pay Models Don’t Always Add Up to a Teacher's Benefit, According to Report

Performance pay laws that are intended to pay the highest-performing teachers in school districts sound good on paper, but according to a new study those payouts aren’t necessarily going to the right teachers.

The study conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality, examined 18 Florida school districts and found that in 16 of them, more money went to teachers with a higher degree than those who had high performance ratings. Nearly four times as much.

The law was passed by Florida lawmakers in 2011 with the intention of retaining effective teachers with the hopes they wouldn’t consider calling it quits, as well as encouraging talented individuals to pursue a teaching career. However, the compensation structure used by most Florida districts places far greater value on advanced degrees over teacher effectiveness ratings.

For example, in Orange County schools a highly-effective teacher was awarded $1,380 above their base salary. While a teacher in the same district with a Master’s degree was awarded $2,843 or nearly double, based on their degree alone. Out of the 18 reviewed, just Hillsborough County Public Schools and Duval County Public Schools compensated effectiveness at a higher rate than advanced degree attainment.

It’s important to mention that some counties did have a plan in place that allowed for the highly-effective teacher to surpass earnings of those with higher degrees, only it would take much longer. For example, in Brevard County a highly-effective teacher might receive just a $445 bump compared to the salary bump of a teacher holding a Master’s degree getting an extra $2,868. The second year though, that pay pump for the highly-effective teacher would double to $890, and so on. “The magnitude of difference becomes increasingly clear when one considers how many years it would take for a teacher who is deemed effective to earn a salary award equal to the salary supplement earned by a teacher with an advanced degree,” wrote the study’s authors.

Kate Walsh, one of the study’s authors and president of the NCTQ, argues that the traditional pay raise system based on years in the classroom and degree is flawed. "You can be the best teacher in the school district and you’re going to get the same pay raise as the worst teacher in the district,” said Walsh.

Critics of the pay performance system argue that it gives schools the opportunity to pass out fewer raises when the majority of teachers are labeled “effective” or “highly-effective.” Particularly in inner-city schools where the differences in teacher effectiveness could be very different.

Union leaders such as David Hecker of the American Federation of Teachers of Michigan, says the traditional pay raise plan provides a more objective method for handing out pay bumps. Hecker argues that the pay performance method works against the team mentality of a school.

North Carolina recently approved a $10 million plan to experiment with their own pay performance plan for teachers over the next three years. Teachers will be given pay incentives for things like taking on extra leadership roles and higher student test rates.

The plan of course has educators in the state split on how beneficial its impact will be. Bryan Hassel, co-director of the Chapel Hill-based education firm Public Impact, is working with two districts to implement the program and sees it as a chance for teachers to “advance in their career while still working with students in the classroom.”

On the other side of the coin is Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, who is concerned about funding such a program when the state’s teacher salaries are already too low. Jewell added that such a program could make recruiting new teachers even more challenging because of the partial performance-based pay model.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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