January 17, 2005

Merit-Based Pay For Teachers

Douglas McGray has a wonderful article in the New York Times about how the Denver teacher unions learned to embrace merit-based pay. What's important here is that the unions themselves designed the system, while campaigning hard for its acceptance among teachers. The story starts back in 1999. With education funds in Colorado low ,and the union tenure system under assault from all corners, Brad Jupp and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association decided to hash out a little compromise:
[T]he Denver union proposed a two-year experiment with performance pay (later extended to four years), beginning in 1999. Only schools where at least 85 percent of teachers supported the idea would participate -- and only 16 of 104 schools did. But the union decided to be more than a reluctant partner: it raised more than $1 million from foundations to finance the pilot project and hired a Boston-based consultancy to help plan it.
And here's what the unions themselves proposed as criteria for evaluation:
The team settled on a complicated hybrid of bonuses for achievements that teachers told them they endorse -- for getting board-certified, for earning higher degrees in subjects they teach and for reaching individual goals they set with their principals. There would also be bonuses if their students improved on standardized tests, if the district labeled their school ''distinguished,'' if administrators gave them a good evaluation and if they taught a subject or accepted a school assignment the district identified as a high priority.
Interesting. That's not to say everything has been perfect. A few problems: the jury's still out on whether students actually improved under the system, and the system may eventually need to resort to stricter standards on raises—at the moment about 85 percent of teachers meet all their objectives and get pay hikes. From what I understand, this has happened in Britain as well, where merit-based pay effectively became an across-the-board raise. That's not a bad thing, I don't think—the teachers are still working hard to earn a raise, and the more teachers that do this the better—though it obviously brings up funding issues. Most parents love merit-based pay, but it comes at a cost—an average $60 per household property tax increase now, and possibly more in the future.
-- Brad Plumer 2:26 AM || ||