Merit pay updates from elsewhere

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DOUGLAS COUNTY, COLO.

Two years ago, in an agreement negotiated with the local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, the school board in Douglas County, Colo., scrapped pay increases for longevity. Henceforth, the money would be used for bonuses to reward superior performance or extra work.

Teachers who submit to and fare well in an in-depth evaluation by administrators, peers, students and parents receive $1,000. Learning a new skill—one identified by the district as particularly important, such as how to use a computer—brings $300. Doing extra work, from sponsoring a club to serving on a school committee, brings $20 to $1,400. And groups of teachers that meet a common academic goal can earn extra money for each member of the group—$300 is the average.

Base pay, which ranges from $22,500 to $54,000, is pegged to evaluations and educational level.

Rob Weil, president of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, says about 90 percent of the district’s 1,500 teachers vie for merit pay.

Weil says students are learning more, “but we don’t know if it’s because of the teacher pay plan. Our schools are changing so much that there’s no control group . … So it’s impossible for us to know.” Douglas County is among the fastest-growing school districts in the country.

The new pay plan is still evolving. For example, officials are still trying to figure out how to reward part-time and itinerant teachers and how to limit the size of teacher groups working for group bonuses. “It’s a ‘B,'” says Weil. “It’s constantly being adjusted.”

GEORGIA

Two years ago, Georgia launched a voluntary program that rewards schools for meeting goals in student achievement and such areas as parent involvement, after-school programs, community outreach, staff development and technology.

The program has been slow to catch on. Only 100 of Georgia’s 2,000 schools applied to participate this school year—40 were accepted—but 300 have applied for 1996-97.

Before the school year begins, schools that want to participate submit their objectives to the state for approval; at the end of the school year, state evaluators, including district administrators and top teachers, judge schools’ performance. Schools must meet at least 80 percent of their objectives to win an award, equivalent to $2,000 for every certified teacher on staff. According to Marian Dabney, the program’s coordinator, the legislature intends to maintain this formula regardless of the number of successful schools.

The first year of the program, 19 schools shared more than $2 million. Schools themselves decide how to spend the money; most allot at least some for staff bonuses, according to Dabney. Now, state officials are grappling with what to do about morale in schools that participate but fall short, says Dabney.

ROCHESTER, N.Y.

Almost 10 years ago, Rochester began a bold experiment to see whether substantially higher salaries would usher in substantially higher student achievement. Pay levels were raised about 40 percent—base salaries now average $51,500—and the district’s 2,500 teachers were offered generous increments for taking on such additional work as mentoring other teachers. But the academic returns were spotty, prompting a public outcry.

In 1990, the district initiated a program that gives general pay increases only to teachers who meet district standards in four areas: pedagogy, subject matter, involvement with parents and the quality of the school environment. Tenured teachers are evaluated every three years by their supervisors as well as individuals whom they choose from among administrators, teachers or parents familiar with their work.

Non-tenured teachers are evaluated by administrators four times a year through classroom observation. Further, mentor teachers observe them at least 55 times and recommend at the end of the year whether they should be retained. Roughly 8 percent of first-year teachers are asked to leave.

Now, the district’s new superintendent, Clifford Janey, has earmarked $1 million to reward schools that meet goals for increased student achievement.

UTAH

Eleven years ago, Utah launched a career ladder program, providing funding for districts to offer bonuses for excellent teaching and extra work.

However, in many districts, controversy festered over how to measure performance. In 1992, the legislature finally gave districts the flexibility to use the money essentially as they please.

Today, only about half the state’s 40 districts still offer bonuses for good performance, and three-quarters offer extra pay for extra work. Such incentive pay averages about $3,500 per teacher, reports Linda Alder, curriculum coordinator for Utah’s education office.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA.

Supt. Robert Spillane hopes to convince a newly elected school board to bring back an evaluation and bonus plan that was dropped when funding got tight. He notes that the plan not only rewarded superior teachers, but also rid the district of about 100 ineffective teachers each year.

Under the plan, administrators and, sometimes, teachers evaluated teachers by observing them in the classroom. Their comments were forwarded to principals, who made the final evaluation—exemplary, skillful, marginal or ineffective. Any complaints were heard by an appeals board composed mostly of teachers.

Teachers rated ineffective were recommended for dismissal; those rated marginal were given additional help for a year and subsequently recommended for dismissal if they didn’t improve. From 1989 to 1993, a total of 2,100 exemplary teachers received bonuses equivalent to 9 percent of their base pay. During 1994-95, $500 bonuses were given to teachers rated skillful, and $1,000 bonuses to teachers rated exemplary. Base pay for the district’s 10,000 teachers ranges from $28,000 to $62,000 .

KENTUCKY

Last school year, the Kentucky Legislature appropriated $25 million to reward schools that met improvement goals based on statistical measures such as test scores, and attendance, class failure and dropout rates. The state assigns new goals to schools every two years, and the plan is to continue the financial rewards for schools that meet them.

One hundred forty of the state’s 176 school districts received financial rewards ranging from $4,000 to $85,000. Schools themselves decide whether to use the money for staff bonuses or school needs. In some cases, faculty members ended up with $4,000 bonuses. Regular salaries, which average $32,000 statewide, continue to be negotiated locally and based on length of service and college degrees. (For more information, see CATALYST, November 1995.)

DALLAS, TEX.

Similar to Kentucky, Dallas offers rewards to schools that meet or exceed improvement expectations that are based largely on student test scores.

In Dallas, the business community helped launch the accountability program five years ago by raising half the $2.4 million in bonuses that were distributed. Since then, the district has assumed all costs, budgeting a fixed amount each year and distributing it to schools in rank order until the money runs out.

This year, staff at 73 of the district’s 200 schools were rewarded with a total of $2.5 million. At schools exceeding expectations, professional employees received $1,000; support staff, $500 and the school itself, $2,000. At schools meeting expectations, the breakdown was $450, $250 and $1,000, respectively.

Bonuses came on top of regular salaries, which range from $25,250 to $45,270.

This year, teachers will be evaluated in part on the basis of gains or losses in the test scores of their students. So far, though, there are no plans to tie salaries to performance. Teachers in the top 40 percent will have evaluations waived for two years, while teachers in the bottom 10 percent will be required to take extra training to improve instruction in the areas of greatest weakness for their students. (For more information, see CATALYST, November 1995.)

SOUTH CAROLINA

Under pending legislation, schools and districts would gain more authority over education decisions but also be held more accountable for the achievement of their students.

Using scores on nationally standardized tests and college-entrance exams, the state would set “benchmarks” for schools to meet each year. Depending on their level of success, schools would be classified as “successful,” “improving” or “advised.” Schools and staff in the first two categories would receive bonuses—the bill calls for $5 million in the first year. “Advised” schools that failed to hit the benchmarks within three years could have their principals removed.

South Carolina’s 39,000 teachers continue to be paid on the basis of longevity and college degrees.

Mary M. Greene, government relations director for the South Carolina Education Association, says the union would like to see the benchmarks include such factors as community support, poverty levels and the education level of students’ parents, which traditionally have predicted students’ success. Greene fears that teachers will simply leave schools that get bad ratings.

In the late 1980s, the state dropped a teacher incentive program because of a dearth of applicants; the paperwork was so cumbersome that many top teachers didn’t bother to apply, says Greene.