Teacher Performance Pay, Part 2

Image result for education images There are several things that I need to clarify before I launch into this epistle. First, my thoughts and opinions about this topic are my own and do not reflect those of my employer. Second, I believe that I work in one of the best schools, in one of the best school systems in the country. The teachers, administration, and staff in our building are some of the most caring, hardest working, and generally best people I know. Lastly, I am not a disgruntled employee. I am a teacher who is passionate about my profession and I LOVE my job. I believe that public schools are one of the most foundational and vital elements of our society, culture, and country. We must get it as right as possible for our kids. So, with all of that being said, here goes…

Our school system announced three years ago that they would be implementing a new teacher
incentive program known as Teacher Performance Awards. An evaluation instrument would be
developed to score teachers on their performance and achievement in their classrooms. These
scores would be used to rank teachers across the system and within each school. There would
be three levels of award. Roughly $6000 would go to the top 10% of teachers across the system
based on their evaluation score. After this 10% was taken off the top, the next level award of
$3750 would go to the top scoring 10% of teachers within each individual school. Finally, the next
10% of scores (11%-20%) within each school would receive $1800. A minimum of 20% of the
teachers in every school would receive some award. Hypothetically, a school may not have had
any of its teachers selected for the system level award meaning only 20% of those teachers would
receive an award. In order to keep the awards within the planned budget, scores were taken out
to 6 decimal points. That would be to the millionth of one point! A millionth of a point would be the
difference between thousands of dollars for teachers. It’s one thing to miss receiving an award by
3, 4, 10 or even .5 of a point, but can you imagine missing the top award because you were
1 millionth of a point below the cut line. Or imagine missing the $1800 award because you were
1 millionth of a point below the cut line. I can only imagine that they carried scores out to this decimal
point because it was necessary. So, there are surely some teachers who missed the various cut
lines by this tiny fraction.

Image result for carrot and stick imagesI am not a proponent of pay incentives for teachers, and I have made no secret of that to friends, colleagues, and administrators. I could write for days about why I don’t support this approach, but to save a lot of time I will summarize: performance pay for teachers does not result in better educational outcomes for students. Just because I oppose this program doesn’t mean that I do not support my school system or that I am being critical of my employer. I truly believe that the school system that I work for places learning and achievement for all students at the top of its list of priorities. It has been justifiably recognized on numerous occasions as a model school system and for its educational leadership at both the state and national levels for the success of its academic programs. Part of the success of our school system is that it continually looks for ways to improve teaching and learning. Sometimes a new strategy or program works, and sometimes it doesn’t. My personal belief is that this is not an effective strategy.

After three years of work to get ready to implement the program, each teacher in the system
received a personal report of their final evaluation score and whether or not they had received an
award. I found out that I had received a category 2 award meaning that I was in the top 10% of my
school and would receive a $3750 one time bonus. Most of the teachers that I know could put that
money to good use in their households. I have a daughter who will be graduating from high school
this spring, so any additional money that our household can generate will come in handy!
Nevertheless, as I sat and stared at my computer screen looking at the report I didn’t feel a sense
of accomplishment or excitement. I began to wonder who else had, or had not, received an award. 

Related image
Later that evening I ran into a few colleagues who taught at a nearby school and had not received an
award. I did not disclose that I had received one, and mainly just listened to what they had to say. My daughter had been in both of their classes, and they are two of the best teachers that she has had while in high school. I knew that they were outstanding teachers who routinely went above and beyond expectations to support their students. Their reaction would best be described as disappointed. But it was also interesting to listen to the conversation. In the reports that we get, we see our final evaluation score (out to the millionth of a point), and the minimum score needed to reach each of the three award levels. Much of their reaction was questioning how to improve their scores to reach the benchmarks. What had their colleagues who had received an award done that they could learn from? The only problem is that the award winners are not publicly recognized. So, how can they know who the models are? Who are the exemplars that they could observe and learn from? It would require an additional blogpost to address this issue, but I digress.

I did not sleep well that night. I knew that I had received this award, but was now even more acutely
aware that there were other teachers who were at least as deserving of the award, if not more so,
than I was. Additionally, I was now the benefactor of an incentive program that I had vigorously
opposed. The money would be perfect to buy the laptop that my daughter wants for college along
with some recording equipment (she will be a music major), appropriate spiritwear for the new
undergrad, and enough left over to put a little cushion in her bank account for first semester, but I
just can’t do it. Many will call it stupidity, but for me it is about integrity. If I believe what I believe
about education and teachers, I can’t accept this money for myself. I’m not saying that I don’t
deserve it. I’m saying that I don’t deserve it more than many of my colleagues whose performance
as a teacher is every bit as deserving of being awarded as mine is. It would be different if I had won
the award in a drawing. If they said we are going to take all of you who have done a really great job
this year and we are going to draw 10 names to receive an award, I would take that money, but this
was different. This was a competition with winners and losers. This process explicitly states that my
performance as a teacher was measurably better than those who did not receive an award.

The score for each teacher is derived from four metrics. Let me break them down:

The first metric is Professional Growth. This score is all or nothing. Did you meet your professional
development activities for the year measured in contact hours? Most teachers meet this requirement
through monthly meetings at the school that address instructional strategies to improve classroom
instruction. If you met the expectation, you earned 15 points. If you missed a few meetings and did
not meet the expected contact hours, you receive zero points. The vast majority of teachers will
receive all of these points.

*The next metric I will address is what is called the Weighted School Assessment. This score is a
broad overview of the school that considers everything from overall academic achievement of the
students, community and staff perception surveys of the school, to financial and property management
of the school. This metric is primarily used to compare schools with other schools. Every teacher from
the same school would receive the same score for this metric. While this would impact which teachers
may receive the highest level award as being in the top 10% of all teachers across the system, it
would not impact the second level award for the top 10% of scores within each school. Maximum
score for this metric is 10 points.

That leaves the two “biggies” that represent 75% of the teacher’s score and also has the greatest
variance among all teachers. The first one of these is the Student Growth measure that is worth 35
points. This score is derived from the standardized test given for each subject. In order to measure
growth, students are given a pretest at the beginning of the semester or year to establish a baseline
score. The students are later given the same test at the end of the term. The difference between these
two sets of scores determines the Student Growth score that the teacher receives. I will not begin to
discuss the validity or value of standardized tests in this post, but I will say that our system has already
decided to eliminate these assessments for non-core subjects starting this year... That means that
future awards will be using a three metric system for non-core subject teachers.

That leaves the final metric which is each teacher’s personal evaluation that is assessed by their
supervising administrator. This metric is worth 40 points. I believe that our administration has worked
very hard to make this evaluation as fair and as consistent as possible. They have spent hours
practicing their evaluation techniques and then evaluating their evaluations. While some teachers
may argue that you can’t eliminate personal bias from this type of evaluation, I sincerely believe, at
least in our school, that our administration strives to evaluate each teacher with integrity and
professionalism. Nevertheless, the task that they are given to evaluate every teacher is monumental.
Let me explain. Let’s say that there are 100 teachers in a school with 5 administrators. That gives
each administrator 20 teachers to evaluate. Each teacher will receive a minimum of two 30 minute
observations from their administrator during the year. Many teachers may also have several additional
“walk through” observations of 10-15 minutes if an administrator feels that the teacher needs some
additional support or follow up from a previous observation. This metric score of teacher
effectiveness is primarily based on observing 60 minutes of instruction. There are other elements of
the evaluation that consider more than what is observed in the classroom, but those 60 minutes are
surely important.There are 180 days in the school year. Each teacher spends an average of 4.5 hours
each of those days actively instructing students for a total of 810 hours for the year. In something as
important as this evaluation score is for a teacher, the administrator is observing .001234 (1/810) of
the teacher’s total instructional time to generate a score that could literally mean thousands of dollars
for a teacher. If an administrator is responsible for evaluating 20 teachers, that would be a total of
16,200 hours of instructional time that has to be boiled down to rank each teacher in the building. 

Image result for baseball pitcher images
A professional baseball pitcher pitches an average of 20 games each season and throws an average
of 90 pitches per game, or 1800 pitches each season. If the pitcher was evaluated the way teachers
are (I did the math), the coach would show up for a game in the first part of the season and observe
the pitcher throwing 1 pitch, then come back later in the season and watch him throw 1 or 2 more
pitches. That one pitch that he observes could be the game losing home run that the pitcher gave up,
or it could be the final pitch of a no-hitter… I use this analogy to illustrate the incredibly difficult job
that the administrator is being asked to do. If I am being critical, I am being critical of the process and
evaluation tool, not of the administration. I consider myself very fortunate to work for the principal that
we have at our school, and I think that all of the assistant principals do an amazing job as well. I just
believe that the task that they are being asked to do is unrealistic.

So, what am I going to do? After talking to my spouse and spending a lot of personal time reflecting,
I have decided that I will not keep my award for myself. Instead I am going to use the money in a way
that I think could help students and teachers at my school. I will either spend the money on my own
classroom, or I will make a gift donation to another teacher that could be used for the students in
their class. I actually think this would be a great award incentive for teachers, and I think teachers
would love it! Instead of giving cash bonuses to teachers, give them the same amount as a cash
grant that they could spend however they like in either their classroom, department, or school. I
believe that could really impact student growth and achievement in a meaningful way!

Advocate - Support - Inspire - Create

*This paragraph has been edited from the original version to more accurately describe the Weighted
School Assessment.


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