Merit pay in Dixie

See all posts

More merit pay stories, this time from the sunny Southeast:

Arkansas: Look to Little Rock, Arkansas for a bold--and arguably crass--experiment with merit pay. While the rest of us hem and haw over what kind of merit pay is palatable or possible, Little Rock's Meadowcliff Elementary School is paying teachers straight up for student test results.

With some outside assistance from an anonymous financial donor, Meadowbrook teachers are getting $100 for each student whose test scores went up 4 percent; $200 for each student who gained 5 to 9 percent; $300 for each student in the 10 to 14 percent range and $400 for improvement above 14 percent.

Teachers racked up bonuses ranging from $1,800 to $8,600--which certainly meets the level needed to have any sort of real impact--with an entirely reasonable program cost of $145,000 for the year. Every employee in the school got a bonus because the school's overall gains topped 15 percent.

While there's a certain "bounty hunter" flavor to the program, you can't argue with the results. Teachers initially resisted the program, but apparently in the end they felt satisfied to see cut-and-dried results data on their students. Fifth-grade teacher Kathy Thomas said, "I've never had the opportunity to look at what my students knew and how they changed. The money is nice; the tools are better."

Florida: The Sunshine State continues to have trouble getting its statewide merit pay program off the ground. That initiative, begun in 2003, required districts to come up with some kind of performance pay for their teachers. Unfortunately, under pressure from local teachers' unions, many districts made their merit pay program so complex and unobtainable that few teachers even bothered to apply.

Florida's Pinellas school district, for example, has set a bar beyond reach by even most superstars. Its program is based on a point system, and points are subtracted if a teacher hasn't been named teacher of the year, received a grant in the recent past, or made a home visit. Teachers are disqualified if their school's students didn't make 15 percent gains on the FCAT--a requirement that disqualified every teacher in the district last year.

Now the State Board of Education is threatening to strike back by rewriting the relevant regulatory language to make it more specific and giving State Ed Commissioner John Winn the go-ahead to threaten districts with removal of state funding if they don't make merit pay programs that are actually accessible.