Nebraska (!) takes baby steps on performance pay

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We're used to covering performance pay experiments coming out of states like Texas and Florida...but Nebraska? Nebraska, the state that prides itself on running its schools the old fashioned way. (You may recall that it was the last state that held out complying with NCLB's requirement to implement statewide testing.)

However, the Nebraska legislature actually passed a bill this month intended to encourage its districts to consider performance pay. With the signature of Governor Dave Heineman, a Republican, school districts must put the issue of performance pay at the table in any future contract negotiations.

The bill, though, is a classic example of legislative skittishness. If 75 percent of Nebraska's school districts don't end up enacting performance pay plans in their contracts after five years, the law goes away, even if 74 percent vote yea.

Given the mealy way that the law defines performance pay, it's not clear what anyone is worried about. Districts can, for example, choose to reward performance pay to teachers for taking graduate courses. The statute leaves policy negotiations open to include "improving professional skills and knowledge" in addition to "classroom performance or instructional behavior and instructional outcomes" as measures of teacher performance.

The state hopes that an annual pledge of $10 million to help districts implement plans may prove persuasive, but that seems unlikely. As a reporter points out in the Lincoln Journal Star, if half of all Nebraska teachers earn a performance pay bonus, this bonus would be roughly $1,000 per teacher.