Nontraditional pay pals

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Here's the latest skinny on efforts in districts and states to reform teacher pay structures.

Austin, which seems to have been piloting a performance pay plan forever has opted out of the Texas state program that requires the school district to spend most of its reward money on paying teachers for increasing student test scores. Instead, they want to emulate the pay plan in Denver, which does not give the same priority to raising test scores. Under the new plan, teachers can earn up to $12,400 more by mentoring new teachers, meeting goals that teachers identify for their students, working at high-needs schools, and improving a schools? test results in math and reading.

No one can accuse Austin of jumping into performance pay head first. The district is expanding the pilot phase of this project from nine to 11 schools next year, with about 100 campuses still to go.

Not that the Texas pay plan has been wildly popular elsewhere in the state. Fewer than one in five districts have figured out a plan using state dollars.

It had to happen. Denver?s two-year-old overhaul of teacher pay has hit a snag in stalled contract talks between the district and local union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. Superintendent Michael Bennett wants to put most of the funds available for teacher salary increases towards increasing the pay of beginning teachers and rewarding teachers who raise student achievement, show evidence of increased skill up to their 13th year, or teach in high-need schools or subjects.

But union president Kim Ursetta calls that proposal a "radical departure" from the original Denver model. The revised Bennett plan, she charges, would give too much money to newer teachers at the expense of veteran ones, whether they are among the half of Denver teachers who opted for the plan or not.

In North Carolina, the state board of education is now linking schools' graduation rates to school-wide teacher bonuses. It's an imperfect tool, though, because the state's students have only to pass minimal competency tests in math, English and technology in order to graduate. On the other hand, North Carolina requires more than a handful of end-of-course exams?not required for graduation--which could act as a check on whether schools are dumbing-down learning to get those graduation rates up.