Performance Pay, Easier Said Than Done

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Maryland: The Baltimore Sun reports that schools termed "challenging" in the Anne Arundel school district in Maryland—those that missed their targets on the Maryland School Assessment last year—will offer teachers incentives both to stay at their schools and to get their students to meet Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) targets. Any teacher who completes the school year (which we thought was a contractual obligation but then again we're probably too legalistic) will receive a bonus of $1500 with an additional $1500 bonus if the school manages to reach the fairly lofty state AYP targets.

While the bonus program may play well politically, the bonuses rewarding student achievement are most likely out of reach of struggling schools. Teachers who make heroic progress with their students will still be ineligible for the bonuses if the entire school fails to leap forward with gains that in some cases most testing experts would claim are outside the realm of possibility to expect in a year. If the district is truly serious about making gains, it might take a more patient approach and reward teachers for steady but significant growth over several years. School-wide awards may be fine as well but there ought to be some allowance for rewarding exceptional individual teachers.

Delaware: Efforts there to link student performance with teacher performance have hit a rough patch. Last week TQB reported on union resistance to a state legislative proposal to have student performance comprise 20% of a teacher's formal evaluation. Now, Joseph Wise, the superintendent of Christina School District, is trying to convince Delaware unions that a program tying bonus pay to student achievement is a good idea.

But Delaware Education Association spokeswoman Pam Nichols points out a logical problem that could crop up if the Christina district isn’t careful in the design of their program:

“If you’re an art teacher, nurse or science teacher, your student improvement would be based on the math, reading and writing scores of the students you have. Why try a program we know won’t evaluate this teacher on what they were hired to do????

Good point. If teachers in a school are held accountable for student progress in reading, writing and math, no matter what they teach, the programs could prove more destructive than helpful. These one-size-fits-all strategies could lead to science and history teachers tossing out their content to do math drills and hone reading comprehension skills since there's no incentive not to.