Q Comp Squeaks through in Minnesota

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For almost three months, it seemed like Minnesota's performance pay plan--known as Q Comp--might die as the two houses of the state legislature could not come to any sort of agreement on what to do with the program. But in a dramatic 11th hour move, the legislature agreed to fund the Governor's entire $62 million Q Comp proposal.

Q Comp is a mixed blessing.

Districts and charter schools are allowed to develop their own plans, but they must include 5 main components: multiple career paths, professional development, a teacher evaluation system, performance pay, and an alternative salary schedule. This level of autonomy may be overly flexible for such a costly initiative, as the ambiguity of these five components can lead to all sorts of creative interpretations on the part of the districts. As NCTQ's soon-to-be-released State Teacher Policy Yearbook indicates, many evaluation instruments used by districts are structured so that teachers can earn a satisfactory rating without any evidence that they are in fact effective in the classroom.

The program does have some specific guidelines about the salary schedule. Districts are required to reform the "steps and lanes" salary schedule so that at least 60 percent of any compensation increase is based on a teacher's performance using 1) school-wide student achievement gains, 2) measures of student achievement, and 3) an objective evaluation program. Since the districts get to determine how they break down teacher performance among these three measures, they are free to minimize the use of objective measures of student achievement.

So far, 35 of the state's 339 school districts and 14 charter schools have had their proposed Q Comp plans approved and have received funding. An additional 130 have submitted letters of intent to participate, measuring about a 50 percent participation rate.

The quality of the plans ranges from the really gnarly to, well, possibly having some potential. In Centennial Public Schools' plan, for example, teachers can earn $1800 for earning high ratings on three observations, but only $100 for significantly raising student test scores.

Contrast this with districts that have more sensible measures. In St. Francis Public Schools, teachers earn 50 percent of their bonus from four strong evaluations and another 50 percent from objective evidence of increases in student performance. Sound and sensible. Time and experience should help to iron out these disparities, if local politics doesn't come in for the kill first.

More reform is needed if Q Comp is to meet its goal of being more than a bonus system, and actually replacing the salary system based on seniority and education course credits with one that is based on performance. That reform, however, will have to wait for another legislative season.