Is It Time For Salary Incentives for Education Personnel?
In New York City there is a serious problem of good teachers not wanting to work in low-performing schools. Chancellor Joel Klein has stated that he publicly agrees with the recommendations of The Teaching Commission's report "Teachers at Risk: A Call to Action" except for the salary incentive, i.e paying teachers who agree to work in hard to staff schools more money. Is it time to re-think this strategy? It is obvious to people across America that something must be done.
When Students' Gains Help Teachers' Bottom Line
By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO
Published: May 9, 2004
DENVER - As a teacher of emotionally disturbed children, Jeremy Abshire sets goals for each of his students. Geronimo, 14, an American Indian who knew only the letters for "Jerry," will read and write, and sign his true name. Shaneesa, a meek 12-year-old reading at a first-grade level, will catch up to her middle-school peers and attend regular classes in the fall.
Under a proposal approved by teachers here and to be considered by voters next year, if Mr. Abshire's students reach the goals he sets, his salary will grow. But if his classroom becomes a mere holding tank, his salary, too, will stagnate.
"The bottom line is, do you reward teachers for just sitting here and sticking it out, or for doing something?" said Mr. Abshire, who has been teaching for four years. "The free market doesn't handle things that way, so why should it be any different here?"
In March, Denver's teachers became the first in a major city to approve, by a 59 percent majority, a full-scale overhaul of the salary structure to allow "pay for performance," a controversial approach that rewards teachers for the progress of their students.
At a time when more and more superintendents are supporting moves away from the traditional salary structure for teachers, and finding their efforts stymied in an atmosphere of suspicion and financial austerity, Denver teachers' vote is a major breakthrough.
Under the city's plan, teachers and other school employees would earn raises if students meet academic targets. The system would also reward teachers for getting advanced certification, working in high-poverty schools or teaching subjects like math and science, where qualified instructors are in short supply. The plan would raise the maximum pay for most teachers to $100,000, from $60,000.
"Teachers should be paid more, but we should have accountability," said Jerry F. Wartgow, the superintendent of schools.
[Senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, is echoing the same themes in his own plan for improving teacher quality, unveiled on May 6: setting aside $9 billion to raise base salaries, with raises and bonuses for teachers who succeed in raising student test scores, or who teach subjects or areas suffering from teacher shortages.]
Though other large cities have adopted limited measures linking extra pay and the performance of teachers, none have advanced as far as Denver, or undertaken changes as comprehensive. Minneapolis began a modest experiment two years ago that pays teachers up to $2,000 a year more for taking district-sponsored training courses, if they result in improved instruction as judged by supervisors, and Houston gives everyone in a school, from the guidance counselor to the principal, a bonus based largely on students' test scores.
In Florida, all school districts are under orders to create salary systems tied in part to student progress. And with the federal No Child Left Behind law focusing attention on schools in poor neighborhoods, many more districts are offering incentives to teachers to work in those schools, the very ones that teachers with seniority tend to avoid.
"It's an idea that's moving forward," said Allan Odden, director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, noting, however, "It's a bumpy train."
Two years ago, teachers in Cincinnati overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to link their pay to their skills, and in Iowa, a 2001 law tying salary to teacher evaluations and student test scores has been undone by a lack of financing.
In New York, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Joel I. Klein, the schools chancellor, also want to tie raises to teacher and student performance, as did Mayor Bloomberg's predecessor, Rudolph W. Giuliani. But without the track record of cooperation that marked the Denver initiative, New York City officials have been blocked by the teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers.