Georgia teachers on governor’s merit pay proposal: Unfair to us and students

Dr. Allene Magill is executive director of the 90,000-member Professional Association of Georgia Educators. In this piece, she discusses the governor’s proposal to create merit pay for Georgia teachers.

By Allene Magill

???????????????????As the leader of Georgia’s largest professional educator association, most readers may be surprised that I support merit pay for teachers that recognizes their performance as determined by their local school and district. School systems already can and do use local funds to provide additional pay for responsibilities or performance criteria. What I cannot support is a mandated merit pay system tied to standardized test scores, as proposed by Gov. Nathan Deal and the Education Reform Commission. Nor can I support merit pay disguised as a method of reducing the state base salary for teachers so that the merit pay portion is necessary to make up the difference.

The most rewarding aspect of teaching occurs when a former student lets an educator know the difference he or she made in their life. After more than 40 years as an educator, I’ve experienced that many times. I assure you that not once has a former student told me how much he appreciated my contribution to his score on a standardized test. Students have, however, talked about the importance of their relationship with me as their teacher — the encouragement to work hard, the extra attention to help them grasp a concept, a kind word when life got tough, extra responsibilities that built confidence and leadership experience, and making time for the arts and non “core” subjects.

We’ve committed a disservice to all students and educators over the past 20 years by focusing on performance on standardized tests and reducing opportunities for building great student relationships. Initially, standardized tests were reserved for core content every few years, and teachers could maintain enough flexibility to nurture and support students. Now teacher evaluations are tied to all content. No subject can be studied without the student taking an assessment that stamps her effort with a score while also passing judgment on her teacher.

According to recommendations from the ERC, educator pay will be based on student test scores through merit pay systems that all Georgia school districts must adopt or design. School districts will be expected to manage complex compensation models using multiple criteria for every teacher. While district office staff can develop the capacity to manage these systems, they will often require additional resources in consultants, staff and information systems to adopt and sustain the changes.

Clearly, Gov. Deal believes that educators — individually and collectively — are withholding their best effort and therefore need financial incentives to prod them toward improvement. His comments last week that he intends to push for merit pay based on an evaluation system founded on student achievement is a misguided policy response. A cursory review of research conducted over the past 30 years from highly regarded universities, foundations, and consortiums clearly shows that merit pay is fraught with design, implementation and sustainability problems.

A full discussion of the issues with merit pay in education isn’t possible in this column so I’ll mention just four:

•Compensation design for merit pay is complicated even in school districts when teachers, administrators and school board are committed to its success. A good merit pay system is founded on a base salary that is accepted by employees as sufficient, and therefore any additional pay truly is for demonstrable superior performance. A good merit pay system is transparent in that the reasons for increased pay are clearly understood by all employees. Additionally, employees must be able to control the opportunity for increased pay and it must be equally available to all. Student achievement does not meet these criteria because it is a product of many inputs. Teachers are an important input – but only one. It’s too simplistic to believe that a standardized test on one day can adequately prove the value of a single teacher’s contribution to a student’s learning over the course of a year in an environment where many educators interact with that student. Anyone who tells you otherwise likely never spent any time teaching children, whether it’s been in a classroom or Bible school or Scouts.

•Teaching is a collaborative process that requires cooperation, support and teamwork for the benefit of students. Pay-based incentives for student achievement create competition – either subtle or overt – among colleagues. Punishments or rewards for student achievement introduces motivation to seek opportunities anticipated to result in higher student achievement. Such a system discourages teachers from taking on assignments with the hardest-to-teach or the highest performing where there is either the perception or reality that students will provide less opportunity for academic growth. Unfortunately, we’ve seen too clearly in Georgia the result of the temptation to manipulate testing to achieve higher scores.

•The cost-to-benefit ratio to implement the infrastructure to adequately support a statewide merit pay system is too high. Research repeatedly bears out that quantifiable gains are difficult to attribute to merit pay and that the organizational effort required to design, implement and support these compensation models outweighs the benefit. This is especially true when accounting for the resource of time — from the classroom teacher to the district office. The reports from PAGE members about the time involved with the TKES evaluation process and the demands on administrators and student information system personnel confirm the difficulty of implementation of just this one component.

•The overemphasis on standardized test scores and teacher evaluation over the past few years has caused educators to feel more disconnected from students. Opportunities for relationship building and instructional support for students is shortchanged as teachers attend to data collection and analysis and concerns about their effectiveness measure. Students should not be numbers on an answer sheet. Teacher effectiveness should not be defined by test results. Administrators should not be data collectors and paymasters. Instead, they should be focused on learning and growth and they should collaborate with one another to ensure appropriate resources and supports are in place to ensure student academic growth.

Georgia educators have reason to distrust that the governor and the General Assembly will follow through on promises to improve educator compensation or sustain funding for merit pay. The proposed state student-based formula does not fund merit pay. Districts will receive the state average pay for teachers without accounting for the cost of merit pay. The state will require it but will not fund it.

The list of broken promises related to teacher pay is long. It includes supplements for National Board certification, stagnant salary schedules, and sustained deep austerity cuts that have forced local districts to cut work days. And even now the promise that veteran teachers will continue on the current salary schedule based on training and experience doesn’t hold up. All but two Georgia districts will be charter or waiver systems next year and can design their own compensation models regardless of ERC recommendations. Further, teachers who transfer from one district to another will be subject to the new district’s compensation model unless they can successfully negotiate to continue on the traditional model.

Georgia is moving in the wrong direction when considering the direction of the federal government. The newly reauthorized federal education law called Every Student Succeeds Act passed with Republican and Democrat support this week with only two members of Georgia’s delegation voting against it. The bill, signed into law on Thursday by President Obama, retracts many of the federal mandates on testing and abandons any guidance on teacher evaluation.

On behalf of the 90,000 PAGE members and the students they serve, we request that Gov. Deal eliminate or significantly reduce the standardized test percentages used to evaluate teachers and school leaders and reject the proposal that teacher compensation be based on those test scores. Georgia’s current evaluation system bases 50 percent of teacher evaluations and 70 percent of administrator evaluations on student test scores. This is a disservice to teachers, school leaders and, most importantly, students. Georgia will not succeed in moderating the negative impact of high-stakes testing on students by building educator evaluation, certification and compensation on student test scores.

Our students deserve better.

Georgia educators do not fear accountability. They take seriously their responsibility to teach all children. However, accountability for a test score that cannot be an accurate representation of their work and effort with a student is unacceptable.

Educators across Georgia want assurance that our legislators listen to our voice. PAGE members will be asking legislators to make a straightforward commitment as they prepare for the 2016 legislative session.

I promise to roll back over-testing of Georgia students.

I promise to oppose teacher pay that is reliant on student test scores.

Georgia’s 1.7 million students deserve to learn from educators who are committed to their academic progress, their development as critical thinkers and their ability to pursue creative expression rather than focus on standardized test scores and how those scores will affect their evaluations and pay.

 

Reader Comments 0

46 comments
StrongSchools
StrongSchools

Objections to teacher merit pay focus primarily on “high stakes testing”.We are missing the forest for the trees.Surely teachers and administrators could agree on a few measures (objective or subjective) that collectively reflect teacher performance.Composite measures for individual teachers could be compared (e.g., upper third, middle third, lower third) and used as the basis for merit pay. It is the role of the administrator to make such distinctions. Let’s not let the controversy over testing interfere with recognizing and rewarding good teachers.

BillClements
BillClements

Director Magill is right on target with her 4 reasons - I would like to add that any merit pay system must involve the Principal's assessment of the staff and that presents many problems - First the huge "span of control"  coupled with the principals totally lacking management experience of dealing with salary, promotions, terminations and reassignments - Principales manage with finesse and wit and none of the fundatmental tools of salary/position management - This would be huge problem !

koch
koch

From a retired teacher. Once I had an immigrant student enter my class in mid-semester. He could speak no English and I could not speak his language. My salary is going to be based upon that child's grade? Really!

WardinConyers
WardinConyers

It appears that the governor and his minions have really stepped in it.  Using standardized test scores as a measuring tool of teaching success is the simple way out and that is what government always seems to do.  Unfortunately, it fails to measure the intrinsic details.  Again, unwitting bureaucrats think they know better and unfortunately they are too stupid and/or uncaring to realize that they don't.  I am all for merit pay, but it needs to start with an adequate base pay. I am so glad to be a retired teacher.


BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

This is yet another AJC article with a deceptive headline. Maureen Downey and the AJC didn't poll teachers. Instead they published an article by a teacher's union mouthpiece that claims to represent the opinion of 110,000+ teachers. We know the union does not speak for the majority of teachers. The article itself is a repetition of usual union talking points - more money, less responsibility, and less competition from private and charter schools.


DisenchantedVoter
DisenchantedVoter

Ummm...no. PAGE has 90,000 members, which constitutes the majority of the educators in GA, and it was explicitly formed as a non-union org.

Please work on your reading comprehension skills...or should we blame your former teachers?

BillClements
BillClements

@BurroughstonBroch Not so harsh - someone needs to step/speak up and this voluntary organization needs to step and and organize to defeat this silly idea of merit pay until the circumstances are fulled vetted by teachers and others !  Where is the voice for educators ?  Silently sleeping ?

tinala
tinala

Professional Association of Educators endorsed that Ole'Crook Deal under the Gold Dome dome. If he is for the performance pay run as fast as you can away from it; because, he must be getting a cut in some way. The performance pay is what got APS in trouble and I'm totally agaist that; because, all teachers want to meet performance standards and if children aren't learning, it has to continue when they get home, and if there isn't any encouragement or assistance, it an up hill battle.

DisenchantedVoter
DisenchantedVoter

PAGE does not endorse candidates. The organization does not have a Political Action Commiittee (PAC).

WardinConyers
WardinConyers

@tinala And all too often, parents are dropping the ball, expecting the teachers to do their job.  An absence of fathers further complicates the matter.

WardinConyers
WardinConyers

@taylor48 That's because too many don't pay attention.  Setting rules and procedures(laws) is easy.  Follow-up is hard, and how many of us follow up on anything?


jerryeads
jerryeads

"Pay for Performance" has been shown over and over and over and over and over and over again to actually be detrimental to performance for all but the most low-level tasks. This is yet another example of "Don't confuse me with the facts. My mind's made up."

For a fun and easy overview of the topic, dial up Ted Talks on your handy-dandy laptop (or fone, or tablet, or whatever) and watch Dan Pink talk about "The Puzzle of Motivation." You'll then wonder in amazement how the governor could possibly have been so misled by what are obviously egregiously incompetent advisors.

Bitcoined
Bitcoined

I bet that, as with other union mouthpieces on this blog, your own kids went to either private or carefully selected suburban schools.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Bitcoined 

It may be that the teachers, themselves, through teachers' unions across America which give them some voice and power, will save public education, the foundation of a democracy, for future generations of Americans.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@HILUX


Answer a question with a question - Okay, I'll bite.


I support tax payers getting a rebate of their own individual education taxes to spend as they please. Otherwise, Parents can vote with their feet or the local ballot box.


I don't belive the public schould pay for private or semi-private schools as we do now.


True right to work is fine as long as it includes collective bargaining. Teachers have no voice in Georgia and were totally excluded from the Governor's commission on Ed.

HILUX
HILUX

Can't teachers likewise vote with their feet or the ballot box?

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@HILUX


I miss your point. Teachers are not asking for charter schools that cater to "serious teachers". Is there a point of logic to your seeming non sequitur that I missed?

HILUX
HILUX

Why are you scared of empowering parents to freely choose the school, public or private, which best meets their child's needs?

And of Right to Work laws for teachers nationwide?

class80olddog
class80olddog

I don't agree with incentive pay for teachers but maybe it makes sense for administrators. After all, THEY have the power to address the real issues: discipline, attendance, and social promotion.

elementary-pal
elementary-pal

I do wish you could do my job for just one week. Your assumptions about administrators grew old about 6 months ago and have been way off pass from the beginning. There may be administrators who don't handle discipline in their schools, but in 26 years in this business, I have never met one. As for attendance, that is a parent issue. And if you believe that one test score should determine what a child does for the next year, you should read some more research.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@class80olddog Does state law continue to allow a confab of parents, administrators and teachers to decide whether a student who has not otherwise met criteria for promotion to the next grade may be promoted?

class80olddog
class80olddog

Actually state law forbids social promotion. Administrators CHEAT to achieve state standards.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@elementary-pal With all due respect, (E)lementary-pal, where do you work if you have never met administrators who didn't handle discipline in their schools? Such is not the case in east-central Georgia. And, according to a friend whose judgment I trust, such is not the case in The Metro, either.


AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@elementary-pal


For the life of me, I cannot understand the same posters posting the same tired anti union, anti public school, pro charter, opinions with little or no rationale or logic. Unless they are paid or just enjoy the attention. I do not see any researched, logical, thoughtful defense of public taxes paying for privately run charter schools instead of improving public schools for all children.

elementary-pal
elementary-pal

I do wish you could do my job for just one week. Your assumptions about administrators grew old about 6 months ago.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@class80olddog


The state legislature instituted social promotion by basing school performance on graduation rate AND taking away the HS graduation test. Speak to your legislator about both.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@CSpinks @class80olddog  Yes, and it requires a UNANIMOUS agreement to promote.  In other words, teachers have a VETO power (in theory).  Of course, if they actually used it, they would be fired by the ADMINISTRATOR.


MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Merit pay for teachers has two strong limitations:

(1)  The assessment of who teachers of "merit" are may easily become based on the personal and the political.

(2)  Unless assessment is, likewise, made of the IQ levels of every student a given teacher teaches, the assessment of identifying merit teachers can never be a truly valid one.  And, I don't think we want to go there.

CSpinks
CSpinks

A false dilemma: Standardized testing or a strong teacher-student relationship? 


Employing standardized test data as more important measures of student learning and of teacher effectiveness doesn't preclude the development of a strong personal relationship between teacher and student. Rather, the quality of the former depends upon the quality of the latter.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@FlaTony @CSpinks


Would you like the people you manage to take one test each year that determines your pay and continued employment given that you cannot have input into the training program, goals, testing etc.?

CSpinks
CSpinks

@FlaTony @CSpinks Let's take "high-stakes" standardized testing out of the hands of the educrats and place it in the hands of independent local boards as we do with elections.

FlaTony
FlaTony

@CSpinks Incorrect. Once the so-called incentives are introduced, the whole scheme becomes corruptible. Children deserve better than having adults try to manipulate their lives because of incentive pay.

Bitcoined
Bitcoined

I doubt any of us enjoy being assessed, and can likewise find fault with any metric used.

But the fact is, the education establishment has had decades to solve its problems yet fails to do so. If parents and taxpayers were as happy with results as in generations past, all this wouldn't be an issue.

On a positive note, by rejecting unionism and Democrat Party links Ms. Magill's organization has won the trust of more teachers than union-based GAE and GFT combined.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Bitcoined I think PAGE provides cheaper liability insurance than the others. I have heard that the others provide a more robust legal representation and that the others do not allow administrators to join. Sorry to burst your union bogey man bubble. 

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Bitcoined

You seem to be saying that, as "the education establishment has had decades to solve its problems yet fails to do so" student resources, abilities, and motivation are not part of student performance. Is it your your belief that all children will perform at average or above level on standardized tests if only they had a" better" teacher? Does that apply  also to lawyers, car mechanics, plumbers, dentists, etc-that given poor quality materials, workers, and lack of control in designing the process, that a good "insert professional title" should always do a good job?

Bitcoined
Bitcoined

Money talks. Googling "NEA" and "contributions" shows what political language union money speaks.

Bitcoined
Bitcoined

Administrators can and do belong to either group. GAE's higher cost reflects the yearly NEA membership dues every GAE member also pays.

But you already know that.

Poidawg
Poidawg

Considering the fact that teachers have had no real say in education for decades, your comment that the education establishment has failed to solve the problems is disingenuous at best. Teachers and administrators have had to follow reforms put in place by politicians and business people, regardless of how ineffective they will be. The refusal to take into account the multitude of other factors that can impede student achievement, such as poverty, inequality, neglect and abuse, single parenthood, etc., does leave teachers holding the bag.

I, too, would be all for merit pay if it were because I:spent hours extra preparing for my lessons; meeting with students; mentoring students and other teachers; sponsoring a club; receiving excellent feedback because of direct observation, and any other measure that showed I was going above and beyond. But to base it on how well students do on some arbitrary test, that doesn't take into account whether or not a student had a place to sleep the night before a test, is ludicrous and a disservice to all.

(And by the way, guess what GAE is not a union.). We have no teacher unions in Georgia. Maybe if we did, our standings in the rankings might be better. States that have teacher unions are all well above the right to work states. Unions don't just fight for what is good for the teacher, they fight for what is good for education, which benefits the students!

I am so grateful that I am retired but I do mourn because of what is being done to public education.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@Poidawg Poidawg, do you think that individual classroom teachers constitute part of the Georgia education establishment or educracy? We were frozen out of that years ago. Only The Metro Association of Classroom Educators(MACE) speaks for us. By no stretch of the imagination is it part of GaPubEd.


And, by the way, I hope your actions regarding public education in our state are not limited to mourning. You have too much to offer.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Bitcoined


You are right about GAE and administrators. I was wrong. It was MACE I was thinking about. 


Do you think that the NEA has any impact on educational decisions in GA? If so, how?

HILUX
HILUX

Democrat, and liberal.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Bitcoined


I guess you concede that the NEA has no impact on educational decisions in GA as you refuse to address ithe question and simply post "Google ..... for the 100th time as did EduK.. he who shall not be named.