Merit pay for teachers: Is Georgia playing with fire?

Gov. Nathan Deal’s merit pay proposal for teachers runs the risk of becoming the hoverboard of education, a smooth way to advance our goals but apt to explode from poorly made parts.

The incendiary issue will dominate the opening of the Legislature next week, according to House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. Meeting with wary teachers in his home ground of Fannin and Gilmer counties over the last few weeks, Ralston said Georgia is not ready to roll out a fair and equitable pay for performance model.

???????????????????“The case has not been made to me for merit-based pay,” he said. “I’m troubled by how you quantify and measure and get to the point that the concept wants to get at. And I am hearing this is going to have some impact on recruiting teachers.”

Ralston relayed how a veteran teacher who hoped her child would one day follow in her footsteps told him her “daughter has now quit talking about wanting to be a teacher and she’s quit wanting her to be a teacher.”

Gov. Deal plans to push for pay for performance as part of a broad package of education reforms that also features a new funding formula. Deal’s conviction that student academic performance should influence teacher pay is shared by the Obama administration and outgoing U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who tied test scores to teacher evaluations in their Race to the Top grants, from which Georgia received $400 million.

Merit pay counts as one of those education ideas — and there are many — that sound perfectly reasonable until field tested. Not long ago, bonuses were touted as an incentive to push teachers to higher levels of instruction. But a RAND study out of New York and a National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University study suggested many teachers were already running as fast as they could and bonuses made no impact on student achievement.

Nor is merit pay a new concept. Donald Gratz, author of “The Peril and Promise of Performance Pay,” quotes a 1907 lament from Edmond Holmes, Great Britain’s chief education inspector, who believed test-based performance pay was leading teachers to engage “in laying thin films of information on the surface of the child’s mind, and then, after a brief interval, in skimming these off in order to satisfy himself that they have been duly laid.”

A typical argument for merit pay is that other industries embrace it, but that doesn’t mean it works. A 2010 RAND review of pay for performance initiatives in transportation, child care, education, emergency response and healthcare found limited effectiveness. When it was successful, RAND identified several critical components: Evaluation measures were clear and easy to observe; employees had some control over inputs affecting their job performance, there were not competing interests and there were enough resources to design and support a good performance-based reward system.

Merit pay, at least as now proposed in Georgia, lacks those elements. We have brand new state tests, the Georgia Milestones, so we don’t know yet whether the scores connect in any way to teacher performance. About 70 percent of our teachers are in classes without state standardized tests, including PE, civics, chemistry, art and music. The state’s solution of allowing each district to create its own Student Learning Objectives to evaluate such teachers remains a muddle.

We don’t have scales that weigh a teacher’s dedication, creativity, and commitment. Nor do test scores reveal the valuable and often life-changing work teachers do, believing in kids when no one else does, mentoring younger colleagues crushed by the challenges, educating parents who never finished school to dream bigger for their children.

Until Gov. Deal and the Legislature can address those deficiencies — and there may well be solutions — they ought to move slowly or risk going down in flames.

Reader Comments 0

117 comments
Frankincense
Frankincense

Empower parents with tuition vouchers, and let the free market determine costs and wages.

The system in place cannot be made to work.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Guys and Gals, this has nothing to do with merit pay. merit pay is the magician's other hand that distracts you. We have two simultaneous scams here.


1. Money follows the student. Who benefits? Well, considering gifted kids get more than poor kids, you can guess.


2. Merit pay only happens AFTER all teacher pay is lowered and limited to an avg. of 50K per teacher (you can see that that "reasonable" amount would be subject to changes for political reasons.) Any merit pay scheme will be much less than the current salary schedule.


Charter schools would then have a guaranteed source of income per student(with an incentive $  to take gifted students, legislated low teacher costs, lower costs due to lower special ed., transportation, facility, etc.. costs.


This is a reward to friends, family, campaign donors, etc. 


Pretty slick - take millions of dollars from middle class teacher's salaries and distribute them to a few connected bidness owners.

Ctsm1952
Ctsm1952

I say bring it on Governor Deal!  Go ahead and come up with some hare-brained ridiculous method of calculating who gets merit pay and who doesn't, and let the floodgates of litigation open.  I'll be the first one in line.  

I'm a current teacher who could have filed a lawsuit three years ago.  I was forced to teach certain subjects by my administrator and told by this same administrator that I had to lie on my TKES (teacher evaluation) to say I was teaching something else, and I got no credit for tripling student achievement in those subjects.  To further the injustice, other teachers got credit for my work not only on their evaluation because of the drastically increased test scores, but also through a (kind of secretive, hushed up, not discussed by any central office staff or administrators)  $2500 'merit pay' bonus last summer.  I am still contemplating a lawsuit because of what has already happened. 

Incidentally, the bonus last summer was from Obama/Duncan Race to the Top money - who would think Nathan Deal and Obama would be bedfellows? 


The whacky, unmonitored and absurd way that non-standardized-tested subjects, WHICH ACCOUNT FOR 70% of what happens in a school (art, music, PE, technology, foreign languages, etc) are assessed through SLOs, and will never hold up in a court case. These tests, written by the teachers and given in a non-proctored manner by those same teachers as a pre and post test, and then GRADED by those same teachers - how is that a level playing field for Milestones and EOC-tested teachers?  Who have no idea how the questions will be worded, there is no pretest, growth is not measured from the beginning to the end of the year - it's just a one time test.  Bam. You are a failure or ---congratulations! You get merit pay!  


It's sad that Nathan Deal, whose wife is a former teacher, has stooped this low - to penalizing and demoralizing the people on the front lines trying to build the future of our state by teaching our children.  In any profession, there are less than stellar workers.  Let the administration/management people do their job and keep the taxpayer money out of your political games, Mr. Deal.  


And good luck trying to find teachers willing to work with English Language Learners, or kids who are from multi-generational poverty families, kids with special needs, the kids who will never do well on a standardized test because they have no idea what the questions are even asking them.  The $20,000 bonus Fulton has to pay their good teachers to move to a setting like that will become the norm everywhere.  Awesome use of taxpayer money (and that is sarcasm).  


The political legacy of Nathan Deal will be one of damage to education - he has hurt all school systems by failing to adequately fund education in Georgia and he will send teachers fleeing to other occupations and other states where we don't have to put up with lunacy and utterly unfair merit pay practices. It's hard to understand how Mr. (or Mrs.) Deal could be proud of that.    


StanJester
StanJester

@Wascatlady - (Moving conversation to the top).  You brought up an idea "Here is an idea on additional compensation:  Automatically pay those given the most challenging (behaviorally, educationally) students more, if their work is satisfactory.  Teachers in a Title 1 school who work hard with their children should automatically get more pay. Period.  Teachers assigned students with significant behavioral issues should get more pay if their work is "merely" satisfactory. Period."


@Wascatlady - Is your suggestion comparable to Fulton's plan -Fulton plans $20,000 stipends to lure top teachers to bottom schools ( http://www.myajc.com/news/news/local-education/fulton-hopes-20000-stipends-lure-top-teachers-to-b/nh2n7/)?  I printed that article out a few weeks ago and gave it to DeKalb School's superintendent.


What about the other schools?  Can we fairly and systematically determine who are the handful of teachers you referred to earlier that need to be weeded out?  Can we fairly and systematically determine who the best of the best teachers are and compensate them accordingly for a job well done?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@StanJester @Wascatlady I would suggest that "top teachers" might not look so topnotch in a "bottom" school.  I think it takes a certain kind of teacher to work long-term in a setting like that.  It is easy to look good in a largely middle class setting, in many ways that might not transfer to a lower achievement school.


Those teachers that needed to be weeded out could be done, but will not because of politics, at least around here.  


Can it be done?  Yes.  If you could get some of the teachers to be honest with you, they could tell you who "needs help."  I think a principal that has actually taught, in the real classroom (as opposed to some push in job)m recently, could tell you who is not doing well. Part of the problem is transient principals, and those who have been out of real student contact for years, especially in a big system like yours.  One key would be building community ethos.  That takes time, as well as commitment. Is there the political will to tackle this? I don't know.

Barreira
Barreira

As a high-school teacher, I applaud your recent comment regarding merit pay: "We don't have scales that weigh a teacher's dedication, creativity and commitment." If your readers could spend a day, or one class period, in our classrooms, there would be no argument here. Teachers are more than the transporters of lessons. On a daily basis, we see our students' personal obstacles and challenges, and accommodate them. We acknowledge a reluctant student's proclivity to drawing, and draw them out with a meaningful alternative assignment. We are committed to our students and go above and beyond, calling parents, getting them resources and financial help, or just placing a call to a student's home who has been absent for a few days. We are not withholding our best efforts for additional pay, Governor Deal, and we don't need to have our pay cut in order to motivate us to earn incentive pay in order to give our students our best efforts. We give them our best every hour, every day, year after year. The rewards of our profession, when we are with our students, and when we are treated professionally, transcend our paychecks every day. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Starik 

Your vision is askew, imho, Starik.  The question should be how do we improve the educational delivery of those less competent teachers, not primarily how do we "get rid of" them. You are thinking as a businessman, it seems. Support, not fear, is the educational model needed, and it is the only model which will work well, in the long term, with both teachers and students.

If a teacher cannot improve her/his teaching skills with support, he or she will understand that well, in the process of the structured attempt to improve his/her teaching skills. Further, he or she will come to understand, with insight, why he or she has chosen the wrong profession and will see the advisability of leaving the profession of his/her own volition.  "A leading out, not a laying on," even with teachers. In other words, practicing an educational model, with teachers and students, will be the most effective and productive model for the educational arena as well as for our society.

Starik
Starik

@MaryElizabethSings @Starik A teacher can't teach a subject they don't know.  A teacher whose English is awful, or has a generally poor education isn't about to quit... What could they do that pays an equal or better salary?

Starik
Starik

@MaryElizabethSings @Starik They can only by a person who speaks Standard Written/Spoken English, preferably as a native. This is particularly important in the lowest grades, where kids have an advanced ability to learn a language. An adults generally have problems with it.  I know a little German, Spanish, Russian and Vietnamese but I'm far from capable in any of them.  I could read them, slowly with a good dictionary.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Starik 

My word, "anyone," was referring primarily to teaching teachers who are not knowledgeable - presently - of SWE instead of simply "getting rid of them." Why start with a defeatist attitude? There is much more to teaching than speaking with correct subject/predicate agreement. SWE can be taught.  Higher consciousness and compassion are more difficult to come by, in anyone.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Barreira Another thing that far transcends our pay, although you can't take it to the bank, is having your former students, now parents, ask you how they can get their child in your class. (It is hard to explain that you now work with the students most in need of additional help).  Or having them tell you, "I was so lucky you were my teacher." Or, "I remember when you talked to us about going to college.  You remember that field trip you took us on to North Georgia College?  I started to get the idea that I could do that after high school."  Or, from a parent of a former (now adult) student, "I am so glad you told me he needed to make his own bed. He never would have learned to read if I hadn't stopped doing everything for him." (All these are true examples.)


Or, getting to teach with people you taught when they were little, and them telling you, "I remember when you..."

Starik
Starik

@MaryElizabethSings @Starik And everything costs money. Georgia will never do it - remedial classes for teachers so they can become qualified to teach? 

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Where is the demand for reducing all state worker pay and only increasing pay based on merit? The legislature increased your taxes for transportation funding - what shape was the road you drove on to today? Maybe a flat rate for all politicians of 20K per year unless taxpayer surveys/evaluations deem otherwise.


"The newspaper found that several top aides in Deal's office saw their pay rise by about 10 percent, nearly pulling even with the boss's $139,339 salary, though that figure doesn't include benefits such as his residence in a posh Atlanta neighborhood."  "Riley said the raises are necessary to keep from losing good aides who had not received raises since joining the administration in 2011."  http://accesswdun.com/article/2015/3/285771


Don't see anything about the aides getting merit pay based on standards, performance evaluations, or constituent surveys.

Starik
Starik

"Can we systematically weed out our lowest performing teachers and reward our highest performing teachers?  Is that possible?"  This is a valid, critically important question.  I'll add another... What 's the proper training for a high school principal?  Teaching or coaching?  We need and objective way to grade teacher performance, bearing in mind the wildly varying quality of kids and parents and neighborhoods.  What we do now isn't working. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

I want to see the "pay for performance" plan for ADMINISTRATORS!  Absenteeism?  Social promotions?  Disciplinary cases?

irishmafia1457
irishmafia1457

Unless parents make education the top priority at home, the rest of the blather about pay, unions, testing, evaluations, etc. is nonsense

irishmafia1457
irishmafia1457

re: merit pay ... So you do you evaluate art/music teachers (if there are any left) business teachers, PE teachers?

StanJester
StanJester

Can we systematically weed out our lowest performing teachers and reward our highest performing teachers?  Is that possible?


Teacher Keys - After DeKalb's second year of implementation, 99.9% of the teachers were rated proficient.  Out of roughly 6,000 teachers, 26 were ineffective and 83 were exemplary.  The length of Georgia’s 358-page evaluation handbook was another clue the system was destined to collapse under its own weight.


Salary Schedule - Rewarding teachers strictly based on longevity and education level insinuates that a teacher with 14 years experience is more valuable than a teacher with 12 years experience.  I'm not convinced that all teachers with 14 years experience are more valuable and should get paid more than all teachers with 12 years experience (with the same education).

class80olddog
class80olddog

@dg417s @StanJester I think you have it backwards - teaching is tough, so the really good teachers who can find jobs in other areas leave, the ones left behind are the sorry teachers who can't get a job anywhere else.  Also, some systems just can't find any QUALIFIED teachers to hire - who wants to teach in a war zone?  So they take the dregs of the teacher rolls - because that is all they can get.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@StanJester


You state that you want to root out our lowest performing teachers, or those who are at the bottom of the rating scale. Don't you realize that there will always be teachers ranked at the bottom of a rating scale? If, for instance, teachers perform on a 1-100% scale and score at 70-99% in proficiency, then those at the bottom will be deemed to be awful teachers. If teachers score at 90-99% on the same scale, those in the 90% area will be deemed awful. This is an bad idea and has nothing to do with keeping and attracting good teachers to our schools, especially those that serve children of poverty, ELL, those who have disabilities.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@redweather @class80olddog @dg417s @StanJester Do you have any evidence that refutes my assertion?  Why don't we look at SAT scores from the teachers in inner-city schools and compare them to Walton High and other east Cobb schools.  Or look at Praxis scores!

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Wascatlady 

Excellent point in your last paragraph.  In fact, the etymology of the verb, "to educate," is not, "to lay on," but instead is, "to lead out."

dg417s
dg417s

For what it's worth, I scored a 29 on ACT and was recognized for having one of the top Praxis scores in the country when I took Praxis.... and you're going to have a hard time getting me out of my school that is very much not a Walton, Brookwood or the like.

dg417s
dg417s

@StanJester I have to disagree with your argument against longevity pay. Even when I worked in retail (which I did for 10 years prior to entering education), I received annual increases in salary if I received a satisfactory evaluation. As far as Teacher Keys goes - I have said on other occasions that the observation piece is not really the biggest problem with TKES. If an administrator is determined to mark me as ineffective, I can use appropriate documentation to make my case as to why the administrator is mistaken (as I had to this year). Are you looking for bad teachers? Why don't you want your teachers to be effective? 

If you are looking for links to student achievement (aka test scores): http://www.ajc.com/weblogs/get-schooled/2014/may/13/stinging-blow-measuring-teacher-quality-through-te/



Oh, one other thought..... teaching is tough. Bad teachers rarely make it to the point where they earn their fair dismissal hearing. If you have effective leaders in your schools, they can easily council the truly bad teachers out of the profession very easily.

StanJester
StanJester

Wascatlady, I'm sure you were better at 14 years than you were with 12 years experience. The question is, when you had 12 years experience, were all the other teachers with 14 years experience better than you?

Education, as I see it, is a service that has been provided by public and private institutions for thousands of years.

StanJester
StanJester

I'm not against longevity pay, but it is currently the only factor (excluding credentials) we compensate teachers for. If we can agree that some teachers with equivalent experience and credentials are better than others, is it possible to fairly include some sort of systemic compensation for a job well done?

StanJester
StanJester

I understand your point about relativity. However, given 6,000 teachers in DeKalb, I'm confident DeKalb isn't the Lake Woebegone of education where all the teachers are above average.

redweather
redweather

@StanJester Rewarding people for years of experience on the job is common. It doesn't insinuate anything. It does reflect the prevailing opinion that the longer people do something, like teach or crunch numbers or practice law, the better they are at doing it. That this is done in education makes it no more suspect than it is in any other industry.


Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@StanJester I was a better teacher at 14 years than I was at 12--I had worked with many more students (and their parents) and brought the things I had learned during those two years to the classroom table.


You seem to think that education is something done "to" someone.  It isn't. It is an interaction.  Teachers learn and refine from the interaction, just as students do (if open to it).

Starik
Starik

@dg417s Good for you. I hereby grant you a nice salary increase. What system do you work in?

Starik
Starik

@StanJester Just set a floor in the standards, and insist that the qualifications and performance of all teachers are above the floor.

StanJester
StanJester

@Starik - Set a floor.  OK.  Back to the original point, using what method to rate and differentiate the teachers?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@StanJester Some probably were, and some probably were not.  But those 14 year teachers had something I did NOT yet have--additional experience in planning, instructing, evaluating,coaching,mentoring, cheerleading, counseling, problem-solving.  Are all 14 year teachers the same?  Are all FIRST year teachers the same?


Do we have teachers who just phone it in?  I have known of a handful, in my 4 decades in the classroom.  Not exactly enough to choke a horse.  Were there some who needed more coaching, more resources?  Several, generally in their first 6 or 7 years in the classroom.  Were there any I would not want teaching my child or grandchild, who had no business in the classroom?  A handful, who were so temperamentally or skill-deficient they should have been canned. (With the curious consistency that they got their jobs because of who they were related to!)


I think experience is not the only marker of additional worth as a teacher, but it is one marker.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@StanJester Your key word is "fairly."  


I have been lucky. I have been well supported by every principal under whose leadership I have worked.  I have known teachers who did not have that experience, even with the exact same administrators.


Here is an idea on additional compensation:  Automatically pay those given the most challenging (behaviorally, educationally) students more, if their work is satisfactory.  Teachers in a Title 1 school who work hard with their children should automatically get more pay. Period.  Teachers assigned students with significant behavioral issues should get more pay if their work is "merely" satisfactory. Period.  


It isn't because teachers aren't working very hard that some kids don't do well. The teachers I know, over the last 15 years, are swimming against a current increasingly stronger, just to hold in place.

Falcaints
Falcaints

This merit pay discussion is based on two false premises which have been sold to the public.  Number one, "all students can excel".  We all have certain strengths and weaknesses per subject area.  Only a handful can truly excel in every area (The Bell Curve is and always will be valid).  Secondly, not every child puts forth the effort necessary to excel.  I taught entire classes where a 70 was an A, all they wanted to do was pass.  Bearing these things in mind, there is no equitable way to implement merit pay.  We continually discuss the short comings of educators  but seldom do we discuss the most critical component, student effort.  

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Starik @Wascatlady @Falcaints I agree. Knowing the subject, AND how to teach it, is key.


I agree with you and several others about teachers who do not speak and write standard English well.  When I was an undergrad, we prospective teachers were evaluated constantly on this,and we were not allowed to continue if our speech or writing was substandard.  You understand, this was in the Dark Ages of the early 1970s.


I have,however, worked with numerous teachers AND administrators who spoke incorrectly,or whose ability to compose a sentence was poor.  This is embarrassing to the profession. I'd like to see our professional education programs address this.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Falcaints One other false premise:  That the kids that don't do well do so because of their teachers.

SuperCelebrity
SuperCelebrity

This article speaks so much truth. Put this in Nathan Deal's face and tell him he can shove Pay for Performance where the sun don't shine. It has failed over and over...why do we think Georgia won't?