More Districts by HC12092915151


									                      More Districts
                      Pay Teachers
                      For Performance
                      By ROBERT TOMSHO
                      March 23, 2006; Page B1
                      Wall Street Journal

                      A $2,600 bonus wasn't the only boost that Laurie Cunningham, a
                      first-grade teacher, got from a new merit-pay plan at A.A. Nelson
                      Elementary School in Lake Charles, La.

In addition to rewarding the 26-year-old teacher for improvements in student test scores,
the school's compensation program also offered other important incentives: It matched
Ms. Cunningham with a more-experienced mentor and with a discussion group. As a
result, she picked up classroom tips including a new word game, which she plays with
students to help improve their vocabulary skills. "It gives you more specific information
on what you should be doing," Ms. Cunningham says of the program.

Teachers unions continue to oppose many merit-pay proposals, maintaining they expose
members to arbitrary benchmarks set by school administrators. But many states and
school districts are making headway in tying teacher pay to student achievement, ending
the tradition of basing teachers' compensation almost entirely on seniority and academic

School districts in Florida and in Houston, Texas, have recently announced pay plans that
closely link teacher pay and test scores. Denver, Colo., and districts in Minnesota have
made test scores one of several criteria, along with performance assessments.

Merit-pay proponents have begun to defuse the opposition, by getting teachers involved
in planning the systems and offering incentives and support that go beyond test scores. "I
would say there is a lot of momentum," says Allan Odden, a professor of educational
administration at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a supporter of merit pay.

One major union, the American Federation of Teachers, has given its locals permission to
explore alternative compensation measures that could boost their pay, although it hasn't
endorsed eliminating traditional pay systems. "Let's face it, the current salary schedules
haven't yielded the kind of salaries we need," says Joan Baratz-Snowden, the union's
director of educational issues. She adds, however, that for every performance plan that is
being done well, there are many "loose-cannon proposals" involving the arbitrary use of
test scores.

Yesterday, the Teaching Commission, a group that studies educator training and
improvement, released a report saying governors in 20 states have proposed changes in
how teachers are paid, including the use of performance bonuses. The report says the
increasing use of performance pay is a sign of progress. "We are seeing enough
commitment to this idea that we have a chance to have it stick," says Louis Gerstner, the
former International Business Machines Corp. chairman who formed the commission in

In Minnesota, school districts can become eligible for an extra $260-per-student in state
aid if they sign up for the state's new "Q Comp" system, which requires districts to stop
giving teachers automatic raises for seniority and instead base 60% of all pay increases
on performance, as measured by test scores, classroom evaluations and other factors.

Districts hash out the details of their own pay plans, but they can't participate unless the
teachers agree. So far, Minneapolis and eight other public school districts have signed up
for the program, which was put in place last year; the state has received letters of intent
from 134 others. Various plans offer bonuses ranging from as much as $600 per teacher
for test-score gains to as much as $3,000 a year for veteran teachers who agree to be

Last year, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, a union local, overwhelmingly
endorsed a system in which member teachers can volunteer to be compensated under a
$25 million performance-pay program. Union and school district personnel worked
jointly to plan the system, which combines bonuses for student achievement with about
$3,000 in extra pay for earning national teaching certificates and $999 for filling hard-to-
staff positions. "It really looks at quality teaching overall and not just at snapshot test
scores," says Kim Ursetta, president of the union local. So far, 900 of her 4,200 members
have signed on, she says.

But not all states and school districts have gone to such lengths. Dissatisfied with
compliance with a 2002 state law instructing school districts to negotiate new
compensation agreements linking a portion of teachers' pay to test scores, Florida
recently announced it will take charge of the program. Beginning next year, districts in
the state will have to make merit payments to the top 10% of teachers, whose students
make the biggest test score gains.

The Florida teachers union has objected to basing bonuses solely on test scores. But John
Winn, the state's education commissioner, maintains the program is a true measure of
teacher performance. He adds, "We don't believe that to have a pure performance-pay
plan you are going to have the union endorse it."

Teacher-union opposition has doomed some performance pay measures. In 2002,
Cincinnati teachers voted against accepting their district's merit-pay proposal amid
concerns about the objectivity of the evaluation system driving it. In the late 1990s,
similar concerns in the Colonial School District, outside Philadelphia, led some teachers
to donate their $500 checks to charities rather than cash them. The district eventually
dropped the program.

"Whether these plans work depends on whether the work force buys into them," says
Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. "Nobody does passive-
aggressive better than teachers."
The Teacher Advancement Program Foundation, a Los Angeles nonprofit working in the
A.A. Nelson school and 105 others nationwide, introduces performance pay as part of a
package of reforms, including on-site teacher training and extra pay for experienced
teachers who coach younger colleagues. "We think that if you just do performance pay
and don't provide teachers with the mechanisms to get better, it's not going to work," says
Lewis Solmon, the foundation's president.

Write to Robert Tomsho at rob.tomsho@wsj.com1

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