There are a few hot topics in America today. Healthcare is of course the big one but shortly behind it you'll hear about taxes and education funding. It would be hard to find a person that doesn't agree with the idea that our schools are underperforming and something needs to change. From there however, you'll find two camps. One that thinks we need to spend more money on education and another that believes we spend enough but it just isn't spent wisely. I'm in the second camp.
One thing that continuously frustrates me is that we pay teachers based on seniority, not by performance. A teacher with 10 years of experience is paid more than a teacher with 9 years experience, regardless of how effective they are or aren't in the classroom. And trust me, they aren't all effective. Ask any teacher if they know of another teacher in their school that isn't putting their all into the job. Ask them if there are any teachers that don't perform as well as they do. I guarantee you'll get two "yes" answers EVERY time you ask a teacher that question.
So if some teachers are better than others, why don't we recognize this by paying the better ones more? Teachers and their unions answer that question by saying that it isn't fair to pay teachers based on student test scores and as part of that, it isn't fair to pay teachers based on things that are out of their control. I call bull shit on both of these answers and below is why.
First, by making the test score argument, teachers and the unions want us to think that test scores are the only option for identifying the good from the bad and that it isn't a fair measure. Not sure about you, dear reader, but the customers of my employers are not tested, yet my bosses have always been able to grade my work performance. So lets get this idea of test scores out of the way and open our minds a bit.
Performance can be measured in so many ways. In fact, the same methods to rate my performance in the private sector can easily be used to rate the performance of a teacher. For starters, principals have a very good understanding of who's good and who's not...just like the manager of a Starbucks can tell you who's good and who's not. In addition to the principal, why not ask the teachers themselves to rate their peers? My last two companies utilized this method with great success, why can't schools? Simply ask: "how do you like working with teacher X? Do they improve or degrade the working environment? Is teacher X a team player? etc, etc."
What about the opinion of parents? Anyone reading who has (or had) school aged children can tell you they like some and don’t like others. Would you be willing to anonymously give feedback to the school at year’s end? After all, the parents are the customer, right? It’s their taxes paying for the schools. Shouldn’t their feedback be important?
Furthermore, was a teacher late to work too many times last year? Did they have a large number of suspicious sick days? Did they half ass a report requested by their boss? Do some teachers put in extra hours, even working on weekends? Do any teachers extend their office hours to help students or go above and beyond when communicating with parents? Did someone offer to share their successful curriculum with other teachers or take a new teacher under their wing? Did a teacher seek out additional training or education during the year, beyond what is required?
Shall I keep going here?
All of these ideas are used every day in the private sector and they work well. Not one of the above suggestions touches test scores. We need to stop looking at schools as special work places and start thinking of them like any other business. Performance can be measured.
Back to test scores. Until recently I agreed with teachers and their unions about test scores being an unfair way to measure performance. After all, a teacher has no control over the education received before a child does not make it to their class, nor do they have control over the amount of support they get at home. However, I've changed my position.
We need to stop thinking of success on an A, B, C, D, or F grade scale. Why can't we call a teacher successful if they improve their class test score average but 10 points from the start of the year to the finish, even if the students still have just a C average?
I recently read that a study of student test scores and graduation rates was able to easily identify the good verse the bad teachers, particularly in grades 1 through 3. The data clearly showed that students in certain teacher’s classrooms early in life were more likely to graduate high school and perform well on tests. These teachers were doing something that other teachers weren't (to find out what, you'll have to read What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell, my favorite author). Why shouldn't these teachers be compensated for doing their job better than other teachers. Twenty years of data backs up their success...it’s no fluke!
When I mentioned over on Facebook that I was going to write this blog post, I received a lot of feedback from friends. Actually 20+ comments, some in support of the concept of performance pay and some against. One commenter said that teachers shouldn't be paid for things out of their control. To that, I ask this: if you have no control over the education of our children, couldn't we replace you with any goober off of the street get the same results? Of course not! This commenter is probably a much better teacher than I could dream of being. She plays an important role in the lives of children. And if that is the case, isn't it likely that she is also better than many of her fellow teachers? And if so, shouldn't she be paid more? Don’t sell yourselves short, teachers. You play a very important role in the development of our children and you do something that most of us could not.
Another commenter said that she didn't want to be paid on performance unless her district gave her all the resources necessary to be the best teacher she can be. Newsflash ma'am, just about every employee at nearly every company wants more resources from the top. Of course we could all do better with more! That just isn't reality. As long as one teacher gets no more resources than another, you can still measure performance.
Finally, many teachers and other opponents of performance based equate the concept to lower pay. That just isn't true and is not my stance. In fact, I'd love to see teachers get paid much, much more than they do now. I just want the best teachers to get the most. But assume that the total salary paid by a district stays the same under a performance based system. If teachers are graded on a perfect curve and compensation distributed on that curve, exactly 50% of teachers would get more and 50% would get less.
Are you one of the better teachers in your district or one of the worst? I'll bet on your success, but will you?