Upping Performance Pay For Top Teachers

In his recent State of the Schools address, Superintendent Jim McIntyre pointed to significant student achievement gains in Knox County schools. But he was quick to add that, “our data also point to some considerable challenges that indicate we are not nearly where we need to be for our students to be competitive in today’s complex and increasingly global economic environment. There is still much more work to do, and our progress needs to be greatly accelerated.”

After heralding his strategic plan for doing so, McIntyre went on to say that, “Unfortunately, many of the most critical initiatives outlined in our plan—the very strategies that will help accelerate our effectiveness and therefore improve our students’ academic results—have significant resource implications that our current revenue structure does not support.”

More performance-based pay for top teachers and for instructional coaches ranks high on McIntyre’s list of needed initiatives. But as matters stand, it’s not even clear where the money will come from to sustain the strategic compensation program known as APEX that McIntyre put in place this year with federal grant funding that only lasts for another year or two.

Under APEX, teachers who score in the top two of five tiers on the still controversial teacher evaluation system that also went into place this year get bonuses of $1,500 to $2,000. McIntyre foresees that about 40 percent of Knox County’s 4,000 teachers will receive them this year at a cost of about $3 million. But these bonuses only amount to less than 5 percent of the county’s $45,000 average teacher pay and still leave recipients more than 20 percent below average teacher pay in Maryville and Oak Ridge.

Forestalling their ability to cherry pick top Knox teachers is part of McIntyre’s thinking. “While we need to become more competitive overall, our highest priority is to be competitive among our most effective teachers as demonstrated through their evaluation,” he says. “At a minimum, we want to make sure we’re being competitive with that group of teachers vis-à-vis Oak Ridge and Maryville.”

Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed legislation that could foster this by giving local school districts a lot more leeway in setting teacher pay. This proposal, which is now on hold, would do away with a state salary schedule and let each district construct its own, subject to state approval and a stipulation that no teacher’s pay could be reduced. (Localities can presently supplement the state schedule but are bound by its provisions for basing raises on longevity in 20 annual steps.)

McIntyre says, “There’s not a lot of research that says these step raises make a lot of difference in terms of student instruction and outcome. So you want to find a compensation structure that will incent and support great instruction.” Which is to say that step raises could become a thing of the past.

Beyond that, he suggests that, “If we had the resources to give a 3 percent raise, rather than doing it all across the board, you might do 1 percent across the board and put the other 2 percent into additional strategic comp. So over time you still have base pay and it’s still increasing at a relatively modest rate, but strategic comp becomes a much larger proportion of the total. That’s where I would like to get to.” But he doesn’t believe there’s sufficient time to start down this road with the 2.5 percent pay raise Haslam has recommended for the fiscal year ahead.

One reason is that such fundamental changes are almost certain to meet fierce resistance from the teachers union, which locally means the Knox County Education Association. Until this past year, they’d have to be the subject of a collective bargaining agreement, but last year’s session of the Legislature eradicated the agreement then in place, stripped teachers of their bargaining rights, and substituted what’s called “collaborative conferencing.” This means that compensation issues have to be discussed with the KCEA, but at the end of the day the school board has the authority to make changes on its own, and incentive pay isn’t even discussable.

Nonetheless, McIntyre prides himself on having gotten teacher input and buy-in to the incentive compensation model now in place. “We had 17 different sessions and a survey, really great teacher input in developing APEX,” he says. Going further, he claims, “We’ve always had a very collaborative relationship with KCEA.” But the association’s president, Sherry Morgan, doesn’t see it that way. She reports widespread opposition to the teacher evaluation system on which APEX is based and that “teacher morale last fall was the lowest I’ve ever seen it.”

Augmented teacher performance pay is just one element of McIntyre’s multi-faceted strategic plan for fulfilling a vision “where all of our students achieve at high levels and every school is a school of distinction.” More instructional time and intensive interventions for students who are struggling also loom large in the equation. And while there are many measures of success along the way, the outcome that is most prized is college-level career readiness as measured by an ACT score of 21 or better on the part of at least 73 percent of high school seniors. For the class of 2011, only 38 percent met this mark.

More so than at any time during his four years on the job, McIntyre is plumping for more school funding. He won’t be pinned down as to how it might be derived, saying, “My job is to educate children and identify what our needs are. It’s for others to decide how we get the resources.” But he’s quick to add that, “We’ve begun to develop a very productive relationship with County Commission and Mayor Burchett, and I think they understand the needs we have.”

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Comments » 2

jenniferdawn84 writes:

I know that McIntyre feels like performance-based pay will reward the top performing teachers for their work and even weed out teachers who are not performing as high, but it is actually doing the opposite.

My 37,000 salary is no where near the above quoted $45,000 average nor is it near what teachers in other systems are making. My valued added scores have been wonderful and my last evaluation was 4's and 5's on the new 1-5 scale. Good teachers are not doing this job for the money though. The money is not worth the enormous pressures that the job presents. It isn't worth dealing with the aftermath of having our evaluation scores made public this summer. Unless you have spent extensive time in a school building , you have no idea what the life of a teacher is like today. The pressures are immense and the expectations often impossible. For good teachers it isn't the pay that continues to drive them...it is feeling like in someway we are making a difference. In the midst of PLC's, TAP, performance-based pay, cluster meetings, data-driven teaching, TCAP, rubrics, children are fast becoming nothing more than numbers on a page. The human element is disappearing. A retired teacher once told me, "Never forget. You are teaching children, and not books." Sadly, as the pressures rise for teachers we, too, are becoming nothing more than numbers on a page--value-added scores, Think Link scores, TCAP scores, salary, performance-based pay bonuses.

There is a grade of teachers at my school who have some of the highest value added scores in both the county and the state. (For those of you who don't know what this means...it is basically the measure of what a student has learned from one year to the next. How much knowledge have they gained? If the student has spent a year in your classroom, then they need to show a year's worth of gains.) Two and possibly three out of the four teachers in that grade will not be returning next year. Why? Because throwing a bonus their way is not enough to keep them around despite the fact that they are some of Knox County's best teachers. I know of many teachers who will be leaving the system or even the field of education entirely, and they aren't the teachers who McIntyre hopes to weed out. They are the ones who are doing their job and doing it to the best of their ability. Good teachers are being crushed like a cherry and not "cherry picked".

jcg writes:

Why is McIntyre pursuing reforms that do nothing for children and classrooms but will make private contractors rich on our tax dollars? Merit pay has NEVER worked. He is ignoring years of independent research. The National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University published the findings of a rigorous study (2010) in which teachers were given a $15,000 bonus if test scores rose. Results? NO Effects. Teachers are working as hard as they can.

Further, Mcintyer seem wedded to promoting hack reforms. His devotion to TAP is as misguided as his religious zeal for merit pay. The TAP program has never been peer reviewed and all data concocted by the Miliken's TAP/TEAM is fraudulent. But what should we expect from a family of convicted Wall St felons?

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