Wednesday, January 04, 2012

In Washington, Large Rewards in Teacher Pay

 STOP THE PRESSES!!!  A VERY important article about the merit pay system in DC, which was implemented in conjunction with the IMPACT teacher evaluation system.  Critics of merit pay like to point out that there's little evidence that it works, but that's because, until now, it's never really been tried (the unions coopted the pilot program in NYC, for example, and turned it into a hollow shell of a true merit pay system).  In DC, there's a REAL evaluation system (not, as critics maintain, driven solely by test scores; the biggest part of it is based on multiple classroom evaluations) with REAL consequences, both good and bad: the best teachers each BIG rewards ("We want to make great teachers rich," said Jason Kamras, the district's chief of human capital) and ineffective teachers are identified and given support, but if they don't improve, they're out of a job;

During her first six years of teaching in this city's struggling schools, Tiffany Johnson got a series of small raises that brought her annual salary to $63,000, from about $50,000. This year, her seventh, Ms. Johnson earns $87,000.

That latest 38 percent jump, unheard of in public education, came after Ms. Johnson was rated "highly effective" two years in a row under Washington's new teacher evaluation system. Those ratings also netted her back-to-back bonuses totaling $30,000.

"Lots of teachers leave the profession, but this has kept me invested to stay," said Ms. Johnson, 29, who is a special-education teacher at the Ron H. Brown Middle School in Northeast Washington. "I know they value me."

That is exactly the idea behind what admirers consider the nation's most advanced merit pay system for public school teachers. This fall, the District of Columbia Public Schools gave sizable bonuses to 476 of its 3,600 educators, with 235 of them getting unusually large pay raises.

"We want to make great teachers rich," said Jason Kamras, the district's chief of human capital.

The profession is notorious for losing thousands of its brightest young teachers within a few years, which many experts attribute to low starting salaries and a traditional step-raise structure that rewards years of service and academic degrees rather than success in the classroom.

Many districts have tried over the last decade to experiment with performance pay systems but have frequently been thwarted by powerful teachers' unions that negotiated the traditional pay structures. Those that have implemented merit pay have generally offered bonuses of a few thousand dollars, often as an incentive to work in hard-to-staff schools or to work extra hours to improve students' scores. Several respected studies have found that such payments have scant effect on student achievement; since most good teachers already work hard, before and after class, there are limits to how much more can be coaxed out of them with financial incentives.

But Washington is the leader among a handful of large cities that are seeking a more fundamental overhaul of teacher pay. Alongside the aggressive new evaluation system that has made the city famous for firing poor-performing teachers — more than 400 over the past two years — is a bonus-and-raise structure aimed at luring talented people to the profession and persuading the most effective to stick with it.

"The most important role for incentives is in shaping who enters the teaching profession and who stays," said Eric A. Hanushek, a professor of economics at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. "Washington's incentive system will attract talented teachers, and it'll help keep the best ones." 


In Washington, Large Rewards in Teacher Pay

Tiffany Johnson, a special-education teacher, got a large raise after earning the rating "highly effective" for two years in a row.

Published: December 31, 2011

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