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Superintendents Favor Merit Pay, But Few Have Tried It, Poll Finds

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Eighty percent of school superintendents endorse merit pay for teachers, according to an unpublished survey conducted by the American Association of School Administrators (aasa).

However, far fewer--16.4 percent--of the 1,215 superintendents responding to the association's survey said they have been involved in the implementation of a merit-pay plan. And only 6.7 percent said they were aware of a successful plan.

The superintendents surveyed were selected randomly from the group's list of all local school superintendents. In its report on the poll, the aasa notes that, because performance-based pay "is a very complex concept," it asked the superintendents to judge merit pay "in the abstract" only. The report comments, however, that merit pay can take several forms, including a "career ladder," one-time bonuses awarded annually, permanent raises for staff members who are deemed meritorious, or a combination of these options.

The survey, conducted in July, found that since April--when the National Commission on Excellence in Education issued its report endorsing the concept--the school boards of 23.4 percent of those surveyed had discussed the implementation of a merit-pay plan.

The superintendents were also asked to note three obstacles to the successful implementation of a merit-pay plan. Sixty percent mentioned unsatisfactory evaluation procedures; 59 percent said it would create staff dissension; 55 percent mentioned collective bargaining; 53 percent mentioned the difficulty of gauging the results of such a plan; and 42 percent mentioned inadequate financial incentives.

The association found that more suburban superintendents (10 percent) knew of a successful merit-pay plan than did superintendents in urban school systems (5.5 percent) and or in rural systems (6.3 percent). It also found that 11.3 percent of rural school leaders had been involved in a merit-pay plan; 23.2 percent of urban superintendents and 25 percent of suburban superintendents reported such involvement.

The aasa concludes that "although politicians may continue to use merit pay as a campaign issue, educators, it seems, will move cautiously into these uncharted waters." The report will be published by the association later this month.

In a related development, the aasa, in cooperation with the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the National Association of Elementary School Principals, is sponsoring an $80,000 effort to identify the characteristics of successful merit-pay plans in education and the private sector, according to Scott D. Thomson, executive director of the secondary-school principals' group.

The intent of the study is to "help school officials avoid repeating the mistakes of past merit-pay plans," Mr. Thomson said. The study, supported in part by the Atlantic Richfield Foundation, will be conducted by a private consulting firm and will include a number of model merit-pay plans.

According to Mr. Thomson, the study is to be completed in February, in time for school officials to consider its findings in developing their budgets for the 1984-85 school year.

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