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Administrators Favor Idea of Merit Pay But See Problems Establishing Systems

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Most superintendents support merit pay for teachers, but they think poor evaluation procedures and staff dissension could hamper its effective implementation, according to a recent survey by the American Association of School Administrators.

Some 79.6 percent of the 1,215 superintendents polled said they supported the concept of merit pay for teachers. But only 23.4 percent said they had discussed implementation of such a program with their school board.

And only 16.4 percent said they had been involved in the implementation of merit-pay plans in their districts.

The five-item survey, which was conducted last July and released last month, also found that only 6.7 percent of the superintendents were aware of a school system with a successful merit-pay plan.

Among the barriers to successful implementation of a merit-pay plan, according to those polled, are: unsatisfactory evaluation procedures (60 percent), staff dissension (59 percent), collective-bargaining agreements (55 percent), the inability to measure results of teacher-evaluation procedures (53 percent), and inadequate financial incentives (42 percent). Only 2 percent of those surveyed cited "administrative difficulties" as barriers to effective implementation.

Although few superintendents polled said they were aware of successful merit-pay plans, the aasa study noted that a survey conducted by the Educational Research Service this year questioned administrators in districts where merit-pay plans had failed.

The reasons given for the failure of merit-pay programs, according to that study, were, in order of frequency: problems with administrators, personnel, collective bargaining, and finances. Other reasons included unsatisfactory evaluation procedures, staff dissension, restrictive quotas, inadequate financial incentives, lack of teacher consent, lack of definition of merit, and inability to measure results of evaluation programs, according to the aasa report.

Successful Approaches

Based on findings of the aasa's merit-pay survey, association officials have concluded that more information is needed about successful approaches to merit-pay plans and effective evaluation procedures.

The survey, said Paul Salmon, executive director of the aasa, "verified what we thought was probably the case--that there is strong support for [merit pay], but that there is a timidity about approaching it because of the difficulties that have been experienced in the past."

To counter those difficulties and to avert staff dissension, Mr. Salmon said, districts will have to raise "considerably more money" and will have to define the terms and conditions of merit-pay programs before teacher evaluation begins.

Mr. Salmon also suggested that the federal government should provide assistance. "We believe that it is in the national interest to have highly productive and high-perfor-mance teachers. This would be a place where the federal government could offer incentives that would work toward the recommendations of the National Commission on Excellence in Education by improving student performance."

A second survey conducted by the administrators' association found that a 27-percent increase in school-district funding may be needed to pay for the costs of implementing two of the excellence commission's recommendations--increasing teachers' salaries to be professionally competitive and devoting "significantly more time" to learning through more effective use of the existing school day, a longer day, or a longer year. (See Education Week, Oct. 12, 1983.)

The association's report on merit pay recommended that the U.S. Education Department study successful merit-pay programs and disseminate information on those programs to superintendents and school-board members.

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