To the Editor:
I have seen the recent flurry of letters and Commentary essays in your pages regarding performance-based compensation (“Aligning the System,” Commentary, March 29, 2006; “Teacher Pay for Performance,” Commentary, April 5, 2006; “Teacher Pay and Student Learning,” Letters, May 10, 2006).
As a former teacher, and now a state director of a performance-pay program, I’m compelled to share my positive experiences of how such a system can benefit teachers and students.
I’m involved with the Teacher Advancement Program, which is under the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. Introduced in 1999 by the Milken Family Foundation, TAP is a comprehensive, research-driven reform that provides performance pay for teachers based on a variety of measures, while offering opportunities such as career advancement, a fair teacher-accountability system, and professional development to help teachers grow and students learn. TAP was developed with the many pitfalls and common criticisms of so-called merit-pay programs of the past in mind.
Many of those discussing performance pay do so from a theoretical basis—they have never run or participated in a performance-pay program. TAP is working in over 100 schools right now. I’ve seen instruction improve, teacher turnover decrease, recruitment made easier in our highest-need areas, and most importantly, test scores rise.
Our program differs from others because TAP teachers have a mechanism for getting better: ongoing professional development. The constant collaboration that the program fosters among teachers has been invaluable to me and countless others. In addition, bonuses are based on multiple classroom evaluations, schoolwide gains, and the value-added growth of a teacher’s classroom. This multifaceted system has made it easier for teachers to accept being evaluated and rewarded based on performance. Further, there are no limitations to how many teachers can earn a bonus, and the award is substantial, sometimes up to $5,000.
Performance pay may seem daunting to teachers, but I know firsthand that performance-based compensation, coupled with professional development, can be good for teachers, schools, and above all, students.
South Carolina Teacher
A version of this article appeared in the June 07, 2006 edition of Education Week as Judging Performance Pay From Actual Experience