To the Editor:
We write in response to a series of letters to the editor about our Commentary “Aligning the System: The Case for Linking Teacher Pay to Student Learning” (March 29, 2006):
Keith Newman (“Pay for Performance? Yes, But for Families,” April 12, 2006) worries that teachers can’t be fairly judged because there is no way to “account for a child’s family background.” If achievement were the basis for measuring instructional effectiveness, we would heartily agree. In contrast, sophisticated “value added” models do account for these differences, by tracing individual children over time. Because they measure a student’s growth, rather than where that student scores on a vertical scale at a single point in time, they can effectively identify the most outstanding, as well as the weakest, teachers. When combined with other observational measures (planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities), the result is a fair means to evaluate teachers.
Denise Gelberg (“Aligning the Arguments,” April 19, 2006) believes that “school boards would object strenuously to sharing decisionmaking” on the critical issues of pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment. That depends on the nature of the compromise being offered.
The quid pro quo that lies at the heart of our comprehensive-school-reform model provides both sides with new roles and responsibilities. Both educators and school boards have to accept the compromise before the model takes effect.
When success for teachers depends on what happens in their classrooms, rather than solely on what happens at the bargaining table, they should have an equal say in these decisions, plus a good deal more. In our model, teachers would get peer review in the observation component of evaluation and a key role in the remediation process. They would also enjoy the benefits of a major expansion in professional development that includes more paid days, multiyear mentoring for new teachers, and the introduction of teacher-coaches to improve craft.
School boards would get accountability at the level of individual teachers and administrators. This means they would have the ability to reward those who have proven effective in achieving significant student-learning results; require struggling educators to undergo remediation and remove those who fail to improve in a fair and timely manner and whose instructional practices harm children; and pay bonuses and higher salaries for educators in hard-to-serve settings and hard-to-staff subjects.
Linda Mele Johnson (April 19, 2006) uses anecdote to question the facts behind our empirical statement for Tennessee that “average instructional effectiveness plummets in the last third of teachers’ careers.” She writes that when she asked a group of veteran teachers about the advantages of being close to retirement, they told her that they no longer had to pay much attention to the test. Our facts remain uncontested, and if what Ms. Johnson claims is generally true, it reveals precisely why it makes sense to include individual-level accountability in the evaluation and compensation process.
Steve Grineski (April 19, 2006) says that teachers will not “think more about students and their learning, work longer hours, talk more with parents, and create more exemplary lessons simply because they have a chance to earn $750 ... or $1,500 [extra].” In our model, the reward for outstanding performance is financially quite significant. Rather than bonuses, salary is built into the rungs of a career ladder, and all teachers are free¾competing with themselves, rather than with each other¾to climb the ladder based on their instructional effectiveness. Exemplary teachers can earn between 25 percent and 50 percent more than their colleagues and move through the career ranks much faster, because advancement is based on talent rather than on longevity.
By linking these financial rewards to increased professional development and instructional assistance, educators will have the incentives and the support necessary to significantly improve student learning outcomes.
Operation Public Education
Professor of Public Policy and History
Director of Development and Communications
Operation Public Education
University of Pennsylvania
A version of this article appeared in the May 10, 2006 edition of Education Week as Teacher Pay and Student Learning