Tying Teacher Pay to Student Performance Still Rare

By Daniel Gursky — February 19, 1992 3 min read
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Although teacher-incentive programs exist in half the states, plans such as the one in Granville County, N.C., that tie individual teacher bonuses to student performance are still relatively rare.

A national survey on teacher career ladders and other incentives, released last month by the Southern Regional Education Board, found some sort of incentive plan in place in about 25 states.

“However,” the study found, “the notion of tying rewards for individual teachers to results of students is an area where few states have dared to tread.”

The survey showed that states are employing a wide range of approaches. Seven states, including North Carolina, now fund career ladder projects. But four other states--all in the South--have abandoned such programs in recent years.

“If states made a commitment and provided substantial funding, the programs are still in place,” said Lynn M. Cornett, the S.R.E.B.'S vice president for state services and the director of its career-ladder clearinghouse. “In the 1980’s, when there was a flurry of activity, a lot of states were putting programs on the books, but they never made commitments to those programs.”

Most states continue to emphasize extra pay for extra work, she said. Nine states, for example, have statewide mentor-teacher programs, the s.R.E.B. found.

More popular than bonuses tied to individual teacher performance are programs that reward entire schools or districts for improved student performance. And rather than giving teachers salary bonuses, some programs reward schools with more money for instructional purposes or other programs. The survey found that seven states provide money for school-incentive programs.

Some people may be surprised by the number of state-sponsored programs still in operation around the country, Ms. Cornett said. “You don’t hear a lot about them,” she said, “but many of them have become part of the fabric” of the states’ education systems.

Funding Falls Short

North Carolina’s experience shows the difficulty of assuring the resources needed to carry out teacher-incentive plans.

The original 1989 legislation allowing North Carolina districts to develop differentiated-pay plans called for funding to increase in yearly increments, from 2 percent of state-mandated salaries in the 1990-91 school year to 7 percent over the course of five years.

When state budget problems last year caused funding for the plans to be frozen at 2 percent, or $39 million, statewide, the legislature gave districts the option of using the money for across-the-board increases rather than differentiated pay. The Granville County district was one of 18 statewide that kept some form of differentiated pay.

Sixteen other districts are receiving a total of $38 million in state money this year as part of the Career-Development Plan, a career-ladder pilot project. Districts have had to submit plans showing how they can implement their programs with reduced funding over the next five years.

The state legislature will not convene again until the end of May, but the state board of education has already weighed in with a pay proposal. Rather than funding across-the-board increases, as the state superintendent of public instruction wants to do, the board proposes doubling the allocation for differentiated pay, to a total of $76 million. That would put the plan back on the five-year schedule set in the original legislation.

Copies of the S.R.E.B. study, “The 1991 National Survey of Incentive Programs and Career Ladders,” are available for $5 each from the Southern Regional Education Board, 592 10th St., N.W., Atlanta, Ga. 30318-5790; telephone (404) 875-9211.

A version of this article appeared in the February 19, 1992 edition of Education Week as Tying Teacher Pay to Student Performance Still Rare


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