Teaching Profession

Coming Soon to an NEA Affiliate Near You: “Knowledge and Skills Pay”?

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 05, 2009 2 min read
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I’ve finally had a chance to go through this internal National Education Association review of several affiliates’ alternative-compensation models (hat tip to Mike Antonucci).

It’s worth checking out, although you’ll have to read between the lines for the good stuff. Or you can just use this Teacher Beat Cheat Sheet (like, wow!).

Solidarity vs. Collegiality: Among the most interesting findings related to the Denver Pro-Comp model. Members felt that the program eroded solidarity by dividing membership between those that opted into the system and those that chose to remain on a regular salary schedule. Yet at the same time, they reported that the system’s professional-development units increased collegiality and helped teachers work more effectively in teams in their own schools.

That’s got to be a tough one for a national union that supports job-embedded training but doesn’t like anything that calls solidarity into question. And isn’t there a parallel here to the whole D.C./Washington Teachers’ Union red-tier, green-tier idea? Officially, the WTU didn’t like D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s tenure proposals, but perhaps that opposition was rooted in an even deeper philosophical disagreement—namely, when you start giving people choices, you divide the membership and make it harder to represent everyone’s best interest.

Transparency vs. Accuracy. The systems that NEA and its own teachers deemed as being the most successful, in Helena, Mont., and Manitowoc, Wis., were the only two that didn’t include some inclusion of student achievement in the teacher-bonus plans. Teachers felt that the measures based on test scores were not nearly transparent enough. Unfortunately, as an NEA official noted in one of the appendices, " ... simpler and more transparent measures can often be the most unreliable.”

Knowledge and Skills vs. Outcomes: The Helena and Manitowoc plans granted more pay for things like earning national-board certification, a professional-development certificate, or completing “career-development plans.”
But, unlike every other plan studied here, they focused entirely on what the teachers did, not on whether students learned more.

In pointing this out, let me be clear that I’m not trying to minimize what these plans accomplished. Teachers in both situations found that the programs increased opportunities for working with other teachers. Nevertheless, the focus on student outcomes seems to be where the conversation on performance-based pay is going at the federal level.

Antonucci has an analysis of the talk in the report about how the NEA might rebrand its opposition to performance-based pay in light of this report. My bet is that the NEA will do it by advancing “knowledge and skills-based plans” like Helena’s and Manitowoc’s, possibly combined with a career ladder.

And although detractors will view that as a disingenuous move, perhaps NEA deserves some credit for at least wrestling with this idea. Over time, there will be room for such plans to incorporate measures of student achievement, ones, we hope, that educators feel are transparent.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.