Teaching Profession

Iowa Ready To Weigh Statewide Teacher-Performance Pay

By Julie Blair — January 10, 2001 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Iowa appears to be poised to consider a pay-for-performance compensation plan for teachers, following the lead of a handful of districts and schools that have embraced the controversial policy.

Task forces made up of teachers, administrators, union leaders, and state officials there have proposed a plan that would reward Iowa educators for their performance in the classroom rather than the number of years spent teaching. Though no legislation has been introduced yet, educators expect the plan—or something similar to it—to surface in the upcoming legislative session, which begins this month.

“More and more states are seeing that there’s a whole series of policies that could focus on teacher quality, from perfecting the licensing system to standards-based evaluation to compensation to professional development,” said Allan Odden, the University of Wisconsin-Madison education professor who is acting as a consultant in Iowa and has helped structure performance-pay programs elsewhere. “If you do one [policy] and not the other, you’d be missing out.”

‘Return on Investment’

Currently, only a small number of districts and public schools have adopted pay- for-performance models. Administrators and the teachers’ union in Cincinnati agreed last May to put such a plan in place, making the 44,000-student district the first in the country to toss out its uniform pay scale since 1921. A voluntary pay-for-performance system has been up and running in Douglas County, Colo., since the early 1990s, and Denver launched a pilot program in 1999.

Proponents of such plans say they create career incentives similar to those in business and provide opportunities for outstanding educators to shine. They also attract motivated young men and women who want to teach but fear they won’t make a decent salary until their golden years, supporters add.

Critics, however, contend that policies hinging on teacher evaluations, as in the Cincinnati model, can be subjective and tainted by favoritism and can also divide faculty members who receive unequal salaries. And they argue that models like those in Denver, which tie teachers’ paychecks to student performance, are unfair because students come to teachers from varying backgrounds and with differing skill levels.

“It is a horrible system,” said Katherine Boles, an associate professor of education at Harvard University’s graduate school of education who has studied such plans. When performance systems are based on student testing, “you wind up pushing kids out of regular classrooms into special education because ... low-performing kids bring test scores down,” Ms. Boles said. “Kids classified as special education don’t get factored into the system.”

Nevertheless, the people advocating the pay-for-performance system in Iowa say they are desperate for change due to a teacher shortage and declining student test scores.

Ted Stillwill

“Within the next five years or so, the one thing that will have the greatest return on investment is improving teaching skills,” said Ted Stilwill, the director of the state education department. “If you change the compensation system to create a much stronger emphasis on continuing-education strategies, you’ll do that.”

The task forces, which met separately but issued a single recommendation, urged state policymakers to drop the current tenure system and replace it with one that would set five levels of teacher achievement. Educators could move up through the levels at their own pace by proving their worth in the classroom.

Although minimum standards of good teaching would be established at the state level, Iowa school districts would conduct evaluations. The recommendation further suggests that three assessments be used in that process, but does not prescribe what those methods would be.

In an attempt to make Iowa’s pay more competitive, the salary schedule would be based on national compensation averages, Mr. Stilwill said. A beginning teacher would make a minimum of $29,700—slightly below the national average, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics. An educator at the top of the salary schedule would earn a minimum of nearly $54,000—above the national average.

Teachers and administrators would get bonuses based on their salaries if their schools’ students improved on standardized tests.

In another aspect of the plan, the teacher induction system would be overhauled and include mentoring for beginners.

While most districts need to improve and even redesign their teacher evaluation systems, Ms. Boles said, tying pay to student performance is risky.

Not only would educators under such a plan feel pressure to push students into special education, eliminating them from testing pools, Ms. Boles contended, but some also would manipulate the system to ensure they were assigned the best students.

Mr. Stilwill, the Iowa schools chief, said he was aware of such criticisms. Still, he hopes that by recommending the use of three assessments, there would be less pressure to rely on standardized- test results.

Widespread Support

Such a measure appears to have bipartisan support as well as the backing of leading education groups in Iowa.

“There really is widespread support,” asserted Speaker of the House Brent Siegrist, a Republican and a former teacher.

Rep. Brent Siegrist

“We’d love to be the first state to overhaul the compensation system.”

Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, has made the effort “his top priority,” said Kristin Mackey, a spokeswoman.

Moreover, leaders from both the Iowa State Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, and the Iowa Association of School Boards are backing the recommendation.

“The average teacher pay [in Iowa] is so far below the national average, we’re willing to look at all proposals that will pay a professional wage,” said Jan Reinicke, the executive director of the teachers’ union.

Ms. Reinicke said she would have reservations about any pay-for-performance model that provided opportunities for only a few teachers, rather than all teachers. She also expressed concern that districts would lack the capacity to handle all the training needed to assess teachers accurately.

Persuading the legislature to spend the money for the plan could be the toughest sell. The program would cost between $250 million and $300 million to implement over the next four or five years, Mr. Stilwill said.

“State revenue is not growing, because the population is not growing,” said Margaret Buckton, the school boards association’s government-relations director. “We’ll have to make it a priority to pay for it.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 10, 2001 edition of Education Week as Iowa Ready To Weigh Statewide Teacher-Performance Pay

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Teachers’ Careers Go Through Phases. They Need Support in Each
Teachers experience a dip in job satisfaction a few years into their careers.
5 min read
Vector illustration of a female teacher at her desk with her head in her hands. There are papers, stacked notebooks, and a pen on the desk and a very light photo of a blurred school hallway with bustling students walking by in the background.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Download Downloadable: 5 Ways Principals Can Help With Teacher Burnout
This downloadable gives school leaders and teachers various ways to spot and treat teacher burnout.
1 min read
Silhouette of a woman with an icon of battery with low charge and icons such as a scribble line, dollar sign and lightning bolt floating around the blue background.
Canva
Teaching Profession Massages, Mammograms, and Dental Care: How One School Saves Teachers' Time
This Atlanta school offers unique onsite benefits to teachers to help them reduce stress.
3 min read
Employees learn more about health and wellness options during a mini benefits fair put on by The Lovett School in Atlanta on May 8, 2024.
Employees at the Lovett School in Atlanta meet with health benefits representatives during a mini benefits fair on May 8, 2024.
Erin Sintos for Education Week
Teaching Profession Opinion How Two Teachers Helped Me Weave a Dream
A journalist and debut book author dedicates her novel to two of her high school English teachers.
Anne Shaw Heinrich
3 min read
Image of nurturing the craft of writing.
Francis Sheehan for Education Week with N. Kurbatova / iStock / Getty