Performance Pay 2.0

An online discussion about the design, implementation, and effects of performance-pay systems.

Performance Pay 2.0

  • Matthew G. Springer, director, National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University.
  • Rob Weil, deputy director of educational issues, American Federation of Teachers.
  • Jason Culbertson, executive director, South Carolina Teacher Advancement Program.

Stephen Sawchuk (Moderator):

Good afternoon, and welcome to Education Week’s live chat on performance pay. Joining us today are Matthew Springer, director of the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University, who’s now heading up one of the largest, most rigorous studies on the link between performance pay and student achievement; Rob Weil, deputy director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers, who has provided assistance to local affiliates in negotiating differentiated pay plans; and Jason Culbertson, who oversees the Teacher Advancement Program in South Carolina. TAP is one of the most widely used performance-pay models.

Today they’re prepared to answer your questions on the design, implementation and effects of performance-based pay programs.

A few quick notes: We’ve gotten some questions about the details of performance-pay funding in the stimulus package now being hashed out on Capitol Hill. Our best guess for now is that any such funding would flow through the existing Teacher Incentive Fund program. This program, created in 2006, has seeded 34 models throughout the country. It does require districts to use objective measures of student performance as part of the award criteria, but leaves most details up to locals. With things changing on the Hill on seemingly an hourly basis, we don’t know more than that, but you can be sure that we’ll keep you up to date at

Secondly, for those of you who can’t stay for the hour, we’ll be archiving the chat within a few days, so check back here.

We’ve already got tons of great questions in the queue, so without further ado, let’s get started. Question from Gina Cogswell, Teacher, Hollywood HS:

Performance pay is highly unpopular with teachers’ unions, especially when linked to test scores. What criteria, other than test scores, can be used?

Rob Weil:

This is a great question. Performance pay linked to test scores is unpopoular with so many teachers because it was done so poorly in the past. These failed attempts make building high quality systems that use student achievement very difficult. Any performance pay plan must go beyond student achievement and use many measurements of performance. Some of these include advanced certification such as National Board, unique knowldege and skills, induction and mentoring programs, and other efforts that advance the district’s goals. But in the end, it’s the local teachers and their district that must decide and develop the program based on their local needs. Performance pay is not a random act of improvement, it must be part of a much larger picture.

Question from Ed Iwanicki, Professor Emeritus, University of Connecticut:

What should be the primary factor in determining teacher performance pay, increases in student achievement at the school level or at the individual classroom level?

Jason Culbertson:

In South Carolina, we weigh the school level student achievement the same as individual teacher’s student achievement (30%) in calculating bonuses. The remaining 40% for our TAP bonus allocations are based on classroom observations. In my opinion, these decisions on allocations are best made at the local level.

Question from Lisa Breit, Project Director for Innovation Partnership Schools, Education Development Center Inc., Newton, MA:

One of the challenges in fashioning teacher pay plans is career paths. Currently there are few options in most school systems for teachers who do not want to become department or school administrators, to rise in the ranks and be compensated as master teachers who might contribute to curriculum design, mentoring, demonstration of new pedagogies, service to the greater education community, or other roles. How are models for teacher career paths being linked to the design of new teacher compensation models?

Jason Culbertson:

Multiple career paths for teachers and performance based compensation are both tenants of the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP). There are two levels of increasing professional development responsibilities above the career teacher (mentor and master teachers). Mentor teacher are assigned full time classroom duties; master teachers have at least 50% release time to carry out the majority of professional development responsibilities. The master teachers research, design, and facilitate the professional development at the school level. In addition, mentor and master teachers are rewarded with a salary augmentation, allowing them to take on additional responsibilities without leaving the classroom. One specific responsibility for both mentor and master teachers is the evaluation of career teachers using the TAP Instructional Rubric.

Question from Howard Kuchta, Asst Prof Educ Leadership, Cameron University, Lawton, OK:

There are few references in the literature as to what happens in the out years following implementation of even a successful alternative compensation system. How does a district sustain (make permanent) funding to the original pilot schools while, at the same time, desiring to expand (fund)the successful model to all district schools?

Rob Weil:

The reason there are few references to the out years is because the money runs out. In fact, that is the number one reason performance pay plans fail. From the beginning, the money necessary to sustain these programs must be determined and allocated. If the district is unwilling to commit to long-term funding, they are not committed to the program. Succesful programs have either a separate funding stream such as Denver or the district builds in a line item in their budget. Pilot moneys should only be used in the development of systems, not to pay bonuses. Unfortunately it happens all the time and programs fail. Sufficient and stable funding is crucial to the success of performance pay programs.

Question from Jorge Briseño, Director ITV, Los Angeles Unified SD:

...Is there any research that compares the effects on student achievement of performance pay vs. building-out the teacher salary schedule to create additional incentives for teachers to continue to grow professionally?

Matthew G. Springer:

I do not know of any studies that assesses the relative effectiveness of a teacher pay for performance intervention with an intervention that provided additional incentives for teachers to continue to grow professionally. Even though many districts and states have implemented pay for performance programs, the fact remains there is very little rigorous research regarding the effectiveness of such plans. As discussions about teacher compensation reform move forward, it is critical we align the education research, practice, and policy communities and begin to find ways to provide systematic evidence-based answers to these types of issues.

Question from Raenan, student, mssu:

What will this mean for teacher tenure?

Rob Weil:


Although tenure is a hot topic these days, it is not usually part of a performance pay system. I’m not aware of a system that connects tenure and performance pay.

Question from Cindy, Admin, Palm County Florida:

Are you aware of any districts across the U.S. that have defined a really good framework for teacher performance pay in the face of strong union representation?

Rob Weil:

Cindy, the best framework for performance pay is one that goes way beyond compensation. If you look at the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) in Chicago, NYC’s school-wide program, or Denver’s plan you see a lot more than a different way to cut the paychecks. You see programs that address collaboration, professional development and new ways of looking at student achievement.

However, it’s important to remember that these programs were developed for those specific districts. They should only be considered frameworks, it is important for each district to take ownership of their program. It very helpful to learn from others, but the hard work of developing your own system is an important part of long-term success.

Question from Charles Thornton, 2nd Grade Teacher, DeRuyter CSD:

Will performance pay include payment to teacher leaders to implement staff development? For example, training in effective use of technology.

Will performance be solely based on state test scores or could performance be based on documented student growth using formative assessment for example?

Jason Culbertson:

Teachers who apply and are selected to be master and mentor teachers are provided an additional salary augmentation for their role in the school’s professional development. The average augmentation for master and mentor teachers is $10,000 and $5,000, respectively. In TAP, our performance pay includes 3 components – classroom observations, school-wide student achievement growth, and individual student achievement growth. In addition to using the state assessment, we also use NWEA’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests as well. MAP is given 2-3 times each school year.

Question from Marisa Wester, Music Specialist, Pink Elementary Frisco ISD:

I would certainly like to be rewarded for the hard work that I do and level of competence, How would differentiated pay be determined for non-core content areas such as fine arts and athletics?

Jason Culbertson:

In South Carolina, we believe in providing teachers with as many choices as possible. A teacher for which a standardized test does not exist may still be a mentor or master teacher. For example, in South Carolina, we do not have standardized tests in areas such as fine arts or physical education. However, we provide those teachers with an option to earn bonuses based on classroom observations and school-wide student achievement growth. The other option includes a voluntary link to the teacher’s impact on a tested subject area chosen by the teacher.

Question from Coretta Mallet-Fontenot, Instructional Coordinator Houston ISD:

How can you ensure that support staff such as myself who don’t teach individual classes receive performance pay? ... How can your team implement performance pay standards at the local levels in an objective manner?

Rob Weil:

Just like the teachers, it’s important for school districts to work with the support staff to develop a performance pay system that works for them. The best systems are always the ones where the administration and staff work together to set the standards not only for performance but the amounts of the bonuses as well. This is the best way to ensure that both the measurement and the payout are as objective as possible.

Question from Jane Quiring, Intervention teacher, Fesno Unified:

I teach reading intervention to far below basic students. How can my success be measured when I work with such a distinct population? What metric is proposed in such instances?

Jason Culbertson:

The value added analyses used in SCTAP measure student growth and not absolute attainment levels. The South Carolina Department of Education works with Dr. Bill Sanders from SAS Institute to calculate projected student growth based on the specific student’s prior achievement. Measuring student growth is the great equalizer for ensuring equity regardless of teacher assignments. Our calculations do not take proficiency levels into account. In other words, students are measured against their own previous performances as opposed to the performance levels of others. For example, all of your students may begin and end the year as below basic; however, there may be significant upward movement from their starting point measuring how far you moved the students while they were assigned to you.

Stephen Sawchuk (Moderator):

We’re getting a lot of questions about how districts can reward teachers in non-tested grades and subjects, as well as those who teach ELLs and students with disabilities. In addition to the panelists’ suggestions here, take a look at a report on this topic released recently by the federally funded Center for Educator Compensation Reform.

Question from Karen Schwengels-Educator:

Please comment on the two most successful models of a performance-pay plan which have yielded significant student achievement gains.

Matthew G. Springer:

Teacher pay for performance programs can take on a variety forms. Some programs may award individual teacher performance, while others may base awards on group performance (grade-level, department, or school). Pay for performance programs also use a wide-variety of performance measures, including student test scores, teacher and/or student absenteeism rates, graduation rates, and the like. While we know quite a bit about the design of these systems, we do not know which components may be first or second best.

Question from Tim O’Neill, Field staff, California Teachers Association:

How have unions been able to successfully address the internal divisions that occur on the subject of performance pay?

Rob Weil:

When taking on difficult subjects such as performance-based pay, it is important for the union to address all points of view. This insures that the program is developed and implemented in a fair and open manner. This approach might take more time, but it helps develop the union members’ ownership which is necessary for successful programs.

Question from Jonathan McMath, student, Auburn University:

Will performance-based pay not create an incentive for new teachers to go to schools that already have high performing students, rather than going to inner city schools with struggling students?

Jason Culbertson:

The value added analyses used in SCTAP measure student growth and not absolute attainment levels. The South Carolina Department of Education works with Dr. Bill Sanders from SAS Institute to calculate projected student growth based on the specific student’s prior achievement. Measuring student growth is the great equalizer for ensuring equity regardless of teacher assignments. For example, as a teacher in a TAP school several years ago, I had the same value added score teaching students who historically achieved at the lowest levels as students who achieved at the highest levels. So we do not create an incentive to draw teachers away from our hard to staff schools; instead, we have leveled the playing field.

Question from Susan Norwood, Executive Director TIF-LEAP Initiative, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools:

...Is value-added being incorporated into pay-for-performance initiatives successfully?

Matthew G. Springer:

Some teacher pay for performance programs reward teachers or groups of teachers on a value-added measure of teacher effectiveness. Whether this is being does successfully is difficult to say. So much is going to depend on the context in which teacher compensation reform is taking place.

Question from Ron Barbercheck,Candidate for masters degree, Harvard Graduate School of Education, school leadership:

Who gets to observe teachers? Other teachers, administrators, parents? Is each local area going to make up their own criteria? If so, again, who decides?

Rob Weil:

Ideally, the observations would be done by principals, master teachers, and other trained experts. It is important for each local school district to agree upon the criteria and process to be used and how decisions will be made. The good news is that many school districts around the country have developed instructional standards that other school districts can use as a framework from which to start their discussions.

Question from Mary Cathryn Ricker, President, St. Paul Federation of Teachers:

How do we assure that every dollar spent doesn’t just improve a teacher’s salary, but also improves our professional day, attracts and retains high quality teachers, and makes teaching an enduring career rather than a starter profession?

Jason Culbertson:

In South Carolina, we do not believe performance pay can effectively be done in a vacuum. In addition to the teacher bonuses, TAP provides a career ladder for teachers to remain in the classroom while gaining more responsibility for the implementation of the school-wide professional growth. In addition, they are provided a salary augmentation for their additional duties. We also imbed the professional development during the school day as opposed after student hours. These professional development meetings focus on student needs and strategies to address those needs. As a result, teachers in our TAP schools report positive working conditions. For example, over 92% of the teachers in South Carolina’s TAP schools responded positively to satisfaction of teacher collegiality. Also, 75% responded positively to multiple career paths and 69% responded positively on performance pay. Additionally, the teacher retention rates at our schools have increased with the implementation of TAP. For example, Bell Street Middle school had a teacher turnover rate above 30% annually before TAP. After two years of implementation, the turnover rate was 5%. We have been pleased with the data collected on working conditions, recruitment, and retention for TAP schools in South Carolina.

Question from John G., educator, MN:

What is your view of the Q Comp program in MN?

Rob Weil:

Q Comp was a real recognition of the importance of collaborating when developing a performance pay program. Like with any federal or state legislation, the implementation is a critical factor in its success. I think it’s fair to say that in Minnesota, a number of programs have struggled and a number of programs show great promise. When you think of performance pay, it’s important to think of it as an ongoing process and not as a single event. Performance pay plans need to adjust and grow just as school districts need to continually change to better meet the needs of their students.

Question from Jonathan Buckley, Instructional Coach, Edina Public Schools:

What are some strategies for conveying to the public what a district’s objectives are for a performance pay system? How do you effectively communicate the value and benefits of such a system?

Rob Weil:

The most important thing is to make it clear that the new compensation system is an effort to align district expenses with its goals and objectives. Too many times performance pay systems are seen as almost stand-alone, random acts of improvement. Only when you connect the effort to develop a performance pay system with the community’s values can you hope to gain both the teachers’ and the public’s support.

Question from Lucas, Director, Positivo:

How sure we are that performance related pay improve teaching?

Matthew G. Springer:

We are not. There is very little rigorous research on the effectiveness of teacher pay for performance programs.

The good news is that several locations across the country are evaluating the impact of teacher pay for performance programs using experimental designs. These locations will provide much needed insight into whether altering traditional compensation practices is an effective path to improve teaching and learning.

Question from Susan McLester, Editor in Chief,

How do we ensure school and district leaders have the data mining skills and tools they’ll need to successfully evaluate student performance from all angles? For instance, many factors outside of the school environment are germaine--such as does the student get breakfast every day?

Jason Culbertson:

We created a rigorous and detailed data management plan all participating districts must follow. The plan has multiple safeguards to protect the accuracy of the data. We recognize the multiple outside factors affecting student achievement, so we use student growth models to dampen the effects of the external factors by collecting and analyzing data for specific students across multiple years from our state test and MAP.

Question from Elizabeth Shaw, Executive Director of HR, Recovery School District of Louisiana:

Can you please recommend resources, beyond what’s available through TAP, that districts can use to create their own performance pay system?

Rob Weil:

This is a very tough question. Currently, there are very few resources and even fewer people who can help school districts develop successful performance pay systems. I would suggest starting a working group within your district to investigate programs in cities such as Dallas, Houston, Denver, and Douglas County, Colo. These systems all have people who could serve as resources who work on improving their programs everyday. This may be a good place to start.

Question from Woody Duncan retired MS art teacher:

I have concerns that incentive pay for strong teachers will foster competition between teachers. Good teaching practice is about freely sharing ideas between teachers. Will not extra pay for good performance prevent some strong teachers from helping weaker teachers getting better if they are all competing for the same extra dollars ?

Jason Culbertson:

Within our TAP schools, teachers receive the same bonus allocation (30%) for their individual student achievement as they receive for the school growth as a whole. It is in the best interest of all the teachers to collaborate and create the “community of learners” atmosphere. For the school-wide bonus of 30%, each teacher receives the exact same amount of bonus. Our annual attitudinal survey shows remarkably high (over 90%) rates of satisfaction concerning teacher collegiality.

Question from Science Teacher, Honolulu:

Our state has decreased the funding to education by up to 20%. This cut impacts everything from monies for supplies to the number of positions. In a crisis such as this, how will the funding be met and continued for the increased payroll without jepordizing positions? Is there any way that the teacher assessment be completely objective rather than rely on instruments that include subjective measures?

Jason Culbertson:

The answer to the first question deals with district and local will in the face of on-going budget cuts. The research clearly indicates the quality of the teacher is the number one factor in student achievement. The research does not support overzealous class size reductions. With those factors in mind, we believe in quality over quantity and would rather have a phenomenal teacher with a few extra students in the room versus a weak teacher with a small class.

The measures could be completely quantitative as you suggest; however, our teachers like the qualitative rubric component of their bonuses.

Stephen Sawchuk (Moderator):

Unfortunately, we’re out of time for today. We extend a great thanks to our panelists, and hope you learned a lot from them. (I know I did!)

Check back here for upcoming chats, and thank you for participating.


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