Teaching Profession

Performance-Pay Musings

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 13, 2008 2 min read
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I could easily have written twice as much about the fascinating Teacher Incentive Fund initiative.

The theme of district-teacher collaboration came up again and again in the course of my reporting. If we know that collaboration is key to good plans, there’s a follow-up question here that needs exploring and that is: What are the methods for creating this collaboration and sustaining it over time?

Though the American Federation of Teachers, in general, remains wary about peformance pay, it isn’t backing away from the TIF challenge. The national office counts a full-time employee, Rob Weil, who spends a good amount of his time working with local affiliates on the plans. He provided support to AFT locals in Houston, Philadelphia, and Chicago on plan development.

In the TIF application, the U.S. Department of Education gave a competitive priority to applicants that could show evidence of buy-in from local communities. It did not, however, explicitly require grantees to submit plans to the collective bargaining process.

Weil says that he thinks incentive plans work best when they are collectively bargained. Evidence of collaboration, he told me, “is not just getting a letter of support or some perfunctory thing.”

But do we know that collectively bargained performance-pay plans are of higher quality or last longer than noncollectively bargained programs?

The subtext here is clear: Should the federal government require performance-pay grantees to show more evidence of collaboration between teachers and administrators? What forms should that evidence take? If not collective bargaining, should there be a buy-in agreement?

(The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, which oversees the TAP model, requires a 75% teacher-approval vote, for instance.)

At an NCLB hearing last year, edu-reporters were treated to the sight of Rep. George Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and National Education Association President Reg Weaver thundering away at each other about this issue. (Mr. Weaver said he couldn’t support performance-pay language in a draft bill that didn’t specify collective bargaining; Mr. Miller said the NEA had vetted the language and agreed to it.)

Seeing two heavy hitters go after each other like that is pretty memorable. (After three cups of coffee and a Power Bar, it’s absolutely unforgettable.) If Congress gets going on NCLB next year, I have to wonder: Is Round Two far behind?

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