A recent newspaper story reporting that more than half the schools earning rewards in the first year of the Texas pay-for-performance program will not be eligible to receive bonuses this year had the Texas Education Agency scrambling last week to provide more detail about the decisionmaking process behind the complex program.
The Dallas Morning News said last week that only 501 of the approximately 1,150 campuses that participated in the Texas Educator Excellence Grants program last school year also are eligible for the bonuses in the 2007-08 school year. That would mean that more than 600 schools would have to terminate bonus payments ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 per teacher.
After the story appeared last week, officials at the agency said a large number of those schools lost out this year because competition from other schools was far stiffer than it had been the previous year.
Rita Ghazal, a manager with the office of education initiatives, said only a handful of the schools that received grants in 2006-07 will not receive grants this year because they failed to achieve the eligibility criteria. She said competition for the grants for the 2007-08 school year was far stiffer than it had been in the previous year because more schools met the program criteria.
The confusion within the TEA, which first denied and then reanalyzed the numbers before coming up with similar results to those in the Dallas newspaper, illustrates the difficulties states face as they attempt to implement complex merit-play plans.
So far, only three states, including Florida and Minnesota, have put in place statewide performance-pay plans, which are widely criticized by teachers’ unions and teacher advocates.
Reg Weaver, the president of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association, has said the money would be better spent on improving schools and across-the-board salary increases
But in recent months, with the upcoming reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, performance pay has gained varying degrees of support, including from members of Congress. (“Merit Pay Gaining Bipartisan Favor in Federal Arena,”, Aug. 1, 2007.)
Earlier this month, House education committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., said that a bill he plans to introduce making changes to the NCLB law would include a performance-pay plan for teachers and principals. Rep. Miller has said in the past, however, that he does not support plans based solely on test scores.
The plan in Texas, which gave schools nearly $100 million in the 2006-07 school year to reward teachers whose students perform better on tests, has been widely criticized by teachers’ unions.
“[The merit-pay plan] starts with the flawed premise that teachers are not working as hard as they can, and that when you dangle a few dollars, they’ll start working harder,” said Donna Haschke, the president of the 65,000-member Texas State Teachers’ Association, an affiliate of the NEA.
She said that the inconsistency, under which schools are not assured of bonuses year after year, is demoralizing to teachers. “Teachers get it one year, and it goes away the next. … It is very, very insecure for teachers to rely on bonuses,” she added.
Officials with the TEA said the decision to award bonuses is based on a combination of factors. Campuses that are in the top half of schools with the largest number of low-income students qualify for the bonus. But they also have to meet the state’s performance rating based on scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test.
For the 2006-07 school year, 1,400 schools met the program criteria, but 1,158 were selected to participate. For the 2007-08 school year, 1,838 schools met the criteria, based on test scores for the 2005-06 school year, but only 1,132 were selected to take part, Ms. Ghazal added. About the same number were selected each of the two years, but about two-thirds are different from last year.
Of the schools that were selected to participate last year, only 63, she said, failed to meet grant requirements for the 2007-08 year because they did not have enough low-income students or their test scores did not meet the state bar for the grants. More than 650 other schools did meet the requirements but cannot receive grants because other schools were ahead of them on the list, she added.
Eligible schools receive grants ranging from $40,000 to $300,000. The schools then award bonuses of up to $10,000 a year to teachers who have been shown to raise test scores and help improve student performance at the school.
Dale Kaiser, the president of NEA-Dallas, said the money used for performance pay could be put to better uses, including creating early-education programs for disadvantaged children. He said he also would prefer a bonus-pay plan that rewards teachers for students’ academic growth, rather than one based on scores from a single test.
“There are so many factors our teachers are unable to control. You may have the best technology and the safest schools,” he said, “but you cannot control the environment the children come from.”
A version of this article appeared in the August 15, 2007 edition of Education Week as School Turnover Highlights Performance-Pay Complexity