Lars Larson on Teachers and Performance Pay

Should teacher pay be tied to teacher performance? You know, the idea seems perfectly common sense to me. Tie the pay of teachers to the performance of teachers.

Now, I know I’m going to hear from teachers who say, “Well, how do you do that? How do you figure out the good ones and the bad ones?”

If you are a teacher and you are in a building. You tell me you can’t figure out which of the teachers are really good and deserve higher pay and the ones who are really bad and don’t deserve to be paid at all or deserve to be paid lower salaries? If you can’t tell me the answer to that question, you probably shouldn’t be teaching in that building. You certainly shouldn’t be a principal at that school.

But, a good principal, hired by a good school board, can decide which teachers deserve higher pay. It’s done in the private sector, in all kinds of fields that are judged subjectively all the time. We can do it in education. It will fix the system that currently pays you more for being there 20 years whether you are a good teacher or not. It pays you poorly, whether you are the best teacher in the building or not and if you’ve only been there a couple of years.

“For more Lars click here”

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Posted by at 09:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 28 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • eddie

    There’s only one negative I can think of regarding merit pay based on undefinied specifics and left up to administrations. In an “industry” that has demonstrated itself to be unabashadly political in its hiring and promotion, where certain viewpoints are distinctly overrepresented compared to the general populace, a “left to the administrators” merit pay system would add another tool to the education system’s political thought police.

    On the other hand, since they’ve demonstrated a talent for managing to politically polarize the ranks of teachers pretty effectively already, I suppose there would be little noticeable effect, and might actually work as intended.

    • eagle eye

      Of course, you are right. But don’t think it wouldn’t have any noticeable effect. The school faculty could quickly go from 60-40 leftwing to 90-10. Do you think the school boards acting through the principals would prevent this? I wouldn’t count on it.

      • eddie

        60-40 leftwing???? Where is this glorious right-wing public school paradise of which you speak?

        90-10 the extreme example you offer as a caution is probably still a couple points shy of the truth here.

        • eagle eye

          In the real world, 60-40 Demo/Republican is closer to the truth of K-12 teacher political affiliation.

  • Jerry

    The unions are against pay for performance, so it must be good.

    This reminds me of the challenge I issued many months ago and which, to date, has gone unanswered.

    Can anyone name any specific thing the teachers’ union has ever done that directly benefited students???

    I didn’t think so.

    I have always contended that good teachers should make $125,000 a year for teaching at least 220 full 8 hour days.

    Poor teachers simply should be fired. They should not make anything as they are hurting children.

  • David from Eugene

    The problem with merit pay for teachers is that the teacher is not in control of student performance, the student is. A teacher may and should influence student performance, but he or she is not the only influence on a student. Other factors like the student’s home, parents and family; the church, his peers, friends, mentors, and heroes; and the community where he lives, among others, also can exert influence on a student’s performance. The only person that truly controls a student’s performance is the student. A student who wants to learn can and will and one that doesn’t want to learn won’t.

    Additionally, some teachers are just more effective with some types of students then other types of students. When a teacher and student click, great things can happen, but every teacher cannot click with every student.

    So given that the teacher has little control over who is in their classroom and doesn’t exert direct control over student performance it is unreasonable to use student performance (i.e. test scores) as a metric in teacher compensation. That leaves some sort of subjective evaluation criteria to be used. Something I am not sure is a particularly good idea as it can be subject to other factors unrelated to a teacher’s classroom performance.

    Absent a reasonable and at least a somewhat objective metric to be used in evaluating teachers, merit pay for teachers invites more problem then it solves.

    • eddie

      Hmmm… merit pay is flawed because a teacher can be good but get bad students.

      Interesting, that must be why salesmen don’t get rewards based on sales… because they could just have bad clients. Or why advertising executives don’t get rewarded based on performance, I mean, they could be advertising bad products.

      The idea of being a meritorious professional in any capacity is that you perform well regardless of circumstances. Why exactly should teachers be uniquely exempt from the natural unfairness of circumstance?

      • eagle eye

        One thing you left out, a salesman can quit a company with bad customers and work for a company with good customers.

        Or maybe that’s what you want — drive all the good teachers out of the schools with underperforming students. What a great idea! Who would ever call that an “unintended consequence”?

      • Deb Ward

        I am 5th grade teacher. I have worked at upper income schools in Lake Oswego.It is very easy to get all students to pass the “test’. They come in with high levels of literacy, parental support, and gernerally stable backgrounds. Teaching is easy. I would probably get a high salary under any merit pay system. Now, I work in a Title 1 (high poverty) school in Hillsboro. Many of my students have limited language exposure, they have difficult, stressful home lives, high mobility, high absentee rates and little parent support (often due to generational poverty). I work hard, and often my students work hard, but many do not show the test scores and the academic achievements of the LO students. I will make less money at a poverty school on a merit pay system – not because of my abilities, but because of many external factors.If the law passes, I will leave Hillsboro to teach in a high income school. Students who need the best teachers will get worst – those willing to work for the least pay. This law is discrimination against the very children who need your help.

  • John Fairplay

    David, that’s just a silly argument. There is no job that doesn’t depend at least partially for its success on others. No other group of workers demands that it be held to no performance standard at all and that there are no circumstances under which a member can be terminated.

    Teachers demand to be treated and paid as though they are professionals, but cling to their outmoded union representation and seniority system. That system protects bad teachers – including pedophiles and child rapists – at the expense of good teachers and all students. Where’s the lawyers union? Where’s the doctors union?

    School boards should be hiring competent administrators, and then give them the tools they need to do their jobs, including reasonable freedom over hiring/firing decisions. As it is, administrators are hamstrung by union work rules and forced to keep the highest paid employees regardless of their competence.

    • dean

      Where is the lawyers union? Well in 2002, according to the US Department of labor the median salary for lawyers was $90K. Since half are earning above that, I would say the market for forming a union is just not very strong. Public sector lawyers in non-supervisory positions are union members however, just like teachers.

      Doctors in the US are just about the highest paid profession. Median salaries range from $150K per year for a GP to $300K for Anesthesiologists. Brain surgeons probably get even more, as they should.

      Create a professional pay scale for teachers that matches lawyers and doctors and I would think most would vote the union out the door in a New York minute. But do non union schools on average pay more than union schools? I doubt it.

      As for merit pay…its a good idea if one can find a way to factor in the different challenge of teaching in a poorly funded, low income student school versus a well funded middle or upper income student school. And if measured results are more complex than standardized test scores. Otherwise you would promote teaching to the test for salary gain. Not necessarily the best thing for the students.

      • dean

        I meant to add, the average salary for teachers in 2004-05 was $47K according to the American Federation of Teachers. About 1/2 that of lawyers.

        • Jerry

          Dean – it is all about supply and demand. Teachers, hundreds upon thousands nationwide, are willing to work for the pay they get. Until they are not, their salaries will never change dramatically as you so deftly propose.
          Funny, too, how even with the union, they still get, according to you, crummy pay. I wonder why that is? Could it be the unions are really not so helpful to the teachers?
          If teacher salaries were really low, as you contend, then few would become teachers.
          I suspect landscape engineers don’t make a whole lot, either, but they certainly should, right? If only they could make 90 K a year, then everything in my yard would look so much better.
          Lawyers make what they make because the market supports it.
          Until you learn your basic economics it might be helpful for you to take a break from deciding salary levels in the US for various occupations.
          Of course, you could go ahead and try, but nothing will change no matter what you think or write.

          • eagle eye

            Hah, the market supports lawyers. The way the Mafia supported the local “entertainment” and “business support” rackets back when I was a boy.

            Not all lawyers are crooks, but look who the most important constituency of the Democrats is. No, it’s not the teachers unions, though they’re close. It’s the lawyers’ shakedown industry!

        • Crawdude

          Add in the benefits and days per year worked, just using base pay is disingenuous.

    • eagle eye

      He asked for

      “a reasonable and at least a somewhat objective metric to be used in evaluating teachers”.

      I don’t see anything unreasonable about that. When somebody comes up with a good answer that meets all the objections, I’ll be more enthusiastic about merit pay for teachers. Sizemore, Larson et al. haven’t begun to do their homework.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    TEACHING – The Wonderful Mystical Magical job, where every student knows the good teachers and the bad where every adult remembers his good and bad teachers, but which defies evaluation by anyone in a position of authority. TEACHING – the astonishing job that is probably the highest paying part time job there is but yet has no accountability and which no matter what it pays will always be acceptable to whine about the pay. TEACHING – The amazing job where everyone knows going in what it pays, as well as the lavish vacation time, but yet still feels they are under paid and over worked. TEACHING – The amazing field, where you get paid more, the worse the result. Where private and parochial school teachers will make a mere pittance by comparison, yet have higher graduation rates and better educated students.

    • eagle eye

      For such a supposedly great job, I sure don’t see people flocking to do it, K-12 teaching, not the better students, they stay away from it.

      • dean

        For Jerry…you were the one who posed the comparison with doctors and lawyers. I was simply showing you the salary comparisons. And you were the one who suggested paying $125K for teaching. Why are you criticizing my response?

        Dude, lawyers and doctors also get generous benefits. A full time work year for most people is around 2000 hours. If teachers put in only 3/4 of that and get $47K, then at a full year that would bring them up to only $59K, still way below lawyers and doctors, and about on a par with my own profession, landscape architecture (which is not unionized by the way). And most teachers have to spend at lest part of their summers off gaining additional credits and certifications. They are not just at the beach.

        I just don’t think very many people go into teaching for the lucrative salary and benefits. And I don’t think it is a cushy job. Managing 25-30 kids all day every day within a beauracracy under a microscope is not that appealing. I considered it at one point and said no way. Not worth it.

      • Rupert in Springfield

        Well, I don’t know if applications to be a public school teacher are up or down. What I do note is that the school of education at UO seems to be on an uptick. It looks like they are building a new building, making more parking and enrolment is up.

        That to me says there seem to be plenty of people willing to take the job. I’m not saying its an easy job or not. I am saying that I personally would see no reason to think teacher pay is low when there does not seem to be a shortage of takers, and when teachers in private and parochial schools get paid less and have better results.

        • eagle eye

          Read the part about “the better students”. They do not want to be K-12 teachers. There’s plenty of data on this, there’s plenty of anecdotal talk about this too.

          Sure, you can always find people to fill the positions. Sure, there’s plent of demand for teachers, somebody has to do the job. Ergo full education schools. The new building at UO will be nice, I suppose, somebody gave money for it, so it gets built. It tells nothing about the quality of people going into teaching.

      • eddie

        Keeping new folks from flocking to a career is a Union specialty. They make the entrance requirements so bizarre that a lot of talented people go in other directions. Plus, for the first several years you get horrid assignments, part time stuff, and are generally unable to feed yourself until you get enough seniority to get a steady position.

        • eagle eye

          Yes, you really make it sound like a great job.

          As for the “entrance requirements”, they are not set by the unions, it is state law.

  • Jerry

    I said good teachers who worked a full year and managed a full class without a bunch of extra support should get the 125K. And I still believe it.
    My point was that things cost what they cost in a free market. If you want to make more than a teacher, then don’t become one. It is quite simple.
    Bus drivers have a lot of hard work to do, too, so should they make as much as a teacher???
    Come on Dean – you can do better.

    • dean

      Jerry…where is the market for $125K a year teaching? Are there private schools that have the model you are suggesting: full time without support for $125K a year?

      Or are you just being satirycal again you sly devil?

  • Anonymous

    Pay for performance–which I support, is quite different from merit pay. One allows for pay reductions for poor performance and more pay for better. Merit pay, in contrast, only allows more for some, but never less for the worst. That is why unions will learn to game-play merit pay systems so that the overall impact is higher education costs while retaining inept, or worse, teachers.

    It is amazing that teachers routinely evaluate their students on a variety of subjective and quantitative criteria, yet oppose the same treatment for themselves. Be not fooled: the cry for objectivity is nothing more than one more evidence of opposition. No teachers union will agree on a measure of objectivity unless and until it can be game-played to allow very broad entry into higher pay. There is a teaching occupation, but not yet a teaching profession.

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