Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pay for performance proves sticking point in Kuna teacher negotiations

As was probably expected, the issue of pay for performance is proving to be a sticky issue in this year’s teacher contract negotiations in the Kuna school district.
As part of the new “Students Come First” legislation, teachers will be paid based on their performance. Part of the formula will be based on students’ test scores, and the state will divide a pot of money among the school districts based on the test scores.
But the school districts must have a policy in place by Sept. 1 that establishes what criteria will be used to give money to teachers.
A school district negotiations team composed of a few teachers, Superintendent Jay Hummel, district business manager Bryan Fletcher and board members Ginny Greger and Kevin Gifford have been meeting the past couple of weeks in open session, another tenet of the new legislation.
The issue of pay for performance took up most of last week’s session.
Hummel said he was most concerned about the narrowing of the curriculum with pay for performance. In other words, if teachers are rewarded simply based on test scores, teachers would tend to teach for the tests. Further, since the Idaho Standardized Achievement Test measures only such subjects as language, reading and math, where does that leave, say the physical education teacher or the ag teacher who teaches welding? What about orchestra or even U.S. history?
My take is that the intent of some of this legislation is to get school districts to run more like a business, particularly in the area of pay for performance, a common practice in the business world.
So let me share what I think is a pretty typical experience in the business world and see if it might apply to how the school district sets up its pay for performance criteria. It turns out the district is already using performance evaluations, which I think should be the basis for merit pay.
From my own experience at my last employer, a large, corporate-owned newspaper, our raises were all dependent on our performance evaluations. Our immediate supervisor was responsible for our evaluations. As a supervisor, I was responsible for the evaluations of a half-dozen or so reporters who reported to me. Reporters’ evaluations were different from editors’ evaluations, but the basic concept was the same. Employees were scored on a wide variety of categories, such as time management, writing, reporting, accuracy, etc. Each category had subcategories, for which an employee would receive a score, such as “needs improvement,” “poor,” “average,” “excellent,” or “outstanding.” You tally up the individual scores, then give an overall score for that category. Then you take all the categories and come up with an overall score.
A “needs improvement” would trigger some sort of disciplinary or probationary period that could lead to firing. “Poor” would generally result in no raise. “Average” would be a cost of living raise, “excellent” would get you more money, etc. I’m kind of ballparking here, because I don’t remember the specifics, but you get the idea.
I think this kind of scoring system could work for teachers, as well. Yes, it tends to be subjective, but that’s kind of the point. The biggest complaint I’m hearing from teachers and administrators alike is that using test scores is just too objective, that it doesn’t take into account for variables that make a teacher a good teacher. Supervisors, whether it’s a department chairman or building administrator or principal, would have the best handle on those variables.
As Jay Hummel put it himself: “I want to see if we can find a way to validate the incredible efforts of our staff without objective quantifiable measures.”

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