Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Pay-for-performance: Not so fast!

A new study is showing that basing teacher pay on student academic achievement does not guarantee better results, according to this Education Week story by reporter Stephen Sawchuk.

The study indicates that the Chicago Teacher Advancement Program, a local variety of the TAP program underway in some Louisiana schools, hasn't enhanced student performance in math and reading, nor has it improved teacher retention.

That could come as a blow to TAP fans in Louisiana who hope that it will become the model for a new teacher compensation model under consideration by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Educational Excellence.

TAP has a few things going for it that are undeniably good education practice: smaller class sizes, embedded professional development, master teachers, and a collegial atmosphere.

TAP becomes controversial in its method of rewarding teachers for student achievement. TAP is the proprietary product of the Milken Family Foundation, meaning that no one is allowed to see all of its inner workings. Teachers cannot tell other teachers how much they receive as bonuses, for example.

And like all educational programs, TAP is only as good as its management. In Calcasieu Parish, the TAP experiment was so dogged with poor management that it was eventually banished from the school district. There are other places where it seems to be working well and has won the support of educators.

Ultimately, pay-for-performance will not prove to be the answer to better student achievement. Teachers aren't like salesmen, whose motivation is simply moving more product.

Teachers are professionals. Pay them well - and pay them more for taking on additional responsibilities and enhancing their credentials. Give them the resources they need, in an atmosphere conducive to teaching and learning. That's when we'll see real improvement.

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