One of the most important factors in a student’s achievement is a quality teacher. Yet, in about half of all U.S. states, the average teacher does not earn the living wage needed to support a family.1 Inadequate compensation has predictable consequences for not attracting and retaining the skilled professionals so crucial to student outcomes—especially in high-poverty school districts. The Teacher Quality Division of Utopia’s Board of Education would like to propose a series of next steps for introducing a Pay-for-Performance plan.
Indicators for this plan may include improving professional skills, changing classroom behavior, and producing desired outcomes. By rewarding teachers who show individual professional growth and whose students show achievement gains, more high-quality teachers will be retained in the classroom, and the retention of these teachers will allow schools to be more effective and show greater gains.
To develop an equitable P4P plan, there first needs to be specific criteria that measure the total impact of a teacher in the classroom.
The first component is a teacher’s knowledge and skills they bring to the instructional process. For this component teachers will exhibit knowledge of content and pedagogy, skill in assessment and classroom management, and general abilities. The second component is the teacher’s classroom performance. This encompasses a teacher’s actual instructional behavior and is typically measured by observations done by an instructional coach or school leader. Throughout the academic year, teachers should receive feedback and assistance toward improving their classroom performance to maximize their ability to excel in this plan.
The final component is the instructional outcome. Instructional outcomes are typically assessed via a standardized test, and perhaps other measures like attendance and graduation rates depending on the state’s academic goals.
Each of these components presents important challenges and produces a distinct set of incentives for teachers that differ in their focus, strength, and effects. Utopia’s Board of Education will continue to research how other states have developed, measured, and implement their P4P plans. Several U.S. states have developed unique strategies on how they will implement their P4P plan. States like New York and Florida set funding aside to identify and compensate high-performing teachers. These states plan on rewarding teachers in high-need schools and subject areas. Both states will reward teachers based on a teacher evaluation system that incorporates (40-50%) of student growth as a component. States like California and Illinois will launch pilot programs in a limited number of districts to develop a model that can later be implemented by all local educational agencies (LEAs).
The development of a compensation reform plan is a collaborative effort that requires the support and contribution of a variety of stakeholders. Engaging stakeholders can address concerns and increase their buy-in. Excluding stakeholders can generate distrust and misunderstanding about the intent and purpose of the P4P plan. An essential partner in the development of a compensation reform plan is teachers. The involvement of teachers in the design process affirms the importance of their perspective and communicates a willingness to address their concerns. While this may affirm their perspective, teachers may also oppose this proposal because it is difficult to create a measure of student achievement that accurately reflects a teacher’s effect on each student. Next, the support of a district superintendent is critical because he/she will oversee the implementation and set the tone for how a plan is received.
The superintendent may propose this plan because it creates an accountability system that provides an impetus for schools and districts to align their resources with their core goals, and it helps schools and districts attract and retain highly effective teachers and administrators. Third, there will need to be buy-in of district staff. These individuals are fulfilling the day-to-day implementation of pay plans through activities such as measuring teacher performance, distributing financial awards, and communicating the plan to teachers. The schools of Utopia require a different approach to professional compensation – an approach that acknowledges teaching quality as the best guarantee of student achievement.
Although the design elements of a pay-for-performance plan play a vital role in its success, a variety of other factors play a role in the execution of this plan. Stable and adequate funding of the new program is an absolute necessity. Without it, the program likely will not get off the ground, or if it manages to do so, it will fade away. I would assess how other states funded their programs and see if the state of Utopia could replicate it. Also, I would contact the local school board to see if there are any grants available to start piloting this program. I would also continue to develop this memorandum by describing a strong measurement system. A performance pay plan is driven by a performance measurement system.
The system must provide reliable and accurate performance scores, as well as other information useful for guiding performance improvement. Using inaccurate or delayed performance data will undermine the plan’s fairness and threaten its survival. To address this issue, I would research the validity and results of other teacher evaluative programs to see if they are producing highly qualified teachers. Another factor I would assess in this memorandum is the states of human resource capacity. Human resource capacity helps dictate whether each school district can induct, mentor, or develop teachers for this plan. Like Illinois and California, I would see if the BOE has the capabilities to pilot this program in a specific region of the district.