merit pay

Dreaming of the governor’s six-figure teacher salary? Time to wake up.


The political fantasy season continues. Now Gov. Greg Abbott is getting some nice headlines and TV exposure by claiming to be working on a way to give some teachers six-figure salaries. If you are a teacher who believes that, then you probably will believe the kid who claims the dog ate his homework.

Unless you are a high school football coach with a very successful record, your chances as a teacher of getting a six-figure salary under this governor are nil. Your chances of getting even a decent, professional salary in the upper five figures are practically zero.

The only reason Abbott is even talking about educators and money in the same sentence is because, of course, this is an election year. For him, education is an issue with which to deceive teachers into thinking he actually gives more than a tweet about the real needs of educators and their students.

You may remember that Abbott also proposed a teacher “pay raise” before a special legislative session last summer but never came up with the money to pay for it. Speaker Joe Straus and the House came up with some money — $1.8 billion – that many districts could have used to raise teacher pay or reduce employee health insurance premiums. But Abbott and his accomplice, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, slammed the door on the extra funding in an unsuccessful effort to advance a voucher bill.

Now, here is Abbott again, claiming to be thinking about another teacher pay raise – a big one.

“We want to structure a compensation plan that will put the very best educators on a pathway to earning a six-figure salary,” he said, without suggesting a way to pay for it.

There also are other problems with the governor’s pronouncement. Rather than give all 350,000 or so Texas teachers a well-deserved pay raise, Abbott proposes to select a relative handful and force them to jump through hoops to get what they already have earned. The hoops most likely would be STAAR test scores, meaning more valuable classroom time would be wasted on teaching to the test without actually measuring real student achievement.

The governor apparently has been talking to Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who supported a similar plan in Dallas ISD when he was a board member there. Five years later, the plan is a huge failure. Less than 1 percent of Dallas ISD teachers have made the top pay tier, and there has been a huge teacher turnover. Almost half of the district’s teachers have five or fewer years of experience, and Dallas ISD is going to be unable to continue paying the higher salaries at the top if the state doesn’t increase public education funding.

Better education funding for all schools and students should be Abbott’s top educational priority, not meaningless pie-in-the-sky teasers to a handful of teachers. Annual per-student funding in Texas is $2,300 less than the national average, and teacher pay is $7,300 less than the national average. As many as half of the teachers who enter the classroom this fall will have left five years from now, and Abbott is doing nothing to address that problem.

“Being an educator is a calling; however, we want to advance that calling into a profession,” Abbott was quoted as saying.

Someone should tell the governor that being an educator already is a profession. The problem is that Abbott, Patrick and officeholders like them don’t believe that educators should be paid a professional salary. And Abbott’s alleged proposal doesn’t do that.

It is time for educators to elect new leaders, including Lupe Valdez for governor and Mike Collier for lieutenant governor. Vote Education First!




“Performance pay” idea far from dead


Texas is one of a vanishing species of states – 10 – that don’t require tests scores or another form of student achievement measurement to be a “significant” or the “most significant” factor in teacher evaluations. But don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet because the species is vanishing quickly, and you can be sure another effort will be made to impose those requirements on Texas teachers the next time the Legislature meets.

Education is a cumulative, collaborative process that involves many teachers for every student. Singling out one teacher for praise and higher pay and another for possible dismissal simply on the basis of the latest set of test scores is wrong, and no amount of political posturing will make it right. But that won’t necessarily stop Texas’ next governor and some legislators – depending on who is elected — from trying to force unfair requirements on teachers instead of giving teachers and their students the adequate resources necessary for widespread success.

According to a new report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, 35 states and the District of Columbia now require student achievement to be a “significant” or the “most significant” factor in teacher evaluations. Two years ago, Education Week reported, only 30 states had those requirements.

The National Council on Teacher Quality supports so-called “performance pay.” The report denies that “high stakes decisions about teachers are being made in haste based on single standardized test scores.” But it adds, “States need to require and implement (teacher evaluation) measures that demonstrate a relationship with student achievement.”

When self-styled education “reformers” in Texas talk about tying performance or merit pay to student achievement, the measures they usually propose are student test scores, even if the tests aren’t designed to evaluate teachers.

Policymakers need to put first things first. Teachers in Texas are paid more than $8,000 below the national average. The governor and the Legislature need to raise the pay level for all Texas teachers before they start trying to single anyone out. Then, if lawmakers are still going to insist on a new teacher evaluation system, they need to listen to teachers when they design it.

The 2014 elections are rapidly approaching. Does anyone think Greg Abbott, were he to be elected governor, would move a finger to raise teacher pay? Of course not. Instead, he is busy promising cuts to education and just about everything else to curry the support of right-wing ideologues in the Republican primary. That’s what his so-called “budget plan” was all about last week.

And, there will be many legislative candidates, like the conservative Republican who announced for an open House seat in North Texas last week, who will vow to “improve” public education “through innovative solutions and accountability.”

Yeah. “Innovative solutions” like private school vouchers, more corporate-style charters and other forms of privatization. And the kind of “accountability” that requires teachers to jump through more hoops to keep their jobs.

Watch out who you vote for, folks.




Merit pay plan unfair and backwards


The administrators running Waco ISD have their heads in the sand. They are considering a so-called “merit” bonus plan that would reward teachers for good test results but miss the boat on how student achievement is accomplished.

You can read the Waco Tribune story linked below for more details. But essentially every campus in the district that met state standards on STAAR tests would receive $10 for each student at the school, and the principal would determine how to use the money. It could be spent on instructional materials, staff development or merit pay.

The merit pay option apparently would be limited to teachers whose students either did well on STAAR or Advanced Placement tests, while ignoring other teachers who didn’t administer the tests but who definitely contributed to student success.

For example, K-2 teachers, according to the story, wouldn’t be eligible for the bonuses because students don’t take STAAR tests until the third grade. The superintendent suggested those teachers – if they felt overlooked – could transfer to a STAAR tested grade. That type of thinking ignores the reality that few third-graders would pass STAAR tests without the hard work of K-2 teachers who begin building children’s critical learning foundations. Failing to reward the contributions of K-2 teachers would be unfair — and preposterous.

These so-called merit, incentive or performance pay plans ignore the reality that education is a cumulative, collaborative effort to which the entire faculty – K-2, art, music and others whose subjects aren’t tested on STAAR or AP – contribute.

Merit pay is a cheap non-fix, a backwards way of trying to reward teachers in a state where the average teacher pay is more than $8,000 below the national average and many teachers are struggling to make ends meet. TSTA’s recent moonlighting survey showed that 44 percent of teachers have to take extra jobs during the school year and about 60 percent are seriously considering leaving the profession.

Instead of toying around with these minimal, unfair merit proposals, school administrators and board members in Waco and throughout Texas should be demanding that their legislators give all Texas teachers the professional pay they deserve.

The Waco superintendent admitted that the merit idea was “not a perfect system.” It isn’t even close.



Merit pay a bad idea


El Paso ISD’s caretaker board of managers recently approved a 2.5 percent pay raise for all district employees. Yes, that is a bit of good news, but you may want to hold your applause because the board also has asked district officials to consider merit-based raises for the 2014-15 school year.

Merit pay is a very bad idea, and no one should know better than administrators in El Paso ISD. But some memories can be very short.

As a reminder, the El Paso district is still recovering from a cheating scandal that resulted in the previous superintendent – who had a financial incentive to artificially raise test scores — being sentenced to prison. The district was taken over by the state, and teachers are trying to help hundreds of children recover lost educational opportunities.

In naming the district’s temporary board of managers, state Education Commissioner Michael Williams included former state Rep. Dee Margo as president, even though Margo had used his one term in the House in 2011 to strike a blow against public schools. He voted for $5.4 billion in school budget cuts.

The cuts crammed tens of thousands of school children into overcrowded classrooms, cost thousands of school employees their jobs and prompted many of our best, most experienced teachers to take incentives to retire early. Consequently, over the past two years, the average teacher pay in this state dropped by $528 a year. Texas now has the dubious distinction of paying its teachers more than $8,000 below the national average.

This year, the Legislature, with the help of Margo’s successor, state Rep. Joe Moody, restored part of the $5.4 billion, and El Paso ISD and a number of other school districts have been approving pay raises. The raises, however, will do little to cure Texas’ compensation deficiency.

With average teacher pay in Texas lagging so far behind the national average, a Texas school district has no business considering merit pay for a small group of teachers.

We need to continue to raise pay for all teachers, the vast majority of whom are good educators. Overpaying “bad” teachers in Texas is not a problem. The problem is underpaying good teachers and forcing many of them to leave the classroom in order to be able to support their families. That is the real threat to educational quality for school children.

Education is a collaborative effort that takes several years to develop. A teacher’s success in the middle and later grades is affected by how well his or her students were taught in earlier grades. So, it wouldn’t be fair to single out, say, an eighth grade teacher for a merit pay raise without taking into account all the other teachers who have taught the same students over the years.

Another problem with merit pay is that it usually is based heavily on students’ scores on standardized tests, a woefully incomplete measure of a teacher’s success. High-stakes testing has become such a flash point for parent and educator frustration that the Legislature this year significantly reduced the number of graduation tests for high school students.

El Paso ISD, in particular, should know better than to try to tie pay to test scores. The district’s managers need to pull their heads out of the Chihuahuan Desert sand and shelve the merit idea.