Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Teacher Pay for Performance Context, Status, and Direction: Pay for Performance Is Poised to Become More Reality Than Simple Rhetoric, but Much Work Must Be Done to Ensure These Programs Are Effective

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Teacher Pay for Performance Context, Status, and Direction: Pay for Performance Is Poised to Become More Reality Than Simple Rhetoric, but Much Work Must Be Done to Ensure These Programs Are Effective

Article excerpt

It's hard to miss the news about pay for performance in the American K-12 public education system. For the past decade, Google News reports an average of 4,558 news stories per year on teacher pay for performance. This doesn't even begin to tally the countless blogs, tweets, and other popular information tools.

Financial investments in pay for performance programs and policies have also grown substantially. Florida, Minnesota, and Texas have allocated over $550 million to incentive pay programs that reward teacher performance. Funding for the federally sponsored Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) quadrupled in 2010, and the Obama Administration's 2011 budget request designated an additional $950 million for a new Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund that would support the development and implementation of performance-oriented approaches to recruiting, retaining, and rewarding highly effective educators.

Perhaps more important than the direct allocation of dollars, current education reform efforts, including the Race to the Top program, put performance pay center stage. In some states, in order to get a piece of the coveted $4.35 billion Race to the Top pie, state legislators met in special sessions to remove institutional barriers to judging teacher performance, retaining and rewarding their most effective practitioners, and counseling out the lowest performers. The largest portion of the 500-point Race to the Top rubric for grading state applications is pay for performance (U.S. Department of Education 2009).

Although policy makers and the media are paying more attention to performance pay, the concept itself isn't new. Discussions about pay for performance for teachers go back as early as 1867 and were part of almost every decade of the last century. Understanding some of the history of pay for performance helps put the current discussion in context.

A BRIEF HISTORY

In its earliest forms, teaching in the United States was a community affair. Schools in the 1800s were small, one-room buildings where students focused on the 3R's: reading, writing, and arithmetic. More than 77% of Americans lived in rural communities (Protsik 1995: 2).

In the classroom, the requirements for teachers focused more on moral character and less on education. Many teachers, most of whom were women, were quite young and had only an elementary education themselves. Teaching was considered a temporary post until a woman married, when she was expected to dedicate herself to motherhood and housekeeping. Indeed, some schools mandated that female teachers retire upon marriage (Protsik 1995: 4).

Compensation systems reflected these early priorities. Many teachers were remunerated through a system called the boarding round or room and board compensation model, which meant that teachers moved into the home of a student for a week at a time, rotating among student homes throughout the school year. Families covered room and board and supervised the comings and goings of the teacher to ensure that she had the proper moral character to be a good role model for their children.

As the nation's economic foundation shifted from agriculture to industry, the purpose and role of schooling also shifted. Multi-room buildings where students were separated by age and ability slowly replaced one-room schoolhouses. As academic requirements and rigor intensified, so did standards for teachers and administrators. And, with new standards came a new approach to teacher pay known as the grade-based compensation model. Grade-based compensation was intended to reflect the level of skill needed to educate a child at his or her grade level, such as elementary or high school. High school teachers typically earned more than elementary teachers because it was believed that elementary students were easier to educate. Though a dramatic improvement from the boarding rounds model, the graded compensation model was still far from fair. …

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