As printed in the San Diego Daily Transcript; September 6, 2007
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Common sense tells us that incentives impact performance. The private sector understands this, which is why compensation packages in so many fields are tied to achievement. People who achieve more are rewarded, helping to create a culture of excellence instead of mediocrity.
One place where common sense doesn’t prevail is in our system of rewarding teachers for superior achievement. In short, we don’t. While smart governments around America are looking for ways to inject private sector incentives and rewards into government operations to improve performance, the education bureaucracy continues to resist this common sense practice.
To help reward teachers for doing more to help kids, the federal government created the “Teacher Incentive Fund”. The Fund provides grants to public and private sector schools that submit quality proposals for paying teachers more for teaching well.
It’s not a “one size fits all approach.” Districts and schools are free to propose a wide variety of methods for measuring teacher performance, and rewarding that performance with more take-home pay. The key is drawing a distinction between a teacher whose students demonstrate serious academic improvements, and the teacher who just clocks in and out. Such pay for performance is called “merit pay” in education circles.
Today’s school teachers are performing tremendous work, often with children who face difficult situations at home. It sometimes takes extraordinary effort for those children to actually learn, as opposed to simply pass time, in school.
No collective bargaining agreement can effectively spell out what it takes to help a child succeed, because each situation is different. Yet, the federal government’s teacher incentive fund gives schools and districts the flexibility to design a system that works well for them, and rewards a teacher for making the extraordinary efforts they may not otherwise need to undertake.
It can work in California. The Lynwood school district was just awarded over $11 million to reward great teachers over the next five years.
According to the district, “its initiative, Quest for Success, will augment the district’s improvement plans by providing educators with financial incentives for improving academic achievement and for taking on additional responsibilities and leadership roles. As a result of Quest for Success, Lynwood will experience a steady increase in student achievement, including increases for targeted subgroups that currently are not reaching desired levels. The number of fully credentialed teachers and principals, particularly in hard-to-staff areas, will also be recruited and retained through this project.”
San Diego schools should seriously consider similar programs to reward every teacher who demonstrates extraordinary achievement. California’s education code is a bureaucratic nightmare, often compounded by collective bargaining agreements that limit teacher flexibility and rewards for teachers who take on added responsibilities.
In management, “you get what you measure.” California took a big step forward when it began seriously measuring student achievement across the board using the Academic Performance Index, cornerstone of the 1999 Public Schools Accountability Act. The next logical step is to add incentives for everyone in the classroom to improve those measurements.
We don’t have time to waste. While bureaucrats can afford to measure the time it takes to implement new programs in years or decades, students who started school this month will be out of high school by the time some programs get off the ground. Our education leaders need to innovate, and on a life cycle that will actually allow today’s students to benefit. The Teacher Incentive Fund provides one such opportunity. Let’s take advantage of it.