A few days ago CNN.com blared a headline that read: “Teachers union challenges Florida's pioneering bonus-pay plan.” However, a quick look at the article and one clearly can see that the plan is not pioneering at all. At best it is archaic. The ill-conceived Florida program reminds me of merit pay plans of the past (déjà vu all over again) and the news blast represents yet another example of sloppy, sound bite journalism. The headline should read: “Unions, teachers, administrators, and parents should question Florida’s new merit pay plan program.” Why? Here are just a few reasons:
1. The program solely uses narrow standardized test scores that only measures the performance of a very limited number of teachers on just 2 subject areas (those who can have standardized test scores attached to them) ;
2. Florida’s accountability system does not measure student growth very well (e.g., consider a 5th grader who, because of language and other issues, reads on a 2nd grade level but must “measure up” on a 5th grade test that cannot identify teachers who help him move from the 2nd to 3rd grade literacy level);
3. The program’s merit bonuses of $2000 are small and inconsequential – with no evidence that the amount is sufficient for motivating teachers to teach more effectively;
4. The program does not reward teachers to use test data and spreading their teaching expertise;
5. The program does not address the core issues of teaching lower-performing students and staffing under-performing schools;
6. The program does not address at all the under-prepared and out-of-field teachers Florida hires because policymakers are not willing to address the real reasons (e.g., working conditions) behind the teacher shortages in the state;
7. The programs does not reward small teams of teachers working together producing meaningful results for students and their families over time; and
8. The program does not involve professional teachers in its creation.
TeacherSolutions, a new intiative of our Teacher Leaders Network, is the answer. Next month we will release the inaugural report of TeacherSolutions – a select group of accomplished teachers who have studies, considered, and weighed in on the complex policy problem of professional compensation.
To increase productivity, today’s management experts tell us, you must listen carefully to the advice of high performers in your workforce. Yet the insights of our most successful teachers are rarely solicited when school and teaching policies are under development. Even though teachers are not often invited to the policy table, they are frequently labeled as obstructionists when they decline to endorse “bold new plans” or point out flaws in policies that they know from experience will not yield the intended outcomes. Keep your eyes and ears peeled.