Dissention in Dallas: Union fighting district effort to develop merit pay plan

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DALLAS – Merit pay for teachers has become a hot topic in the Dallas school district.
union fightingDistrict officials are devising a plan to implement a merit pay system while the teachers union continues to oppose the concept.

“Education is a collaborative and cumulative process that extends well beyond test scores,” Texas State Education Association President Angela Davis recently told a Dallas Observer columnist about merit pay. “Instead of singling out a few teachers for higher pay, we need to raise pay for all Texas teachers, who are paid, on average, more than $8,000 below the national average.”

But giving everyone a raise won’t improve performance. The TSEA and other anti-merit pay talking heads (like Diane Ravitch) think basing teachers’ evaluations on student tests is unfair, and often dismiss the concept as a punitive measure dreamed up by conservatives or “corporate reformers.” Unions and their allies contend merit pay doesn’t work, Observer columnist Jim Schutze points out.

But Schutze does a very good job of explaining why the anti-merit pay crowd’s concerns are unfounded. For one, most modern merit pay systems don’t simply measure student test scores at the end of the year and base teacher pay on those scores alone. Rather, the merit plan being devised in Dallas would measure student achievement at both the beginning and end of each school year to determine how an individual teacher impacted student learning.

Furthermore, the student test scores would only account for a portion of a teacher’s evaluation. That’s the case with most merit pay plans, despite attempts by unions to frame the debate solely on test scores.

Other components of teacher evaluations under consideration in Dallas include regular classroom observations by principals, as well as administrators from other buildings or departments that have no personal familiarity with the teachers under review. The third element of Dallas’ proposed merit pay system would be feedback from students, Schutze wrote.

“All of these factors – student achievement on tests, performance evaluated by multiple diverse observers and student surveys – will be considered together and counterbalanced according to some weighting formula not yet determined. But that issue, the weighting, is where the most important element comes into the picture – the teachers themselves,” Schutze wrote.

Dallas schools superintendent Mike Miles’ “team has explained to the board in its briefings that it has going back to teams of teachers again and again to ask them what they think is fair or accurate. Far from being shut out of the process or being treated as punitive victims of it, teachers are being used as a key resource to help the team figure out the proper weighting of measurements,” he wrote.

Ultimately the goal is to pay top teachers much more than they currently receive under the union’s seniority-based system, which breeds mediocrity by awarding automatic raises to all teachers with no consideration for performance.

Schutze cites several studies that show when merit pay systems are set up correctly, they can work wonders. In Washington, D.C., for instance, a merit pay plan implemented by renowned reformer Michelle Rhee has been proven to have raised teacher performance for educators across the spectrum – from the highly effective to those who were barely making the grade.

Schutze concludes:

“When they say it’s all about test scores, it’s not all about test scores. When they say merit pay for teachers is a proven failure and teacher merit cannot be measured, they’re wrong.”

By Victor Skinner at EAGnews.org

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