Economic Development

Merit In the Classroom

Good teachers doing tough jobs are closer to a bonus.
by | January 2006

One change in school funding policy that Texas has already made is to devote $10 million to merit pay--extra dollars for teachers having exceptional success raising test scores in the toughest settings. The idea has been kicking around for at least 25 years, but quite a few governors have been promoting it lately, perhaps most notably Perry in Texas. Merit pay for teachers may be an idea whose time is finally ripe.

The surest sign of that came in November, when Denver voters approved a $25 million property tax increase to pay for a movement away from the traditional single-salary schedule, in which teacher raises are based strictly on seniority and education degrees, toward a more complex model. The Denver Professional Compensation plan, known as ProComp, will determine salaries in part on performance evaluations and student test scores, as well as willingness to teach in low- performing, low-income schools. Teachers will also receive bonuses for taking on jobs that have been tough to fill, such as junior high math and English as a second language.

ProComp may have broken the political stalemate that has long existed on this issue. It was developed during six years of negotiation between teachers and administrators, and has several features that other merit or performance-pay plans have lacked. For one thing, it comes equipped with a dedicated source of funding. For another, it raises teachers' pay in general and allows individual teachers the choice of whether to opt in to the merit system.

Although many local teachers were opposed, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association supported ProComp. That's in marked contrast to the national teachers' unions, which have long been opposed to merit pay, calling it divisive and simplistic. (The National Education Association once opined in an editorial, "No single determining factor--least of all student achievement--should dictate who among us will be paid more than others.")

It may be that not many cities will want to expend the energy or the money that Denver is going to with ProComp. But as that program gets phased in, supporters and opponents of merit pay will finally have some specific, district-wide evidence to point at to bolster their claims.


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