Schools push merit pay for teachers

More districts across the state may soon follow the lead of Oakwood schools and pay teachers based on their performance in the classroom, experts say.

The Dayton Daily News first reported Oakwood’s teachers union and school board both approved a new contract last week that ties pay increases to school test performance, evaluation of the teacher’s in-class performance and professional growth efforts.

The Springboro School District is in negotiations with its teachers union and the board there has asked for performance-pay to be included in the talks.

That differs from the existing system used by nearly every public school district in the state, where teachers get raises based on what level of education they’ve completed, their number of years teaching and any across-the-board percentage negotiated by their union.

“I think in the next one or two rounds of contracts, with the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System in place, you’ll probably see a lot of districts adopting forms of performance pay,” said Van Keating, director of management services for the Ohio School Boards Association. “We’ve had a lot of calls about it. But it’s easier said than done.”

Oakwood Teachers Association President Jay Lane would agree that it’s not a simple process. Lane, a veteran math teacher, said he stopped counting after the 11th proposed version of Oakwood’s performance pay system. And that was only midway through a two-year process.

“Personally, I feel good about where we ended up,” Lane said, adding that the contract was approved by “a strong majority” of OTA’s 150-plus members. “But I’m not sure everybody who is a member feels exactly the same way.”

The new statewide evaluation system will have two parts. Oakwood Superintendent Mary Jo Scalzo said in the “performance rubric,” a principal or other evaluator will rate how well a teacher achieves defined goals, such as choosing proper instructional materials or adjusting to students’ struggles with certain material. Scalzo said teachers will be able to present evidence that they meet each standard.

The other half of the state system will analyze student test scores to determine how well each teacher’s students are learning.

Scalzo and Lane said in this three-year contract, Oakwood’s performance pay will not factor in the state’s measures of student test-score growth, because district members have not yet seen how they’ll be calculated, and so don’t know if the data will be reliable.

Based on the rubric scores and professional development efforts, each Oakwood teacher will be rated as Ineffective, Developing, Proficient or Accomplished, with corresponding raises of 0, 1.5, 2.25/2.5 and 3.0 percent. Scalzo said Proficient is likely to be the largest group, so the district created two tiers of raises (2.25 and 2.5 percent) for those teachers.

Michelle Prater, spokeswoman for the Ohio Education Association, Ohio’s primary teachers’ union, said hundreds of Ohio school districts and union locals took first steps in exploring “alternative compensation models” through the federal Race to the Top program. Few districts actually put those plans into place, although Prater said she couldn’t give a firm number.

“Local teachers associations have been working collaboratively with school districts, as part of Race to the Top money, which OEA supports,” Prater said. “But they’re either not there yet or they decided against it for whatever reason.”

School industry sources could name only a few districts using performance pay in any significant way. Prater pointed to the Grandview school district in the Columbus area, and Keating mentioned Liberty-Benton in the Toledo area. Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said Cleveland’s metropolitan school district also approved a performance pay framework last month, although teachers union approval was pending this weekend, and some details of the plan wouldn’t be hashed out until next year.

Springboro school board members have pushed for a performance-pay system. Jim Rigano said he and fellow board members listed that as one of their negotiating goals as the current memorandum of understanding with teachers expires June 30.

“The way union contracts are set up, they’re designed to give everybody the same raise regardless of performance,” Rigano said. “These types of (performance pay) systems reward those who put forth extra effort, and (especially) when that effort results in greater student achievement.”

Starting in 2014, Oakwood will reward all teachers with a $375 bonus if the district earns an A on the newly toughened state report card, or if Oakwood’s median ACT score is in the top 1 percent of Ohio districts.

There are also $1,500 base pay raises for getting a master’s degree in your subject area, or successfully completing the master teacher or board certification programs.

Lane said those incentives may inspire some teachers to work harder, but he said many are already putting in strong effort. He also said the union didn’t push for extreme incentives because it was important for the plan to be sustainable given district finances.

Asked whether the new system would make it easier to jettison underperforming teachers, Scalzo said the new evaluations would make it clearer where the bar of proficiency is and would provide interventions for struggling teachers. .

Keating, of OSBA, said like most new systems, the new teacher evaluations and any attached merit pay plans would likely be tinkered with after the first few years of results come in.

“Schools are paying close attention to who around them is trying this” he said. ” And those that aren’t doing it now are watching.”

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