Sunday, July 10, 2016

NC legislature experiments with teacher incentives

Pay for public school teachers in North Carolina has been a big focus for the legislature over the last two years.  After no raises for many years, pay for starting teachers received a boost last year and pay for more experienced teachers is scheduled to increase this coming year.

This coming year's budget also includes two incentive plans that I would call unique.  One would allocate $10m to give a bonus to third grade teachers whose student growth scores place in the top 25%.  Bonus plans for individuals make sense when the employee has some control over the work environment and the metrics map reasonably well with employee effort and performance.  Although well-intentioned, I cannot help but wonder why the legislature did not consider two obvious problems with their scheme:
(1) Why put all the money on third grade teachers? Don't the other grades matter at least a little?
(2) Why didn't they select a more objective measure of actual learning?  The reward goes to the top 25%, regardless of how much or how little student growth took place.

The second plan pays a $50 bonus to Advanced Placement teachers for each student who passes the AP test.  So a student passes the AP Calculus test with flying colors, but is that because the AP teacher was so great or did it have something to do with the Algebra 1 and other teachers that they had before AP?  Also, what happens in parts of the state where school systems lack the budget to offer AP courses?  And should we be focusing incentive dollars on AP students or on those who are struggling to graduate?

The big mistake that legislators are making is the decision to use individual as opposed to group incentives.  Student achievement hinges on a collective effort of teachers from K to 12.  School-based plans are likely to be more effective than individual-based plans.

However, the third grade plan will solve one problem -- principals will not have any trouble filling open third grade positions!

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