Denver's Merit Pay System
Q. How is
the merit pay plan working in one of the biggest cities it's being tried,
Very well. After one
start-up year under an incentive plan, the city's schools are marking early
success - and ironically, it's thanks in large part to the teachers union.
One triumph for this accountability tool is
that hundreds of additional teachers have applied to work at the city's worst
schools, drawn by new higher pay. And even though teachers already on the
payroll didn't have to participate in the "ProComp" bonus pay
program, nearly half have signed up. (Those hired since 2006 are automatically
The biggest test is yet to come: whether
teacher rewards will lead to better student grades and higher test scores. The
pilot program suggests they might.
Denver school officials worked closely with
the teachers' union to quell union concerns that the plan might be perceived as
elitist or unfair to some teachers.
Denver is part of a nationwide trend toward
more merit pay plans. The U.S. Department of Education recently spent nearly
$100 million in support of such local programs, with substantial private
foundation funding as well. States such as Minnesota and Florida are involved,
and cities such as Austin are studying Denver's model, hoping, for instance, to
reward teacher cooperation with one another as well as individual efforts.
The lure in Denver was that teachers could end
up making more money as a whole, and the American Federation of Teachers is
helping some local unions negotiate new merit-pay plans. Unions can't help
seeing that the rise of standardized tests under the 2001 No Child Left Behind
law provides benchmarks for measuring teacher performance.
The conventional wisdom is that merit plans
will succeed only if teachers are consulted in how to design them, although
unions should not have veto power over them. Teachers' concerns about
subjective judgments or the misuse of tests to evaluate progress need to be
addressed. Schools also need to use such rewards to boost teacher-to-teacher
mentoring and teacher interaction with parents.
Proponents of merit pay plans say the same
fairness that teachers give to students in grading can apply equally to merit
Bottom line issues are crucial, though, as these
plans require taxpayers to provide extra revenue beyond the basic school
the website of the Denver program, http://denverprocomp.org