In Michigan, Excellence in Teaching Worth Exactly One Dollar

What is the value of the skills an excellent teacher brings to a classroom over a mediocre colleague? If that teacher happens to be employed by Davison Community Schools in Michigan, the answer to that question is exactly $1.

In order to comply with Michigan’s new merit pay law, which was an education reform initiative of former state governor Jennifer Granholm, both Davison and nearby Stephenson Area Public Schools in Menominee County will be adding a whole sawbuck to the paychecks of their best-performing teachers. Outstanding instructors at Delta County’s Gladstone Area Public Schools will fare somewhat better. Their raise will be a whopping three bucks.

A state law became effective Jan. 4, 2010, that said public schools “shall implement and maintain a method of compensation for its teachers and school administrators that includes job performance and job accomplishments as a significant factor in determining compensation and additional compensation.”

The Davison and Stephenson schools and their unions took that to mean teachers rated as “highly effective” got a $1 bonus; Gladstone teachers rated “highly effective” fared better with $3 a year; “effective” teachers got $2; and a teacher who “meets goals” gets $1.

Prior to the merit pay law, teacher compensation was determined strictly by the time on the job, or seniority and educational attainment — the quality of instruction was simply not a factor in the formula that set salary levels. Michigan Capital Confidential gives an example of 7 gym teachers in the Troy School District who were paid more than a biology teacher in the same district who was named the national teacher of the year.

Leon Drolet, president of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said that the meager raises will hardly serve as an incentive to improve classroom performance. He pointed out that more than no bonus at all, a $1 raise serves to deliver the message that schools care little about the added educational value of an outstanding teacher.

Davison Superintendent Eric Lieske explained in an email that the small amounts weren’t meant as a snub to the best teachers in the district, but served as an expedient in a fraught negotiation between Davison officials and the teachers union.

“We were in the process of negotiating when the new law came out,” Lieske wrote in an email. “There were significant differences on the part of the administration’s stance and the union’s position on the new law as to how to implement performance pay. We didn’t want that one issue to prevent us from reaching an agreement so we agreed to the $1 to be in compliance with the law, knowing that this would be something we would have to address in our next round of bargaining.”

10 18, 2012
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