Wisconsin Schools Planning Merit Pay for Teachers

This fall, between 40 and 50 Cedarburg (Wisconsin) School District educators met to discuss plans that could change the way they earn an income, writes Erin Richards at The Journal Sentinel.

Superintendent Daryl Herrick said the district wanted to deal out annual bonuses to teachers based on the quality of their work rather than on the basis of education credits and years of experience.

"If we can get pay-for-performance off the ground, it will make us a more attractive district," Herrick said at that October meeting.

Herrick's words were obviously heeded, as this year Cedarburg's school board has approved moving ahead with the pay-for-performance plan.

Unions have historically been skeptical of performance-pay plans, citing research that says more money doesn't necessarily correlate with higher student performance. There is much debate in the education community about designing an educator evaluation system that can actually gauge that.

"Teacher evaluation systems are the linchpin of everything we talk about," said Sarah Almy, the director of teacher quality for the Education Trust, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C.

"Evaluation systems are supposed to improve and help teachers, guide professional development and perhaps be used in compensation decisions," she added.

"It's not just about sorting teachers or dismissing teachers."

Under the new Cedarburg reforms, certified educator unions can negotiate base wages with Herrick's administration up to a percentage no greater than what is outlined by the Consumer Price Index.

Educators will then receive in their bonuses, based on how they scored on the district's evaluation system at the end of the previous year. However, if an educator receives a "basic" or "unacceptable" evaluation then they would receive no bonus at all.

Educators who score "average," "proficient," or "high-performing" would, however, be eligible for a chunk of about $300,000 that would have traditionally gone to salary increases under the old system of credits and experience, writes Richards.

Bonuses per person are thought to range from between $1,700 and $2,200.

Some are skeptical. Especially if student test scores are used in the evaluation.

Terry Grogan, president of the Oak Creek Education Association, said:

"I don't know how you do merit pay for a physical education or art teacher, where their curriculum and student progress isn't based on the (state achievement test)," he said.

"I'm a special-education teacher, and so most of my kids are underperforming. You're probably not going to see gains on the state test from my kids."

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