WASHINGTON Education commission recommends that scores determine teacher raises

The group also recommends an increase in base salary for all teachers.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- In her 24th year of teaching, Brenda Parrish has a new reason for ensuring her pupils do well on standardized tests: Their scores will affect her pay raise.
If a new commission of government, business and education leaders has its way, all teachers will find a significant portion of their raises tied to progress by their pupils. Nationwide, salaries and raises are typically based on a teacher's experience and education.
That current system "does nothing to reward excellence because all teachers, regardless of effort or performance, get the same automatic pay increases," according to a new report by The Teaching Commission, a nonprofit group formed in 2003 to improve the public teaching corps.
Parrish, who teaches eighth-grade math at Bell Street Middle School in Clinton, S.C., will have 20 percent of any salary bump based on her pupils' test-score gains. An additional 30 percent will be based on test scores for her school, while the remaining 50 percent of her review will be based on classroom evaluations, including her ability to motivate pupils.
Some concerns
Parrish said it seems fair. The school, she said, has greatly expanded regular training for teachers, and the pupil evaluation is done in a way designed to minimize factors outside her control, such as whether a child comes from a poor home. Still, she's nervous.
"I tell you, as many years as I've been in teaching, I've had good years and bad years," she said, referring to both her own performance and some unruly classes. "There are years I'd hate to think that I'd be paid based on the performance of the children given the situation I was given. You don't want to make excuses, but on the other hand, it needs to be fair."
The pay-for-performance idea is part of a compensation overhaul recommended by the commission, whose members include former IBM Chairman Louis Gerstner Jr., President Clinton's Education Secretary Richard Riley and former first lady Barbara Bush.
Other recommendations
The group also recommends an increase in base salary for all teachers to make the profession's pay more competitive; new paths for teachers to boost their pay and responsibilities without leaving the field; and financial incentives for teachers to serve in hard-to-staff schools or take on high-demand subjects.
Pay is just part of the picture. The commission's suggestions also cover university education programs, state teacher licensing and the role of school principals in hiring.
Yet the salary ideas are likely to generate the most debate as the commission makes its case to governors, chief state school officers, the federal government and others.
Some school districts are experimenting with pay-for-performance, and the idea of incorporating pupil scores in some way seems to be coming of age as states refine their tests and standards, said Michael Allen of the Education Commission of the States.
Complicated procedure
But no district in the nation bases a significant portion of a teacher's pay increases on pupil achievement, said Allen, the commission's teacher quality program director. "It's an extremely complicated process," he said. "You have to be convinced that you can, in fact, measure the progress that students make in a year, and that you can fairly tie it to the teacher."
Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the union representing many urban teachers, supports the thrust of the report. But Feldman, a commission member, said the group gave too much weight to basing pay on pupil achievement.
"Experiments are fine," said David Sherman, vice president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, who worked with Feldman on the commission. "But in order to do it systemically, you've got to get the process down right. We're not there yet.
"As a goal, yes, we're open to it, but let's not make that the overarching way to improve teacher pay."
Union opposition
The National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union, does not support tying teacher pay to pupil scores, said Tom Blanford, associate director for teacher quality. Such a plan could ignore performance that won't show up in test scores, such as a teacher who prevents a child from dropping out, or one who inspires excellence in poetry.
Gerstner, the commission chairman, said test scores are at the heart of measuring pupil achievement, but they need not be the only method chosen by a school district. He also said pay evaluations should consider pupil gains in test scores -- not just how pupils did overall -- so that teachers aren't penalized for working with hard-to-reach children.
The commission dismissed the common union complaint that performance-pay plans are too subjective, and Gerstner did the same about concerns that no proven education model exists.
"Lawyers do it, engineers do it, business people do it," he said. "All professional people ultimately come up with methodology to judge the difference between great performance and mediocre performance. Just because it's hard doesn't mean we can't do it."
XOn the Web: The Teaching Commission, www.theteachingcommission.org.