Tar Heel Money Saver: No More Teacher Raises for Master’s Degrees

by Christopher Paslay

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory decides the best way to improve public education in the Tar Heel State is to pay teachers less.   

I have a master’s degree in Multicultural Education from Eastern University (cost me $25,000, and this wasn’t reimbursed by the Philadelphia School District), and I will soon have a PA secondary school counseling certificate from Eastern as well (cost me another $25,000, also not refunded by the PSD).  These advanced degrees not only cost a ton of money, but took up a ton of my time (I’ve been attending Eastern part time since 2008).

Have these degrees improved my teaching?  Absolutely.  I have more knowledge, ideas, contacts, hands-on lessons, classroom activities, and overall expertise in regards to both my teaching and counseling than I would have if I’d stayed within the comfort zone of my classroom and not branched out and furthered my education.

Tragically, there is a movement to end pay raises for educators seeking to learn new skills and broaden their educational repertoire.  Although this movement claims to have the best interest of public school students in mind, it seems there is also an ulterior motive behind it: saving money and balancing budgets.

Consider this recent article from the Wall Street Journal:

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, signed a budget bill Friday that eliminates teacher tenure and—in a rare move—gets rid of the automatic pay increase teachers receive for earning a master’s degree.

The legislation targets a compensation mechanism that is common in the U.S., where teachers receive automatic pay increases for years of service and advanced degrees. Some research has suggested those advanced degrees don’t lead to improved teaching.

Gov. Pat McCrory, shown earlier this month, said in a statement that the 2013-2015 budget ‘maintains public investments in education.’

Although a few other states have talked about doing away with the automatic pay increase for advanced degrees, experts say North Carolina is believed to be the first state to do so.

The budget bill—which drew hundreds of teachers to the Capitol in protest earlier this week—also eliminates tenure for elementary and high-school teachers and freezes teacher salaries for the fifth time in six years.

It comes as states and districts across the country are revamping teacher evaluations, salaries and job security, and linking them more closely to student performance. These changes have been propelled, in part, by the Obama administration and GOP governors.

North Carolina’s $20.6 billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 was crafted by Republican lawmakers and came after the GOP gained control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in 144 years.

Mr. McCrory said in a statement that the 2013-2015 budget “maintains public investments in education” and other services and noted 56% will go toward K-12 and higher education—1% more than in the previous budget.

Tim Barnsback, a teacher at Heritage Middle School in Valdese, N.C., said, “Morale is going to be at an all-time low” due to the new policies and budget. “The best and the brightest aren’t going to go into the profession,” he added.

Sandi Jacobs, with the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit that advocates an overhaul to teacher evaluation and pay structures, said she doesn’t oppose teachers having advanced degrees, but that those degrees shouldn’t be the primary driver of salary increases, which she said should be based more on actual performance.

A number of studies have shown that teachers with advanced degrees don’t, necessarily, produce higher student achievement than teachers who hold only a bachelor’s. Other studies have shown an advantage to holding a master’s in math and the sciences for high-school teachers. About 28% of North Carolina teachers hold master’s degrees.

A 2012 study by a researcher from the University of Washington’s College of Education found that the nation spent about $14.8 billion on the master’s bump for teachers in the 2007-2008 school year.

Is this about saving money?  Absolutely.  A $14.8 billion savings.

Advice to educators seeking to broaden their skills and knowledge via advanced degrees: Stay away from the Tar Heel State.  Your investment is sure to go bust.

Bloomberg and Christie Ignore Major Findings on Performance Pay

by Christopher Paslay

Despite growing evidence that performance pay has no effect on student achievement, politicians continue to push for its use.   

In July of 2011, the RAND Corporation issued the following news release about their study on performance pay in NYC public schools:

“A New York City program designed to improve student performance through school-based financial incentives for teachers did not improve student achievement, most likely because it did not change teacher behavior and the conditions needed to motivate staff were not achieved, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

From 2007 to 2010, nearly 200 high-needs New York City public schools participated in the Schoolwide Performance Bonus Program. The study, commissioned by the New York City Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers and funded by the New York City Fund for Public Schools and National Center on Performance Initiatives, is the most comprehensive study on the city’s performance pay program.”

How has New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg reacted to the news?  He wants to double-down on performance pay.  In his State of the City speech last Thursday, 1/12, Bloomberg stated he would push to overhaul the city’s teacher evaluation system, and give top teachers $20,000 bonuses.     

Why has Bloomberg ignored the conclusions drawn by the RAND study?  Because politicians such as Bloomberg realize that the public is more interested in the heightened regulation of teachers than in the actual education of students.      

In 2010, two additional studies on performance pay were released with the following conclusion: performance pay had no effect on student achievement. The first study, by Mathematica Policy Research, took place in Chicago and was published in May of 2010. Of the study, Education Week reporter Stephen Sawchuk writes:

“Preliminary results from schools taking part in a Chicago program containing performance-based compensation for teachers show no evidence that the program has boosted student achievement on math and reading tests, compared with a group of similar, nonparticipating schools, an analysis released last week concludes.”

A second study, which involved almost 300 middle school math teachers in Nashville, Tennessee and was released in September of 2010, revealed much of the same results. Of this study, Education Week reporter Sawchuk writes:

“The most rigorous study of performance-based teacher compensation ever conducted in the United States shows that a nationally watched bonus-pay system had no overall impact on student achievement—results released today that are certain to set off a firestorm of debate.”

Interestingly, a “firestorm of debate” didn’t materialize. In the weeks following the report’s release, supporters of merit pay, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, all but ignored the study, dismissing the findings as premature and too narrow. In fact, like Bloomberg, some education reformers held even tighter to the idea of using merit pay to boost student achievement. New Jersey governor Chris Christie, one week after the findings were made public, announced that he was going to indeed tie teacher pay to student achievement.

Despite enthusiasm from politicians such as Christie, many of America’s school teachers insist they are not motivated by merit pay. According to a 2010 report conducted by Scholastic and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation titled Primary Sources: America’s Teacher’s on America’s Schools, supportive leadership is listed by educators as the most important factor impacting upon teacher retention. Time given for teachers to collaborate is ranked second, followed by access to high-quality curriculum and a clean and safe building environment. Ranked ninth—dead last—was merit pay.

Likewise, not many teachers felt monetary rewards for teacher performance would have a strong impact on student achievement. Of the 40,000 teachers surveyed in the study, 30 percent said that merit pay would have no impact at all, while 41 percent said it would only have a moderate impact.

Still, supporters of performance pay insist it’s a viable way to increase learning. Dom Giordano, the Philadelphia-based broadcaster and radio personality, wrote in a 2010 commentary for the Philadelphia Daily News that, “all signs point to the conclusion that teachers should join the real world and get paid based on performance.” Giordano’s less-than-polite remarks are not only typical of the public’s anti-teacher sentiment but also an example of how grossly misinformed the average person is on the workings of education (yes, I am well aware that back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Mr. Giordano was a school teacher).

Merit pay may indeed deserve further exploration, but to insinuate that teachers live in some fairytale world is preposterous. If teaching is so easy, if educators are taking free money, then why do so many quit every year? Why is teacher retention costing America seven billion dollars annually?

The fact remains that teaching isn’t easy, that despite low test scores, nearly all teachers face enough daily challenges to earn their keep.  In addition, quality teaching is based on a complex set of variables, teacher motivation being the least of them.  Let’s hope that politicians in the Philadelphia area make an effort to acknowledge this reality, and don’t waste money and resources on policies that have little effect on student achievement.

Teacher performance pay oversimplifies a complex problem




by Christopher Paslay


“Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom.”


These were the words of Barack Obama in his first education policy speech last month.  He believes that performance pay is the spark needed to motivate our nation’s educators.   


I agree that rewarding good teachers with extra money is a nice gesture, but how is this raising the bar when it comes to education?  Talented teachers committed to reaching their students will produce regardless of pay; they are dedicated to the profession for reasons other than salary.


Struggling teachers might be motivated by pay, but this assumes that they have the capability to achieve in the first place.  Often times less effective teachers lack the resources and experience needed to succeed.  They receive little help from parents and community, and in too many cases their university training does not properly prepare them for life in a real classroom. 


Performance pay is unrealistic.  The Philadelphia School District doesn’t have the stability to set reliable student performance targets, nor do they have the resources necessary to properly assess these targets.  In addition, politics would get in the way of assessments—a teacher’s personality could end up being more important than their performance.


Performance pay also suggests that the problem with education is teachers, and that the problem with teachers is that they are not working hard enough.  As a dedicated educator, this idea is insulting.  Granted, there are cases where teachers are not meeting their full potential, but to generalize educators as Obama does is quite insensitive.        


Most teachers are in the classroom eight hours a day, and bring work home at night and on the weekends.  We write the lesson, produce the lesson (generating and copying all the materials), present the lesson, and grade the lesson. 


How many business executives write, produce, present, and assess five hour-long presentations a day, every day?  And how many do this with an audience of 30 children distracted by cell phones and iPods, kids with ADD or autism, kids who don’t understand how to resolve conflict non-violently because they don’t have a father and their mother is suffering from addiction problems? 


Of course, an educator’s time in the classroom is only one segment of the job.  Teachers must also deal with IEPs, CSAPs, and all manner of paperwork; we must attend meetings with parents, counselors, and administrators; we must go to workshops and professional development; we must tutor, mentor, and coach.  And some of us must do this for six subjects at a time, with 180 students at a clip


According to a recent article in the Inquirer (“Second look at merit pay for teachers”), “Changing the way teachers are paid is an idea whose time has come, one key to fixing a broken education system . . .”


Notice the words, broken education system.  This phrase is so overused by newspapers and politicians that it’s become boilerplate.  It’s almost as generic as the phrase quality teacher.     


What about our broken society?  Our instant gratification culture?  Do you think iPhones are helping lengthen attention spans?  Do you think the violence and soft core pornography found on television and in video games is helping our students get interested in reading The Grapes of Wrath


What about the lack of family?  The lack of guidance from community?  Kids with no father?  Kids with no parents at all?  


What about OxyContin?  Obesity?  Gangsta rap?  Are these things part of our “broken education system”?    


What about the lack of responsibility from the students themselves?


It’s amazing how these issues are consistently overlooked, and the blame is placed solely on the teachers and the schools. 


Merit pay is impractical and short-sighted.  It stereotypes our nation’s educators, and oversimplifies an incredibly complex problem.    


10 Facts About Obama’s New Education Secretary

The word is out: President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan as his Secretary of Education.  But who is this man? 


Here are 10 Facts About Arne Duncan:


1.  He’s been CEO of Chicago’s public schools since 2001.


2.  He was appointed deputy chief of Chicago schools by Paul Vallas in 1998.


3.  He has a bachelor’s in sociology from Harvard University.


4.  He is 44 years old (he was born 11/6/1964).


5.  He is known for “reaching out” to teachers unions.


6.  The dropout rate in Chicago has gone down every year since he’s been in charge. 


7.   Believes in performance pay for teachers.


8.  He asked congress in 2006 to double funding for the No Child Left Behind law.


9.  He supports the expansion of charter schools.


10.  He played pro basketball in Australia from 1987 to 1991. 


To read more about Arne Duncan, click here.

Can Performance Pay for Teachers Work in Philadelphia?

by Christopher Paslay


It’s no secret that Philadelphia School District officials are looking to implement performance-based teacher pay in an effort to increase student achievement.  Although statistics show that performance pay is used in 10 percent of America’s school districts and affects up to 20 percent of K-12 teachers and students, awarding pay bonuses to teachers is a complex issue and its results are varied and inconclusive. 


However, there are several things we do know about performance pay.  According to an article in Education Week written by professors James W. Guthrie and Matthew G. Springer (The Question of Performance Pay, 10/29/08), in order for performance pay to be effective, it must follow several guidelines:


          1.  Performance pay must be based on what teachers can reasonably accomplish, and student performance targets must be announced in advance.


          2.  Pay calculation procedures must be transparent, and the bonuses must be perceived by teachers to be financially significant.


          3.  Performance pay should not discourage teamwork among teachers, but must discourage free-riding.


Research shows a quality teacher can substantially impact student achievement regardless of a student’s IQ, neighborhood and socioeconomic level.  Studies also suggest pay bonuses do have an impact on a teacher’s overall effort in the classroom. 


However, the question still remains: Can performance pay work in Philadelphia?  Or more importantly, Can performance pay improve the academic achievement of our city’s children?


Although I applaud the District’s effort to raise the academic bar for our students, my 12 years of teaching experience tells me that performance pay, as a whole, is not a workable option in Philadelphia.  Here’s why.


The biggest pitfall is cash.  If there’s one thing experts have learned about performance-based pay in the last two decades, it’s that the bonus must be financially significant.  In other words, if the reward is too small, there is no incentive for teachers to intensify effort.  If past bonuses are any indication of what performance pay will look like in Philadelphia, teachers in the District could expect pay increases anywhere from three to five percent.  Translated into dollar values, that would be about $1,200-$3,500 a year, depending on your salary.


Now let’s be honest.  This kind of money is no realistic motivator.  If the teacher isn’t fired-up to teach already, tossing her two or three thousand dollars more a year (less after taxes), isn’t going to make her change her established routines. 


How much money would it take to ramp-up the effort of the non-motivated, complacent educator?  At the minimum, $5,000 to $7,500.  This would be a salary increase of 10 to 15 percent.  Does the District have that kind of money lying around?  Not on your life.  So monetarily speaking, performance pay in Philadelphia wouldn’t work.


A second problem of performance pay is setting student performance targets.  Many of the District’s failing schools are not only plagued by discipline problems and high teacher turn-over, but by organizational problems as well.  It’s a case of Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Some schools have their hands full with simple safety issues, so where are they going to find the time to set-up and reliably assess student performance targets.  Note the word RELIABLY.


Third you have the issue of personality.  Loose translation: There is the possibility of a bias by the principal or regional superintendent based on the teacher’s relationship with administration.  I like you so you get evaluated this way, and I don’t like you so you get evaluated that way.  Interpretation of student performance targets can be very subjective.  And for this reason, performance pay can very quickly become political.


Although performance-based pay has improved the academic achievement in some school districts across the nation, the Philadelphia School District is too big (and cash-strapped), to effectively implement such a strategy.  A good alternative would be to raise the base salaries of all teachers, which might very well attract and retain the kind of quality educators the District is looking for.