SELECT COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION REFORM CONSIDERS TEACHER INCENTIVE PAY
In an on-going effort to plan for the upcoming special session on education reform, the Senate Select Committee on Education Reform and Public School Finance heard testimony today regarding the pros and cons of providing incentive pay for exemplary teachers.
Proponents of these plans say that paying excellent teachers more money will encourage better qualified, more skilled teachers to stay in the public school system, while decreasing the number of unsatisfactory teachers. Those with concerns about this plan say that it is hard to come up with objective standards for all teachers, and because of this, some teachers who are effective and skilled might not be identified for increased merit pay.
The committee heard from Dr. Eric Hanushek, a member of the University of Texas at Dallas' Texas School Project. As part of this project, Dr. Hanushek analyzed the effect of teacher competence on student performance. According to Dr. Hanushek, every school has good and bad teachers, and that the variance between the best and worst teachers within a school is the same as the variance between different schools. Therefore, he says, it makes no sense to increase the pay of all teachers at an exemplary school, while neglecting merit pay to a less successful schools, as there are good and bad teachers in both.
Rather, it is better to find indicators that allow administrators to quantitatively identify which individual teachers excel and reward them individually.
He added that the quality of a teacher is one of, if not the most, important factor in maintaining a good educational process at schools, and that students who have excellent teachers for many years consecutively perform significantly better than other students.
Hanushek said his research has shown that a student in a class with a good teacher will progress about 50 percent farther in a year than one with an average teacher, while a student with a poor teacher will advance about 50 percent less. Additionally, underprivileged students, who traditionally perform poorer in school than their more privileged counterparts, can close this achievement gap if they have an exemplary teacher for three or four years in a row.
Many witnesses testified that by offering extra pay to excellent teachers, districts could retain their best teachers and attract skilled new teachers in the future.
One of the main concerns with incentive pay for teachers is the question of how to identify which teachers are good and which teachers are bad. Hanushek said in his testimony that many of the traditional indicators for teacher competence, such as education level or certification, do not necessarily translate to success in the class room. Even senority does not seem to be a deciding factor: after two years of service, the difference between more senior teachers and less senior teachers does not appear significant.
Senator John Whitmire of Houston expressed concern about finding an objective standard which allows districts to accurately identify which teachers are doing a good job. He was concerned that even with the most meticulous of standards, some teachers, who in other classroom circumstances would meet exemplary criteria, may be passed over for merit pay. Senator Kim Brimer of Fort Worth was worried that teachers who meet exemplary standards might be heavily recruited away from poorer districts to more affluent districts, thereby creating a larger gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. And Senator Royce West of Dallas questioned whether Dr. Hanushek's methods accounted for outside-of-school factors, such as family life and the local community, in determining how much of an effect good and bad teachers can have on academic progress.