UF study: Teacher merit pay plans make the grade
Published: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
If educators want to see students perform better, giving teachers merit pay incentives would do the trick, according to a University of Florida study.
But some educators in Alachua County and around the state say that not all pay performance plans are created equal.
The research, released Thursday, found that pay incentives for teachers had more positive effects on student test scores than other school improvement methods such as smaller class sizes or stricter classroom attendance requirements, said UF economist David Figlio.
The re- search found that students at schools with teacher pay-for-performance programs, such as Florida's Special Teachers Are Rewarded, or STAR program, scored an average of 1 to 2 percentage points higher on standardized tests than their peers at schools where no bonuses were offered.
Figlio and another UF economist, Lawrence Kenny, collected surveys from 534 schools that were among 1,319 public and private schools participating in the national study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education beginning in 1988.
But in Florida, where the STAR program is based on standardized test scores to determine whether teachers should receive the bonus pay, the program leaves many good teachers out, said Ginger Childs, chairwoman of the Alachua County School Board.
Sandy Hollinger, deputy superintendent of Alachua County schools, agrees.
While she believes merit pay programs come with good intentions and can be effective, Hollinger said that Florida's STAR program was hastily put together without much consideration about how to fairly provide incentives to all teachers.
"Where STAR is flawed is that the (Department of Education) requires that we must used standardized test data," Hollinger said. "But there's a group of teachers who don't have that data, like band teachers or Spanish teachers. We're forced to artificially impose data on those teachers so they can be included."
The STAR program mandates that the top 25 percent of Florida's 178,000 public-school teachers would get one-time 5 percent bonuses based on how their students do on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and other standardized tests.
The Florida Education Association — Florida's statewide teachers union — challenged the constitutionality of a provision in the state budget for the STAR program in a lawsuit filed last month.
School districts, like Alachua County, were left to draft their own plan for state approval that would address how teachers would be rated to garner the bonus pay, Childs said.
Gunnar Paulson, president of the Alachua County Educators Association — the local teachers union — said that UF's research doesn't address the problem of salary inequities from state to state.
In Florida, where beginning teaching salaries are below the national average, teachers are already unsatisfied with their salaries, Paulson said. With the STAR program only funding bonuses for the top 25 percent of teachers in the state, that leaves little incentive for a majority of teachers to perform better when their salaries are not even at the national average, Paulson said.
"It's like putting the cart before the horse," Paulson said. "You've got to bring up salaries to be competitive with nationwide salaries and there can't be an artificial cap.
You're saying 25 percent of our teachers are good and the other 75 percent are bad. Everyone should have the opportunity to participate in an incentive program."
Deborah Ball can be reached at (352) 338-3109 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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