As the incentive pay program concept unfolds in Texas, a number of questions and concerns have cropped up. Some are typical procedure questions–How does the plan work? Who is eligible? What is the application deadline? How much money is available? Others reflect an underlying concern with the incentive pay concept–Does the process distract teachers from their purpose? Will the pay plan pit teacher against teacher and break the team spirit? Does the plan raise the stakes on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test even more? As educators wrestle with a number of implementation issues, we take a look at the specifics of the programs and the questions and concerns.

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Incentive pay Q&A

Overview of teacher incentive pay plans

Some raise concerns about program, but majority to participate

When the Texas Legislature created the Texas Educator Excellence Grant (TEEG) program–marking $100 million a year for three years for teacher bonuses, few expected teachers to turn down the state grants. But some 32 schools did just that. Teachers at schools declining the money voiced concern that the program would pit teacher against teacher in splitting the money and lead to divisiveness. Another concern was raising the stakes on the TAKS, which is already used to grade school performance and determine whether students in some grades should be promoted or eligible to graduate. And many thought the time required for teachers to give input and approval to the campus incentive program would be distracting and disruptive. Yet, despite these concerns, the majority of the 1,151 qualifying schools–about 97 percent–are expected to participate.

Governor’s pilot program

Texas’ first incentive pay plan began in August 2006 with the Governor’s Educator Excellence Grant (GEEG) pilot program, which was earmarked for 100 qualifying campuses at $10 million a year. For the 2006-07 school year, actual bonuses were based on student performance last year and were distributed at the beginning of the school year (by Sept. 15, 2006). Recognizing that this did not serve as a “true incentive,” TEA now intends to base merit pay on future performance for the remaining two years of the program.

Texas’ first incentive pay plan was not without controversy. Teacher bonuses for 24 of the 100 eligible schools were withheld while the Texas Education Agency investigated whether TAKS cheating contributed to the higher marks, which helped qualify the schools for incentive pay in the first place. But by mid-December, all but one of these schools had been cleared and qualified to receive the bonuses.

TEEG program: An expansion of the governor’s program

Attention is now focused on the TEEG program, which was established by House Bill 1 during the third special session of the 79th Texas Legislature. The TEEG program, which began with the 2006-07 school year, is limited to high-performing or improving schools ranked in the top half of schools in percentage of economically disadvantaged students. This program is an expansion of the governor’s program that was similarly structured but open only to the top third of economically disadvantaged campuses.

Grant amounts will range from $40,000 to $300,000, and 75 percent of funds must be distributed as teacher incentives between May 2007 and Oct. 15, 2007. TEA recommends, to the extent possible, that incentives should be no less than $3,000 and no more than $10,000 per teacher. Each grant provides one year of funding, and a campus must reapply each year.

Development of TEEG plan

Each participating campus must craft a plan that details how it will determine which employees get incentive pay. The plans must include input from educators on the campus; consequently, the plans will vary from school to school. Campus plans then must be approved by a district-level committee before the plan is submitted to TEA for review.

Use of 75 percent of funds (Part I)

Initially, 75 percent of funds must be spent on classroom teachers (individual or team level) who demonstrate success in improving student performance using objective, quantifiable measures AND who engage in collaboration with faculty and staff that contributes to improving overall student performance on the campus. According to TEA, team level can mean grade level team, vertical team, departmental team or interdisciplinary team. These funds also may be used to award teacher initiative and assignment to hard-to-staff subjects. In most cases, funds are available for certified teachers only.

Even though campus eligibility is based on accountability ratings for the 2004-05 school year, awards to teachers must be based on future performance, specifically during the 2006-07 school year.

Required criteria

Incentive plans must use the following criteria:

Criterion 1: Improving student performance

This criterion requires the use of “objective quantifiable measures,” including the TAKS, local benchmark performance, student portfolio assessment, end-of-course exams and other summative student assessments.

Criterion 2: Collaboration with faculty and staff

Appropriate measures of collaboration include:

  • Participation in campus-based professional development
  • Participation in campus-based instructional or curricular planning
  • Team teaching and classroom observation
  • Teacher mentoring, induction and/or coaching
  • Collaboration with other teachers on the campus in developing and/or evaluating lesson plans
  • Sharing and analyzing student data with other teachers on the campus
  • Other activities related to working with teachers on the campus to improve instruction

Inappropriate measures include:

  • Student performance measures
  • Teacher attendance
  • Participation in tutoring or after-school programs
  • Participation in extracurricular activities not related to improved academic performance
  • Student attendance
  • Individual planning time

Optional criteria

Incentive plans may use the following criteria:

Criterion 3: Teacher initiative

A teacher’s demonstration of ongoing initiative, commitment, personalization, professionalism and involvement in other activities that directly result in improved student performance; for example, working with students outside of assigned class hours, tutoring, creating programs to engage parents, and taking initiative to personalize the learning environment for every student. (Measures selected within this criterion should promote excellent teaching and should not reward teacher behavior or activities that are not associated with exceptional teaching and job performance.)

Appropriate measures include:

  • Participation in student tutoring or after-school programs (focused on improving student learning)
  • Participation in parent involvement programs
  • District leadership or planning activities involving curriculum or instructional programs
  • Teacher attendance
  • Other measures that demonstrate initiative, commitment, personalization and/or professionalism

Inappropriate measures include:

  • Student attendance
  • Parent attendance at parent involvement events
  • Participation in student extracurricular activities not related to improved academic performance
  • Measures and objectives selected should only reward behaviors or activities that are associated with exceptional performance.

Criterion 4: Hard-to-Staff Subjects

A teacher’s assignment in an area that is experiencing a critical shortage of teachers or has had high turnover, including math, science, special education, technology, bilingual/ESL, foreign language, literacy instruction or areas of need specific to the district.

2006-07 state shortage areas:

  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Foreign Language (languages other than English)
  • Special Education
  • Bilingual Education
  • Technology Applications
  • English as a Second Language (ESL)

Use of remaining 25 percent of funds (Part II)

The remaining 25 percent of funds may be used for a variety of purposes, including: additional incentives for other school personnel such as teachers who did not receive the Part I incentive, or counselors, principals, assistant principals, speech therapists, instructional coaches, teacher aides, nurses, librarians, custodial staff and other campus personnel who have contributed to increased student achievement; professional development for classroom teachers who did not receive an incentive payment based on the skills and behaviors laid out in the incentive plan, but who would benefit from professional development; signing bonuses for classroom teachers new to the campus who are teaching in high-needs subject areas; activities to support teacher-mentoring programs and new teacher induction programs that include mentoring; and other programs that have been proven to recruit and retain highly qualified, effective teachers and to directly contribute to improved student achievement. This funding may not be spent on athletics.

For the 2006-07 grants, Part II funds may be used for awards to teachers who were assigned to the campus in 2004-05 or 2005-06 and are no longer assigned to the campus, as long as they are still working in the district.

What’s next?

As the first two incentive pay plans continue, a third performance pay plan is set to begin Sept. 1, 2007, though TEA has not yet named the program or drafted rules for its implementation. As authorized by HB 1, this program will be open to all campuses and not limited to campuses with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students. Funding is set at $840 per teacher for fiscal year 2008 ($163 million to be used for this program, $100 million for TEEG) and increases to $1,000 per teacher for fiscal year 2009 ($219 million to be used for this program, $100 million for TEEG).

Under the plan, 60 percent of the funds must be used to directly reward teachers who effectively improve student achievement as determined by meaningful, objective measures.  The remaining 40 percent must be used to provide stipends to mentors or teacher coaches, stipends for subject shortage certification, stipends for teachers who are certified in the main subject they teach, stipends for assignment to hard-to-staff schools, stipends for teachers holding post-graduate degrees, awards to principals who effectively increase student performance, awards to other campus employees who demonstrate excellence, or for implementing components of a Teacher Advancement Program.

Conclusion

While incentive pay plans are politically popular, there is little evidence that using financial incentives to entice teachers to certain jobs actually reduces teacher attrition or raises student achievement. And it’s no secret that TCTA and other teacher associations have opposed incentive pay all along, feeling that it diverts money that could be better spent to reward all teachers and raise Texas teacher pay to at least the national teacher salary average. Ultimately, we would prefer to see a restructuring of the incentive pay plan so that the focus is less on pay for student performance and more on pay to recruit and retain teachers. TCTA will be working in the 2007 regular legislative session to address concerns about the incentive programs and will oppose further increases based on performance. Instead, our efforts will be directed toward obtaining an additional across-the-board salary increase, an extension of the salary schedule or other proposals to provide more salary growth for veteran teachers, stipends for mentor teachers and appropriate compensation for instructional aides.

 

The Classroom Teacher, Winter 2006

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