July 16th, 2012
04:00 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Readers debate linking teacher pay to student performance

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

(CNN) - A new law in Ohio links teacher pay to student performance on standardized tests. Traditionally, teachers are assessed through direct observation, and student outcomes in the classroom don't usually affect their pay. Ohio public school districts will now give each teacher a grade, and half of that grade will be based on students’ test scores. These grades, and thus the exam results, could lead to salary decisions, promotions and terminations.

Pay for performance isn’t new, but it certainly is controversial. Judging from readers’ responses to our story, there aren’t just two sides to this issue, but many.

Even commenters who identified themselves as educators have a variety of opinions:
(Note: Some comments have been edited for space or clarity.)

Thor Mentor
In the ISD where I work as a teacher in an inner city school (in a state where they say everything is bigger), similar policy will be implemented starting this 2012-2013. It's a year ahead than in Ohio. There are many variables which account for students' achievement aside from teachers – parents, administrators, politicians, and students themselves, to name a few. I do my job well and work hard but I am not a miracle worker. Let all the stakeholders be accountable for the sake of fairness.

I am a teacher and I agree with this new law! I am a teacher in one of the lowest states in the US. I teach at the lowest school in the state and every year I have scores that are some of the highest in the school, district, and the state. Great teachers should be compensated for their hard work. There is no excuse for such a high percent of minimal performing students. I don't care how awful my students' parents are. It's my job to work with what I have and ensure they learn too. Education and a few others is the only job where employees are not paid based on performance. Some of us work extra hard and should be paid accordingly. Those who don't or can't should find something else to do.

There are so many variables that go into test scores that many people who are not in the profession will never know. Lawmakers and non-teachers always blame the teachers for poor scores..but lets put some blame or praises to the parents. I know for a fact that having supportive parents who have good parenting skills will help a child learn much faster and better than non-supportive parents. It can't be my fault if a child hardly comes to school and never completes his/her homework.

I am a Texas high school teacher and I would WELCOME some kind of merit based pay. Much like a commission. You get a base salary and bonuses for performance. I am an excellent teacher and it is completely asinine that a bad teacher next door to me can make 10K – 15K more than me just because they have taught for 15 more years than me. There are ways to deal with the differences in socioeconomics and tying it to test scores. You do statistical analysis of the entire "group" in that category and then do a comparison of your school / classroom to the average. It can work and it should be a PORTION of the evaluation process. Teachers should NO LONGER be paid solely on how long they have taught.

Veteran special ed. teacher
Has anyone considered what this will do to the choices of teachers to be? If I was a beginning teacher I would think twice about teaching challenging, special needs or deprived students, who historically do not necessarily score well on standardized testing. Teaching challenging kids might mean that these teachers will be penalized in pay, fired or their teaching reputations marked, because of their students' basic conditions.

Some readers warn that this new law could see a shortage of teachers in low-performing or lower-income districts:

I have taught at two completely different schools with different student populations, getting much different results with the same teaching style and strategies on the district-wide tests. This law would basically mean that I would NEVER go back to teach the students who did not perform as well, even though they needed my help and expertise even more so.


Inner city schools will find it even harder to find teachers. Charter schools and schools in wealthy districts will not. Thanks Ohio.

While one Ohio teacher thinks that the new law could cause a shortage in districts where students do well on tests:

I teach in Ohio in a high-performing district and I think that this could potentially discourage teachers from teaching in high-achieving districts, contrary to what most people believe. I have also taught in a low-performing district in a poor area for 3 years previously. This model is based off of student GROWTH. While it is not easy, the potential to produce large amounts of student growth is much greater at the low-performing schools than it is in the high-performing schools. I had quite a few kids make 2-3 years worth of growth when I taught in the low-performing district. It is very rare for kids to make 2-3 years worth of growth in my current school because 90% of them come to me at or above grade-level. … If the new system was just based on the passage rate, then low-performing districts in poor areas would have a HUGE problem attracting and retaining teachers. However, since the system is based on GROWTH I don't think this will be a problem. I think that the law is fair for the most part and I am very interested to see how it will be implemented.

Several readers worried about the law’s possible unintended consequences:

IT DOESN'T WORK...the states that are doing this having failing educational systems. Teachers will 'teach to the test' and not the skills that need to be taught. The high school dropout rate will increase. PLAN ON BUILDING MORE PRISONS.

It will not work and this is why. Once Kids know that if a bunch of them do bad on the state required test they can get the teacher fired they will. They will band together and if you don't think that is true you don't know kids….Kids today don't care and don't care who they hurt. This is a bad idea just like teaching towards a state test is a bad idea.

The end result is the teachers will teach the test which is not good. But this does keep weak teachers on task and in attendance.

Phil in Oregon
The worst part of this is the ceding of power to the students. Giving power to children is always a bad idea and will never produce good results. The US govt could go a long way toward giving students a good example by getting some things done.

Readers of Schools of Thought often debate the role of parents in education, and how much influence teachers have over student outcomes, and that theme emerged in discussions about Ohio’s new law:

At your job you have direct control over your work...as a teacher, its up to the students to do work at home and the parents to be involved. The same parents BTW who often think their kids do no wrong.
So yeah, not exactly the same setup is it? Kinda the reason suburban school often our perform inner city schools. Very little to do with the teaching and very much to do with the environment and parental involvement.

clearly what is wrong with public education is the insistence that we use performance on standardized tests that assume all children mature at the same rate and learn in the same way. We have the technology to individualize and personalize instruction to meet the unique needs of every child and we are squandering it on "measuring student growth" based on age-linked cohorts. As long as we think of schools as factories designed to sort students into two or three "piles" we will continue to use tests to bludgeon students, teachers, and public education.

Everyone it seems except public sector workers (and some big executives) is employed based on merit of work and compensated for it. Teachers can adhere to the same standards the rest of us have to. Given their positions, they should be held to a higher standard.

I wonder how many people who have commented that this is a good thing would like THEIR job relying on a single test score that they have no control over how the test was designed or by whom or why, or if the test was designed by legislative corporate cronies with a political axe to grind against teachers, or if the test is valid and reliable and has no political bias. Also, if their job relied on parents that don't care, a gutting of funds for even textbooks that students are to (maybe...in their spare time off the unsupervised internet or video games until the wee hours of the morning) read… So, if you think that it's such a good idea to do this to teachers, then let's do it for doctors, nurses, lawyers, etc... And YOU dear reader that supports this legislation. Let's see how YOU like having YOUR job depend on the whim of politicians and 12 year olds.

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soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. EdResearch

    While it is hard to argue with the idea that teachers should be evaluated and rewarded based on results, people really haven't thought through the testing mechanism. Check out the Charlotte-Mecklinburg school district's experiences. They were very early supporters of this idea. Parents were wildly enthusiastic about it and pushed it through – yes! evaluate our teachers through student performance! Then, last fall they were introduced to the 400 new tests their kids would be subjected to in order to evaluate every teacher. Tests on everything from first grade art to high school PE. Now parents are upset about how much time is lost in the school year to testing (and test prep) and how much money goes to test developers, printing, etc. And money will continue to go to corporations from their taxes: these tests have to be constantly upgraded – can't keep using the same questions every year! Now they want to stop and reevaluate. Be careful what you wish for.....

    July 26, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  2. ateachertoo

    I am a hard working teacher at a very low income level district. Almost 90% of our student population is on free/reduced lunch. Now, those of you who think its a good a idea to pay teachers based on test scores or student growth have a point that teachers do need to be rewarded. I would love to get extra pay for the all the extra time and hard work I put into my job. With that said, I don't want my pay based solely or even 50% on students who I have no control over when they go home or even if they come to school. I have taught kids with great potential but because they are not old enough to drive or for that matter get themselves off to school by themselves they do not come. How would you like your pay based on factors you can't control. Try teaching a student that only comes 3 out of 5 days a week or misses full weeks at a time and not having parents care or make up excuses. Then to only have them move when charges are filed and then move back closer to the end of the year and you be responsible for their test scores but haven't taught them long enough to make an impact. Or try getting a raise with students who are not identified as having a learning disability and struggling all year to find a way to reach these kids, feeling totally defeated when they don't make the gains you so strongly fought for, to then a year or two later be told they finally qualified and are now in a special ed unit. With those scores I would be fired for not doing my job but admin not seeing all my research into professional development books to see how to best help these students or the countless hours I would spend redoing lessons to accommodate them or the extra time I would spend with them during down time/lunch/recess or whenever to help them. See a teacher needs to be paid what he/she is worth but based on student test scores–does not give the full picture. Besides, I say if we as teachers get our pay reduced for a student not performing well, then their parents should get their pay reduced as well because parents are their children's first teacher. IF they didn't do their job right, how am I supposed to do mine.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:16 am |
  3. DfromtheD

    You have it all wrong... A friend of the family (who is a successful business owner and is worth at least $10 million) put it this way to me...

    Paying teachers for performance is completely backwards... In a pure businessmodel, teachers are not the worker, per se' but rather the manager – the students are the workers. The teacher manages and then evaluates the education process. In the corporate world, the manager (teacher) holds his or her workers accountable through the evaluation process. Workers who can't cut it or aren't doing their job (homework, studying, coming to class on time and prepared) are let go and in the long term, the manager is rewarded for keeping these poor performing employees at bay.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  4. Steve T

    There are many factors contributing to student success and teacher quality is only one. In Florida, half a teacher's performance evaluation is based on test scores; as reasonable as this may sound to some, do we really want 50% of a teacher's rating left to a snapshot, single-day, focus and mood of a teenager? Many people are drawing the comparison to the private sector: let's expand that. Why don't we insist that hospitals and insurance companies stop paying cardiologists whose patients continue to smoke and ignore instruction. Then let's do the same with dentists whose patients don't listen and never brush/floss.

    July 17, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  5. NHWoman

    The biggest problem with this, I believe, is that we will stop sharing ideas about how to do our job well. I'm not going to let someone else get credit (and pay) for my work.

    July 17, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • concerned

      Great point.

      July 18, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  6. John Keating

    Ohio was it? You've got to be kidding. Has anyone promoting state testing as a measure of anything other than SES taken a course in statistics and measurement? I hope this lunacy subsides and control of teaching and learning in schools is returned to expert teachers. I fear we may be approaching the point of no return with regard to recapturing all that was excellent in American education. Carpe Diem!

    July 17, 2012 at 1:31 am |
  7. Sherbeam

    In addition to the issue of whether linking teacher pay to student performance makes sense, we should also be looking at the fact that in the U.S. we tend to pay new prison guards more than we pay new teachers. Time to let voters know how funding of prisons and criminal justice is often related to reduction in fund of education. Time to http://www.thinkoutsidetheboxca.org

    July 16, 2012 at 6:38 pm |