Having spent the past year working with a group of highly accomplished teachers studying the issue of professional compensation for educators as a part of the first TeacherSolutions team, I was bothered by comments made by Miles Myers—a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Standards, Curriculua and Assessment—in the latest issue of Education Week.

Mr. Myers wrote:

Thanks for the recent article about a so-called teacher panel calling for pay raises for K-12 teachers who increase student performance (“Teacher Panel Calls for Overhaul of Pay Across Profession,” April 18, 2007). The story was a welcome joke at one school¹s brief lunch break, providing an entertaining game focusing on ³Who is a teacher?² and ³How does the panel¹s report propose to measure increased student achievement?²

First, the lunch gang estimated that only seven of the 18 panel members are full-time K-12 teachers. The others are employed as coaches, community college teachers, coordinators, librarians, and facilitators, among other positions, and one is retired. Second, the report does not tell us how increased student achievement is to be measured for purposes of raising teacher pay.

As one of the 7 (actually 10) “full-time K-12 teachers” on the policy team, I figured I’d try to answer Mr. Meyer’s question regarding “how increased student achievement is to be measured for purposes of raising teacher pay.”

Our contention throughout countless hours of conversation was that alternative compensation plans for educators were all too often focused on simplistic models that rewarded top performers on end of grade tests. Having a deep understanding of both children and of the tests that are used for assessment, we recognized that such models (consider Florida’s now-abandoned STAR efforts) rarely identify truly accomplished teaching. To quote our report, standardized tests alone do not “always accurately capture the effect of teachers” because of the wide range of factors that go into student success.

This over-reliance on simplistic measures of student achievement has stood as the primary barrier to reforming the single salary schedule for educators. Constant reporting about the failures of standardized tests and first-hand experience has taught most teachers—and the unions that represent them—that basing salaries on unpredictable measures would be unwise at best. As a result, resistance grows in the ranks of classroom teachers towards compensation plans that could improve our profession by helping us to retain young colleagues frustrated by current systems that are antiquated.

What’s more, using standardized testing as the sole measure for student achievement would do nothing more than encourage teachers to “teach to the test.” Higher level thinking and constructivist approaches to instruction would take a back seat, turning our schools from places of learning into places of rote memorization. Tying compensation to such unprofessional practices would harm students and be inherently irresponsible.

Instead, our plan places emphasis on rewarding teachers who learn to collect and manipulate data on student progress at the classroom level. Recognizing that the most effective information on students is collected over long periods of times and with multiple measures that allow students to approach content—and to demonstrate mastery—from different directions, we’ve advocated for professional compensation models like those in place in Denver and Minneapolis where teachers learn to set goals for student achievement, document progress towards meeting those goals and then amplify the knowledge that they gain from this cycle of reflection on instruction.

Essentially, our argument is that professional compensation that is based on improving student achievement can also serve to incentivize responsible practices as well. Children benefit when their teachers are rewarded for developing complex understandings of “assessment” and “achievement.” When we push ownership of assessment into the hands of educators again, we ensure that high quality instruction can remain a part of every classroom in an era of accountability.

Myers also writes:

So where is the beef in this story? The beef appears to be embedded in a haze around two questions: Why did the panel¹s sponsors, the Joyce, George Gund, and Stuart foundations, pay good money for such a hustle, and why did Education Week run an article on it? Only one guess per person!

My guess is that the Joyce, Gund and Stuart foundations paid good money for our project because they realized that the best educational policies must be informed by the knowledge of classroom teachers.  Educational policies have failed in this nation for decades because they are crafted by those who are often furthest removed from the real work of schools.

Policies developed by senior researchers and long-serving policy wonks only are often doomed from the start because they are divorced from the reality of our work. Listening to the voices of career educators on critical issues is the first step towards ensuring that our system of public education serves every child well.

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