Will Schools Keep Ignoring Teacher Effectiveness When Setting Pay?

The teacher tenure and teacher evaluation reforms signed into law this week by Gov. Rick Snyder significantly revise the school staffing process. Among other changes, layoffs and recalls will no longer be based solely on seniority, and schools will have to use teacher effectiveness as a guide in making these staffing decisions.

However, when it comes to setting teacher pay levels, nothing has changed: Individual teacher performance, and whether their students are learning, will still be completely ignored.

Teachers in Michigan’s 550 school districts are nearly all paid in the same manner: compensation is based exclusively on longevity and academic pedagogy credentials. Regardless of the subject taught, a “single salary schedule” within each school district prohibits rewarding highly effective teachers by paying them more.

School employee unions like the Michigan Education Association argue that this model is the most “fair.” But since it completely neglects the impact that different teachers have on student learning, the system seems anything but fair to students, parents and taxpayers.

Interestingly, legislation passed under the Granholm administration as part of the federal “Race to the Top” incentive program requires school districts to include job performance as a “significant factor” when determining teacher compensation. It doesn’t appear, however, that the loosey-goosey language of that revised statute is having any effect in causing school districts to ditch the single salary schedule.

Indeed, most districts have no system in place by which they can adequately measure the impact of different teachers on student achievement. This may change under the new tenure and staffing laws, however: House Bill 4627 — now Public Act 102 of 2011 — establishes a comprehensive assessment program that will rate teachers on a scale from “highly effective” to “ineffective.” Only time will tell whether the union succeeds in “gaming” the new system into irrelevancy. If they do, Michigan could become a school instruction “Lake Woebegone,” where all the teachers are above average.

Making student learning and teacher effectiveness count more than than mere longevity is a long overdue reform. The next step is to challenge a one-size-fits-all single salary schedule. Is paying these highly trained professionals in the same manner as 20th century assembly line workers really the best way to attract high-performers to the teaching profession?

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.