Data should drive teachers’ incentives

........................................................................................................................................................................................

It sounds good: Pay teachers from high-performing schools to go teach on low-performing campuses. But without data driving the selection of those teachers, the results of Gov. Susana Martinez’s latest effort to turn around struggling public schools are anybody’s guess.
Money alone can’t buy school improvement, at least not consistently.
So the governor’s plan to offer $5,000 bonuses to 100 teachers who move from an “A” or “B” school to an “F” school raises the same concerns, namely:
Labeling every teacher at an “A” or “B” school a change agent, and conversely every teacher at an “F” school ineffective, is broad-brushed at best. As in any workplace, great schools have low performers and struggling schools have rock stars. Granted, the rock stars may well gravitate toward higher-performing schools.
Those great teachers who have toiled in struggling schools will continue to receive no recognition and no bonus for their dedication and hard work.
Without a tracking mechanism that ties teacher evaluations to student performance, there’s still no way to know if bonuses are a cost-effective way to spend education dollars.
Going forward, Martinez has addressed the third concern, this fall implementing teacher evaluations tied to student improvement after the Legislature repeatedly refused to do so. That’s good, because under the old system 99.9 percent of the state’s teachers are rated “satisfactory.” So why bother moving anybody?
And, satisfactory in a different setting doesn’t guarantee that $5K will pay off in better grades, better prepared students or graduation rates.
In contrast, Martinez’s plan to offer incentives to teachers who get more students to pass advanced placement classes rewards a positive, measurable result.
The new round of teacher bonuses deserves a try, but they must be tracked to see if they pay off, not only for teachers but for the students whom real education reform is designed to help.