Performance Pay Considered for County Teachers

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 10, 2009

A test run of a performance-pay plan for Prince William County teachers could come to classrooms in the 2010-11 school year, drawing the county into a national debate about whether to tie teacher pay to student achievement.

The county School Board voted unanimously last month to have staff members draw up recommendations about different pay methods. School Board member Grant Lattin (Occoquan), who drafted the proposal, said that he hoped that performance pay could help close the achievement gap between low-income and minority students and their peers.

"Both President Obama and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, have specifically mentioned this kind of a program in the last few weeks," Lattin said.

Under the scenario envisioned by Lattin, classrooms in a limited number of schools would switch to performance pay in the 2010-11 school year. Depending on the results, the pay method could be expanded from there.

Tying teacher pay to student performance has gained influential backers over the past year. In a federal budget proposal unveiled last week, Obama allocated $517 million for performance pay grants, up from $97 million in last year's budget. The stimulus package included $200 million for the programs.

Performance pay has often been opposed by teachers unions, which tend to support uniform raises for teachers and permanent tenure. But in recent years, unions have shown more willingness to experiment with pay plans.

In Prince George's County this year, exceptional teachers at 12 schools were offered bonuses of up to $10,000, a plan that drew union support. In Arlington County, teachers have opportunities to earn permanent salary increases by creating portfolios to demonstrate their abilities.

But a performance-pay plan has proved a major sticking point in the District in negotiations between Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and the Washington Teachers' Union. That plan would reward teachers with large bonuses if their students performed well but would require them to give up their tenure in exchange.

In Prince William, Lattin suggests that different kinds of performance pay could be considered. Teachers could be paid bonuses to attract them to historically low-performing schools, as one example, he said. Another could tie teacher pay more directly to student performance.

"I'm not sure just what kind of program would be best," Lattin said. "I'm just anxious to explore whatever possibilities there are out there."

School staff members have not set their timeline and are unsure when recommendations will be released, said Prince William schools spokesman Ken Blackstone.

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