Are teachers on board as Gwinnett rolls out merit pay?





Gwinnett County Public Schools is rolling out a performance-based pay model that the superintendent calls "revolutionary" and a key to raising both student achievement and teacher morale.

Saying few districts have the capacity for such bold reform, school chief J. Alvin Wilbanks credits the collaboration of teachers and administrators with finally making performance pay a reality in Gwinnett after more than three years of study.

Wilbanks said the new approach will end “the practice of teachers being treated the same, regardless of individual performance.”

A factor in evaluating how well a teacher performs will be student growth on district tests. In a long video message to teachers, the superintendent said: "We believe there are great teachers in every school in the district who deserve to be celebrated. Rewarding outstanding teachers will help us with teacher recruitment, retention and morale, all of which impact student achievement. And we believe that incentivizing top performance in every school will go a long way to helping us improve the education we provide across the district."

Do teachers agree?

A Gwinnett middle school teacher told me:

I am surprised there hasn't been more focus on Gwinnett's new pay for performance plan. A huge chunk of 'potential bonuses' for teachers now comes from county test scores. Students have to take pre-tests, midterms, and finals in every class at nearly every grade level. We are testing them to death!

To put things in perspective, for my students that is six classes times three tests per semester -- 36 tests per year or 48 hours of testing during the school year. These are tests written by the county that teachers aren't allowed to see or review with students. Why aren't more parents talking about this?

I don't know a single person happy about Pay for Performance. We are told to collaborate on designing great lessons for kids, then we compete for bonuses based on test scores. That isn't fair.

According to a district explainer on the new model: This salary schedule acknowledges performance— not time on the job— as the impetus for movement on the salary schedule.

icon to expand image

Contending the approach is fair, Wilbanks said:

It allows as many teachers as possible to be eligible for an award based on great work in the classroom. Exceptional teachers will have a chance to receive an award above and beyond what is earned on the salary schedule. No teacher will be paid less as a result of those awards…the Gwinnett Board of Education and I know intelligent, skillful and talented teachers are needed in every classroom in our schools. That's what every child deserves. To help us attract and retain teachers of such quality, we want to offer them a chance to be rewarded for doing outstanding work. Beginning in the fall of 2019, over 3,000 of our top teachers at each school and across the district will be recognized annually with a monetary award.

Here is what Wilbanks also said on the video that seems to concern teachers: “We are confident that we will have developed a sound and fair method for determining which teachers receive a performance-based award.”

While Wilbanks said the method may not be perfect, “... it is the best we have seen anywhere, and we will continue to refine it. For now, however, we cannot let the desire for perfection keep us from doing something remarkable that could forever change how teachers are compensated in Gwinnett.”

Your thoughts? Is Gwinnett offering a reward for great teaching or great test scores? Are they the same?