The movement to link teacher salary increases to student achievement took a major step forward in Maryland yesterday, as the state's largest teachers union began publicly discussing pay for performance.
While union leaders do not support all of the ideas suggested at yesterday's forum, they indicated they're willing to talk about ideas such as paying more to teachers meeting certain standards or giving bonuses to staffs at schools with large test score gains.
"We need to open our eyes to some of these ideas," said Karl K. Pence, Maryland State Teachers Association president.
The idea of tying teacher salaries to something other than years of experience is slowly gaining popularity nationwide. Last fall, Denver teachers agreed to try out performance pay for some teachers, and Minneapolis teachers accepted a contract that included extra money for achieving goals.
"At both the state and local levels in 2001, there is going to be a new rash of activity," said Allan Odden, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, who spoke with the MSTA and others yesterday. "My hope is that we can avoid the failed syndrome of merit pay."
Merit pay -- vigorously opposed by teachers across the nation -- involves giving extra pay to the top 10 percent or 20 percent of teachers in schools, usually with little criteria as to why some teachers get the extra money.
The new trend is for a portion of teachers' salary increases to be linked to meeting certain standards, such as passing teacher exams or earning certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
"This is knowledge and skills pay. When teachers show they have met the skills that they need to have, they qualify for a pay increase," Odden told the collection of teachers union leaders from across the state -- as well as many state and local school board members, elected officials and superintendents.
In Maryland, the move to link pay to teacher performance has been led recently by Prince George's County's first-year superintendent, Iris T. Metts, who has tied a portion of her salary to her system's performance. Metts says she wants to negotiate performance pay with the county's teachers union in the next few years.
State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick supports the concept, though she acknowledges most teacher pay issues are negotiated at the local school system level.
Odden -- one of the country's leading researchers into using teacher pay to improve student achievement -- said Maryland is the first state in which the state teachers union invited him to speak at a statewide meeting.
"If you're willing to talk about it, it's possible you can change compensation as part of your standards-based reform efforts in Maryland," he told state educators.
Maryland awards money to elementary and middle schools posting large gains on the state's annual exams for two consecutive years, but that money can be used only to support instruction through activities such as buying new textbooks or giving teachers more training.
Some Maryland school systems award extra pay to teachers who earn national certification, and the General Assembly approved such a measure last spring, though it will not receive funding until next school year.
Odden suggested that the state consider bonuses for those working at improving schools -- not just for teachers, but for all staff members.
While teachers union leaders said they hope to continue discussing pay for performance, they said the more critical salary issue is increasing it for all teachers. "With all of the wonderful things we have done in education in Maryland, we haven't kept pace in compensation for teachers," Pence said.