The state is giving three school districts grants to study two different pay systems for Iowa teachers. Iowa Department of Education legislative liaison, Jeff Berger, says two of the grants are to develop student performance plans.
Berger says those grants are intended to look at current pay systems, and modify them to reward teachers for demonstrating positive student achievement gains, so instead of basing pay on years of experience and amount of education, you’re rewarding teachers based in part how well students perform.
The MOC-Floyd Valley and Mount Pleasant school districts are working on the performance plans. A third grant was awarded to the Cedar Rapids Community School District for a Career Ladder planning grant. Berger says the career ladder rewards teachers for "demonstrated improved practice" where if teachers can show they’re improving their performance in the classroom, then the teachers can earn more money.
Berger says the career planning grant follows more closely to the 2001 career ladder model in use now. He says the pay for performance plan is one that would require more change. "The troublesome thing with the student achievement piece, is, it’s very difficult to include all teachers in that because we don’t have assessments that are valuable and reliable in every single content area at every single level,"Berger says, "for example, what would you do with an art teacher, what would you do with a special ed teacher, what do you do with a first grader, you aren’t giving a standardized test to first grader necessarily. And if you can’t include all teachers equally, that’s a real problem with the pay for performance model."
Berger says the pay for performance issue has been a hot topic, but he says the devil’s in the details and makes it hard to do well, as Berger says many people who talk about pay for performance have never really designed a compensation system.
The Iowa Legislature set aside one million dollars for a maximum of ten grants, but only three were awarded. Berger admits that’s not a great response. Berger say the turnout was low, and he says there were a couple of reasons for that. He says there was some skepticism about the whole approach and whether it could be cone well,and secondly, teacher contracts are set a year in advance and it would take a lot of work to revamp a system that’s already in place.
Berger says the grants will try to address issues that have been key topics of conversation in education. He says it’s fortunate the grants are going to a very large, a middle size and a small school district to give a good demographic split. "I think the state is going to be interested in seeing what happens and we’re going to be doing some sort of independent evaluation to see if it worked like it was supposed to," Berger says, "and if there are some viable concepts there, it certainly could enter into some sort of statewide conversation.
The schools have one year to work on the planning process, and then they can apply for a two-year implementation grant.