Gov. Perdue: Transform schools by paying teachers for actual results

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By Gov. Sonny Perdue

Last month I proposed a new plan that will transform the way we compensate K-12 teachers and leaders in our state. It will put them on the same playing field as our state’s top coaches who are rewarded for consistently winning games.

Our current compensation system credits our teachers only for time in the profession and the level of their advanced degree, not the degree to which our students learn. This antiquated practice encourages some of our most ambitious teachers to leave the classroom, and it prevents some of our best and brightest from ever entering the field in the first place.

The enhanced pay plan will increase the early, mid-career and lifetime earning potential of top teachers and school leaders. Doing so will help the state attract, encourage, reward and retain the best talent in our schools. New teachers will be able to earn much higher pay, much sooner.

Rather than waiting 25 years for a salary that appropriately rewards their teaching abilities, effective teachers can be rewarded much earlier in their careers. Most importantly, the pay proposal will align our compensation system with the mission of our schools: academic achievement.

We developed the plan for enhanced pay after hearing from over 20,000 Georgia teachers, 80 percent of whom said they would like to be evaluated on both classroom observation and the degree to which they have helped students learn.

The enhanced pay model was shaped by our Race to the Top Great Teachers and Leaders Task Force, made up of current and former teachers and leaders with more than 150 years of combined experience in our classrooms and schools.

Already 23 local school districts making up 41 percent of Georgia’s public school students have committed to a similar bonus model through the state’s federal Race to the Top application. The state will implement best practices from those districts in developing and implementing the statewide system.

Since announcing this plan, I have heard from a number of teachers, school leaders and parents that are excited about the possibility of rewarding the hard work that drives student improvement. Understandably, many also have questions about how this new system will work.

First, some have voiced concerns that teachers should not be evaluated or compensated solely on the achievement of their students. I agree. The proposed effectiveness measure will also take peer review and classroom observation into account when evaluating and rewarding a teacher for his or her performance.

Most importantly, a teacher will not be judged on student’s raw achievement, but on a student’s improvement over time. This will ensure a level playing field, keeping top teachers in low-performing schools and giving teachers in high-performing schools something to strive for beyond proficiency.

Others have asked whether non-core teachers could be included in a performance pay system. I believe that non-core teachers are vital in ensuring Georgia’s students are well-rounded and our schools are successful. Non-core teachers will be eligible for performance pay and will be evaluated based on qualitative measures as we work to develop additional quantitative measures for non-core subjects.

Lastly, there is a misconception that a performance pay system will punish educators who have earned advanced degrees. I wholeheartedly disagree. Teachers who have already earned advanced degrees may remain in the current salary structure and continue to be paid for those degrees if they choose to do so. Current teachers will have the choice of opting into the new system, or remaining in the existing one.

It is time that we align our compensation system with the mission of our schools, for the good of our students, for the good of our teachers and for the good of our state.