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Professional Pay/“Merit Pay”


Educators in Oregon public schools deserve professional pay for the important work they do to ensure students succeed in the classroom and in life. Professional pay is a key element in attracting and retaining quality educators - and a quality educator is one of the best predictors of student success.

For those reasons, OEA has long advocated for professional pay. OEA’s efforts to enhance pay for Oregon educators has largely been waged at local bargaining tables around the state and in the legislature. Innovative approaches to enhance pay through bargaining have resulted in higher levels of pay, shortened salary schedules, pay for extra duties, and compensation for accomplishments such as National Board Certification.

Oregon teachers and education support professionals are highly qualified, experienced, and committed. Our teachers hold advanced degrees and forego more lucrative employment because they are committed to Oregon’s future. Our educators work hard to minimize the effects on inadequate education funding and provide great public schools for every student.

Oregon teachers average 14 years of teaching experience. As the state’s education workforce ages, its demographics bring salary costs up. The good news is that our teachers are not only seasoned, but also well-educated; 51 percent hold a Masters degree or higher, a larger percentage than in any other western state. Oregon, as one of only eight states to require a Master’s degree in the licensure renewal process, has among the highest licensure standards in the nation.

With the guidance of member-approved policy, OEA has also actively opposed legislation and efforts such as a 2000 ballot measure that would tie educator pay to performance (a highly subjective instrument). Recently, Oregon and the nation have seen a resurgence of “merit pay” proposals. In November 2008, Oregon voters once again rejected a ballot measure that would have eliminated experience as a factor when determining pay and would inevitably tie pay to subjective measures, such as student test scores and/or performance evaluations. Additionally, local districts and associations have been approached and are pursuing grants offered from the Chalkboard Project that include performance measures in the pay discussion.

Issues to Consider

When comtemplating pay-for-performance proposals, consider the following questions and principles:

Professional and Competitive Pay. Is the pay system competitive with other professions? Will a new system result in higher professional pay? Will there be new money or a reallocation of the same limited dollars?

Adequate and Stable Funding. Is the proposal sustainable over time? How much will it cost? Is there adequate funding and for how long? Will the program be funded by grants? What happens when the grant runs out? Will the program be funded by a reliable funding stream?

Predictability. Can the school district accurately forecast future salary costs with an alternative pay model without rigging the system or creating a ceiling effect that undermines the basic principle?

Tying it to the Test. A standardized test is not the true measure of a student’s success in the classroom and logic would dictate that it shouldn’t be the measure of a teacher’s either. Does the compensation proposal tie pay to student test scores? What will it cost to develop testing systems for the grades/subjects not currently measured by standardized tests?

Getting Good Data. Is the pay system based on proven research? What data is available and is it valid and reliable? Does the data indicate that the system attracts and retains quality educators and improves student achievement?

Equal Access. Does every member of the Association have access? Will the number of employees who get additional pay be limited in order to meet budget? Is it a zero sum game?

Competition vs. Collaboration. We know that students learn better when educators collaborate, share ideas and best practices. Will the compensation proposal foster collaboration or promote competition between educators?

Discrimination in Evaluations. Performance evaluations, when applied, are a great tool for educators to identify and receive the tools they need to help them in their important work. Performance evaluations, however, are only as effective as the person doing the evaluation. Given the subjective nature of evaluations, how can you ensure that discrimination will not play a factor in pay? Will student test scores be included in the evaluation?

Built from the Ground Up. Did educators help build the proposed compensation plan? Does the compensation proposal involve educators in helping build it? What do your members think? Will their views and concerns be considered throughout the process? Does the local EA have to approve the proposal? And what happens if they don’t — will it be imposed on them?

Your Rights to a Fair Contract. Will the proposal be part of the collective bargaining process? Does it interfere with your right to bargain a fair contract? Does the proposal punish members for being active in their union?

Rich vs. Poor. Research shows that pay-for-performance models result in quality teachers being driven away from low performing schools to more affluent schools who’s kids perform better on tests. Will the proposal help close the achievement gap or exacerbate it?

Tools to Do the Job. Does the proposal include resources for tools that help educators do their job – like professional development and mentoring?

Unfunded Mandate. Is this proposal another cookie cutter, unfunded mandate that doesn’t allow for adjustments based on local needs? Even if it’s developed locally, is there a risk that the local model will be used as the poster child for a statewide mandate?

Progress or Panacea? Will the proposal result in increased pay or is it just a smoke screen for its supporters to say they’ve done something to ‘increase teacher pay’?

Who’s For It? Who’s Against It?Is your local association driving the discussion? And who is leading the charge to change the compensation system? What’s their motivation? Who are their supporters and do they support public schools?

Salary Schedule: In or Out? Rather than moving to a new compensation system, would putting a piece of the proposal in the salary schedule (e.g. bonus for achieving National Board certification) accomplish the same if not better and more sustainable result?

Additional Resources