A weekend interview with ...
... Manatee County school teacher Susan Bischoff. A National Board certified teacher, Bischoff was one of 18 members to prepare Performance Pay for Teachers: Designing a System That Students Deserve. Bischoff talks about her involvement with the nonpartisan Center for Teaching Quality and the group's recommendations, which included 1) solve the base pay issue, 2) create a performance pay plan open to all teachers, and 3) reward teachers whose students make significant gains. (Yes, there's more.)
"I have never taken issue with the union position that base pay needs to be higher. You can't really argue that when you've got beginning teachers that can't afford housing. ... That's ridiculous. The only thing I'm taking issue with the union position is, why does it have to be an either-or thing, that you can't do something else to reward teachers who are doing more? Why are we saying we can't have one without the other? We need both.
I have always had the position that not all teachers are doing the same job. You can look out in the parking lot at 3:30 p.m. and know which teachers are taking advantage of the short day that is required. All teachers that I know that are successful go far beyond that minimum requirement. Yet their pay is the same as that person who walked out the door. There's an inequity there. ... It's not a matter of discriminating against a teacher who came to the profession because that's the way they want to and prefer to work. ... That's not the way most of us are, at least not the successful ones. We pride ourselves on accomplishing little miracles every day. And I don't see the problem, coming from data processing. You don't pay a systems analyst the same thing you pay a programmer. That doesn't minimize the programmer's job. ... I'm concerned about our students losing out when you've got math teachers in short supply, so the good ones are going to be working elsewhere. The kids are losing out. If there are shortages ... if that's what it takes to get a teacher in that can teach the students, that has quality, then of course. That's what you would do in any other field.....
Q: The discussion here in Florida about performance pay has not been a happy one.
No it hasn't. And part of the big reason for that in my opinion, and I'm speaking for myself here, is when you're taking something and jamming it from the top down, you're going to have that resistance. It's almost knee-jerk. It doesn't matter if you have a wonderful thing that they were jamming down - and I'm not saying that Florida's plan is a wonderful thing. It's pretty sad. But even if it was a perfectly designed plan, when you tell people that this is the way it is, there's no teachers at the table, no input, it's not going to be well received.
The best plans we saw, like in Denver ... they basically went from school to school to school. The teachers put it together. They knew what would work and what wouldn't work, what would fly and what wouldn't fly. And that plan became highly successful. It came from the bottom up. The one thing we can say in Florida we got money coming from the top down. That's the one consolation prize. If we can set aside our, you know, it ruffles our feathers to have things thrust upon us. But if we can set that aside long enough to make it a better plan, I think over time you could do it. Starting where we are, it's never going to be perfect, but you can make it a little better each round as we learn more and as we educate who's in charge. I think there's hope, even in Florida.
Q: What would you tell the teachers and others who are interested in the topic ... to consider as they move ahead?
In the report itself we wrote a sidebar to teachers. ... We really do know how important it is to have teacher buy in. ... We have a concept that could be taken to teachers and teachers could pick and choose what fits. ... I'm concerned about any plan where you look at the plan and say, 'I don't want to teach here anymore because it would be impossible for me to get my performance pay. That's a very important thing to look at. It's why it needs to be tailored locally. You know your schools. You know the situation. You don't want to be drawing quality teachers from where they're most needed because they can't explain to their families why their checkbook is looking smaller than if they worked at a school a couple of miles away."