Beware Florida teachers! The Gates Foundation has been instrumental in taking away your job security, your annual step increases, and now it looks like they may be coming for your advanced degree pay next! In a new report released by the National Council on Teacher Quality (which is primarily funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as Walmart’s education reform foundation, the Walton Foundation), Florida is used as a case study for merit pay failure. The report entitled, “Backing the Wrong Horse. The Story of One State’s Ambitious But Disheartening Foray Into Performance Pay” deems Florida’s merit system unsuccessful due to the fact that teachers still earn more money for advanced degrees than they do for being rated highly effective.

The irony of calling advanced degree pay “the wrong horse” is particularly grotesque for teachers. Teachers are supposed to instill an appreciation for learning in their students and make them believe that academics will have some financial reward for them in the future. By taking away pay for advanced degrees for teachers, we are essentially telling students that education does not matter and will not benefit them monetarily.

Given the current teacher shortage in Florida since the passage of the Race to the Top inspired SB 736 legislation, it seems like the report released by the NCTQ should have been entitled, “Backing the Wrong Horse. The Total Failure of Merit Pay to Recruit and Retain High Quality Teachers.”

Alas, the Gates and Walton Foundations are still clinging to their disproven theory that performance pay for teachers will somehow save the American public school system. In their bubbles of private finance, they don’t seem to understand what American teachers have always understood, in the world of publicly financed institutions, any bonuses awarded for performance will be lilliputian compared to bonuses earned in corporate America.

The report begins with a promising tone, emphasizing the importance of competitive salaries and even concedes that many organizations pay more for experience.

“There’s no silver bullet to attract and retain effective teachers. In order to recruit and retain top talent in the classroom, schools must implement a multi-pronged strategy. An essential component of that strategy is a competitive compensation package. Pay matters. Indeed, research demonstrates that teachers who are satisfied with their pay are less likely to be interested in leaving their jobs.

As is true in any job sector, salaries set by a school district reflect its priorities and values, along with the priorities and values of the state. Although it is not necessarily true that the employee with the highest salary is also the most valued employee, the salary an employee earns is a partial reflection of particular attributes valued by the employer. For example, new employees typically earn relatively small salaries compared with salaries earned by long-term employees because many organizations highly value employee experience.” (p.1)

By page 2 the tone of the report has shifted and the chastisement of Florida begins,

“While the road from legislation to implementation is rarely smooth, in the case of Florida it takes a u-turn. Only two out of the 18 Florida districts we analyzed are implementing performance pay systems that comply with the spirit of the law. Sixteen of the 18 districts we analyzed continue to award teachers who earn an advanced degree — one of the traditional routes to earning a higher salary in teaching a higher annual salary award than teachers who earn a top rating based on their classroom effectiveness, contradicting the law’s intent. These 16 districts appear wedded to a pay system based on the disproven hypothesis that an advanced degree will make a teacher more effective.”

Although an advanced degree is no guarantee that a teacher will be highly effective, from personal experience I can attest to the fact that having more content knowledge in my subject area obtained by pursuing an advanced degree, does indeed make me a more effective teacher.

At least the report is honest at times and concedes that there actually is no data to suggest that performance pay attracts top talent to the profession or entices them to stay,

“The promise of performance pay is both to encourage talented individuals to consider a teaching career and entice high-achieving teachers to stay in the classroom. The research that would cement these advantages is still quite thin. Although there is little evidence that performance pay systems cause teachers to become more effective, there is some early research, albeit limited, demonstrating that school districts that adopt performance pay systems experience significantly greater success attracting teachers with higher academic aptitude.”

Poor Florida has gone from “best practice” merit pay darling of the NTCQ to the “wrong horse” merit pay failure in just two years.

“In NCTQ’s most recent (2015) biannual State Teacher Policy Yearbook, Florida was highlighted as a “best practice” state for the strength of its performance pay policy.7 Specifically, we celebrated Florida’s policy for allowing “local districts to develop their own salary schedules while preventing districts from prioritizing elements not associated with teacher effectiveness.” (p.5)

The NTCQ is appalled that performance pay awards are still smaller than advanced degree payments and at times may even be smaller than the COLA. *Miami-Dade teachers please note that a COLA stands for a Cost of Living Adjustment. I know we haven’t heard that term used in Miami-Dade in over a decade, but most districts still believe that inflation exists and adjust salaries accordingly.

“In addition, the new law aims to ensure that no universal source of teacher pay would supersede performance pay as the largest salary award available to teachers. Many districts nationwide provide teachers with an annual adjustment in pay through a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, which helps to ensure that a teacher’s purchasing power is not diminished by inflation. Florida’s performance pay policy does not rule out a COLA, but it specifies that districts may not use such an adjustment to exceed 50 percent of the annual adjustment provided to a teacher rated as Effective.” (p.6)

Let’s move on to what got Florida branded the “wrong horse.” According to the NTCQ, Florida is paying way too much money for those silly advanced degrees.

“In the clear majority of Florida school districts in this study during the 2016-2017 school year, the dollar amount of performance pay awards falls well behind the award amounts associated with a teacher’s degree status. Nearly all districts continue to offer salary supplements that are higher than their adjustments for Highly Effective teachers, functionally ensuring that attainment of a graduate degree is the most significant factor in salary award determinations. This distinction between salary supplements and salary adjustments is critical. It appears, in effect, to function as a loophole that enables many of Florida’s districts to continue to place a higher value on an advanced degree than performance.”

“Among the districts we reviewed, there are two noteworthy outliers: Hillsborough County Public Schools and Duval County Public Schools. These districts compensate effectiveness at a higher rate than advanced degree attainment. Hillsborough does not distinguish between its Effective and Highly Effective teachers, as a teacher earning either an Effective or a Highly Effective designation in Hillsborough qualifies for the same salary award. ” (p.6)

While the NTCQ may think Hillsborough County and Duval County are to be commended for not offering much of a financial reward for advanced degrees, as a highly effective teacher with an advanced degree, those are two counties I would steer clear of in a job search. Why would I want to work in Duval County where I am only offered $1,042 for my Master’s degree when I go across the state to Sarasota County and be paid $5,066 for the same degree?

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Note that Hillsborough county offers zero payment for advanced degrees and exactly the same pay for effective and highly effective teachers. This actually means that Hillsborough County is not following the merit pay law at all since highly effective teachers are supposed to make more money than effective teachers. The only reason “merit pay” awards in Hillsborough are worthy of recognition by the NTCQ is that the amount of the award is larger than advanced degree pay since the amount for advanced degree pay is ZERO. Similarly, the only reason Duval County has a merit pay award higher than advanced degree pay is because they pay so little for advanced degrees, not because their merit pay awards are much larger than any other district. So the answer to merit pay according to the NTCQ, is not to make the amount of merit pay awards much larger, but to make the amount awarded for advanced degrees much smaller and even further de-professionalize teaching.

The irony behind the NTCQ commending teacher pay in Hillsborough County goes beyond the fact that they don’t even follow the Florida merit pay law and that highly effective teachers are not rewarded with greater pay which is the primary tenet of Gates inspired education reform. Hillsborough County was the recipient of a $100 million Gates Foundation grant that bankrupted the district and the foundation pulled their funding out before the grant was even completed.

Talk about “backing the wrong horse”! The wrong horse to back in education has time and time again been any reform funded by the Gates Foundation! Gates has even admitted himself that the billions of dollars he has spent on education reform has not resulted in improving American schools. Any school district considering future grants from the Gates Foundation needs to read the entirety of this article about the economic fiasco in Hillsborough County. I can think of no greater example of an institution “backing the wrong horse” than Hillsborough County’s $100 million Gates Foundation performance pay boondoggle (actually it was $200 million since the county had to bring matching funds).  Certainly a much worse horse than paying teachers for advanced degrees. 

The end of the NTCQ’s report finishes with the typical education reform allegiance to performance pay based on test scores.

“Florida’s performance pay law emphasizes that adjustments for Highly Effective teachers must be the highest available through any salary schedule, and yet, in most districts we reviewed, our findings demonstrate a clear disconnect between the spirit of the law and its implementation. This means that the majority of the districts we reviewed are continuing to invest significant sums of money each year in a compensation system that is not reflective of what they no doubt value most: student learning and growth.”

Note that “student learning and growth” is a politically correct way of saying “test scores.” They really don’t care about any kind of “growth” that can’t be measured by a multiple choice question and some good old fashioned psychometrics.

Given that Florida’s forays in merit pay have failed to attract and retain high quality teachers and conversely, created a teacher shortage, instead of listening to organizations like the National Center for Teacher Quality funded by the Gates Foundation, Florida legislatures might do a better job of attracting teachers by listening to the people who actually represent the views of teachers. Hillsborough County’s union director offered some common sense suggestions to teacher pay which do much more to recruit and retain teachers than stripping them of yet another means of improving their meager pay.

“Baxter-Jenkins, the union executive director, said she wanted to do right by long-time teachers who had been underpaid through prior pay schedules.

“You cannot leave out the people who gave their life here and stuck to this district through thick and thin,” she said.

Regardless of what reformers might say, Baxter-Jenkins said it’s not reasonable to expect a teacher to commit to a job that offers no expectation of increased earnings.

“While I think performance pay is fine,” she said during a recent bargaining session, “having good base salaries is a much better draw for people to become teachers and stay teachers.”

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