Until this year, Idaho teachers' salaries were based solely on years of experience and the number of credits earned. Period. This system seemed to assume that all teachers and all schools provided equal, added value to student learning. No mention or attention was paid to the quality of instruction or to the measurable levels of student growth or performance.
If America's businesses used this same pay system, where would we be? What would be the incentive to innovate? To work hard? To push for change to be the best? Does this teacher pay structure sound like the powerful free enterprise system upon which this country was built? Why then have schools - where the outcome impacts our most valuable resource - avoided this model for so long?
Our children deserve to have a touch of free enterprise mixed into the compensation system for their educators. Allow teachers a little skin in the game for affecting student achievement. Proposition 2 only slightly adjusts the educational pay system, but it will have a major, positive impact on student learning over time. With Proposition 2, teachers' pay this year will be based approximately 95 percent on the system we've used for many years, experience and education, and 5 percent on improving student performance.
With performance pay, Idaho begins to tangibly express appreciation to teachers for what our society wants from schools: improved student learning on standards, improved graduation rates, improved college entrance scores, improved numbers of students prepared to complete college and enter careers, improved parental input, and more.
How do I know performance pay will work in schools? Personal experience. A little over a decade ago students at New Plymouth Elementary were scoring in the bottom quartile of Idaho in K-3 reading. Our schools were faced with the daunting task of meeting the requirements of the new No Child Left Behind Act.
We needed to get better - quickly. We determined to do some things differently. We needed our teachers and principals to come up with new approaches, to collaborate, to set academic achievement goals and work toward reaching them. Rather than just giving pats on the back to teachers and grade levels that were able to positively impact student improvement, we decided to give small bonuses - as a thank you. As student scores improved, we continued to tinker with our performance pay system for several years before settling in on what is now the essence of Idaho's teacher pay for performance (P4P) plan.
Our demographics have not changed. Our district is now ranked No. 1 in Idaho in K-3 Reading on the IRI, and we are consistently in the upper echelon for all grades and subjects on the ISAT test.
Idaho's P4P plan as approved by the Legislature was developed during three months of conversations and negotiations between representatives of state associations of teachers, administrators, school boards and other government agencies. Each group signed off on the final plan. Two-thirds of Idaho's school districts have since brought teachers and administrators together to craft and implement their local P4P plans, a key component of Idaho's approach.
Some critics contend that there isn't enough data to prove performance pay makes an impact in the classroom, or they say we need more time and research to figure out an equitable system.
These critics are behaving like Hem and Haw in the fable "Who Moved My Cheese?" when really it is time to stop doing what we've always done and try something that legislators, educators and government entities have agreed to, and what has been proven - at least on a local level - to make a difference.
Vote yes on Proposition 2.
Ryan Kerby is superintendent of the New Plymouth School District.