Tuesday, January 20, 2009

There's merit to teachers' pay plan

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Shanna Flowers is The Roanoke Times' metro columnist.

Shanna Flowers

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All teachers are not equal.

So why should their pay be equal?

The Roanoke school system is developing a merit-based pay proposal that would reward outstanding teachers.

The proposal is far from complete. But the idea is a good start in leveling the playing field for teachers who merely show up in the classroom and those who perform when they get there.

Roanoke School Board member Suzanne Moore, who worked as a teacher, voted against letting the merit pay idea move forward for further refinement. She wasn't comfortable with the idea of individual evaluations for teachers.

"Education is so different and specialized," she said.

Any industry could make that argument. Yet many of them don't.

The school division's pay-for-performance proposal is common practice in the private sector. Many businesses evaluate employees based on individual achievements that contribute to the overall goals of the company.

Uneasiness with the proposal is to be expected in a profession that traditionally has paid employees based on seniority and academic degrees rather than considering performance as well.

Deputy Superintendent Curt Baker said the proposal "demonstrates to every employee in the school system that what we're attempting to do here is to recognize great work."

Who can quibble with that?

Under the plan, employees' base pay would be 90 percent of the average of surrounding districts and comparable urban districts statewide.

From there, teachers' pay would bump up when the system and school met their goals and the individual teacher met his or her benchmarks.

Employees could earn as much as 121 percent of the market average. That's not chump change. Such a plan would give Roanoke a leg up in recruiting and retaining good teachers.

As a committee of teachers and administrators continue to work on the proposal, they should consider a valid concern raised by school board member Courtney Penn.

He said he feared that the plan would discourage teachers from going to challenging schools.

Perhaps one way to address that concern is not to pit schools against one another. A school's goals should be set individually, based on the improvement needs and resources of that particular building.

The purpose of pay-for-performance is to reward good teachers. The incentives would motivate teachers who in turn would work to motivate students.

If school officials can work out this plan, it could be a win-win for everyone.

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