McDonnell Unveils Performance Bonus forTeacher Pilot Project

Gov. Bob McDonnell has the right idea with a new pay-for-performance system the state will be piloting in 25 schools across the commonwealth in the next school year. It would be foolhardy to expect miraculous results, but if the results are even mildly encouraging, Virginia public schools will have a new tool for recruiting and retaining the best teachers.

Participating schools must implement performance standards and a teacher-evaluation system that bases 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on student academic growth. The General Assembly set aside $3 million for the program, which will provide bonuses of up to $5,000 for teachers who win exemplary ratings.

“There is a growing consensus,” said McDonnell in a prepared statement, “that public schools must move beyond a compensation model that equally rewards mediocrity and excellence and is rooted in a past when our young people did not face fierce global competition. Bipartisan support – at both the state and federal levels – is allowing Virginia to implement performance pay in some of the Commonwealth’s most hard-to-staff rural and urban schools. I look forward to this program getting underway. It will benefit our students, parents and teachers.”

It’s a good idea in theory. Teacher quality is the single-most important in-school factor influencing student achievement. Research consistently shows that students learn more from the best teachers. It especially makes sense  for schools in the inner city and the countryside to reward their best teachers. As Roanoke Superintendent Rita D. Bishop said in the press release, “We have had some success with signing bonuses but still lose too many teachers to surrounding divisions. By participating in the performance-pay pilot, we are able to provide additional incentives for talented teachers to remain in four of our schools where they can make a real difference in the lives of students.”

If designed properly, the pilot programs should answer some important questions. Is the uncertain prospect of a $3,000 to $5,000 bonus enough to motivate teachers to do better? Will teachers buy in to the validity of the methodology for calculating gains of their students’ educational achievement? Should teachers even be rated on individual performance when teaching is increasingly team driven? New York City has just announced that it was dropping its three-year performance-bonus program, noting that it had no discernible effect on student achievement.

Virginia’s program is designed very differently than New York’s, which was geared to rewarding the collective performance of teachers and staff. Still, it would be remarkable if Virginia got all the details right on the first try. Before rolling it out statewide, the McDonnell administration should be prepared to tinker with the program for three or four years in order to get it right.

One last point: Ideally, the pilot project would follow the social-science protocol described in “Evidence-Based Social Policy” to ensure that the findings, whatever they are, leave no ambiguity. Otherwise, the politicians and educrats evaluating the results will revert to their default positions and little useful knowledge will be gained.

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4 responses to “McDonnell Unveils Performance Bonus forTeacher Pilot Project”

  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Who wrote this?

  2. Groveton Avatar


    In the future, please run this simple program written in NOVA++ against any anonymous posts.





    PRINT “Groveton wrote it.”;


    PRINT “Probably Bacon.”;


  3. larryg Avatar

    teachers can only teach what is in the curriculum. In many schools, it’s not the teaching that is as much a problem as the curriculum.

    Our multi-nation competition that cleans our clocks academically focuses on core academics and critical thinking of which we dread in this country – those “word problems” that give real life scenarios and ask the student to find a solution using math and science.

    but these are the skills that are needed in the 21st century.

    Our schools – not our teachers so much – basically respond to the parents who do not want their kids “stressed out” but rather want them to get “good grades” so they can get into “good colleges” even if they don’t know guano from guanolo…. in terms of dealing with real world solutions requiring critical thinking.

    You can blame this on teachers and promise to “reward” them for their performance but until you actually specify what it is they are supposed to be performing.. it’ s just a joke.

    I’d also point out that Virtual Virginia offers a wide variety of courses from core academic to electives that are SOL-certified and students have to take and pass SOL tests to get the credit.

    This really does bring up an important question – which is – what is the job of a teacher if a motivated student can go to Virtual Virginia and learn – without sitting in front of and listening to a teacher?

    what are we paying teachers to do? (caveat: no question that real teachers are needed in the lower grades but as pointed out the other day – teaching in the lower grades is a highly skilled and highly collaborative effort.

    but what about Middle and High School? Who is responsible there for “learning” and what is it specifically the teacher is supposed to be doing if the content itself is available almost universally on the web?

  4. larryg Avatar

    another thing to think about here is the content of what is being taught.

    For instance, would you rate the performance of someone teaching Latin IV the same way you’d rate the performance of someone teaching Calculus I?

    Would you rate the same way if the teacher was teaching a core academic Required subject or if the teacher was teaching…say art appreciation or some such?

    Would you rate a teacher – teaching an at risk kid who was a grade level behind the same way you’d rate a high school teacher.. teaching band?

    Are we going to end up with a bunch of performance bonuses for teachers who teach art appreciation and very few or none for middle school teachers in a lower demographic neighborhood trying to teach basic academics?

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