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Wary Teachers Question Gorman’s Pay For Performance Plan

Tom Tomberlin align=left

Part one in a three part series from WFAE. Click here for Part 2 and here for Part 3. There's a good chance that a teacher with 25 years of experience is making more money than a teacher with only 10 years in the classroom. That's because the current system of compensation is mostly based on seniority. CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman wants to change that system. Instead, he wants a system that ties compensation to how well and how poorly teachers perform. It's called pay-for-performance. Additional student testing is a big part of the plan. This week WFAE takes a closer look at pay-for-performance. It's still two years away, but CMS administrators are now developing the system while spending a lot of time explaining and defending it to teachers, as Lisa Miller explains in this report. Tom Tomberlin with CMS's Office of Accountability stands at the front of North Meck high school's auditorium. A couple hundred teachers sit in clumps throughout the room. Tomberlin and his team have made this presentation to some 160 schools. "My goal is not to make you true-believers in pay-for-performance," says Tomberlin. "Good," shouts a teacher. The crowd laughs. "My goal is to give you all the information that I know about this, so that you can make intelligent decisions for yourself." Anxieties are high in this room. North Meck has gone through a lot of change with the opening of Hough high this school year. The make-up of the student body is different. Forty-three percent of students are low-income compared to about 25 percent last year. That's brought more challenges. Teachers are concerned they'll pay the price. A biology teacher speaks up. He talks about the kids who skip class and when they do show up they wear headphones or talk on their cell phones. He feels powerless to get them to learn. "I hear what you're saying," says Tomberlin. "So if you look up here there's one measure, the value-added measure, that measures how a student performs, not what you do, necessarily. The rest of these measures, the other six, are designed to determine whether you are providing the environment that is conducive to the learning." There's a lot of talk about what's called value-added. A value-added score is used to determine through tests how much kids have learned. That growth in learning is what matters most, not the final test score. You get the value-added number by adjusting for several other factors including absences, class size, the number of low-income students at a school, in some cases, even the boy/girl ratio. CMS says its plan will include classroom observations and student surveys. Teachers will also be judged on their willingness to work with others. But how much weight these measures will be given is unclear, since CMS says they're still being developed. Recent studies show pay for performance plans in Nashville and New York City didn't noticeably boost student achievement. One teacher wonders why CMS is so eager to try it here. Superintendent Peter Gorman says it's not just about compensation. It's about helping teachers recognize their shortcomings and improve. Besides, Tomberlin says CMS will do a better job of taking other factors into consideration. "There are things you do that would indicate whether you're a great teacher or not that we would love to be part of your compensation system," says Tomberlin. In this meeting Superintendent Gorman's name comes up a lot. It's clear many teachers here don't trust him. Gorman says the district's plan scheduled to take effect in the 2013-2014 school year won't cut anyone's pay. But these teachers have a hard time believing him. They cite a bill he helped craft that just passed the House. "So there has been a bill introduced to grant CMS pilot status so that the salary could be adjusted in a different way without a teacher vote," Tomberlin tells the teachers. "So essentially that means that even though Dr. Gorman might say that he has no intention of manipulating our salaries, we have absolutely zero guarantee of that," says one frustrated teacher. "Why should he have any credibility to us to give us no information and for us to have to read that in the newspaper that he has secretly gone to his folks and had the bill drawn up and handed it to Ruth Samuelson and introduced it to the legislature. Why should he have any credibility with us?" "I don't have an answer to that," replies Tomberlin. Later Tomberlin says he's not asking them to trust Gorman or CMS administrators like himself, but he says they should trust the teachers who are working in groups to design the measures. We'll take a closer look at one of those teams in tomorrow's report.