- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2008

BALTIMORE | School systems across Maryland are considering performance pay for teachers and principals.

Maryland’s teachers union, like others across the country, has been skeptical about the prospect of bonuses and has voiced concern that rewards could be made unfairly.

“We have not seen any hard evidence yet that it improves achievement,” said Daniel Kaufman, a spokesman for the Maryland State Teachers Association.

A good teacher-evaluation system is more important to school systems than increasing pay for some teachers, said state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, Prince George’s Democrat, who is a former teacher and a field representative for the teachers union.

Pressure to improve student achievement and a teacher shortage have driven some officials to offer teachers and principals extra pay or bonuses when they take on challenging assignments or raise test scores.

Denver, Houston and New York have offered additional compensation, but the practice is not widespread.

Anne Arundel and Harford counties have taken small steps by offering merit pay to principals and assistant principals. In Harford County, for example, principals are reviewed every two years to see whether they will receive an additional 3 percent in pay.

Historically, only 12 percent to 20 percent of principals have received the merit increases, said Jonathan D. O’Neal, Harford County assistant superintendent of human resources.

After negotiating with the principals and administrators bargaining unit, Baltimore is expected to begin an ambitious plan to pay principals up to 10 percent of their salary in an annual bonus.

Prince George’s County will be the first district to institute pay for performance for teachers, using a $17 million federal grant spread over five years to begin offering bonuses. The voluntary pay-for-performance plan will begin in only 12 low-performing schools.

The system tries to overcome concerns about fairness by giving teachers extra pay for a variety of categories. For example, teachers could receive $1,500 for teaching in a subject that is hard to staff or get a bonus for taking on extra duties, such as writing a grant or mentoring a new teacher.

The biggest bonus for a teacher, up to $5,000, would come for raising test scores.

Teachers are judged not only on whether their students pass tests, but also on how much progress their students have made, said John E. Deasy, Prince George’s school superintendent.

“If they learn more, then you get rewarded” he said. “Think about the technical expertise that goes into that teaching.”

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