Bryant calls for teacher merit pay

Published 11:30 pm Friday, July 27, 2012

On Friday Gov. Phil Bryant announced a plan to improve student achievement, a plan that would use teacher salaries as an incentive for teaching excellence, and the superintendent of the school district said it’s an idea worth considering in Vicksburg.

“We are definitely not against pay for performance,” said Dr. Elizabeth Swinford, Vicksburg Warren School District superintendent. “Teachers should be recognized for going above and beyond, but there are some variables with the program that make us frown.”

The new system would measure student performance in such ways as standardized testing and reward the teachers accordingly.

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Swinford said she met with her leadership team at the beginning of the year to discuss the possibility of a performance-based system, and the team favored the idea but had a few concerns.

“A paper performance system needs to be equitable, and it’s hard to measure performance in classes like music and P.E. where there is no standardized testing,” Swinford said.

The team also discussed the difficulty in implementing a fair system.

“Teachers are hired to teach, there are no questions about that, but as educators we have no control over the home environment,” Swinford said. “From teacher to teacher it could create some inequity, like if you have seven students that are really good and I only have three.”

She added that some teachers would have a built-in advantage by teaching gifted programs. “It’s harder in junior high and high schools with specialized programs,” Swinford said. “It would be a difficult system to sell to a teacher who isn’t in the classroom with the gifted students.”

Before Swinford came to Vicksburg in 2010, she was associate superintendent for human resources for the East Baton Rouge Parish School District in Louisiana, a district where a paper performance system was implemented for some of the schools.

“In that system the entire school got money for surpassing other schools in the district, and it was great,” Swinford said. “The teachers embraced that and helped each other, it let them work together to meet a goal and didn’t put them against each other.”

Swinford said the idea of a performance-based pay system is nothing new.

“It’s something that has been going around for awhile,” Swinford said. “We’ve had conversations here, and like I said, I wouldn’t be against it at all.”

In his press conference, Bryant said of the 151 school districts in the state, the Clarksdale, Gulfport, Rankin County and Lamar County districts have expressed interest in the program. Because the Legislature mandates seniority-based raises, the school districts would need authorization before paying on merit, authorization that Bryant hopes to achieve in the 2013 session.

“It’s time to start paying teachers for quality, not just longevity,” Bryant said Friday. “A performance-based system is a way to inspire all teachers to learn, grow and improve with their students.”

Swinford said that despite the concerns, she’s interested in looking for an equitable way to implement the system.

“Money is a motivator,” Swinford said. “It’s not the main motivator, recognition and feeling good about what they do each day is what my teachers need most, but money is also a good thing.”