Education Chief Fails on Performance Pay

The U.S. Secretary of Education wants districts across the country to cast their gaze upon the Pittsburgh Public Schools to see what successful collaboration between administration and a teachers’ union looks like. According to a printed report the Secretary will be coming to Pittsburgh next week "…to meet on Wednesday with Pittsburgh school officials and Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers representatives to talk about how the two groups collaborated" on the current contract which included some aspects of performance pay.

As our 2010 report pointed out pay for performance moves compensation away from aspects like educational achievement and length of service and more toward student achievement. But how much of that exists in the Pittsburgh schools currently? Much of the incentives are voluntary and school based. That means current teachers aren’t so much on a pay for performance model; if they want to volunteer to take on additional duties they can earn more. And a school that does meet performance targets has to distribute any incentive/bonus money equally.

The longest and most widespread performance program in the Pittsburgh schools is for principals, who, it must be noted, are not unionized and do not collectively bargain. Even newly hired teachers don’t really link with the pay for performance concept until after their fourth year in the District.

Finally, the Secretary should know that throughout the process-the collaborative process in his view-that the District knew the teachers’ union would hold the cards on how pervasive an incentive program would be. In its request for funding to the Gates Foundation, the District noted "although PPS and PFT leadership support the initiatives contained in this proposal, the PFT membership will be the final voice on collective bargaining issues". That meant any pay for performance model would have to be palatable for the teachers’ union and that the District would not go to the mat to defend a significant move away from the salary step model.