Grading the Teachers: Little Connection Between Teacher Pay and Performance

Katie Zielke says her low rating from Columbus City Schools is a "wake-up call."
Katie Zielke says her low rating from Columbus City Schools is a "wake-up call."
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You can join that conversation online, and find all the contents of our series: Grading the Teachers at this website, and at This special coverage is a product of a partnership between The Plain Dealer and StateImpact Ohio. It is the work of reporters Molly Bloom and Ida Lieszkovszky at StateImpact and Plain Dealer reporter Patrick O'Donnel and their data analyst, Rich Exner.

Students in Emily Brown's 7th grade classroom are conducting an experiment on the movement of waves by dropping blocks of clay into small aluminum trays filled with water.

Angel Hines, one of her students, says Brown is a good teacher.

"She actually lets us grade her so she knows if she's doing something wrong she'll fix it," Hines says.

The state of Ohio grades her too, and they agree she's a good teacher. Last year, her value-added score was "most effective," the highest of five ratings. She'd like to see that stellar performance reflected in her paycheck. It doesn't. Brown makes about $3,000 less than the average Toledo teacher and that's not unusual.

According to an analysis by StateImpact Ohio and the Plain Dealer, there is little correlation between a teacher's performance and how much they are paid. Across the state, teachers who score the lowest on this new "value added" measurement frequently make more than those who score the highest.

Ohio is hardly unique in this disconnect between pay and performance, says Dan Goldhaber, an education researcher at the University of Washington.

"There's nothing inherent in the way teachers are paid that would necessarily reward their performance," Goldhaber says.

That's because under the current system pay increases are based on years of service and getting advanced degrees. Evaluations are usually based on brief classroom observations and they have almost nothing to do with pay …by union contract.

Besides, Goldhaber says pretty much everybody gets a glowing review.

"So if everybody gets a glowing review you can't use performance evaluations for anything," he says, "and that's a big problem when you think about changing the quality of the workforce."

Another finding from the StateImpact and Plain Dealer investigation found that older teachers …who are usually the ones with the most experience… are paid more than younger teachers as you would expect, but older teachers did not generally outperform young ones.

Cleveland Schools CEO Eric Gordon says his district has set the "years of experience and masters" degrees standard aside.

Cleveland is implementing a new system that takes value-added scores into account. It could effect up to half of a teacher's overall grade, decide their pay and even whether they have a job.

These are exactly the type of changes that makes Melissa Cropper nervous; she's president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers

"I do think that teachers need to be held accountable," Cooper says. "I just don't think that you can quantify everything. And when you try to quantify everything it takes away from what good teaching actually is."

Advocates for this new data-based performance measure disagree. They say it should help schools keep good teachers, weed out the bad ones, and help those who want and need to improve to do so.

Katie Zielke, (Zil-kee) a teacher in Columbus, got the lowest rating in her first value-added evaluation. She says that was a wake up call.

"I thought I was doing things right," she says. "You always think you're doing your best and then I kind of went wow, what I was doing was not right, it was not my best."

That's exactly the kind of introspection advocates hope "value added" will inspire.

Whether most teachers eventually embrace the new measurement is an open question. Many have doubts about its accuracy and fairness. The public is just starting to understand it. The conversation in Ohio and other states using it is just beginning.

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