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Lawmakers considering performance pay measures for Utah teachers

By Mary Richards and Andrew Adams

Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 2 2011 11:12 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Performance pay for teachers statewide will get a closer look during the 2012 Utah legislative session, with two potential bills surfacing.

Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, is working with Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, on measures to keep Utah teachers from stepping out for better jobs.

Adams said his concern is more teachers are leaving their profession to become administrators. "Good educators are hard to come by, and we need to find a way to keep them in the classroom," he said.

Adams acknowledged there is a lot of work to be done to ensure it is done right. State School Superintendent Larry Shumway said doing this "the right way" is important.

"Depending upon how the bills are written, I suspect the board (of education) could support a bill on performance pay," Shumway said. "Of course, there are details that are important."

Among the questions teachers have raised about performance pay is whether all teachers under the system would go back to a single flat rate and their performance would boost pay from there. They also question if parent "satisfaction" would effectively coerce teachers to give more "A" grades.

In an Aug. 15 interview, Utah Education Association President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh questioned the efficacy of a merit pay program, and expressed concern that it would place too much emphasis on testing.

"People who enter the teaching profession are not entering the profession because it pays big dollars, but we do have a very clear understanding of what constitutes education excellence in the classroom," she said, adding that teachers should use tests for better instruction and not as a reward for pay.

Shumway said the state just completed a performance pay pilot program at five elementary schools over two years. Anecdotal feedback has been positive, he said.

Speaking Wednesday morning on KSL News Radio, Gallagher-Fishbaugh said she was encouraged by what she saw after visiting two of the pilot schools. In particular, she said she was glad to see the focus was on student learning and not just test scores. Still, she pointed out that performance pay models across the country have failed because they came from the top down.

"We've long felt that any sort of alternative compensation model needed to be developed collaboratively with teachers," she said.

Performance at those schools was weighed versus three factors: quality of education in the classroom, student performance and parent or community satisfaction.

"After all of this, everyone wants to assure themselves that this will be fair, but I don't think anyone is questioning whether the parents' participation in this is a problem," Shumway said.

Email: mrichards@desnews.com

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