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Performance, Compensation And Evaluation: They Are Always Related

In the realm of international and independent schools, boards and heads talk frequently about wanting and needing professional teacher evaluation/appraisal. Yet in most of our schools the model (if one exists) rarely has become substantive, consistently applied or has met with any high degree of teacher respect, trust or appreciation.

Few words are perceived as more negative or threatening in school environments than “merit pay.” Thus, we are reluctant to tie our compensation systems, published or unpublished, to evaluation. The fear is that this link will smack of “merit pay” and create unhealthy competition among teachers thereby undermining our prized collaborative school cultures.

The reality is that compensation is always linked to evaluation. Long ago, school heads became adept at paying for performance while publicly decrying “merit pay.” Surely, when teachers are promoted into administrative or quasi administrative positions, they are receiving recognition of performance with a bottom line effect on pay. Surely, when we appoint teachers to positions of responsibility such as head of department, grade level coordinator or IB coordinator, or drama or debate or newspaper advisor and pay them for it, we are engaging in pay for performance. We may consider it pay for extra work but in fact we are exercising a personnel judgment of who deserves that bump in status, position and pay for taking on more duties.

I. The Board and the Head View

Boards typically are curious about lock step salary systems because there are public and private schools all over the world using scales. Boards want to know what research substantiates the message that such a scale sends: teacher performance across the board improves each year automatically thus resulting in movement up the scale and more pay. Of course, there is no such research.

Board members often demand more teacher accountability and pressure heads to get rid of the “dead wood”. Those trustees who struggle to “take off the parent hat” may use this term to describe a teacher(s) whom they feel has not served their own child or children as well as they would have expected. But nevertheless, the key board/business perspective that often is lacking in schools is that there should be some link between compensation, longevity of service and work expended and also between pay and some assessment of actual outcomes, performance and quality.

In the school world we are comfortable with paying for graduate credits and degrees; after class tutoring; extra curricular assignments and additional jobs; workload increases; and for growth through workshops, summer studies, and conferences. We are uncomfortable with rewarding teachers very much for mentoring fellow teachers; providing innovative teaching; providing consistently effective teaching; providing an environment of healthy pastoral care for students; going the extra mile without expectation of more pay; or for working supportively with parents. Somehow these activities, which more directly affect enrollment and constituent satisfaction, seem more difficult to recognize and reward. But what is wrong with viewing especially talented teachers, whether being hired or retained, as “meritorious?”

III. How to Reconcile the Two?

There are many examples of heads trying to create a more flexible compensation system that board members will regard as performance oriented. But in reality, most of these systems are really work load centered. The time has come to have a more open, honest and creative dialogue about what could work effectively in schools to create more flexible pay systems as opposed to a knee jerk reaction to experiences throughout the business world.

“Performance pay”, “career ladder”, “career growth” or some other terminology that attempts to tie teacher performance as evaluated by someone or something to an amount of money earned has the most potential for acceptance and eventual implementation. But we still dance around these models because we do not want to risk stirring up a hornet’s nest of teacher antagonism.

Littleford & Associates has many clients worldwide who have developed creative models that reconcile successfully the goals of the business model and the school model. One client school developed the following compensation philosophy that formed the basis of a new salary system: “The School provides compensation that is equitable and emphasizes economic dignity for all employees. The compensation philosophy is designed to attract, retain and reward highly qualified, diverse and creative faculty, administration and support staff. The compensation scale is transparent to all and evaluation driven.”

Another international school client put forth a new salary system with five levels or ranges with these goals: to “differentiate among levels of pedagogical expertise and professional development in order to recognize more than longevity; and to embed stipends so they would cease to be extras.” According to this School’s compensation philosophy, teachers who are most valued “embrace the Mission; focus totally on student development; are good communicators with all constituents; are organized; demonstrate deep knowledge of their subject and pedagogy; hold student interest; are learners; and are accountable.”

III. Summary

The bottom line for effective evaluation and compensation is to create systems that are sensitive to four factors: faculty culture and history; research on effective teaching; local market forces that influence hiring and retaining top talent; and the paying clients’ expectations of quality education with some measurable outcomes.

Boards and heads often make the erroneous assumption that a system that achieves all of the above must cost more money. In fact what does cost more money over time is the lock step scale that simply rewards teachers for staying another year. In addition, the discretionary model, which is almost entirely a product of historical events, decisions and negotiations that are often unexplainable or forgotten, has almost no financial rationale behind it even though teacher compensation and benefits account for at least 75% of total expenses in most schools. Furthermore, inequities are always inherent in the negotiated salary model.

Given the political capital that heads need to broach this topic and actually implement constructive and meaningful change, hiring an objective outsider armed with quantitative and qualitative data about how schools do this successfully worldwide is the best way to approach this task. We advise our clients candidly if we perceive that the timing may not be quite right for this undertaking. Littleford & Associates helps independent and international schools develop collaboratively and implement with sensitivity faculty compensation and benefit models that will allow them to get a clearer more predictable handle on this huge component of its cost structure.

John Littleford
Senior Partner