Performance-for-Pay, Not Performance-Based-Bonus?

In November of 2012, education leaders held the 2012 K12 Technology Summit in Florida. Among the keynote speakers is the current superintendent of Bridgeport public schools in Connecticut, Paul Vallas:

Paul Vallas, Superintendent, Bridgeport Public Schools, Connecticut
Image downloaded from 2012 K12 Tech Summit Speakers
The K12 Tech Summit describes Paul Vallas as:
Paul Vallas is known across the education sector for his leadership and expertise in reforming and rebuilding school districts in the wake of both natural and man-made disasters. He recently completed his tenure as Superintendent of the Recovery School District of Louisiana, a statewide turnaround district that has successfully reformed the public schools in post-Katrina New Orleans. Under his leadership, schools destroyed by the 2005 hurricane have been rebuilt or relocated, in an unprecedented school construction program that will – for the first time ever – put every public school child in New Orleans in a first-class building and that includes a successful charter school component. Additionally, during this reconstruction period, he has raised student test scores for three straight years at a rate that exceeds that of comparable test scores in the state of Louisiana.
He spent two years in the Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and fourteen years in the reserves. I should also add to the short description above that Paul Vallas also helped in rebuilding schools in Haiti, as well as turning around poor performing schools in Chile. The talk Vallas delivered in Florida is now online from Vimeo:

Turning Around Disadvantaged School Districts- Paul Vallas Speaks at CraigMichaels K12 Summit from CraigMichaels, Inc. on Vimeo.

The above is quite a lengthy talk, but Vallas' current home, the Bridgeport school district, provides a concise summary of Vallas' recipe for turning around schools:
The key to his repeated success is an unwavering focus on what he has termed “The Five Essential Practices.” These are:
  1.  ensuring that schools have superior standardized curriculum and instruction;
  2.  ensuring that schools have a series of comprehensive interventions;
  3.  ensuring a strategy for site-based teacher training and mentoring;
  4. ensuring that school systems are organized, or reorganized, around the functional areas of education and that the central office is decentralized and streamlined into a school support agency, with the cost savings going directly into the classroom; and
  5. ensuring that the system is effectively collecting, aggregating and sharing student performance and school data to facilitate timely provision of the appropriate interventions.
Mr. Vallas requires that districts under his control or advice implement The Five Essential Practices with fidelity, and the results have shown the wisdom of this approach in every district he has reformed.
To begin to understand Vallas' approach, one must see intervention in a wider perspective. Intervention not only applies to students but more importantly, to teachers. Central to Vallas' focus is enabling and supporting teachers. For this reason, all five essential practices have the teacher in mind. Vallas likewise brings to the classroom what he learned from his experiences in the military. The United States military is truly an impressive enterprise especially in the way its soldiers are trained. Of course, the military is clearly authoritarian while schools are not so there are important differences. But Vallas highlights one important ingredient that may be transferable to schools, that is, the manner in which performance is motivated. Another similarity between the two is the fact that teachers do choose a vocation when they join the teaching force. Anyone who has taught inside a classroom knows that teaching is so much more than just a job. With these common themes, Vallas' education reforms are characterized by the following statement , "The job of the principal is too big." Andrea Gabor in her blog adds the following to describe Vallas' scheme:
Vallas also advocated a three-tiered professional ladder for teachers in which the top tier of teachers take on additional responsibilities, such as conducting professional-development training for colleagues and mentoring the lowest tier of struggling teachers, In exchange, the expert teachers would receive an additional increment of pay.
This is "Performance-for-Pay". The additional pay does not come after the fact, but before, and it comes with additional responsibilities. A major part of these additional responsibilities is to help the ineffective teachers. This is done, for example, by having the effective teachers take responsibility of the classes taught by the struggling teachers with these teachers observing how an effective teacher does his or her job. It hits two birds with the same stone. The teachers who need help receive training as close as possible to the challenges that they face while the students in classes taught by less effective teachers are not allowed to languish. Vallas favors this method over performance-based-bonuses based on several reasons and one big reason he cites is that a performance-based-bonus scheme is simply not sustainable. In a financially challenging climate, a bonus scheme brings more grief than motivation. Vallas' approach, I believe, is not really unique.

Christopher Bernido and Ma. Victoria Carpio-Bernido implements an "expert teacher" scheme in teaching the sciences at the Central Visayan Institute Foundation. Parallel or simultaneous classes are handled by one expert teacher, with the help of facilitators. To make this similar to Vallas' approach, one simply has to add teacher training and imagine that the facilitators are the struggling teachers who need coaching and support.


  1. interestingly, gabor is interested in team incentives.

  2. So, you're probably familiar with Gabor's "Why Carrot-and-Stick Incentives Get An “F”, An Answer to The New York Times", where she writes:

    "The science on this is clear: The most recent research includes a 2010 Vanderbilt study showing that the performance of teachers who were offered a bonus of up to $15,000 was no better than that of teachers who were offered no incentive. And a recent survey of 40,000 teachers funded by Scholastic and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that only one-quarter of teachers felt that performance pay was likely to have a strong impact on student achievement; instead, what the teachers valued the most, according to the study, was “supportive leadership, family involvement in education, access to high quality curriculum and student resources, and time for collaboration with colleagues.”"

    Now, I suspect you would cite that a school-based (not individualized) bonus scheme is a team incentive. Before you do that, I want you to consider Paete, Laguna, which has several elementary schools, some are within walking distance from each other. Some of these schools, especially in the uplands, face greater challenges, the children come from poorer families with parents of lower educational attainment. These schools are very much in need of teachers who are effective. A school-based incentive punishes the teachers. These are teachers who have already chosen to sacrifice and teach in the uplands. Again, what you need is to focus on the essence of the findings. Gabor makes it very clear::

    "Yep. Leadership, learning from best practices and collaboration. Those are the keys to improvement. Carrot-and-stick incentives can only undermine them."


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