Merit Pay: big bucks, little feedback

Zephyrus Staff

Ever wondered why there’s sometimes an observer in some of your classes? That observer isn’t there to make sure you and your fellow students are in line, but to make sure that your teachers are meeting their goals as part of Edina’s Alt Comp system. “Alt Comp is short for Alternative Teacher Professional Pay System. It is the system by which teachers are paid in this district,” explained Alt Comp coach and former Valley View government teacher Jason Dockter.

The system includes incentives (more money) for teachers who meet their Professional Growth Plan and individual Student Learning Goals over the course of a school year. Teachers are observed three times by either an Alt Comp coach or another colleague. Before and after each meeting, they meet with the coach to receive feedback and cognitive coaching about their progress toward their goals. This is tied to their compensation, since teachers must meet their goals to move to the next “step” in their payment plan.

This system is good, in theory. Not so much in practice, however. Although teachers have to be observed three times and meet with their observer both before and after the observation, that only means that a teacher has to be on top of his or her game three days a year. This may help teachers become better teachers, but it totally discounts input from the very people who observe the teachers every day: the students.

Teachers are required to send out surveys to students (as well as parents and other teachers) and meet with the administration to go over the results of those surveys, according to Eric Nelson, EHS assistant principal. They are also required to go over the feedback they receive with an administrator. Teachers are supposed to use the feedback they get to help set their goals for future improvement. According to Mr. Nelson, teachers are largely able to set their goals on their own.

In many instances, teachers being able to set their own goals works and helps them to become better teachers. In other cases, however, teachers could ignore some of the important feedback they get and focus on what they want to improve – not what could help them become the best possible teachers. Teachers should be required to focus not only on the improvement areas that Alt Comp coaches point out, but also on the areas that students have identified as needing the most improvement.