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Saturday, February 9, 2008

Performance Pay at the Highest Levels
Last week, Adam Thibault, ED in ‘08’s senior policy analyst, attended a panel on NCLB reauthorization up on Capitol Hill and returned with some interesting perspectives about steps that individual districts have been taking to make school reforms and accountability work. A lot of important figures in American education were present, including Secretary Tommy Thompson and Governor Roy Barnes, Co-chairs of the Commission on No Child Left Behind, and several key congressional staffers.

Adam spoke to me about one panelist in particular, Deborah Jewell-Sherman, who is the current Superintendent of Richmond (VA) Public Schools.

In 2002, Deborah Jewell-Sherman signed a performance-based contract when she was hired as the new superintendent in Richmond, against the advice of colleagues and friends. While many teachers have supported performance-based incentives as part of larger compensation plans, it is less common to see principals and district administrators taking on that kind of accountability. To me, what is even more interesting is that that the goals being assessed in Jewell-Sherman’s contract were to be reached within her first year on the job a short time to turn around a struggling district.

Jewell-Sherman was required to meet three goals in her first year:

    To double the number of the district's 55 schools with 70 percent or more of their students passing the state tests. (That number went from 10 to 23.)
    No more than 12 schools would rank in the lowest achievement category. (Under Jewell-Sherman's guidance, that number fell from 23 to 9.)
    At least 70 percent of the third-graders in 16 low-performing schools would pass the state reading test. (This goal was not met.)

For making such extraordinary gains and exceeding two of the three goals, the school board awarded her $24,000, in addition to her $133,500 base salary.

What I appreciate about contracts like Jewell-Sherman’s is that they send clear messages of expectations and accountability for school leaders, yet back those messages up with professional incentives, not unlike those received by business leaders. Now a school is not the same as a business, and shouldn’t be mistaken for one, but as a former district leader myself I am convinced that in order to attract (and retain) talented educators, districts must be prepared to offer them contracts that respect their professional abilities, and hold them accountable for delivering what was expected.

You can read more about performance-based incentives at our ED in '08 Issues page.

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