Eye on Education

Cleveland School Board Suggests Replacing Teachers’ Step Increases With Performance Bonuses

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that one of the issues at stake in negotiating a new contract for Cleveland teachers is performance pay:

Negotiation documents obtained by The Plain Dealer show that the district continued to press for merit pay. Those documents from the State Employment Relations Board (SERB) also show that the district, as of August, was seeking pay cuts of 10 percent, along with eliminating 13 paid holiday and training days and having teachers pay 20 percent of health costs.

Teachers, as of August, had proposed freezing their base pay for two years, while continuing to receive “step” raises for extra years of experience or college coursework. The district plan would wipe out the step raises and replace them with bonuses for teachers with higher evaluation ratings.

Step raises are the pay raises that teachers get automatically each year as they gain another year of experience.

Earlier this year, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who appoints the Cleveland school board, asked the State Legislature to include performance pay in the state budget. Jackson told StateImpact then:

“I don’t believe that anybody should get an automatic raise just because they’ve been there,” Jackson said. “There should be some evaluation that ties their compensation to their performance and some accountability for that.”




  • smith

    “Step” raises have been the means by which teachers are recognized as having gained additional experience and expertise in their profession. How is this “automatic”? It’s a reflection of time, effort, knowledge gained and in the case of the required additional coursework necessary to progress in the field, monetary sacrifice. It’s a lot more than “just being there.” as Mayor Jackson so simplistically states. Most professionals in any field would agree that the more experience you have, coupled with on-going professional development and formal training, the better you will be at your vocation. How is this different for educators?

    Many public school teachers all around northeast Ohio (and even administrators) have agreed to voluntary pay freezes for 2 or more years running. Check it out–it’s public knowledge.

    • Researcher

      A few things:
      1. Raises that happen with seniority are by definition automatic.
      2. Raises that happen after receiving addition qualifications, like an MA should only be given if that qualification increases performance, in this instance the degree doesn’t help, as per research: http://econpapers.repec.org/article/eeeecoedu/v_3a30_3ay_3a2011_3ai_3a3_3ap_3a449-465.htm
      3. You state that: “Most professionals in any field would agree that the more experience you have, coupled with on-going professional development and formal training, the better you will be at your vocation”

      This is absurdly false. I’ve studied expertise, it is very important in my field of engineering. The research on this question says otherwise. I could go industry by industry. In medicine doctors are worse at diagnosis the longer they have been out of medical school, and the more specialized conferences they go to. Scientists are most productive (publishing, discoveries..) before 35. Don’t even get me started with computer programmers, productivity has almost no relationship to experience, except in the most mundane of tasks.

      Student achievement has almost no relation to teacher experience, in study after study this has been shown. There is a sharp increase in effectiveness after the first few years on the job but then in year 5 they plateau. Objectively teachers, like everyone else don’t necessarily improve with greater experience. Perhaps not having incentives to improve is part of this, but I tend to agree with Diane Ravitch, that it is unlikely to make a difference. (Sorry Conservatives).

      • smith

        A few things:
        1. Obviously you are free to define “automatically” any way you like, but that doesn’t make you right.
        2. You cite one research study to support your position regarding job qualification and performance raises, but I’m pretty sure most people would agree what you measure in engineering and education are fairly different.
        3. And maybe in engineering, medicine and computer programming, the practitioners actually get worse at their jobs the longer they go at it, but in education, that simply isn’t the case.

        Student achievement cannot be the sole measurement of how good a teacher is (or what a teacher is worth paying)–it’s based on too many factors beyond the teacher’s control.

        • Researcher

          1. I am not going to argue semantics. However, I fear for your students vocabularies.

          2. This is one of the most established facts in in the education debate. Most of the studies show that teachers grow in effectiveness over at least the first five years on the job, though the benefits of experience are less clear after that point. Here are the most cited studies: Nye, et al, 2004; Clotfelter, et al, March 2007, October 2007; Harris and Sass 2007. Sorry these are journal articles I can’t post links except to abstracts. Advanced degree’s show no impact on student achievement. You really want me to get you a list of journal articles? Somehow I doubt that will convince you.

          3. I know you want to believe that teaching is special, different from other professionals, but sometimes we have to take a less emotional look at the numbers.

          Lastly, if not student achievement than what should we measure? How often you come to work? How liked by students you are? Obviously we have to weight achievement based on the composition of the classroom, you can’t compare apples to oranges. But if your job is to make students read better, a reading test is a very good way of seeing how well you performed.

          • smith

            Sure, send me all your trumped up journal articles and slanted statistics supporting your position on advanced degrees and student achievement, which has somehow become, at least for you, the “education debate”. I’m sure you’ve managed to find the data to support your theories, being the researcher you are.

            And you’re right, teaching IS special and different from other professions, such as engineering. I really don’t think you’re going to find too many people willing to disagree on that one. Teachers don’t tinker with gadgets or design computer programs or fashion elevator shafts or monitor waste management systems. Just in case you weren’t sure, teachers work with CHILDREN. These are human beings, typically aged 4-18, coming to our classrooms from a myriad of backgrounds and situations, which also vary from day to day, week to week and so on. We can’t treat them like machines or programs or structures or processes, because they’re people. And while we can test the bejesus out of our students, we can’t control how well they do on the tests anymore than you can make the sun shine. You can be as unemotional (and unrealistic) as you like and look at your little numbers all you want, but even a researcher such as yourself must admit to the concept of “variables” and what that does to the numbers.

            My initial post was a response to the issue of step raises vs performance pay for teachers. Again, step raises don’t just happen; if a teacher does not meet certain evaluative criteria mandated by their districts, the contracts are not renewed, hence, no step raise. Evaluative measures for public school teachers vary from district to district, but there are state requirements all districts must adhere to. If the evaluation process isn’t implemented appropriately, and struggling teachers aren’t assisted or failing teachers let go, this is oftentimes because the administrators haven’t done their jobs properly.

            Being the consummate researcher, perhaps you should acquaint yourself with what is already in place regarding how teachers are evaluated in the state of Ohio before you jump on the latest “Blame the Teachers” train. You also might want to take a more critical look at high stakes educational testing in general.


  • Anonymous

    I don’t know what all school districts’ contracts have in the way of step increases, but at the state level, union contracts only contain 7-8 steps and some classifications only 5. That means that employees only get 4-7 years of step increases and then nothing unless a contract allows for an increase. Before retiring, I had not gotten a step increase for nearly 15 years and no contract raise for 3. The problem for those opposed to SB5 isn’t so much the steps but the lack of information about the merit raise system. there is no system. Merit raises/bonuses have been part of our contracts for years and hardly anyone ever qualified to get one. In fact, in 42 years of service, I never heard of anyone getting one. The merit system is at this time a fantasy. If anyone can explain what it would look like, I am willing to listen. Until then, I am voting NO on Issue 2. Perhaps, that will get someone’s attention in Columbus to get real and start talking with those who will have to live under the rules long after the cabal in Columbus is long gone from the scene. We are no longer operating under the Jim Rhodes monarchy, we actually know these days what a democracy looks like. PS-If you don’t think selling off all the state’s assets for a temporary ‘one time payment’ like what Kasick accuses Strickland of doing, or you don’t think it prudent to creat a new board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors among many others that in the bill as well, then vote no on Issue 2.

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