Eye on Education

Grading the Teachers: Little Connection Between Teacher Pay and Performance

Ray Fatur, who has been teaching for 19 years, says paying experienced teachers more just make sense.

Lynn Ischay / The Plain Dealer

Ray Fatur, who has been teaching for 19 years, says paying experienced teachers more just make sense.

There is little connection between how much money Ohio teachers make and how much knowledge they impart to students over the course of a single year, according to a StateImpact Ohio/Plain Dealer analysis of a new measure of teacher performance.

In fact, that analysis of state data shows that within many school districts, teachers who received the lowest grade in a key aspect of teacher performance known as value-added are paid more on average than teachers who earned the highest grade.

That’s true in Cleveland, where teachers deemed “Least Effective” by the new state evaluation system earned, on average, about $3,000 more than the teachers deemed “Most Effective.”

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This series about valued-added, a new way that Ohio is using to measure whether teachers provide a year’s worth of learning to their students, is the result of a partnership between The Cleveland Plain Dealer and StateImpact Ohio. StateImpact reporters Molly Bloom and Ida Lieszkovszky worked with Plain Dealer reporter Patrick O’Donnell and Plain Dealer data analysis editor Rich Exner to produce these stories.



It’s also true in more than 100 other districts, from Columbus and Worthington to Willoughby-Eastlake and Cleveland Heights-University Heights.

In some ways, these results are no surprise: The way Ohio schools determine teachers’ salaries has nothing to do with how well they teach. It has everything to do with how long they’ve been teaching and whether they have a master’s degree.

But the StateImpact/Plain Dealer analysis quantifies the relationship between value-added and Ohio teachers’ pay. It also shows that older teachers in Ohio are paid significantly more than their younger colleagues but did not outperform them in the 2011-12 school year on value-added.

The findings on the relationship between value-added and teacher pay echo what researchers have found in other states, including Florida, New York, North Carolina and Washington.

“Anywhere you look at this issue, there’s just not much relationship between teacher effectiveness and the pay scale, beyond the first few years,” said Dan Goldhaber, a University of Washington professor who has studied the trend. “There’s no reason why the results would be different in Ohio than anywhere else.” 

An age-old question

The StateImpact/Plain Dealer analysis relies on a new statistical measure that Ohio and several other states have begun using called value-added.

The measure uses standardized test scores to look at how much students learn in a given year, regardless of their achievement level at the start of the year. Value-added scores offer a new perspective on an old question: Who is a good teacher?

Value-Added Ratings
(from highest to lowest)

  • Most Effective
  • Above Average
  • Average
  • Approaching Average
  • Least Effective

Value-added is one part of a new teacher evaluation system that schools must implement for the upcoming school year. That system is supposed to do a better job of distinguishing between great teachers and those in serious need of improvement. It will rely on value-added and other test-based measures as well as principals’ observations of teachers in the classroom.

Right now, Ohio calculates value-added scores only for reading and math teachers in fourth through eighth grades. The state translates each teacher’s value-added score into one of five labels, ranging from Most Effective (the top rating) to Least Effective (the bottom one).

That means that for the first time, schools and the state can quantify just how good each teacher is at teaching students the expected amount each year.

Value-added is a controversial measure and one that’s new for most Ohio teachers.

A value-added score is not an overall measure of how well a teacher is performing because the scores are based entirely on students’ performance on standardized tests. A teacher can see his or her value-added score change from year to year. And the full details of how the scores themselves are calculated are secret. 

How it’s always been done

Since the late 1960s, state law has required Ohio school districts to pay teachers under a salary schedule that rewards two things: seniority and educational attainment. Teachers get automatic raises for each year they teach and for earning a master’s degree or taking college courses.
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Teachers unions have often been reluctant to discard that model.

But Gov. John Kasich and state legislators — along with some taxpayers — are pushing districts to scrap the traditional teacher pay schedule and instead base salaries on teachers’ individual performance.

More recently, leaders of Ohio’s teachers unions have said they support tying teacher pay more closely to performance. But union leaders say it’s a decision that should be decided by collective bargaining on a district-by-district basis.

The assumption behind the current setup, in part, is that experience and additional education are supposed to make teachers better at their jobs. Plus, the promise of getting paid more in later years is supposed to give teachers an incentive to stick around through the rough, first few years in the classroom.

Ray Fatur and Maria Plecnik both teach at Euclid’s Forest Park Middle School. They have the same state value-added rating, Least Effective. Both received positive evaluations from their principal and rave reviews from their students. But Fatur has been teaching for 19 years to Plecnik’s seven. And he makes nearly twice what she does.

It’s a fair arrangement, Fatur said.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a better teacher, but I’ve been here longer,” he said. 

Pay vs. performance

Looking only at value-added scores and ratings for about 16,000 teachers in more than 450 districts and charter schools across the state, StateImpact and The Plain Dealer found little to no relationship between how much teachers were paid and how much they taught students in a year, as measured by their value-added ratings.

For example, the 34 Cleveland teachers who received the state’s highest rating earn about $68,600 on average, compared with about $71,500 for the 112 teachers who received the state’s lowest rating.

In Cleveland Heights-University Heights, Euclid and other districts, the average pay of the district’s top-rated and lowest-rated teachers differs by less than $2,000.

The analysis compared teachers within the same district, rather than using statewide averages, because there are wide disparities in teacher pay among Ohio school districts.

StateImpact and The Plain Dealer could not track value-added trends statewide by teacher experience because the state’s data on teacher experience contained too many errors. And individuals’ experience through the State Teacher Retirement System is not publicly available.

Teacher age offers a rough gauge. While age does not match up exactly with experience — teachers can start teaching at different ages, or leave midcareer — younger teachers will have less experience than those old enough to have accumulated decades of experience. It is hard to tell how much effect midcareer departures have, but when looked at by age, the number of teachers starts to drop off dramatically in the early 40s.

Using the 2011-12 scores — the largest pool available — Ohio teachers had small struggles, on average, in their early to mid-20s, peaked around age 26 and posted positive results, though marginally lower, at older ages.

In other words, teachers still in the classroom in their 50s scored no better than teachers in their 30s.

The older teachers, however, far out-earned the younger ones. For example, Ohio’s small group of 24-year-old teachers made an average of just under $35,000 in 2011-12, while 65-year-old teachers made $65,000 on average.

“However you define teacher performance, it doesn’t seem to be well correlated with how we’ve been paying teachers,” said Sandi Jacobs, state policy director for the National Council on Teacher Quality, which advocates for policies to increase the number of “effective”teachers in U.S. schools. 

Moving forward

Ohio schools are receiving tens of millions of dollars through federal Race to the Top and Teacher Incentive Fund grants to study and implement performance pay.

“It’s about who we are recruiting into the profession and how we attract people who are considering multiple professions.”

–Sandi Jacobs, National Council on Teacher Quality

The idea isn’t so much that paying teachers more will make them work harder or teach “better.”

“It’s about who we are recruiting into the profession and how we attract people who are considering multiple professions,” said Jacobs.

Performance pay could be used to entice the best teachers to work in struggling schools and help turn them around or to teach in understaffed subject areas, she said.

But few districts have actually taken the plunge.

The majority of districts edging into using performance measures like value-added in teacher compensation are giving bonuses for high scores, not replacing the traditional salary schedule.

Cincinnati teachers, for example, can choose to be in a pay system that gives a stipend to teachers who meet student growth goals, but most of the district uses the old system.

And 23 districts, most of them members of the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative, will start giving bonuses of up to $2,000 per teacher next school year based on student growth measures like value-added. Each district has different rules for how it will distribute those bonuses using federal Teacher Incentive Fund grants, which have a major goal of promoting growth-based pay.

At the Perrysburg schools just south of Toledo, the district is negotiating with the teachers union to implement a performance pay system starting next school year.

“We feel really strongly that we have great teachers here,” said Aura Norris, Perrysburg’s human-resources director. “But is it really fair for someone to really perform on a high level and they’re getting the same exact salary as someone who rolls in at 8 and leaves at 2?”

Norris said the performance-based salary schedule would be optional; teachers would have to opt in, at least at the beginning.

“We think it’s a good thing to try. We’ve had the same kind of salary schedule since schools were pretty much invented,” she said.

Cleveland is going beyond just giving bonuses and is making growth measures like value-added a key part of its compensation system.

“Learning is messy… Any time we try to match performance to pay, I just don’t see it working.”
–Laurel Chapman, Cleveland Heights-University Heights instructional support specialist

Teachers there just agreed to a contract with the district that bases future raises on the teacher evaluations — evaluations that use growth measures for half the rating. Teachers will no longer move up steps in the pay scale just through gaining experience, but rather by earning top ratings or taking on extra duties for the district.

Still, finding a fair way to measure just how good a teacher is and connect that to his or her pay is a problem that seems insurmountable to many, including Cleveland Heights-University Heights veteran educator Laurel Chapman, who has taught or coached other teachers in the district for 39 years.

She admits the disparity in pay between the best and worst teachers doesn’t always make sense. But she says she’ll probably retire before her district figures out a fair way to pay teachers based on their performance.

“Learning is messy,” she said. “Any time we try to match performance to pay, I just don’t see it working.” 

To read more about the analysis on which this story was based, click here.

Plain Dealer data analysis editor Rich Exner and StateImpact reporter Ida Lieszkovszky contributed to this story.


  • Rep Voter

    Only 505 days till this Republican in Cincinnati votes for a Democratic Governor!!!

  • OrvsKid

    …AND this Democrat in Greater Cleveland will do the same. ANYBODY but Kasich. I guess that means he will be forced to retire 217 days before I’M forced to retire!

  • OrvsKid

    If you really want to see the schools improve, give the merit pay to the parents, not the teachers. Every parent would get an account in which they would get credit for attending parent teacher conferences, programs their child is in, visiting their child’s classroom, and generally being involved in their child’s education. They would also get paid when their child makes Honor or Merit Roll, has perfect attendance, gets special awards such as Best Science Fair Project, Super Reader, and Super Mathematician. AND when their child does NOT get suspended, detentions, have more than 3 absences, negative notes or calls from the teacher, etc. Small amounts can grow to big amounts by the end of the year. Checks would be issued upon their child’s successful completion of each grade. Additionally, retention must be the sole decision of the teacher without parents changing that decision in the office, or the Board Office!

    • jan

      have taught for 30 years and have been highest ranked 4 of 5 last years-terra nova only for 7th grade social studies. I have proposed similar to any/all who would listen including some state dept. folks who interviewed some of us re: use of testing data. my proposal, kid has an account and money is put into it for use in ohio post-secondary institutions (so we get them on board with our proposal!!). AND, parent gets some kind of a small state income tax rebate IF student makes achievement and another small state income tax rebate IF student makes growth. we tie the student post secondary credit and the parent small state income tax rebate in directly to the same test results being used against the teacher!! that will also “spread the wealth” and “spread the responsibility” –overcoming the entire false fallacy that a teacher is 100% responsible and the parent is 0% responsible and the student is 0% responsible.

      as an interesting side note–I am a long time conservative and republican voter (over 90% of the time), yet it is totally amazing how Kasich and soooo many republican state legislators/tea party folks across America are putting ssssooo much power and responsibility in a bureaucratic, large government institution, operated by millions of public employees, and have removed any/all personal responsibility and accountability from the PRIVATE INDIVIDUAL parent and student. oh, how karl marx, joseph stalin and mao would stand applaud the modern-day republic party!!!!

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