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Solving for X, Marana school board will attempt to unlock mystery of teacher pay-for-performance

The Tucson agenda

Solving for X, Marana school board will attempt to unlock mystery of teacher pay-for-performance

A quick look at what's planned for local government meetings this week

  • Teacher performance pay is on the agenda for Marana Unified School District's Governing Board.
    Michael Zehring/Cronkite News Service Teacher performance pay is on the agenda for Marana Unified School District's Governing Board.

The Marana Unified School District Governing Board will vote Tuesday on a proposal for teacher pay for performance.

School boards across the Tucson area have been tweaking their salary structures to create incentives for teachers who "do a better job" teaching students.

The Marana Education Association (the Marxist union out to indoctrinate kids with scary things like facts and free thought) and district administrators negotiated a performance plan. 

Marana's proposal would include three components to give teachers an overall performance grade. It's like an algebraic formula of solving for "x."

Half of the grade would involve professional development initiatives teachers take to make themselves better. 

Another 40 percent would be based on how well students perform.

Meanwhile, 10 percent would be predicated on how well the school they teach does as a whole on student achievement. 

The extra money paid to quality teachers would be a variable bonus that changes from year to year, depending on student enrollment and how much the state funds the district. The bonus would be "pay-at-risk" and would vary from year to year.

In a fluke of the calendar, the MUSD board is the only government body meeting in the Tucson area next week. So it gives me a chance to offer a somewhat informed perspective about performance pay.

Performance forecasting

I taught an introduction to news writing course at the University of Arizona back in the day. My job was to take a class of students each semester and break them of the many bad habits introduced by the freshman composition faculty, and turn students into actual writers and beginning interrogators of the rich and powerful, and everyday neighbors.

What shocked me the most was how different one class was from the next. This took me aback a bit. Overall, I taught for four semesters. It was a lot of fun. I really liked it.

My first class was the Amber Sullins class. 

Sullins is now chief meteorologist at ABC15 in Phoenix. She's won three Rocky Mountain Region Emmys as best weather forecaster. She majored in Atmospheric Science with minors in journalism and math. Do you know how many journalism students minor in math? If they had an annual convention, it would be Sullins and the hotel bartender.

Les Nessman could have taught Sullins journalism and she'd have done alright. I had, like eight of her. They could have stepped right into internships after just one class session.

The second class was hard. They were just unenthusiastic. For instance, I noticed as a whole, their sentence structures were convoluted. I thought I had the answer and told them sentences get awkward if they include a lot of commas. They didn't change that sentence structures on their next assignment. They just took out all the commas. 

The third class almost ran me over with enthusiasm. The fourth was more like the first.

Teachers who luck into a class full of achievers and don't screw up their achievements are probably not as good as those who take on a class of stragglers and move them toward the average.

Reducing this to a mathematical formula that's 5x this applied to 4x that probably isn't going to find the best teachers any better than figuring out who took a math educator workshop in Yorba Linda, Calif.

I get why voters want to reward "good teachers." Measuring performance just isn't easy.

Half the score is professional development, which would seem to predict performance that may never materialize. The district wants schools to collaborate but is it fair to tie science teacher performance pay to the no-account English Department?

My half-cent of free advice is to ask the students. Hell, we knew by the fourth grade which teachers made our minds grow and which ones left us thinking "huh?"

In other business, Superintendent Daniel Streeter is asking the board to approve his performance goals for 2022-23. 

It won't be hard to do. His goals, as publicly posted, are to "recruit, retain, and support highly effective staff, teachers, and leaders."

Did Streeter's mom make these up, with an sticky note attached reading, "You be nice to Danny!"

Employing a quality work force would seem to be just a regular part of the job description and not part of some strategic "repositioning."

Compare it to Catalina Foothills Unified School District Superintendent Mary Kamerzell's nine pages of publicly stated goals and objectives for the upcoming school year.

Maybe there's more to Streeter's annual to-do list. If so, it should be made public just like the performance pay plan for district teachers.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 25 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.

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