The Classic Bait and Switch: Performance and Pay for Teachers


By Nick McDaniels — A little over a month ago, I was honored by Baltimore City Public Schools for being a finalist for the district’s teacher of the year award.

Two weeks ago, I was a told that the same performance that got me a chance to be on the field for the first pitch of a Baltimore Orioles game was not enough to earn me a highly effective rating, which in turn, denies me a pay raise.

How could this be? Simple. The teacher evaluation rating system was changed at the last minute.

Based on the evaluation system that we were operating under all year, teachers receiving an overall evaluation score of 80 or above were highly effective, teachers receiving scores between 60 and 79 were effective, teachers receiving scores between 46 and 59 were developing, and teachers receiving scores below 46 were ineffective. These scores were to be tabulated from a variety of measures, including classroom observations, student surveys, test score data, and others.

A week before evaluations had to be completed, the district made two distinct changes:

  1. Evaluations would now be made up of 85% scores from two classroom observations and 15% scores from professional expectations.
  2. The cut scores dividing the levels were shifted to 86%, 72% and 60% respectively.

So what did this mean for me, a finalist for Baltimore City’s teacher of the year? 84% Effective.

In April I would have been Highly Effective; but,  in May, I was only Effective.

But here’s the rub. A Highly Effective gets a teacher 12 Achievement Units, an Effective only gets a teacher 9 Achievement Units, while a Developing only gets a teacher 3 Achievement Units.

Guess how many it takes for a teacher to get a pay raise? 12 Achievement Units.

Out the window goes my raise.

We rallied as a union — The Baltimore Teachers Union, hundreds of us —  in front of school headquarters to let the management know that such an unnegotiated bait and switch change to the evaluation was (at best) a failure to bargain in good faith and (quite possibly) a breach of contract. In response, the Interim CEO of the District claims that changing the cut scores back to their original levels would cause 97% of the teachers in the district to be rated Highly Effective or Effective.

She claims that isn’t fair to kids.

Shouldn’t an urban superintendent want more Highly Effective and Effective teachers in front of students? I certainly would. Should urban superintendents set thresholds on how many teachers can achieve certain ratings. I don’t think so. If so, what then is the incentive for success if 100% of teachers cannot actually work to attain the highest level of proficiency. These comments tell me this effort is solely about money, saving money for the district, and the teachers, our morale, our pride are simply collateral damage.

Maybe the scores are not the right cut scores. Maybe 86% and 72% are more accurate. But a school district cannot change the scores at the end of the game. This is akin to moving the fences back in the top the ninth inning, or narrowing the visiting team’s goals posts in the fourth quarter. We wouldn’t tolerate such changes in sports, how can we tolerate such changes for american workers.

The teachers will win this fight ultimately, and in the process we will learn that pay-for-performance is a trick, a tool for the managers to manipulate the system, and a power that teachers should resist handing over at all costs.

2 Responses to “The Classic Bait and Switch: Performance and Pay for Teachers”

  1. 1 Matt July 26, 2014 at 1:58 am

    First of all, congratulations on your highly successful year. Secondly, another point similar to what you brought up: would it be fair to change the expectations for your students last minute the way the expectations or standards were for you? Additionally, you are correct about the cost saving measures. I was specifically told that our school can’t have our staff be highly rated if our standardized test scores were not all highly proficient. So, unfortunately I think this going to be a trend, until good teachers start to leave the career. Good luck to you!


  2. 2 nickmcdaniels August 18, 2014 at 6:53 am

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for the comment and for reading. I have another fear that ed reformers want good teachers to leave just the same, to further justify the need for more expensive, teacher-replacing programming. How do we fight back? We stay and teach the children well.



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