Governor Dennis Daugaard wants to hand out $5,000 merit bonuses to the top 20% of teachers in each public K-12 school district in South Dakota. The lucky winners will be determined by a 50&ndash50 combination of quantitative measures—i.e., a new raft of thrice-yearly state-mandated standardized tests for all students—and qualitative measures—i.e., evaluations by local administrators.
The administrator who normally evaluates teachers is the principal. For example, the Spearfish High School principal evaluates my performance as the high school French teacher. The West Elementary principal evaluates my daughter's kindergarten teacher's performance. Principals see the teachers and the kids they work with more regularly than anyone else. Principals are best positioned to offer an honest evaluation of their teachers' performance.
Suppose the high school principal makes the rounds and finds every teacher in the high school, even that odd duck shouting "Vive le fromage!" at his students, deserves a bonus. Suppose the elementary principal comes to the same conclusion about his entire staff. The governor is telling folks around the state that while he's open to discussion of various points of his plan, he's committed to limiting the bonuses to 20% of each district's staff.
Now principals, like good bosses everywhere, tend to look out for their people. And principals would derive no small bragging rights from being able to point to the high number of bonus-worthy teachers in their buildings. And when they work closely with their building teachers and have much less contact with teachers from other buildings, they have little basis on which to accept or reject claims that teachers from other buildings outperform teachers under their own supervision.
So how do we avoid wrestling matches between principals scrapping to win as many bonuses for their building as they can? Perhaps merit-bonus evaluations become the purview of the district superintendent. Such a move would be a severe departure from standard practice: I can't speak categorically, but in ten years in South Dakota high schools, I can't recall a specific instance when a superintendent conducted a full evaluation of my teaching. In large districts like Spearfish, the superintendent isn't even in a school; he's at district headquarters across town, separate from the daily activity of teachers and students. (That's not a knock; that's just a practical reality of dealing with high-level district-wide issues.) We probably don't want the excellence of teachers decided by a district-wide administrator who can practically, directly observe each teacher's performance only once a year.
So who does the evals, Dennis? Who makes the district-spanning decision as to whether the high school French teacher outperforms the kindergarten teacher?
Forget telling us why the merit bonus plan will work; I'm getting the feeling Governor Daugaard's office hasn't even done the homework on how its plan would work.