Gov, PED unveil $5K-$10K teacher merit pay plan

Acting Secretary of Education Christopher Ruszkowski

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gov. Susana Martinez and the New Mexico Public Education Department are pushing a new merit pay plan to reward exemplary teachers with bonuses of up to $10,000.

Under the executive budget proposal, any teachers rated exemplary based on student test score improvement would receive a $5,000 bonus, while exemplary secondary science, math and technology teachers would qualify for another $5,000, or $10,000 total.

All exemplary teachers in “more rigorous intervention” schools — the state’s lowest performers — would also get $10,000.

Besides the merit pay plan, known as the Excellence in Teaching Awards, the state budget also includes a 2 percent salary increase for all teachers regardless of evaluation ranking.

In total, the state is advocating for an additional $70 million allocation for K-12 education, with $37 million of it going directly to teachers.

PED Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski called it a “multi-pronged approach” to improve educators’ compensation, with merit-based bonuses at the center.

Keeping top-performing teachers in the classroom is particularly important, Ruszkowski said, because their students show the equivalent of 25 months of learning in a single year.

“Those teachers have an outsized impact on student growth and student outcomes,” he said.

Middle and high school STEM teachers are particularly tough to hold onto because they can find more lucrative jobs in the private sector, the PED chief said.

Districts often struggle to find qualified candidates to fill STEM Positions. In addition, fewer and fewer New Mexico college students are choosing education majors.

Merit-based bonuses are one way to make the profession more competitive, Ruszkowski said.

The money would go to a relatively small number of teachers: 4.5 percent of New Mexico teachers were rated exemplary in 2017, up from 3.8 percent in 2016.

PED’s evaluations have five tiers — ineffective, minimally effective, effective, highly effective and exemplary — with the largest number of teachers, 42.2 percent, landing at effective.

The state’s teachers unions have long opposed the evaluation system because it relies heavily on student test score improvement, an approach known as the “value-added model.”

“We don’t believe the evaluation system underlying the so-called ‘merit pay’ program is fair, so therefore the granting of any bonuses based on that evaluation system has huge problems,” said Betty Patterson, president of the National Education Association New Mexico. “It also creates a situation where teachers are choosing schools with higher test scores.”

Stephanie Ly, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, argued that merit pay can discourage teacher collaboration.

But Ruszkowski said research shows top-rated teachers are irreplaceable and create millions of dollars of value for schools and the economy.

“I don’t see this as controversial, retaining the best teachers,” he said. “We have to figure out a way to retain them.”

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