Pay for Performance: Doctors Yes, Teachers No?

Just north of Denver, Jefferson County has become a battleground in the fight over performance-based pay for teachers.  The recently elected school board plans on implementing “[a] compensation system that recognizes and rewards our great teachers,” according to school board president Ken Witt.  The response of the local teachers’ union was for teachers to call in sick and enlist students in protesting what they describe as a proposed “patriotic curriculum.”

The protests are a convenient way to discredit the school board, thwarting them from implementing what the union truly fears: performance-based pay.

In the world of health care, performance-based pay measures are already being implemented.  The Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) will adjust physician Medicare payments up or down, based on specific quality measures.  Meeting these measures will give physicians a payment bonus of 0.5%.  Conversely, if such measures are not met, physicians will have their Medicare payments cut by up to 2%, euphemistically called an “adjustment.”

Compare that to the Jefferson County school board’s proposal to reward “highly effective” and “effective” teachers with larger and smaller bonuses, respectively, of up to 4 percent.  The salaries of ineffective teachers will simply remain the same, not being “adjusted” downward, as is the case for physicians.

Surprisingly, 99 percent of teachers in Jefferson County saw their take-home pay increase.  So every teacher is effective?  Do all students earn As and Bs?  If every teacher is a high performer, what does the union have to worry about?

Yet the teachers’ unions are still up in arms, while physicians, not happy about getting beaten by yet another stick, grin and bear it, without calling in sick or enlisting their patients to carry signs and protest.  And many physicians will see their payments decrease, unlike what the teachers experienced.