I am so late to this I probably need to serve a month of detention, but here goes …
In the wake of Act 10, the (in this teacher’s opinion) misguided legislation that removed from Wisconsin’s teachers the right to bargain collectively over anything but basic, small wage increases, school districts around the state have had the opportunity to tinker with pay scales. This has resulted in some interesting news as The New Normal (not the TV show, but, you know, people’s lives) takes over.
The example I’m going to highlight today is one that came up a couple of weeks ago in the daily. Waukesha County district Hartland-Lakeside is implementing a new pay scale. Here’s the paragraph that set my mind a-reeling:
In the new system, teachers will be placed in the tier where the salary range matches their current salary. The schedule is defined by seven levels: Quality I, II, III; Master I, II, III and Exemplary, a near superhuman tier in terms of criteria expected, with a salary range maximum of $75,000. It’s reserved for approximately 5% of the staff.
It’s not that I am opposed to this kind of scale–one based on (what looks like) a moderately well balanced set of factors unrelated to both standardized test scores and simple years of experience. It’s that last bit–that the top tier is limited, that the highest-paid, most respected category is scarce resource. My mind immediately went to another story I read recently about pay and performance (emphasis in the original):
Eichenwald’s conversations reveal that a management system known as “stack ranking”—a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor—effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” Eichenwald writes. “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,” says a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”
Caveats abound: That was Microsoft, maker of the Zune, not a school district, shaper of the future. Educators breathe collaboration, not competition. But this system, in the Vanity Fair piece about Microsoft’s devastating “lost decade,” plays a key role. Microsoft suffered not just because John Hodgman made a literal joke out of Windows, but because the culture of the company doomed it to failure.
The genesis in old-style teacher pay scales, with advancement based on education and experience, was in fighting discrimination against women. However, its effect is promotion of collegiality and collaboration. I know that if the teacher next door gets a raise it doesn’t affect my own chances of getting a raise. She is not my enemy, but my partner.
Now, what happens in Hartland-Lakeside has to play out to see if they are the next Microsoft. I would like to think that they are not–hope that they are not, because I think that will pay out badly in the classroom. But I do want to offer this as a caution; enforced competition nearly killed the biggest, strongest software company the world had ever seen, and left some of the best and brightest developers in the business bitter and dejected. You don’t want that to happen to the teachers of your children.