Idaho schools tie merit pay to parental involvement

Merit pay for teachers has been lauded by supporters as a way to reward teachers who demonstrate high levels of success in the classroom. The standard for handing out bonuses is measured differently, depending what the law or regulation allows. Sometimes it includes student test scores, administrator evaluations or teacher leadership. Teacher pay in at least three school districts in Idaho will be determined partly on something else – how well teachers engage parents in their children’s education.

Idaho’s legislature enacted Senate Bill 1110 in March 2011 creating a new performance pay system for educators. The first teacher bonuses are scheduled to be distributed in 2012. One clause in the bill lists 13 standards local school districts can use to distribute shares of state merit pay to teachers. The list includes student test scores, student graduation rate, number of students successfully completing advanced placement and dual enrollment courses, and making federally approved adequate yearly progress. It also includes “parental involvement” as one measure by which local districts can compensate teachers.

Like many school systems, the Wendell school district in south-central Idaho has struggled to engage parents in their children’s education. So at Wendell High School, teachers will receive bonuses based in part on the percentage of parents who show up for parent-teacher conferences.  Up to 70 percent of the maximum bonus teachers at Wendell High School can receive will be based on how many parents turn up for conferences throughout the year. Forty percent of parents must attend the conferences in order for teachers to earn the maximum bonus.

Wendell Superintendent Greg Lowe was quoted in a recent news article saying the number of parents attending the first parent-teacher conference this school year was “way above that.” School districts in Jerome and Gooding, ID also are reportedly using parental involvement as a component for determining teacher merit pay.

While education policymakers frequently contend parental involvement is one of the most critical determinants of student success, they often wring their hands at their inability to force parents to be more involved in their children's education. So by incentivizing teachers to engage parents, at least three policy questions will no doubt be closely examined: 1) Will these bonuses continue to result in more parents attending conferences with teachers; 2) Even if the result is increased parental involvement, will it have a significant effect on student achievement; and 3) Is increasing parental involvement a better use of merit pay than awarding it to teachers who meet other measures, such as those who increase student test scores and graduation rates?