Poligraph: Pawlenty tells part of the story on teacher pay

  1. Listen Featured Audio

On the campaign trail, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty likes to tout Q Comp, a program that pays teachers more when their students perform well.

“We were the first state to go statewide in the country to have performance pay for teachers to pay them other than just on seniority but on performance,” Pawlenty said in a speech in Iowa last month.

Pawlenty’s claim needs a lot of context.

The Evidence

Q Comp is a voluntary program that the state approved in 2005. Any school district in the state can apply, but must meet five criteria to be accepted. Among those requirements are regular teacher evaluations, teacher skill development, and school and classroom-wide performance standards; there’s a lot of flexibility in what standards or goals schools choose.

To get paid more, teachers must meet those standards.

Minnesota wasn’t the first to adopt a plan that pays teachers based on performance as Pawlenty said, though it’s fair to say that the state has been among the earlier adopters.

According to Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives, which keeps a database of all current federal, state and local programs, Arizona launched a statewide form of merit pay in the 1980s that allowed teachers to advance in salary if they gained new teaching skills and their students did better in class. No new funding has been approved since the mid-90s, but the program still serves a handful of Arizona school districts that enrolled early on. In 2000, the state approved an education sales tax to fund district pay-for-performance plans.

Meanwhile, North Carolina has been giving high-performing teachers annual bonuses since 1996 as part of a statewide program to improve school performance, though funding for those bonuses has been frozen for the last three years.

Pawlenty also said that the program is statewide. It’s a phrase Pawlenty uses to distinguish Q Comp from regional or local programs in other states, said his spokesman Alex Conant. While it’s true the program is available across the state, it’s important to point out that only 50 school districts – or about 15 percent of the state’s 339 districts – are participating in the 2010-2011 school year. Roughly 40 percent of the state’s charter schools are involved.

The Verdict

Pawlenty walks a fine-line with this claim. Minnesota wasn’t the very first state to adopt a statewide merit pay program, but it was one of the earlier adopters. Furthermore, Pawlenty’s distinction that the program is statewide can be confusing to those listening to his speeches. It’s available statewide, but only a fraction of schools are enrolled.

For both those reasons, Pawlenty’s claim is misleading.

SOURCES

Tim Pawlenty’s speech at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, March 7, 2011

Minnesota Department of Education, Quality Compensation for Teachers (Q Comp), accessed April 21, 2011

Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes, 122A.414 Alternative Teacher Pay, accessed April 21, 2011

Office of the Legislative Auditor, State of Minnesota, Q Comp: Quality Compensation for Teachers, Feb. 2009

The Minnesota Secretary of State, School Districts in Minnesota, accessed April 21, 2011

The ABCs of Public Education: 2009-10 Growth and Performance of North Carolina Public Schools Executive Summary, October 14, 2010

National Center on Performance Incentives, State-By-State Resources, accessed April 21, 2011

National Center on Performance Incentives, Arizona State Incentives, accessed April 21, 2011

Education Commission of the States, Pay for Performance Proposals in Race to the Top Round II Applications, By Stephanie Rose, July 20, 2010

Education Commission of the States, Classroom Site Fund (CSF), accessed April 21, 2011

Arizona Department of Education, Career Ladder, accessed April 21, 2011

Education Commission of the States, Teaching Quality–Compensation and Diversified Pay–Pay-for-Performance, accessed April 21, 2011

Interview, Steve Dibb, Acting Director, Q Comp, Minnesota Department of Education

Interview, Student Performance Improvement Program Coordinator, Independent School District 15-St. Francis, April 21, 2011

Interview, Susan Burns, program manager, National Center on Performance Incentives, April 21, 2011

Interview, Kathy Christie, Chief of Staff, Education Commission of the States, April 21, 2011

  • FectosRoad

    Q-Comp was a PR move by Pawlenty. After he got it started he ignored the program.

  • Billy

    Since PoliGraph is the self-appointed context police, try this regarding context: While it’s true 15% of districts are in QComp, those districts represent 40% of the students in Minnesota. Huh, when you put it that way, it sure sounds statewide.

  • MS

    Believe this America – you are being hood-winked by Pawlenty and his Q-Comp it is another one of those “UNFUNDED” mandates set up by TP to make Teacher Unions look bad. Minnesota should be proud of their educational system. It is NOT a one size fits all system. Each school district is an independent school district…meaning that EACH individual school district is governed by a schoolboard/board of education. Each board of education/schoolboard participates in the teacher contract for their INDIVIDUAL school district. What may work in St. Paul school district will not work in Wadena, etc. However, the Q-Comp fiasco set up by TP to make himself look good was a spend, spend, spend item with NO visible means of supporting the spending. It is the TP method of getting rid of excellent teachers and replacing them with mediocre/poor teachers as witnessed by schools who choose to participate in the Q-Comp fiasco…those with that choose to take “free money” (a quote from a first year school teacher in our district). All they had to do is place their name on a sign in sheet stating that they ‘attended’ some after school ‘training'; and walla they received a bonus of $3,000.00. Tenured teachers choose to attend continuing education classes at a college and received a kick in the teeth from the principal. Charter schools are the largest participants in Q-Comp…something I saw missing in the article. Most Independent School Districts are giving it a pass.

  • MS

    Believe this America – you are being hood-winked by Pawlenty and his Q-Comp it is another one of those “UNFUNDED” mandates set up by TP to make Teacher Unions look bad. Minnesota should be proud of their educational system. It is NOT a one size fits all system. Each school district is an independent school district…meaning that EACH individual school district is governed by a schoolboard/board of education. Each board of education/schoolboard participates in the teacher contract for their INDIVIDUAL school district. What may work in St. Paul school district will not work in Wadena, etc. However, the Q-Comp fiasco set up by TP to make himself look good was a spend, spend, spend item with NO visible means of supporting the spending. It is the TP method of getting rid of excellent teachers and replacing them with mediocre/poor teachers as witnessed by schools who choose to participate in the Q-Comp fiasco…those that choose to take “free money” (a quote from a first year school teacher in our district). All they had to do is place their name on a sign in sheet stating that they ‘attended’ some after school ‘training'; and walla they received a bonus of $3,000.00. Tenured teachers choose to attend continuing education classes at a college and received a kick in the teeth from the principal. Charter schools are the largest participants in Q-Comp…something I saw missing in the article. Most Independent School Districts are giving it a pass.

  • Bob

    If Q Comp is so successful, how does our former governor explain the lower test scores Minnesota students are producing? The point of an education system is to educate young people, not make the politicians look good. By all objective measures, the MN education system has gone from a national leader to the middle of the pack during the Pawlenty administration. This makes Q Comp a success?