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.
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.
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.
-- By Catharine Richert
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
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