At Oscoda Area Schools, parental attendance at parent-teacher conferences has skyrocketed. Teachers are also having fewer absences and missing fewer professional development days. The success is being credited to a merit pay system that the school implemented two years ago to try to get teachers to reach performance goals.

Oscoda Area Schools, located in northeast Michigan about 100 miles north of Bay City, has about 1,500 students.

The district awards performance points to each of its 82-plus teachers if they reach goals like reducing teacher absences and getting higher attendance at parent-teacher conferences. Those points are used to dole out cash awards to the teachers from a pool of $25,000.

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Oscoda Superintendent Christine Beardsley said that if every teacher hit every benchmark, they’d each take in $294.12.

“We are seeing that it is not about the money,” Beardsley said. “It's the pat on the back, the public acknowledgment.”

According to the school figures, the district saved $41,100 in 2009-10 by not having to pay substitute teachers. That’s because teachers have missed fewer school days, going from 7.51 absences per teacher in 2007-08 to 7.08 in 2008-09 and 7.47 in 2009-10. Teachers have also reduced the number of absences from professional development days, from a total of 52 absences in 2007-08 to 33 in 2008-09, and then to just 21 in 2009-10.

But the most startling results were found in parental attendance at parent-teacher meetings. In 2007-08, only 38 percent of the high school students were represented at parent-teacher conferences. That number jumped to 89 percent in 2010-11.

“Before, if you came, you came. If you didn’t, you didn’t,” Beardsley said. “Now, it’s ‘I need that parent to show up.’”

Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the model of paying teachers all the same regardless of job performance isn’t that effective.

“It doesn’t take a lot of money to create an effective merit awards program,” Van Beek said. “These are relatively modest awards, but teachers take them seriously and are responding to them.”

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See also:

Analysis: We Still Need to Reform Teacher Pay

Analysis: Merit Pay in Mt. Clemens?

State Says Schools in "Distress" Are Making "Adequate Yearly Progress"