Professional Practice

Is Performance Based Pay Really Such a Bad Idea?

Did you know some  schools and states are moving to a performance based pay model for their teachers? I’ve talked to several teachers who were looking for ways to show growth in their art program because of performance based pay. For example, in the state of Ohio, I understand they are piloting this year, and next year will be moving to a performance based pay model. Any large change such as this can bring out anxiety and additional pressure for teachers. Because I’m not personally living it, I may have a different perspective than most, but challenges aside, I always thought performance based pay didn’t sound like such a bad idea. Some past experiences have brought me to this conclusion, which I will share below: Don’t mind my venting a little here – I know this is a complicated and controversial subject – please read the article, but more importantly, add your own thoughts, opinions, and experiences to the comments section below! The AOE community wants to hear your thoughts on this important topic! Lots to discuss, so here we go…


A few years ago I was very honored to be invited to a National Art Ed Conference to speak in front of hundreds of Art Teachers, like yourselves. I eagerly walked  into the curriculum office at my school, excited to tell them I would be representing our district, our city, and our state at this conference.  No sooner had I shared the news was I quickly shut down. I was told I couldn’t represent the school district. They said “because we aren’t paying or sponsoring you to go, you are not allowed to attach our name to yourself at the conference at all.” WHAT? Confusion. I never asked them to pay for my ticket. I just simply wanted to share in the excitement and let them know one of their teachers was going to be sharing the GREAT things happening in their your schools. Oh well. I instead chose to go as a representative of The Art of Education, and have ever since at future conferences for this exact reason.

Unfortunately in today’s day and age, GENERIC RULES that are generated to protect everyone can really hinder those who are doing the right thing.

I found myself thinking in this situation: Does my merit mean absolutely nothing? Just because the school has a rule about not allowing teachers to representing the school if the school isn’t sponsoring them, does this mean there can be no exceptions?  If I were the school I would have taken a step back and said “mmmm, ok, this teacher is our department facilitator, has no infringements against her, has excellent rapport with families and students, and has data to show growth in her art department. I think we WANT to have her represent us, we’d be PROUD to have her represent us, and will allow this on a case by case scenario.

As a stark contrast, around the same time, my husband (who worked in marketing for a tool manufacturing company) got a similar honor, being asked to share his expertise at the first annual #140ConfDSM. He approached his boss with the same news, and his company couldn’t have been prouder! They gave him the day off, paid, to speak. They asked him to share their message and positive things they were doing with his audience, they even shared the video from his speech with the entire organization and applauded him for going the extra mile as an employee. Wow, what a contrast in philosophies!

This whole situation can be directly related to teacher pay…

Ask yourself: At what point can you really get reward for the great things you are doing instead of stifled by rules that mean the same for everyone? Does merit mean anything anymore? Of course you work hard, but you aren’t getting compensated for staying until 7:00 pm working on a new assessment you’ve created. You get the same as the teacher next door who is doing half of what you are. Why? Because the system has allowed this to be ok.

I know what you are going to say: I don’t teach for the money, I do it because I love the field of art education and want help kids love and appreciate art. YES! Do you get personal satisfaction for having am amazing art program, students who are engaged and parents who support you- OF COURSE! I am not denying that non-monetary motivations are sometimes the best. (Actually more often the best) HOWEVER, teachers are constantly complaining they aren’t being paid enough. So how do you explain this strange disconnect between “LOVING YOUR JOB” but constantly being dissatisfied with your pay. If you are chronically “overworked and underpaid” then do you have a solution to this problem?


You are already going above and beyond in so many areas. What if by doing these activities you could earn more money?  Earn more money not to do MORE, but to highlight and prove out the amazing things you are already doing. Sounds good to me, in theory.

Another thing to think about (this always bothers me): Why did you work hard in school? It’s connected to your grades. Why did you want good grades? So you could get a good teaching job. Why do you work hard at your teaching job? So you can feel good about yourself and help kids appreciate and learn about art. Noble goal, but these happy feelings don’t’ pay the bills, do they? The rest of the world gets a promotion because they work hard. Teachers have to pay money to earn more degrees to get paid more.  I always found this strange.

One of the biggest complaints of Merit Pay is the fairness of it all. You might be worried that if your administration or principal has something against you they won’t treat you fairly in an evaluation.  Of course this can be true, and is very unfortunate for those who are being treated this way. There are some really crappy people out there. I get it! My simple answer would be – Every single system if flawed. There are issues with our current system (no doubt) and there would be issues if we all moved to performance pay. However, this is how the rest of the entire world works in business. If you get a boss you don’t like, well, then find another job, or find a way to get along. Do amazing work that no one can find something to criticize you about, and you should be ok. This philosophy has always worked for me, which is why performance based pay doesn’t sound so scary.

If I were in charge, (which unfortunately I am not) this is how I would run Performance Based Pay:
It would be a multi-tired evaluation system. Of course, your principal evaluations would have a part of your performance. But surveys to families, students themselves, colleague input, and data that you present as evidence of learning all should factor in. Couldn’t data be the art show? (I have a lot of great assessment strategies to take a performance based product and put it into numbers that administration can understand) IT WOULD NOT BE SOLELY BASED ON TEST SCORES. I hate that. There are so many ways to show student achievement in art, and a test shouldn’t be one of them.

No matter how skeptical or fearful some teachers may be of performance-based pay, I thought it would be nice to hear a different perspective on the issue, just to get your mind turning. Remember- Every system in the world has it’s issues. So why not try something different? It’s time to shake things up in education and make some waves. We need something, don’t you agree?


Do you think I am off-my-rocker, or spot on?

Anyone out there on a performance based pay scale or moving to one soon? Tell us what it’s like. 

What other ideas or solutions do you have to this issue?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is AOEU’s Founder and a former AOEU Writer and elementary art educator. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.

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