Doing More with Less: A Teacher’s Perspective

Camsie Matis received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching in 2009.

Camsie Matis received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching in 2009.

Guest Blog by Camsie Matis, Albert Einstein Educator Fellow at the National Science Foundation

Yesterday, I attended the American Enterprise Institute’s Conference: “Bang for the Buck in Schooling,” where Secretary Duncan gave a speech entitled “The New Normal: Doing More with Less.” Listening to the opening remarks, I wondered how he would reconcile calls I had recently heard him make to pay teachers more with the current need for school districts to make difficult budget cuts.

I care about this issue deeply because when I started my career as a highly qualified math teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area, I earned under $30,000. I have long felt that being able to earn a decent living is part of the equation that would help attract more talent into America’s classrooms, and it certainly would help keep extraordinary teachers working with children and helping reform the education system.

In the speech, Duncan explained, “Doing more with less will likely require reshaping teacher compensation to do more to develop, support and reward excellence and effectiveness, and less to pay people based on credentials.”

Then Secretary Duncan went on to make remarks centered on being strategic and smart about what to cut and what to invest in—ideas that resonate with my own philosophy on teaching and learning. As he spoke, I found myself nodding about the need to systematically reward and recognize excellence, not just so that teachers feel valued, but so that we as a nation can take effective best practices, replicate them, and ultimately help reassert ourselves as a leader in K-12 education.

We recognize our students with Student of the Month, with competitions like the Intel Science Fair, or FIRST. Why not recognize teachers in a similar fashion? There are some great programs that do recognize and reward excellence, like the Einstein Fellowship, or the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, but these reach only a small percentage of the amazing teachers out there. The District of Columbia Public Schools has begun an interesting evaluation system, IMPACT, where teachers are compensated based on evaluations of effectiveness. Recently Arne Duncan celebrated their successes at a Standing Ovation event where he spoke to the strengths of their program and the importance of their effort. Maybe other districts can learn from this system?

While I agree that teachers need to be paid more and need to be recognized in many ways, it doesn’t take a $100,000 salary to feature effective and excellent teaching in a local paper or on the evening news. Districts should make strategic decisions to make sure that the cuts stay out of the classroom as much as possible (a sentiment echoed by Secretary Duncan and Superintendent Shawn McCullough [Nogales, AZ] during today’s event). Rewarding and recognizing excellence shouldn’t be the “New” normal—it should be normal, period.

Camsie Matis is a public school math teacher currently serving as an Albert Einstein Fellow at the National Science Foundation.


  1. In response to teacher incentive pay:
    I believe teacher incentive pay based on test performance would be easy to determine but inefficient at rewarding teacher effectiveness for several reasons. First, classrooms may have large variations with the population in their classrooms. For example, as a teacher of a pullout gifted and talented program, I work with students from a large number of classrooms that vary greatly in the number of “gifted and talented” students in their classrooms. Some classes may have as many as 8-10 gifted students and others have none.
    Another reason why performance pay based on testing may not be efficient is due to testing not always being an accurate measure of academic ability for some learners. For instance, poor performance with testing can sometimes be related to test anxiety. I have witnessed, in several cases, very high achieving students perform below their actual ability level on standardized tests due to anxiety or boredom from the tests.
    Lastly, how will performance teacher incentive pay be measured for special area teachers, such as reading specialists, technology, gym, foreign language, and music teachers? These teachers work just as diligently as other educators….

  2. Rewarding excellence seems a “no brainer.” Why wouldn’t we want to reward exceptional teachers who do heroic work? Through the accountability movement, excellence will be determined primarily on how well a student does on a state created test. (Which by the way, has no impact on the student’s grade or promotion in most cases) So why not just pay teachers a bonus based on how many students pass a state created test? Sounds crazy? This is the essence of the educational reform movement.

    I have worked as a teacher, coach and curriculum support for over 25 years. What makes a great teacher is A LOT more than a score on a test. The majority of teachers DO NOT want be part of this grand experiment -PAY for PERFORMANCE in education. Why is no one listening to our voices?

    Educators are not greedy lazy people. We are hard working and dedicated to our students.

  3. I question the methods by which teacher pay is currently determined, and how it would be based on performance.

  4. While I find it an interesting idea to reward teachers for performance, I find that a hard concept to follow when our classrooms are so diverse. How could you effectively measure how to reward a teacher? So many highly qualified teachers are spending their lives teaching to classrooms and making miracles happen with the students that have nothing to do with academic achievment scores. They are changing lives and yet they do it without recognition or higher pay. They do it because that is what simply with they do. These teachers deserves to be paid a decent income. One that is as valued as our lawyers and doctors. Afterall, without teachers there would not be lawyers, doctors, politicians, or a need to be writing these comments. Lets reward our teachers by valuing the profession and giving them what it is worth. Wouldn’t the profession draw more talent if it were actually one in which someone could actually make a decent living? Instead, it is not even considered an option by many simply based on the fact teachers don’t get paid enough.

  5. I appreciate the push to reward teachers who have proven to be highly effective, especially when specializing in a particular content area. Rewards seem to be appropriate in these situations (though, I wonder whether they can actually be incentives, as driven teachers seem to be driven teachers, with or without financial or social incentives). My questions concerns some K-6 settings.

    When some students are out of the primary teacher’s classroom for a (sometimes substantial) portion of instructional time in an attempt to allow for more particular student attention (e.g., Professional Learning Communities), do these evaluation systems really reflect teacher effectiveness? Do these individualized “high stakes” evaluations encourage or discourage teacher collaboration? Are there evaluations and reward systems being explored or are already in place to address these situations where there is not just “one” teacher for a particular set of students?

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