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Trust Said Key to Private-School Salary Satisfaction

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At a time public-school leaders across the country are struggling to devise workable criteria by which to judge the quality of teachers' work, the first study ever undertaken of salary systems in independent schools has found that, for teachers, such systems remain "shrouded in mystery."

In detailed case studies of nine independent schools, researchers under the sponsorship of the National Association of Independent Schools found that most teachers at the schools did not know the criteria on which increments for high-quality "perfor-mance" were awarded. Moreover, the researchers found, awards of that kind are generally given on the basis of little specific evaluation.

However, in a finding that contrasts sharply with that often reported among public-school personnel, the researchers discovered a high degree of satisfaction among the teachers surveyed about their salaries, and little discontent about the undefined reward system. Many teachers attributed their satisfaction with the current system to their degree of "trust" in their schools' leadership and said they might be more critical of the system if they did not have that trust.

The study, "Faculty Salary Systems in Independent Schools" was conducted by John C. Littleford, headmaster of Breck School in Minneapolis, and Valerie Lee, a doctoral candidate at Harvard Graduate School of Education and a consultant to the Huron Institute in Cambridge, Mass.

Noting their own interest in the subject and that expressed during last spring's annual nais meeting, the researchers suggest that independent-school leaders had previously failed to collect such information because of "simple inertia" or "embarrassment about lack of resources or past inattention to this subject" that "might have prompted reluctance to share the information that is available." But they add that there is now "a need for such information."

"Salaries have never been something that independent schools have paid very high," Mr. Littleford said. "We're now realizing that there is a limited pool of outstanding teachers of the caliber we seek ... We are no longer going to be able to count just on pleasant working conditions. We are going to have to make earning competitive salaries a reasonable goal of the schools."

The researchers studied only schools whose salary systems were "functioning well" because part of the purpose of the case studies was to offer models for the award of performance-based pay. But they found, and could recommend, no single model because of what they describe as ''the rich diversity" of administrative practices.

They did, however, find a movement toward more "explicitness" in the salary systems of the schools studied. But they also note that "the pendulum seems to be moving the other way again." Teachers, they add, will more readily accept a move toward more explicit reward systems than a return to "more administrative discretion" at a school where the basis for rewarding teachers has previously been made explict.

Other Findings

Among other findings of the study:

Some form of salary schedule, usually having an age and experience basis, exists at the nine schools studied. Pay scales at those schools average between $16,000 and $36,000, and the majority of teachers are paid in the $16,000-$25,000 range.

Most of the teachers surveyed (41.6 percent) said their school had a ''quite structured" salary system in place, while 24.7 percent said their school's system was "very informal" and 19.5 percent labeled it as "semi-structured."

The salary system, according to most teachers surveyed, works well in promoting professional growth (92.1 percent), retaining good teachers (82.4 percent), rewarding high performance (70.1 percent), attracting new teachers (66.2 percent), and promoting monetary advancement (58.7 percent).

A large majority of the teachers polled (90.9 percent) said they felt their school's salary system was fair for them personally. When asked about their colleagues, however,3only 75.7 percent said the system was fair. This discrepancy, the researchers conclude, is because more experienced teachers believe the system underpays teachers who enter the faculty directly out of college.

Most teachers (69.1 percent) said they did not know other teachers' salaries, while 23.9 percent indicated they knew "some" of the other teachers' salaries, and only 7 percent said they knew "all." Most said they did not want to know what their colleagues were making.

A majority of teachers (56 percent) said they thought salary systems had no effect on faculty relations.

Asked how returning teachers' salaries are decided, 52.6 percent of the teachers surveyed said they believed they were based partly on a schedule and partly on discretion. Only 9 percent said the decisions were based solely on automatic schedules.

A combination of administrators evaluates teachers, said 68.8 percent of the teachers; the rest divided their answers evenly between school head, department head, and division head.

On pay for performance, 40 percent of the teachers said they "agree moderately" with the concept; 34.7 percent said they "agree strongly."

Most teachers surveyed had been teaching for a long time, with 13.7 years the mean for total teaching time and 8.6 years the mean for years taught at that school. These findings, according to the researchers, confirm the perception that teaching is an "aging" profession.

Administrators, the researchers found, use performance pay to motivate faculty members to perform at high levels on the promise of a reward if they do so, and to tangibly say "thank you" to teachers who have done a good job. However, in most schools surveyed that award more than token amounts of performance pay, administrators "do not make explicit to the faculty in general the amounts, recipients, or criteria for such awards."

"How can performance pay act as a motivating force if teachers do not know how much they are receiving, whether they are receiving it at all, or what the possible range is?" the researchers ask. "How can teachers be motivated to earn more performance pay without being apprised both of the administration's criteria for performance and of their strengths and weaknesses as measured against those criteria?"

In case-study schools that have more explicit salary systems--where teachers are aware of existing salary structures and the criteria for obtaining performance pay--teachers appear to be more actively engaged in discussion of issues surrounding salary, the researchers found. However making individual performance-pay decisions known to the entire faculty, the teachers in those schools said, was detrimental to faculty-administration and interfaculty relations.

Performance Pay

In the schools surveyed that award performance pay, between 50 and 90 percent of the faculty receive it, the researchers found. The reason a smaller group is not chosen to receive the pay, they conclude, is that singling out a small number of high performers might produce hostility among faculty members. And, they add, "It is politically effective to state that 'almost all of our teachers are high performers."'

Most schools in the sample that awarded performance pay gave more than $1,000 a year to each selected teacher, but some schools' awards did not reach that amount. The researchers found that unless awards were in the range of $1,000 or more, they were not a vital issue to teachers and frequently were not even recognized.

And although faculty members seem to want more information on the "ground rules" of awarding performance pay, Mr. Littleford found that when administrators make individual performance-pay decisions known to the entire faculty, there is faculty-administration and interfaculty dissension.

Among other issues looked at by the researchers:

Overall salary schedules. Teaching salaries in the schools sur-veyed--seven of which were in the top 10 percent of nais salary ranges in their regions--are markedly lower than those in industry and business, they found, and independent-school salary levels are still lower than those of comparable public schools.

Compensation for nonteaching responsibilities. The researchers found that schools either pay nothing to teachers who are involved as sponsors in extracurricular activities or have an elaborate method of compensation for participation. A third option, they found, is for schools to treat participation as a consideration in performance-pay decisions.

Available financial resources. Schools find the money to increase faculty salaries, the researchers found, by drawing from tuition, endowment funds, annual giving, and auxiliary services and enterprises. In addition, controlling overhead expenses, rearranging the structure of a school's staffing patterns, and varying workloads are means used to meet salary obligations.

Higher salaries to mathematics and science teachers. Most of the schools surveyed, according to the researchers, do not pay higher salaries to math and science teachers, but many independent schools reserve the right to do so, and a few actually do pay more to these shortage-area teachers.

Mr. Littleford said he hoped the study will foster discussion in the nation's independent schools about a very "sensitive" topic. Despite the fact that all of the school heads he surveyed were unalterably committed to increasing faculty salaries, according to Mr. Littleford, ''there has not been much sharing among us as schools of the existing [salary] systems and plans that we currently employ."

The issues of faculty salary levels, the method of faculty salary distribution, and performance pay are now at the top of the agenda of independent schools, said Mr. Littleford, who worked on the study in 1982-83 while earning a certificate of advanced study at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

"We need to consider seriously how it is that we evaluate teacher performance," he said.

James P. McCallie, head of Darlington School in Rome, Ga., agreed. The study, he said, is a "reconfirmation of our attempt in the independent-school world to recognize excellence." Raising salaries, he added, "is the number-one priority for the coming school year."

The issue of independent schools' salary systems will be addressed at nais's March 2 conference in New York City, said John Bachman, vice president of nais During the meeting, two sessions will be devoted to the subject, one on salary approaches beyond those included in Mr. Littleford and Ms. Lee's study, the second covering implementation.

To order a copy of the study, send $15 (nais members) or $45 (nonmembers) plus $1 postage to the National Association of Independent Schools, Order Department, 18 Tremont St., Boston, Mass. 02108.

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