Researchers Set Out To Devise New Pay Structure for Teachers

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Despite widespread dissatisfaction with the way teachers are paid, attempts to change the entrenched system of compensation have been highly controversial and fraught with problems.

In the 1980's, districts and states experimented with merit pay, career ladders, and incentive pay. Most of those efforts were resisted by teachers and failed to spread widely.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison hope to reverse that trend. With a $600,000 grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, they are drawing on lessons from the private sector to devise a new compensation structure for teachers.

In trying to succeed where many have failed, the project has a big advantage: cooperation from the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

"We've always wanted to see if there was a better way to pay teachers," said Allan Odden, a professor of educational administration who is the principal investigator for the project, "and we've always screwed it up."

The project, which now has funding for two years, will take about six years, Mr. Odden estimated. The final phase will be to find school districts willing to try out the new pay models.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards also is participating. Though it has no say over how teachers are paid, the board has an interest in seeing plans developed that will provide financial incentives for teachers to seek certification.

Another group has been formed with other influential organizations, including the American Association of School Administrators, the principals' associations, the national and state school boards' associations, and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The groups are holding parallel seminars to study pay plans in so-called high-performance organizations: businesses that have pruned their headquarters staffs and given decisionmaking power to self-managed work teams. The payoff: increased productivity and better results.

Education is moving--slowly--in the same direction, with calls for streamlining central offices and giving teachers, administrators, and parents a much larger say in how their schools are run.

Paying for Knowledge

If teachers can be financially rewarded for becoming board certified, teaching will take a step toward the skill-based pay or pay-for-knowledge approach that decentralized companies typically use.

A new pay model could create five or six levels of performance between licensure and advanced certification, Mr. Odden suggested. School districts and states would have to invest heavily in professional development, which he believes should be controlled by schools.

The Wisconsin researchers will study a variety of pay plans:

  • Skill-based pay or pay-for-knowledge. These systems pay workers for acquiring--and showing they have mastered--a set of skills and expertise.

The current salary schedule includes a kind of skill-based pay, because teachers are paid for accumulating academic credits and years of service. But coursework and seniority do not guarantee knowledge and skill, said Albert Shanker, the A.F.T. president.

"We ought to move to a system where people who have knowledge and the ability to use it would be compensated on a different basis," he said.

Keith B. Geiger, the president of the N.E.A., agreed. "It's going to be problematic," he said, "but I think we owe it to the profession to give it our best shot."

  • Group performance incen-tives. These provide bonuses to a school's entire faculty when student performance improves.
  • Gain-sharing. These systems reward employees for working more efficiently. Mr. Odden said this pay plan could be used in combination with skill-based pay and group incentives.

Vol. 14, Issue 28

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