Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

School & District Management Opinion

An Innovative Way to Professionalize Teaching and Boost Teacher Pay

By Rick Hess — October 08, 2020 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

We talk a lot about how to professionalize teaching and boost teacher pay. Much of the thinking on this focuses on things like preparation, training, and evaluation. That’s all well and good. But, dating all those decades back to my classroom days, I’ve been more interested in how webs of rules, routines, and administration stop teachers from growing in their role or bending it to suit their strengths and passions. That’s why I was particularly taken by a recent essay Julie Squire penned for my New Conservative Education Agenda series. Squire, a partner at Bellwether Education, proposed applying the intuitions of charter schooling to the teaching profession. She writes,

Just as schools receive charters to run independently of districts, teachers could receive charters to run classrooms independently of schools. In addition to providing teachers with more autonomy, doing so would give families the opportunity to select not the school their child attends but the individual who guides their child's learning and development.

How would this work? It’s not really all that complicated, she says:

State-level leaders [could] establish a process for teachers to apply for a charter and become charter teachers. Once approved, teachers could develop and communicate their vision for students' day-to-day classroom experience and their own pedagogical approach to families. Families could consider this information, alongside information from various public and private sources, and identify and select teachers for their children. To maximize equitable access, families could then enroll their children through a transparent process akin to charter school lotteries.

How would this get started? Some teachers might welcome the chance to serve as pioneers, with philanthropic support or pilot funding. Squire explains:

Some states may launch programs to provide teachers with small startup grants to launch their practice; others may rely on philanthropy or other sources of private funding. Some states might leverage educational savings accounts, in which parents access and deploy their child's per-pupil funding to various education providers, including teachers. Some states might draw on the "backpack funding" model and have each child's per-pupil funding follow them to their teacher of choice.

I love that this is a decidedly “little r” approach to reform. It opens the doors for teachers to imagine a different kind of career path for themselves. After all, why is it that it’s routine for accountants, architects, and psychiatrists to open a private practice if they wish, but the idea seems so out-there when it comes to teaching. Squire explains:

Just as a physician might hire a nurse or a medical assistant, teachers could hire someone to support them with anything from data analysis to classroom management, depending on the skills that best complement their own. Just as physicians can decide how many patients to serve, with agency over the trade-offs in compensation and lifestyle, teachers could also exert control over the oft-debated merits of smaller class sizes by deciding for themselves how many students they serve.

It’s intriguing to ask how the benefits might extend beyond students and families to education more broadly. Squire observes that this model “could elevate the teaching profession and help retain talented educators by giving them control and agency over their own classrooms and careers. It could also attract a new generation of educators previously disenchanted by the idea of working in a large bureaucracy.” Indeed, she observes, it could even “re-engage former educators in more flexible or part-time opportunities.

While we frequently discuss the systems used in other nations, we talk much less often about the antecedents to what Squire has in mind. In South Korea, for instance, top teachers can earn eye-popping seven-figure salariesnot by teaching for the Ministry of Education but by working as tutors in hawongs (private, after-school tutoring academies). Parents seek out the best teachers, and those with good reviews and demonstrated success reap the rewards. Not so surprisingly, that sounds an awful lot like what Squire has proposed here—except that doing this as part of a public system will broaden, even universalize, access to the best teachers.

We can have traditional arrangements and a career avenue for teachers seeking more control over their professional lives. This isn’t an either-or. And, in most of life, salaries are pulled upward not by incremental boosts to bureaucratic pay scales but by the stars in any field. In pro sports, free agency led to dramatic increases across the board. The salaries of private practitioners in law and medicine have created upward pressure on the pay offered by universities and public systems. It’d be intriguing to watch the same dynamics play out in teaching.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Letter to the Editor School Mask Mandates: Pandemic, ‘Panicdemic,’ or Personal?
"A pandemic is based on facts. A 'panicdemic' is based on fears. Today, we have both," writes a professor.
1 min read
School & District Management How 'Vaccine Discrimination' Laws Make It Harder for Schools to Limit COVID Spread
In Montana and Ohio, the unvaccinated are a protected class, making it tough to track and contain outbreaks, school leaders say.
4 min read
Principal and District Superintendent Bonnie Lower takes the temperature of a student at Willow Creek School as the school reopened, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Willow Creek, Mont.
Bonnie Lower, a principal and district superintendent in Willow Creek, Mont., checks the temperature of a student as Willow Creek School reopened for in-person instruction in the spring.
Ryan Berry/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP
School & District Management Opinion 'Futures Thinking' Can Help Schools Plan for the Next Pandemic
Rethinking the use of time and place for teachers and students, taking risks, and having a sound family-engagement plan also would help.
17 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Opinion Best Ways for Schools to Prepare for the Next Pandemic
Being better connected to families and the community and diversifying the education workforce are some of the ways to be ready.
14 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty