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Teacher Panel Calls for Overhaul of Pay

By Bess Keller — April 11, 2007 4 min read
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A team of 18 blue-ribbon teachers released recommendations today for a significant overhaul of the way teachers are paid that include rewarding them individually and in small groups for raising student achievement over time and for taking on leadership roles.

In addition, the recommendations say that teachers should no longer be paid more for seniority alone or for coursework that does not translate into school or classroom improvements.

The 18 teachers, handpicked for demographic diversity as well as accomplishment by the Hillsborough, N.C.-based Center for Teaching Quality, which organized their work under the name TeacherSolutions, also recommended paying teachers more in recognition of local market conditions. Those conditions might include the need for teachers in high-demand fields such as science or those who serve in struggling schools. The panel added, however, that incentives to attract teachers to struggling schools should be contingent on evidence of their effectiveness with high-needs students.

The report, “Performance-Pay for Teachers: Designing a System that Students Deserve,” is posted by the Teacher Leaders Network. An executive summary and press release are also available.

Under a sample pay plan worked out for a “competitive metropolis” such as the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, teachers could make as little as $30,000 or as much as $130,000 annually depending on their experience, performance, and contribution, according to the report.

The 50-page report, produced by the teachers after more than a year of study and discussion, proposes raising teachers’ potential pay over a career by establishing experience levels—such as “novice,” “professional,” and “expert”—tied to “meaningful measures of student and teacher productivity.”

In the team’s vision, teachers would be eligible to move through those levels within 10 years but only if they met benchmarks of skill. Within the levels, teachers could negotiate higher salaries by presenting higher qualifications. For instance, the report says, a newly minted graduate of an exceptional teacher-preparation program specially trained to work in an urban environment could get a higher starting salary than a run-of-the-mill graduate.

Beyond those measures, teachers could earn annual supplements ranging from 5 percent to 15 percent of their base pay by increasing student learning, demonstrating advanced skills, meeting market needs and, eventually, providing leadership. Leadership activities would include mentoring new and prospective teachers, coaching and evaluating peers, building educational programs for the school and the community, and reaching out to parents.

Warnings Issued

The TeacherSolutions team issued warnings, too, citing the career ladders and new pay schemes that have fizzled in the past. Performance-pay increments should be open to all, not just geared to a percentage of the teaching force, as in Florida’s recently jettisoned teacher pay plan, or only to teachers in state-tested subjects as is the case in parts of the Houston school district’s year-old system.

Not only is the perception of fairness to teachers and to students at stake when participation is limited, but an underlying goal of a pay system should be to encourage collaboration among all teachers, the report says. It also contends that small-team collaboration, such as among teachers at a grade level or in a department, yields more student learning.

The report cites the new pay systems in Denver and Minneapolis, both results of joint union-administration agreements, and the Teacher Advancement Program, begun by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Milken Foundation, as positive examples of what can be done. The Denver plan uses most of the same dimensions for bonus pay as that sketched by the report. The Minneapolis system emphasizes improved teacher evaluation coupled with targeted, in-school professional development. TAP shares features of both systems.

Anthony Cody, a member of the TeacherSolutions team and a teacher-coach in Oakland, Calif., said the time to rework compensation for teachers is now. “If it’s in the context of pay for professional growth and enhanced capacity to improve their practice, I think teachers are ready for that,” he said.

NEA Dismisses Recommendations

Not much support for the recommendations can be expected from the National Education Association, which represents about two-thirds of the nation’s public school teachers. NEA President Reg Weaver largely dismissed the panel’s recommendations as missing the point that teachers need to be paid more overall for their contribution to economic development.

“Many of these plans died because there was not enough money to be fully supportive of it,” he said. “And the way to enhance the economy is to invest in education. … Once salaries get to where they need to be, [we] can talk about a lot” of ways to improve teacher compensation, Mr. Weaver said.

The report released today will provide the foundation for another TeacherSolutions gathering in Chicago later this month, again with major support from the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation. The meeting will bring together teachers from the Cleveland, Chicago, and Milwaukee districts. Their task will be to see how the report’s recommendations might apply to their districts.

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