Alternative staffing models could boost some teachers’ pay by as much as 134 percent without increasing existing school budgets, according to a new series of briefs by Public Impact, an education policy and management-consulting firm in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The organization has looked at 20 alternative models through its Opportunity Culture Initiative, which is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Gates provides unrelated funding for Education Week, and Carnegie has also been a funder.) The newly issued briefs offer financial analyses of three of those—"the multi-classroom leadership model,” “the elementary subject-specialization model,” and the “time-technology swap model.” Each of these models ultimately aims to put the best teachers in front of more students, or increase these educators’ “reach,” as a means of improving student learning with an eye to fiscal constraints.
In an interview, Bryan Hassel, co-director of Public Impact, described the financial analyses as a “modeling exercise” to examine “what could schools do … if they step back and think about what they do with staff time.” The organization’s goal was to reconsider staffing “in a way that’s financially sustainable—so it’s not a special program—and figure out ways to pay teachers more out of existing streams,” he said.
Under the multi-classroom leadership model, as it’s explained in the brief, excellent teachers could become “teacher leaders,” earning additional pay—as much as 134 percent more than the average teacher’s pay—for leading teams of teachers and taking responsibility for the student growth in all classrooms under their guidance. By maintaining an instructional role and helping develop the other teachers, teacher leaders would reach more students, directly and indirectly, according to the analysis. To cut costs, meanwhile, the model would reduce “the number of non-classroom instructional-specialist positions that provide remedial and advanced instruction.” The teacher leader would also be able to make decisions about scheduling and teaching assignments, which could include giving some teachers a reduced workload and less pay. The model mimics that of other professions, said Hassel. “I’m a consultant and I work with both clients and my team. You apply that idea to teaching,” he explained.
Under the subject-specialization model, elementary school teachers would instruct several classes in their stronger core-subject pair: math/science or language arts/social studies. A third group of lower-paid educators, including teaching assistants, would “supervise students during homeroom, other unstructured time, and transitions, and … cover most administrative work and other noninstructional tasks,” the analysis states. Under this model, according to Public Impact’s estimate, specialists could earn up to 43 percent more than average pay.
The third model described—the time-technology swap—uses self-paced digital learning to free up excellent teachers for more instruction and collaboration. Paraprofessionals would supervise a group of students in the computer lab while another group receives face-to-face instruction from teachers. While technology costs could go up under this model, the reduction in full-time teachers would free up funds for teachers to earn up to 41 percent more than average pay.
The models, Hassel explained, could vary widely between schools, depending on such factors as current staffing structures, schedules, teacher-evaluation systems, and technology infrastructure. Ideally, schools would blend the models, for instance scheduling digital-learning time for some students so that teacher leaders could provide instruction to others. “You get the most power from a combination,” he said.
Throughout the analyses, Public Impact emphasizes that the models would not increase class sizes. However, the organization makes a distinction between the size of an individual class and a teacher’s overall class load. In most of the scenarios presented, teachers would be responsible for more students in total but have class sizes comparable to current averages.
‘Politically Difficult Territory’
Compelling as they may sound in theory, such staffing models would encounter major policy barriers in implementation, noted Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. Many states have seat-time requirements and salary schedules in place, she said. And at the local level, teacher contracts limit the degree to which educators’ work can be restructured.
The models also call for an overall reduction in the number of full-time teachers, a feature the unions are likely to push back against. Teachers’ unions “don’t tend to like the idea that you do things just to save money,” Lake contended. “They want to see that something has the potential to advance teaching as a profession and results in big learning gains for kids.”
Brenda Alvarez, a spokesperson for the National Education Association, said in an email that the report “raises serious concerns for our members.”
Posing further practical difficulties, the staffing models hinge on being able to determine what makes an excellent teacher—one of the most loaded issues in the education policy arena today. “This is really politically difficult territory,” Lake said.
For its part, Public Impact addresses the kinds of policy changes needed to implement the models, including flexibility in teacher pay and the need for teacher evaluations with multiple measures, in a two-page “policymakers’ checklist.”
Despite the policy challenges, though, some schools are already using models similar to those proposed, according to Hassel. Rocketship Education, a growing California charter organization, uses both the time-technology swap and subject-specialization components, he said. Several other charter networks, including Carpe Diem schools in Arizona and the Knowledge is Power Program network in Los Angeles, also use variations of the time-technology swap. Hassel added that several low-performing public schools in Charlotte, N.C., are in the midst of developing combination models for next year.
And even while the majority of schools are far from overhauling their staffing models to up teacher pay, Lake of the Center on Reinventing Public Education said this kind of “creative” analysis is “important and timely” work.
“Everybody is putting a lot of thought into the teacher pipeline question—how do we get more effective teachers—and investments in PD and coaching,” she said. “I just think it’s important for balance that we also consider how to maximize the great teachers we have. It’s more realistic and has potential to be faster-acting. Ultimately, we have to do both, but the new pipeline probably isn’t going to get us there as quickly as it needs to.”