Teaching Profession

Leadership, Responsibilities Not Reflected in Teacher Pay

By Stephen Sawchuk — June 08, 2011 2 min read
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The Watertown, Mass.-based Education Resource Strategies has released an interesting primer for state policymakers about what district money current buys and how it might be repurposed.

Sean Cavanagh at State EdWatch covers the goods for you, but I did want to highlight the sections in the report dealing with how teachers in the United States are compensated.

First up is the finding that most pay depends on longevity and level of education. No surprise there, if you’re a dedicated Teacher Beat reader. What’s really eye-opening, though, is the analysis’ breakdown of the percentages for longevity v. pay. This is a function of both the overall age of the teacher force and the specific value districts and unions have placed on the two variables.

In Rochester, N.Y., for example, experience makes up more than 80 percent of teacher compensation, while pay for master’s degrees makes up only a tiny fraction of total compensation. In the District of Columbia, by contrast, master’s degrees make up about half the total the district spends on compensation.

Clearly, changing these pay structures would involve a different set of tradeoffs, depending on the district, its teaching force, and what its leaders value.

There’s one caveat to the data: They’re pulled from 13 different districts over different time periods, generally between 2005-2010, so they’re not strictly comparable. Still, they give a pretty good overall sense of the landscape.

A second chart shows that the average district studied spends less than 2 percent of its teacher compensation on pay for increased responsibility, leadership, or performance. This doesn’t just mean better test scores or individual merit pay; it can mean teachers who take on additional roles helping to develop curriculum or coach peers, for instance.

It is interesting to consider this finding in tandem with another report released recently, which noted that many countries couple better pay with a career-ladder system in which the best teachers take on significant additional responsibilities.

There are plenty of teachers doing extra tasks like writing curriculum and so forth here, too, but they aren’t getting paid for it, and they’re probably not getting a lot of release time or common planning time to fulfill such duties, either.

One of the problems of moving to differentiated teacher roles, of course, is that there needs to be a good way of identifying really good teachers for the new roles. What mechanisms do you think would be ideal? Comments section is open!

(Disclosure: Education Week‘s publisher, Editorial Projects in Education, has a partnership with ERS, which makes some of its resources available on our website.)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.