To the Editor:
Based on more than 50 years of experience as a teacher, superintendent, state director of research, and consultant, I offer these basic comments on the Center for American Progress’ proposal to eliminate paying teachers extra for earning master’s degrees (“Halt Urged to Paying Teachers for Earning Master’s Degrees,” Aug. 12, 2009):
• Any study might conclude that a degree that is not relevant to needed improvements would be fairly useless.
• Suggesting performance-based pay as an alternative is illogical, since, as is suggested in your article, “research connecting performance-based pay to improved student achievement is thin and inconclusive.” Academic performance in a class can vary from year to year because of changing students and parents.
• All schools could improve student achievement with a system-oriented approach and the use of proven cognitive models, such as (but not limited to) brain-friendly teaching techniques.
Every school should develop a customized improvement plan, wherein earning a master’s degree or some other professional activity that helped develop the skills needed for that system would be rewarded under specific conditions.
The reward could consist of tuition or other reimbursement aid (as for workshops or conferences) given annually as a teacher pursued a preapproved personal plan related specifically to the development or sharpening of skills needed to support the school’s improvement plan. A pay differential could be awarded after completion of this personal plan, pending verification by evaluation that the relevant new skills had been achieved.
Such a plan could be very flexible and would give teachers more involvement in planning their professional development. The major problem now is that many schools do not have a strong, system-oriented, research-based improvement plan that includes related professional-development policies and evaluation practices. The excuse that bargained policies prohibit such flexibility is just that: an excuse. I have found teachers and their associations quite willing to participate in designing new policies and practices if they are accepted as full partners in that design.
A version of this article appeared in the September 02, 2009 edition of Education Week as Make Teacher Incentives Part of Improvement Plan