Teaching Profession

Teacher Panel Calls for Overhaul of Pay Across Profession

By Bess Keller — April 17, 2007 4 min read
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If there’s remaining doubt that the way teachers are paid is due for an overhaul, it might well be put to rest by a new report from teachers themselves calling for just that.

A blue-ribbon team of 18 teachers released recommendations last week that center on doing away with the traditional approach of compensating teachers largely for their years on the job and coursework, and instead paying for the quality and quantity of their contributions to the schools and communities where they work. The proposals include rewarding teachers for taking on leadership roles and for, individually and in small groups, raising student achievement over time.

In addition, the recommendations say that teachers should be paid for coursework or workshops only when those activities translate into educational improvements.

“Performance Pay for Teachers: Designing a System that Students Deserve” is posted by the Teacher Leaders Network. An executive summary also is available.

The teacher panelists, picked 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 recommend paying teachers more in recognition of local market conditions. Those factors might include the need for teachers in high-demand fields such as science or in struggling schools. The panel adds, however, that incentives to attract teachers to poorly performing schools should be contingent on evidence of teachers’ effectiveness with high-needs students.

“Politically, this is enormously significant,” Andrew J. Rotherham, a co-founder and co-director of the Washington think tank Education Sector, said of the teachers’ recommendations. “One more group that’s hard to characterize as conservative, or hard-core members of the reform camp, has now come out and said there should be reform in teacher pay.”

Mr. Rotherham, formerly an education aide to President Clinton, characterized the ideas in the report as “pretty sensible.”

Warnings Issued

The 50-page document, produced by the teachers after more than a year of study, proposes raising 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.

Pay Potential

Under a sample plan worked out for a “competitive metropolis,” such as Raleigh-Durham, N.C., teachers could earn $30,000 to $130,000.

BRIC ARCHIVE

SOURCE: TeacherSolutions

Beyond those measures, teachers could earn annual supplements ranging from 5 percent to 15 percent of their base pay.

The TeacherSolutions team’s report issues warnings, too, citing the career ladders and new pay schemes that have fizzled in the past. Performance-pay increments should be open to all teachers, it says, not just geared to a percentage of the teaching force, as in a recently jettisoned Florida 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, or TAP, begun by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Milken Family Foundation, as positive examples of what can be done. The Denver plan uses most of the same dimensions for bonus pay as that sketched out 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 Proposals

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. President Reg Weaver largely waved away 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 will provide the foundation for another TeacherSolutions gathering in Chicago this month, again with major support from the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation. (“Teachers Recruited to Find Solutions to Vexing Policy Issues,” July 12, 2006.) The meeting will bring together teachers from the Chicago, Cleveland, and Milwaukee districts to see how the report’s recommendations might apply to their districts.

“We’re just on the cusp of doing what needs to be done in this country of having highly accomplished teachers have a voice,” said Barnett Berry, the founder and president of the Center for Teaching Quality, the TeacherSolutions parent. Mr. Berry said he hopes additional teams of teachers will be able to tackle other policy problems as well as the specifics of new ways of measuring teachers’ contributions.

A version of this article appeared in the April 18, 2007 edition of Education Week as Teacher Panel Calls for Overhaul of Pay Across Profession

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