Teaching Profession

Teacher-Quality Groups Lay Out Compensation ‘Essentials’

By Bess Keller — July 24, 2007 3 min read
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Performance-pay systems for teachers that are set up wrong might be worse than no performance pay at all, a coalition of groups promoting teacher quality warned here yesterday.

But the Working Group on Teacher Quality also said the lessons needed to establish successful new pay systems have emerged from the experiences of states and districts that have tried them.

As a result, the group’s new report, which details the “essentials” of reforming teacher compensation, can guide policymakers as they move toward changes, its leaders said. The report endorses paying teachers for growth in student achievement as measured by tests—usually called “performance pay”—but only when coupled with other kinds of evaluation, ongoing training, and a career ladder.

“If there’s one sure way reform will go down, it’s for [officials’] enthusiasm to get ahead of [their] knowledge,” said Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, one of the 11 groups involved in the project.

In that sense, she said, “the greatest enemy of compensation reform is performance pay.”

The working group was led by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, which evolved from the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Milken Family Foundation’s Teacher Advancement Program, itself a pioneer in new ways of paying teachers. Underwritten by the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, the coalition includes think tanks, teacher-advocacy groups, and organizations concerned with recruiting, retaining, developing, and paying for teachers.

Neither national teachers’ union was represented, although the independent national professional group, Association of American Educators, was.

The working group’s recommendations stress the need to improve teachers’ professional prospects and growth as part of a package that will more meaningfully evaluate and compensate them. Teachers should be rewarded on top of an adequate base pay “primarily” for gains on standardized tests scores—both their individual record and as part of a school’s progress—the report contends. Combined with that should be additional pay for one or more of the following: using new knowledge and skills, taking on additional responsibilities such as mentoring and peer review, and working effectively in schools that have been hard to staff.

“Multiple measures of teacher effectiveness … eliminate concerns that teachers will not earn bonuses if their students’ scores initially do not show significant improvement, and ensure that teachers who meet other important teacher-evaluation criteria are rewarded,” according to the report.

It advises against pay systems with caps on how many teachers can earn rewards. Also, the system should use a range of measures so that additional pay is not limited to those in the grades or subjects in which testing occurs. The report suggests that pay increments be “significant”—at least 5 percent of salary, enough to attract and retain teaching talent and make additional work worthwhile.

Teacher Approval Advised

Among the necessities for putting a successful new compensation system in place, the report says, are stable funding, teacher buy-in, and strong leadership teams at the school level. The working group advises that teachers be able to decide by vote whether they will accept a pay-reform package, and that they along with administrators and “other key stakeholders” have a hand in crafting the plan.

Special attention should be paid to the problems of schools serving low-income and minority children, who have been shortchanged in teacher experience and skill, it urges. What’s more, the system should help attract and keep teachers in fields and subjects that have suffered from a lack of candidates, such as mathematics and special education.

“The system should provide ongoing rewards for teachers with demonstrated aptitude in high-needs schools as opposed to one-time incentives for teachers to move,” the report says.

Finally, the working group recommends that the new system provide for evaluation and mid-course corrections. “Capacity for data-collection must be included in the plan,” it says, as well as money for independent, external evaluation of the new system.

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