Study Urges Teacher Pay Reform
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
Paying teachers based on seniority and advanced degrees does not ensure quality teaching, according to a new study which calls instead for a system that rewards specialized skills, classroom performance or willingness to take on tough assignments.
"We must pay (teachers) more, because without pay that is commensurate with other career opportunities, we will never attract enough of the best and brightest into teaching," said Bryan Hassel, the study's author. "But it is also clear that we must pay them differently from the way we do now."
The study, Better Pay For Better Teaching, , was released by the Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank associated with moderate Democrats, at a news confernce in Washington DC.
Quality teaching is considered essential to help states and schools ensure that every child learns the skills necessary to compete and be successful. Yet the average teaching candidate can expect to make less than $27,000 a year and the average pay for veteran educators is $41,820, according to the American Federation of Teachers,(AFT) a teacher union. (State-by-state salary rankings can be found: www.nea.org/publiced/edstats/rankings.)
Ten states have programs that experiment with paying teachers as businesses generally pay employees -- on the basis of merit.
Iowa is widely regarded as having the most innovative plan to pay teachers -a four-tiered career ladder that rewards teachers for higher degrees and raising student grades.
But policy experts also praise Kentucky for raising salaries at the same time that the state allowed districts to experiment with new approaches to pay teachers. Districts there are free to entice hard-to-find physics teachers with a higher salary or dole out bonuses to teachers who improve student test scores, or come up with an entirely new scheme.
"I'd like to see Kentucky's concept adopted by more states," Hassel said. "Districts (need) more flexibility to experiment. We need lots of flowers blooming and then we can see what works," he said.
Iowa, California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee have statewide pay-for-performance plans, with Iowa's being the most comprehensive. Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky and Ohio have district level pilot programs, according to the Education Commission on the States. ).
"States are exploring various alternatives to traditional teacher pay models and they are looking at how to tie student achievement to teacher pay," ECS Policy Analyst, Twanna LaTrice Hill, said in an interview.
Paying teachers for performance is controversial. Teachers in Cincinnati, Ohio are part of an experiment that classifies and pays teachers based on their scores on teacher exams and their ability to demonstrate their skills. Last month, the teachers participating in the experiment voted not to attach the pay to the new classifications.
"We have to get on-top of this right away," said Jane Hannaway, Director of the Education Policy Center at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC in an interview. "Getting it right (new pay systems) will be very difficult. Some of these incentives could be perverse."
"Frankly, what would make sense in the real world ought to make sense in schools as well. The traditional lopsided salary schedule will not and should not survive," said Adam Urbanski, President of Rochester, NY's Teachers Association.