Teacher Compensation Reform

, Emily Kanyi, Leave a comment

In the 2009 fiscal year, the Obama administration provided 200 million dollars for the Teacher Incentive Fund through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the stimulus bill, an increase from the initial 99 million dollars. The administration has also proposed a significant increase in funding for the program by requesting 487.3 million dollars for the 2010 fiscal year.

In a recent event hosted by the Center for American Progress (CAP), Robin Chait, the associate director for teacher quality at CAP, commended the government’s efforts. “We don’t know yet if this request will be successful, but at CAP we think this investment is incredibly important because it will not be possible to make significant improvements in student achievement without a dramatic overhaul of the teaching profession,” said Chait.

While referring to the single salary schedule, Chait said that teachers are under-compensated making it difficult for districts to meet their strategic goals and making it even more difficult for schools serving low-income students to attract and keep top teaching talent.

The CAP event also unveiled the release of two papers: “Aligned by Design: How Teacher Compensation Reform can Support and Reinforce other Educational Reforms,” by Craig Jerald, the President of Break the Curve Consulting and, “It’s More than Money: Making Performance-Based Compensation Work,” by Bill Slotnik, the founder and executive director of the Community Training and Assistance Center (CTAC).

Speaking at the event, Jerald said that there is need to align compensation reforms to include “recruitment, selection, career progression and the basis for promotion” all geared towards “focusing on a common set of skills that the system expects of its teachers.”

While lauding the government’s efforts towards compensation reform, Slotnik, also speaking at the event, urged the administration not to repeat past mistakes but to explore ways that will be helpful to both teachers and students.

“In essence, connecting compensation to classroom, school and district effectiveness is a step in forward thinking. And I think the nation has arrived at that point and Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama have given a lot of visibility to this issue. But it’s a step forward in thinking that requires an even more significant leap forward in implementation know-how, institutional change, and policy development, if it’s going to be effective,” said Slotnik.

Slotnik explored six cornerstones of performance-based compensation which, he argued, are necessary for meaningful reform.

• Firstly, that performance-based compensation is not just about money, but also requires making changes to the rest of the organization.

• Secondly, that teachers must be actively involved in the process. “Performance-based compensation must be done with teachers, not to teachers,” said Slotnik.

• Thirdly, organization reform must be organizationally sustainable. Slotnik pointed out that “teacher quality and effectiveness are a function of management quality and effectiveness.”

• Fourthly, there must be financial sustainability. According to Slotnik, “this means looking at three different types of cost: the cost of transitioning to the new system, the cost of sustaining the new system and the cost of re-allocating existing resources in support of the effort.”

• Fifthly, performance-based compensation must go beyond politics and finances to benefit students.

• Lastly, Slotnik argued that performance-based compensation “is at root a lesson of institutional change and that the focus on student learning and the teachers’ contribution to it can be a significant trigger for needed change if the initiative also addresses the district factors that affect the schools.”

While commending Slotnik and Jerald’s work, Rob Weil, the deputy director for the Educational Issues Department of the American Federation for Teachers, urged people to comprehensively study the papers. “I am hopeful as these papers are released, that people take the time to really read them and understand what’s in them,” Weil said.

(None discussed the amount of money that the government at the federal, state and local level pumps into public schools—upwards of a half a trillion dollars—nor the test scores that have dropped while education spending has exploded. As well, they avoided the thorny questioned of how much of this “investment” makes it into the classroom.

Teachers make up 57.3 % of the personnel in public schools. Moreover, although they are among the highest paid teachers in the world, instructors may find that they are at the short end of the payroll among public school personnel, behind administrators, lawyers and sometimes even crossing guards.

Perhaps this is what leads to their feeling underpaid. Within their parallel universe, they might be.—ed. )

Emily Kanyi is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.