4 ways to revolutionize teacher pay aside from offering $60,000 salaries

Districts are in the midst of a rare opportunity to redefine education. "Let's not squander this opportunity with a wet blanket," wrote Michael Hansen, a senior fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy.

If you were to ask the best teachers in your district why they got into teaching, how many do you think would respond, “The money”? Chances are, you wouldn’t, because most do it out of a love for kids and a passion for helping them learn. So why are we so lax when it comes to retention efforts involving teacher compensation?

Some districts have made radical changes to how they approach teacher compensation, and they’ve worked wonders. Ector County ISD in Texas, for example, is now the highest-paying district in the region. There, teachers actually have the potential to earn administrator-level pay.

According to Superintendent Scott Muri, other districts can do so in three steps. Firstly, he advises districts to assess their compensation systems and maximize opportunities for targeted employees in that system.

“Your comp system should match your district’s overall goal for compensation,” he says.

Next, he says they brought in an initiative that recognizes their most effective teachers through compensation.

“We follow and measure student growth and compensate the top 15% of teachers in the organization,” he says. “And for us, that’s up to about $20,000 in additional compensation per year for our most effective teachers. It’s targeting effectiveness.”

They also tie strategic staffing to compensation by placing their most effective teachers in classroom leadership positions so they can both teach and coach their colleagues at the same time.

“That body of work for us is called Opportunity Culture, but it fits under that umbrella of strategic staffing,” he says. “In that model, teachers have the opportunity to earn an additional $17,000 in compensation.”

When you begin to stack these compensation opportunities on top of each other, he adds, it creates opportunities for teachers to earn six figures.

While raising the base pay for teachers is one effective way to drive recruitment and retention, compensation reform can be achieved in a variety of ways beyond basic salary bumps. That’s according to Dr. Michael Hansen, a senior fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy and the Herman and George R. Brown Chair in Governance Studies. In a recent blog published by Brookings, Hansen offers four research-based recommendations for increasing teacher pay and improving teacher quality, no matter the district.

Compensate teachers in high-needs schools and subjects accordingly

Districts need to be “ambitious” and pay differentials for teachers filling vacancies in high-needs areas “need to be large,” he writes. Otherwise, teachers will continue to avoid these positions.

He also points to several studies that have detailed the impacts of bonuses or loan forgiveness. Additionally, such efforts would help benefit and attract teachers of color, who typically find themselves “clustered” in high-needs schools.

Adjust pay based on teaching quality and responsibilities

If a teacher’s goal is to promote equitable access to quality teaching, they should be compensated accordingly. Although pay-for-performance programs proved to be unpopular in the early 2010s, Hansen cites supporting evidence that reveals such policies can be highly successful when implemented properly and thoughtfully.

“Paying quality teachers to take on these extra responsibilities can increase their pay, increase disadvantaged students’ access to quality teaching, and provide support to colleagues,” he wrote, “Win—win—win.”

Pay teachers at a ‘master’s degree rate’

Many teachers feel almost forced to earn a master’s degree simply so they can be paid more. But, notes Hansen, studies reveal that teachers’ educational attainment “provides essentially no benefit for students.”

Additionally, pursuing higher levels of education typically leads to increased debt among educators. While it’s a necessary pursuit for those who wish to enter leadership positions, Hansen adds, fewer teachers will deem it necessary if their district adjusts its compensation policies.

Include preschool teachers in the conversation

Preschool teachers are “egregiously underpaid,” Hansen writes, despite their value among students and parents. Many preschool teachers have an associate’s degree or higher, yet it’s become a low-wage occupation. If lawmakers care about bolstering the teacher workforce, preschool teachers must be considered as well.

Recent efforts to redefine teacher pay have created a “raw opportunity” to radically change the field of education. If it’s done correctly, it could have a profound impact on teachers and students alike.

“Let’s not squander this opportunity with a wet blanket,” Hansen concluded.

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Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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