Rewarding Effective Teachers

Kudos to the Center for Teaching Quality for their upcoming report on teacher pay.  For years, the education community has been talking about the need to pay teachers more.  One camp has sought to raise all salaries, under the auspices that all teachers are grossly underpaid.  The other camp has sought to tie teacher salary to performance, offering financial rewards only to those teachers whose students achieve.  The result — tinkering around the edges, minor pay raises, but no real changes to the system.

Eduflack has been calling for bold words to bring attention to meaningful education reforms.  And the Center for Teaching Quality has indeed put forward some bold ideas.  Jay Matthews and The Washington Post bring us the facts …

So what’s the story?  The Center, in proposing a tiered structure for teacher pay, has keyed in on a couple of key points that help them communicate effectively with their primary audience — the American taxpayer.  Remember, any teacher pay proposals are ultimately funded by the taxpayers.  Convince them that your plan is meaningful, and they gladly pay more for the promise of a better school system.  Take them for granted, and more money for the schools could face a brick way.

What key beliefs did the Center apply to their call to action?

* We are a merit-based community — Like it or not, we are a pay-for-play society.  When talking about teacher pay, most non-teachers will begin to apply the proposal to their own work situation.  To get a 10% or 20% raise, you have to make a major contribution to the office.  Such bumps in pay are merit based, they aren’t simply based on longevity.  We’re willing to pay teachers more if they are successful in their jobs.  But we hear far too many horror stories of our failing schools to trust the money is well spent.  Promise us that we are rewarding performance — acknowledging merit and student achievement, and it doesn’t take much to convince us that teacher raises are worthwhile investments.

* We earn on a curve — Moving from school to work doesn’t eliminate the grading curve.  In most workplaces, not every employee is entitled to the largest raise possible.  You want to be in the top 10% of what you do so you benefit financially.  But the common perception is every teacher gets the same raise each year.  Doesn’t matter if they are training future Nobel winners or handing out word jumbles each and every day.  Such perception breeds resentment.  The most effective teachers get the best pay bumps.  Those teachers who take on more responsibilities have more to show for it at the end of the day.  It is a cornerstone of the non-educator’s work world, and we want to know our tax dollars are being spent in the same fashion.  We need to hear that more new money isn’t going into the same old system. 

Buy what you need — If a school is short two math teachers, you don’t hire a driver’s ed and an art teacher because they have the seniority or because tenure dictates that a job has to be found somewhere for them.  For the past several years, we have been effective convincing many that school improvement is required in order to effectively compete in the 21st century global workplace.  That means hiring the teachers to teach the skills and knowledgebase that make us competitive.  Science, math, technology, foreign languages.  We hear so much about the shortages in these areas, but our actions don’t match the words.  We need to hear that teacher money is going to fill our real needs.  We want our money spent wisely.  

At the end of the day, all of this comes down to a simple message — we need qualified and effective teachers.  Aspen’s NCLB Commission called for it, as have others.  The Center for Teaching Quality has taken that message, and put some real measures and real policies around it.  If anything, it has given us a lot to think about.  If we’re selling boosting spending on teacher salaries, what details do we need to see in the specifications? 


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