Center for American Progress

Teacher Pay Reforms Must Focus Incentives on Improving Student Learning
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Teacher Pay Reforms Must Focus Incentives on Improving Student Learning

Experts at a CAP event discuss the need for reforming traditional teacher pay schedules to reward success in collaborative environments.

States and school districts around the country are implementing alternative teacher compensation programs, often to mixed reactions. Many of the programs include a performance pay component based on student achievement test results, making them controversial with some teachers unions, school administrators, and communities. But in places like Denver and Minnesota, where the programs have been carefully crafted to fit local needs, performance pay just may be the right plan at the right time to benefit student learning.

“We’re in an era in education where results matter,” Brad Jupp, Senior Academic Policy Advisor to the Denver Public Schools’ ProComp program, told an audience at the Center for American Progress on Monday. Jupp was responding to two new reports from CAP about reforming teacher compensation in public schools.

Jupp was joined on the panel by Joan Baratz-Snowden, the author of one of the papers and the president of the Education Study Center; Robin Chait, report author and Senior Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress; and Stacey Hunt, Teacher Advancement Program Manager in the Chicago Public Schools. Cindy Brown, Director of Education Policy at CAP, moderated.

The authors, Jupp said, are demanding a new discourse about the way teachers should be paid.

All panelists agreed that this new discourse should be based on student results. Baratz-Snowden, a former official at the American Federation of Teachers, spoke on the need to shift the focus of the teacher pay discussion away from its current emphasis on teacher inputs and toward accountability and student output. But a focus on outcomes should not stymie the conversation about performance pay or teacher improvement.

Denver’s ProComp program, one of the most successful alternative compensation programs in recent years, uses a methodology based on students’ learning gains on tests to determine only a part of teacher pay increases. The other bonuses that teachers can receive are based on knowledge and skills acquired through extra training, professional evaluation by peers and principals, and teaching in high needs schools or subject areas.

Officials in both Denver and Minnesota developed their programs in consultation with local teachers unions and have seen satisfaction from both teachers and parents. On the other hand, Florida’s performance pay program was implemented hastily, imposed punitive quotas, and didn’t involve teachers in its development. That program, implemented in 2006, has already undergone several modifications.

Jupp emphasized the collaborative element of the Denver program, saying that schools, teachers, and administrators need a shared will to solve tough problems and go forward together to ensure success for students. Indeed, the collaborative aspect of alternative compensation programs can be an essential factor in whether the program itself thrives in schools.

After analyzing performance pay programs in eight states, Robin Chait found that many of these programs contained the elements that we would expect in effective programs. Emphasis on schoolwide improvement—not just in individual classrooms—was a factor in all of the programs, as were principal or peer evaluations of teachers.

Inclusive programs that help all teachers help all students, performance pay systems with a clear purpose of improving student learning, and inclusion of teachers in design and implementation are all components of successful systems. The programs must be designed to “increase the overall quality of the workforce,” said Snowden, and they must garner broad public support. Alternative compensation, she said, is a process, not an event, and it works best when states and districts take the time and the money to get it right.

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