Charter and private schools make much greater use of pay innovations than traditional public schools, and there is some recent evidence that they have been more successful at recruiting teachers with higher academic credentials. The report looked to national surveys of charter and private schools and interviews with leading charter and private school networks for their answers to several key questions that animate the current debates over teacher pay in public schools:
- How much should teachers be paid, and who should decide?
- Should some of teacher pay be tied to performance, and if so how?
- How should pay be designed to attract teachers to hard-to-staff positions?
- What rewards other than pay should be part of the overall package for teachers?
The report found several common trends in charter and private schools that differ significantly from pay experiments in traditional public schools:
- Strict salary schedules play a much smaller role in charter and private schools in determining teachers’ base pay. Many charter and private schools do not use a schedule at all, and even those that do tend to use it as a starting point rather than the sole determinant of teachers’ pay.
- Charter and private schools are more likely than district schools to tie some portion of teachers’ pay to performance, and a significant number also use higher pay to fill hard-to-staff positions.
- Charter and private schools also make much greater use of non-financial rewards than district schools to draw and keep the best teachers.
What emerged from the research is a picture of what school and system leaders do with pay when they are free to use compensation as a tool to meet their goals. Though they are free from many of the rules and constraints that govern pay in traditional public schools, school and system leaders in the charter and private sector have not created a new formula-driven system to replace the traditional salary schedule. Instead, our data and examples suggest that they have thrown out the very idea of formulas, substituting instead substantial discretion for school-level leaders to use compensation in pursuit of goals.
School-based decision-making is common in these schools, and it allows principals to adjust teacher salaries to the individual needs of their schools and to market realities in their communities. It provides room for creativity in teacher compensation and programs that respond directly to teachers’ needs. It allows schools to try different approaches, discarding the ones that do not work and keeping the ones that do. It makes it possible to evolve pay systems over time, adapting to new realities and new needs.