Do Teacher Compensation Systems Work?
Teacher compensation systems rank among current hot-button issues in the world of education. While there’s no doubt as to the reality of a teacher salary issue, how exactly to go about fixing that is anything but unclear. Some districts have implemented “teacher compensation systems” as a way to “fairly” determine pay rankings, but the effectives and flat-out feasibility of these compensation systems is highly contested.
One of the main accusations of the current teacher compensation system is that it’s not designed to respond to market realities. While teacher compensation is considered low when compared with other occupations, there are differences in pay even within the teaching community. For example, rural teachers are generally paid less than teachers in urban areas. This includes beginning salary, average salary, and highest salary on the pay scale. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 39 of 50 states, the pay of rural beginning teachers is less than that of their urban counterparts. The same is true for the average salary and the highest salary.
Some experts have suggested increasing the pay of teachers who teach in-demand subjects like mathematics and science. This is because graduates in these subjects are more likely to be lured away from teaching by organizations in the technology field with higher paying jobs. But schools simply cannot compete with salaries offered by information technology firms. As a result, schools are sometimes forced to hire under-qualified teachers in these subject areas, which has a negative impact on overall student achievement. It’s also unfortunate that senior teachers manipulate transfers to move to better paying and more desirable schools, leaving the most disadvantaged students to be taught by inexperienced teachers.
Yet another suggestion is the introduction of a merit-based pay model. This is to enable high-performing teachers to make more money, awarding recognition in concrete terms to those who are delivering the greatest measurable benefit to students. Many oppose this model. Some of the reasons they cite against a merit-based pay model include:
• It may result in a popularity contest among teachers and may not truly be based on the quality of their teaching.
• Student performance cannot be solely linked to teacher quality, as factors beyond the teacher’s control determine student achievement.
• Merit-pay schemes may discourage teachers from working with difficult-to-teach children, because they fear it will affect their compensation.
While it’s good that districts are attempting to do something about the salary issue, so far, teacher compensation systems don’t seem to be the final answer. Salary is still an area full of questions. Has your district implemented a compensation system? What are the districts around you doing? What’s working? What’s not? Are there any changes you have the power to make? Whether you’re a new teacher or an experienced pro, what can you do about the issue of education and fair pay?