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Just Rewards?


In a recent opinion piece, 2003 National Teacher of the Year Betsy Rogers argues that the traditional teacher-compensation system is unfair and ultimately harmful to schools. Referencing new recommendations made by the TeacherSolutions group (of which she is a member), Rogers says that teachers' salaries should be determined in part by their level of initiative and their success in helping students learn.

What's your view? How should teachers' pay be determined? How best can teachers' performance be judged for compensation purposes? What role can teachers play in redesigning school-compensation systems?


Betsy raises many interesting points in her piece. One of the problems is undercompensation of young teachers starting out and the demands placed upon them. When I first started teaching to make ends meet I taught and worked two part time jobs and went to school in order to meet certification requirements. I have only seen things get worse for beginning teachers. Along with paying for school loans now and increased certification requirements the pressures of NCLB have been added. It is no wonder they drop out. My son-in-law who had been student teacher of the year when he graduated from school left within two years because of the demands and lack of adequete compensation to form his own business. I myself left for two years inorder to take a breathe and see what it was like in the private factor. I missed the students and returned but I also can see the difference in the ability to walk away at times in the private sector to be able to step back and examine what I am doing and adjust my sites.
In a nutshell though compensation is part of the factor it is not the only one and is part of a very complex set of demands on teachers in which they are dealing with.

I am a single parent who put myslef through school as a non-traditional student. If I had realized how much money I would be in debt for student loans, the actually pay I get, and the ever raising cost of health insurance, I think I might have gone into a different field of employment. Plus, I have to pay for credits to keep my license, and it was a no-brainer to stick the credits into a Master's Program, (which cost money) and not I am a teacher with my Master's, teaching in a time when having your Master's is not such a great thing, Some schools do not want to pay the salary of a Maters teacher (which really is not much diffrent than not having my Masters). There are students coming right out of college making twice what I am making with just their undergrad. I see a lot of people leaving teaching for the fact that you can get paid better doing something else, which is very sad. What is even sadder, the public seems to think we make tons of money and are greedy to ask for more.
I love teaching and working with the population that I am working with LD/CD/ED, in 4th and 5th grade. There are not a lot of teachers who would like to trade jobs with me. I heard at one time that Special Education teachers made a little bit more money than regular education teachers because of the diversity and different type of work they have to do. I think that would be a great idea to start again and be a motivator to get more people into the special education field.

Kudos to Betsy Rodgers and others of the TeachersSolutions network for their recommendations that link teacher pay with student learning increases. That's a bold, and important step. I support their theme, and encourage taking the next step of linking teacher performance pay to increased student learning rates.

I especially appreciate Betsy's description of the young teacher and Robert James's comments about working in private sector jobs.

I can't, maybe someone else can, document this empirically, but I think that non-classroom activities offer important perspectives for increasing student learning, and thus should be considered by more teachers. If lower teacher compensation encourages outside employment, I'd argue for lower, not higher base pay plus pay for increased student learning rates. Pay for results, not process.

At the same time, it seems important that school administrators be able to answer the question, "What does it cost for a student to learn to say "ae" when seeing the letter /a/ and for each other product a teacher is paid to produce?

Until a school budget planner can tell a school board about such costs, no way exists directly to link individual student learning rates and teacher performance. In other words, how much increased teacher pay will generate one student learning one more vocabulary word? One dollar? One hundred dollars? Ten thousand dollars?

With answers to such questions, compensation packages can then link teacher pay to student learning costs.

Yes, this rhetoric appears foreign to school budgeting and images of teachers. But it also appears as a latent, crucial part of the same theme Betsy and others have described.

Keep up the good work.

While considering a change to a compensation plan is initially scary we cannot ignore its potential benefits. A guarenteed effect would be improved instruction and a renewed desire to help every student succeeed. I think that some may rediscover why they joined the profession. A possible negative effect could be the reaction of parents and communities. One thing the education world struggles with is its identity; it is not the business world. Currently in small communities with local school boards the community is essentially the boss; they determine the who sits on the Board of Ed, they determine the budget by vote. Will the community determine how to measure qualtiy teaching? Will a community be willing to pay to reward quality teachers? These are questions we also need to ask and potential problems we need to troubleshoot now. There will be role reversal in some communities and the new roles expectations need to be absolutely clear.
That said, it is indeed a time for a change and I hope that we do move to a compensation system, many teachers and community members will be out of there comfort zone for a while, but isn't that when we have a breakthrough and learn best?

I guess the question that comes to mind when discussing "merit" pay is what about those communities where schools struggle to make any kind of advances, regardless of what they do? How do you make merit pay fair as opposed to giving merit pay to teacher who teach in "high"[er] achieving localities? My qualms with NCLB is that the state can take control of the school, fire the principals, teachers and lunch room workers, but the kids are still there even under new management.

I have been teaching for seven years now and this is the first year in my teaching career when I have not had another part time or two part time jobs to supplement my teacher income. I am just about to have my first child and my thoughts are, "How am I going to make this work financially?" As a teacher in Hawaii (a high cost of living area and a low pay area) I have seen scores of new teachers and mainland recruits turn around after one year and run for another profession. I probably would have done that too had I not taken on other jobs afterschool. What was even more difficult is that school systems encourage you to further your own education but taking night graduate courses, working a part time job, grading and lesson planning is taxing. THere is simply not enough time in a day and not enough money to make it work. Let's not even mention that many states require new teachers to take 3-8 tests (Praxis, CBEST or others) which cost almost $100 per test. How can a new teacher afford this?

As for merit pay, I am a supporter of this, although I never thought I would be. I know I overwork myself because that makes me feel good and I know that I am doing the best for my students, but I see plenty of colleagues who don't and yet, they get the same pay as me (some get more). We all know who those people are- teaching right from a book, kill and drill exercises with the students, simply check marks instead of constructive feedback for students and although we know we are doing a better job, some of us are envious that the other half have more spare time. Hey, we're not getting paid anymore for working that much harder, are we. It a bit communist to me. Those who have the drive and are willing to put forth the extra effort should get the extra pay, just as a junior lawyer at a law firm would get a bonus.

I am not, however, in favor of using test scores to judge a teacher however, because test scores are just not as reliable as they seem, but through positive observations and evaluations, porfolio presentations, student products and resume building, it can be clear who is excelling in engaging their students and better themselves as educators and who is not.

Betsy Rogers points out the unfair compensation for beginning teachers and puts into the mix evaluation of teachers' competence. First, we need to agree that making a teacher wait 20 years to get to the top of the pay schedule is unfair and needs to be readjusted. NCLB has pushed a business model on schools, so we should get a business model of compensation, no business would take more than 5 years to reach the maximum in any category of employment. As for equal compensation, teachers become better with effective leadership. Teachers doing the minimum (and who is to say whether a teacher is efficient of lazy?) probably has little reason to change without feedback, interest, learning teams, carefully planned professional development,...). A principal that is an educational leader, not a classroom escapee, can propel a school and all its teachers toward better performance. Not everybody is interested in putting in 10 hour days, buy most people, and especially teachers, are interested in making a difference. Someone needs to cultavate that.

I teach AP English IV and Dual Credit ENGL 1301/1302 and am the only teacher in my department with an advanced degree in English. Prior to coming into the public school system, I had three years experience teaching at the postsecondary level. The school district in which I teach does not recognize those three years, so I began teaching at the same pay as new teachers who had just graduated from college. My M.S. in English-Rhetoric is worth less than $2,000. When students reach my class, their skills levels fall very short of those requisite for the work that we do--especially in the dual credit classes. I get to school at 7:00 in the morning to work with students; spend countless hours at the computer with students, modeling both the thought processes and the skills needed for them to do the work--not to mention re-teaching concepts the had been erroneously taught in prior years; and spend an unbelievable amount of my off time grading their essays, giving the students as much positive feedback as possible. Additionally, I am 21 hours short of completing my course work for a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction-Reading, and when finished, the school district thinks that all of my endeavors, all of the expertise gained that will benefit my students is work an additional increase of less than $2,000. With the shortage of teachers, the nationwide answer seems to be to hire anyone with a pulse in lieu of attempting to stem the tide of good teachers leaving within five years by restructuring how a teacher’s worth is computed. I agree with Ms. Hoffman that judging teacher worthiness based only on test scores does not work for several reason, not the least of which is that we have poor teachers who hid behind formulaic worksheets (producing passing scores but not affording any real opportunity to learn what's needed to gain success after graduation). Additionally, schools in low SES neighborhoods have students who do not want to be in school and who do not take the testing seriously enough to do well--irrespective of how qualified and dedicated the teacher. I constantly have former students come by, telling me that I'm the only teacher that they had who really prepared them for college because of the discourse that I have in class, which gives them voice and encourages critical thinking. Next year will be my 4th year in the public school system; unfortunately for the students whom I impact in a positive manner, it may be my last.

When the politicians let me decide WHO sits in MY classroom, and WHO DOESN'T then they can pay me based on student improvement. I know the students who actually try and the ones who don't. I will be sure to select only the ones who care and want to learn. (Then what will happen to the children who don't want to learn, you are drugged out, who come to school after getting no sleep???? ETC... kind of blows NCLB out of the water.) Now we are teaching only to the test, not what endures children to LOVE LEARNING. That has taken alot of JOY OUT of teaching. Also, my concern is with Special Education teachers (I am not one), what will happen to them... their students do not test in some cases and in others showing improvement is difficult.

I am a very highly qualified Sp Ed teacher with 20 years in this field and 5 years of Elem before switching. So--how would merit pay apply to me, when my students have a good year when they do not regress? While we do have alternative testing it is nowhere near a reflection of their accomplishments. None get a reg diploma; some don't even achieve enough to get a Sp Ed diploma.

Unless I do a good job, WE will all be supporting my students their whole life. A diploma does not reflect Daily Living SKills and Life Skills.

Georgia is # 15 in pay, and we have a huge teacher shortage. Math, Science, Sp Ed, and Foreign Language, especially and everything in general. Come on y'all--we need about 10,000 teachers for 2007-2008 school year.

What teacher, worth anything, would be reluctant to jump at an opportunity for merit pay? If kids, regardless of their entry level in September, are measured on their percentage of growth over the course of the year, it would be an equitable situation for all teachers. The exception: Kids with severe learning disorders would need to be weighted.

Given the range of thoughtful comments readers have posted here, I wanted to share links to some other reflections by members of the TeacherSolutions team who produced the new national report on performance pay. These are blog entries at the Teacher Leaders Network website. Bill Ferriter and Nancy Flanagan explore two issues raised in the report -- how should we reward teachers for new knowledge and skills they gain... and how should we reward teachers whose content is not even addressed in high stakes accountability testing?



Renee Moore, another co-author of the report, writes from the perspective of an experienced teacher working in one of the highest poverty areas in rural America -- the Mississippi Delta -- about the uses of incentives to help assure teaching quality for every student in every school.


Lots of thoughtful comments here about what “merit pay” really means. As someone who was involved in helping produce the new TeacherSolutions report, I’d urge every interested teacher to download the PDF and read it. It’s a pretty quick read, written in the voice of teachers.

Most important, it is a nuanced report that recognizes not only that incentive pay programs can help “professionalize” teaching, but that most merit pay plans proposed in years past, and even today, fall far short of what teachers think will really work and really make a difference for students and teaching quality. The short link to the report is: http://snipurl.com/tsreport

Also, several other members of the TeacherSolutions writing team have written about aspects of the report in their blogs at the Teacher Leaders Network website. Bill Ferriter and Nancy Flanagan explore two questions in these blogs – how do we reward teachers for gaining the kind of knowledge and skills that make a difference for students – and what do we do about teachers whose content is not tested in the high stakes accountability system?



Renee Moore, another member of the writing team, has taught for many years in one of the highest poverty areas in rural America – the Mississippi Delta. Her most recent blog entry makes the case for another important recommendation in the TS report – rewarding teachers who accept positions in high-need schools, WHEN those teachers are well-prepared to succeed.


Thank all of you for your responses. I never thought I would have the opportunity to be a part of national discussion on this topic. It is very important for teachers to express their hopes and concerns on how this would have an effect on their teaching practice. I know Special Education teachers have much to say about this topic and we need to hear your solutions. It is my hope teachers will continue to drive this discussion across our country. This is a crucial issue as many states face teacher shortages and as we strive to recruit and retain the brightest and best into our profession.

I have worked for the past two years under a much lauded pay-for-performance system and (drum roll) it's really not such a big deal. No matter what I do I cannot raise my pay to the extent that my lifestyle would change in any substantive way. Having been part of the initial field test of the pay-for-performance system, I feel confident that potential inequities have been eliminated, for the most part. Teachers are neither punished nor rewarded based on their students' affluence--a concern as the system was being developed--and for the first time in over twenty years of teaching I have SOME control over my salary.

What I would like to address is the unpopular subject of longevity, and the increasingly un-hip notion that years of service to an organization like a school district should be rewarded monetarily. I sympathize with struggling young teachers. I was one myself, and I could add my horror stories of supporting three children on a beginning teacher's salary. But one thing that got my through those tough years was the promise inherent in my district's pay scale that I would be better compensated some day. Now that some day has arrived and I have reached the top of the salary ladder, the rules are changing and I find myself, well...resentful. I appreciate L. Jones comment about efficient vs. lazy and hope I am the former. The fact is, I don't put in the hours I did as a new teacher. I choose after-school commitments and join committees more selectively than I once did, I occasionally take a walk during my lunch break, I stay home when I'm sick; I abandoned my workaholic, save-the-world habits years ago. Should I move back down the pay scale, then, to reflect this? I have prided myself on being a flexible thinker, yet find I am strangely resistant to the idea of the sort of comprehensive pay-for-performance that could eliminate rewards for longevity. I don't want to relive the economic struggles of my 20's and 30's. I don't want to buy my clothes at the Goodwill, or suffer pangs of guilt for getting take-out Chinese for dinner when I could have cooked something myself, or work a second job, or cut my own hair, or limit my vacation destinations to campgrounds that can be reached in half-a-tank of gas. I am a veteran teacher with National Board certification and a Ph.D., and I think that should be worth something. So there!

Any teacher who keeps her practice sharp and continues to perform effectively should get regular increases. And while you're perhaps not serving on every committee or staying endless hours after school, your obvious commitment to upgrading your skills and scholarly/reflective study of education issues and your own practice means you're at the top of your game. Lots of committee work and "putting in the time" don't necessarily translate to better results with kids, efficient use of relevant knowledge and skills, or even real instructional leadership.

I am a co-author of the report Betsy Rogers wrote about, and can assure you that our recommendations aren't about scrapping regular increases in compensation for effective teachers. The whole purpose of the report is to reward effective practice, and keep good teachers teaching. I urge you to read the report, available on the Teacher Leaders Network site.

Perhaps what needs to be eliminated is that sense of entitlement: Hang around for 25 years and get more money, whether your practice has developed or not. Whether more money would stimulate those folks to grow or pay attention to their results remains to be seen, but nobody should get annual increases and a guaranteed job if they're chronic slackers. It's not about time logged; it's about moving student learning forward.

You have my empathy on the issue of low teacher salaries--another issue the report addresses.

Pay for performance is coming down the pike, and some plans are pretty frightening. We need teachers like you to comment on your actual experience with a performance-pay system. Performance-pay is neither a silver reform bullet, nor evil incarnate. It might be a fairer way to compensate teachers than the single salary schedule and yield some benefits like keeping teachers like you and brooming some lesser lights who are only in it for the guaranteed raises.

Thanks for your thoughtful post.

I totally understand the move toward merit pay. In private industry, better products and services earn more rewards. However, it is much too complex when we are working with humans.

I should be one of the people for it. I have 36 years of excellent evaluations in various jobs with children, and bring most of my special needs students up in reading more than any other in the district in comparable positions. But I am not for it. I'm for a better way, and unfortunately I do not have a better idea.

Last year I worked with a principal who was openly and viciously against teachers working who use wheelchairs, which I do. For the first time in 36 years, I received a bad evaluation, and all the bad comments on it referred to my disabilities, the good comments were about my teaching, which she saw little of as she was not interested, even when we invited her to visit, and the result was a terrible overall score. Where would my merit pay be with an imperfect system filled with people like that? (I did change schools and get away from "that", but it can happen again at any time.)

I saw a terrible teacher get an excellent evaluation who coached and brought school pride, but was devastating in the classroom. She hung out with the principals in the eves and week-ends. She would certainly get merit pay in this imperfect system. In "almost" every school I've been in there has been a class system of favorites or "yes" people who please the administrators. They would get merit pay. No one could fill all the loopholes to prevent it.

I saw a teacher who had won numerous awards and was State Teacher of the Year in another state get harassed out because she advocated for her students' needs. She would never have gotten merit pay in our district with our people who took her as annoying, and took advocating as a negative thing.

I've seen minority teachers, coincidentally - if you believe in coincidence, receive classes packed full of the most difficult kids in the school. Year after year. Coincidence? Then some get rebuked for not having good classroom management skills, and of course, it's more difficult for their classes to learn as much with discipline an issue. Would they get merit pay? In fact, one of those I've seen has previously received awards, but a change in administrators also brought a change in attitudes. How would it make them feel inside not to get it, yet watch a principal's buddy get it, deserved or not? Even if left unspoken, hearts know the truth about coincidence.

The teacher next door to me gets a budget of thousands of dollars a year to provide for her students. When I once worked for a gifted class, we received hundreds. Now working in special education, it averages $100.00, despite a greater need. Doesn't that have some effect on outcome? My skills are good, but my students and I always do better if they have books to read and supplies that they need. We are a long way off from any financial equity. I've had blind students with no large print books or anything in Braille. I know the kids with those supplies will do better in some of the tasks tested, so their teacher would more likely get merit pay. The irony is that I do spend thousands so that my kids have what they need, so if I were one of the ones to get the pay, we know where the money would go. But if you take two equal teachers and give one supplies and not the other, which kids have a better chance, and which teacher would get merit pay? Wouldn't there be limits? Would it be allowed for everyone at a school to get it?

Some teachers start the day with students who haven't had breakfast or dinner, who are homeless, who were beaten, in a custody fight, etc. While others start the day with students who did eat, who already knew what a crayon was before they came to school, who have books at home to read, etc. They won't start their learning at the same starting line by any means.
So neither will they finish at the same place, no matter how great the teachers.

One teacher up the hall teaches the same subject all day. She makes one lesson plan. She has the time to perfect that subject and those plans.
Another teacher in the same hall teaches three subjects and three different grade levels. She does well, but could do even better with only one subject and/or one grade level. Although I have fewer students, I teach all the subjects and meet with numerous therapists and have mounds of paperwork.
Some teachers are forced to teach subjects they don't want to teach.
How could all this be equalled out? We don't want teachers looking at each other with resentment as others get the pay but they don't, and comparing how their circumstances and job duties were more or less. There absolutely would be resentments. It would affect teamwork. People would refuse to take more needy children; some already do refuse. I know of a couple who are so mean to special ed children that the case managers won't give them their students, so they just never have any special needs students. The ones who are patient with all children get double the numbers because of these refusals, and of course, with merit pay, that would affect their outcomes and their pay.

Which has more merit, a non-verbal disabled student who after 16 years finally says "Good morning", a behaviorally disturbed student who passes his first class, or a gifted student who publishes a poem? I wouldn't want to judge that. But the same people who judge me for using a wheelchair and judge their "buddies" high regardless of true merit, will be doing the judging.

I mean no offense to the many awesome administrators and supervisors out there, and I know you are out there; I've had a few. But, from what I've seen, the Peter Principle is alive and working in the school district system. How can we put merit pay in the hands of Peter and believe that it will have honest merit? I have evidence that it would not in my district. Would my district be the only one in the country with such dysfunction? I doubt it.

I can't believe in merit pay until it is fair. It can't be fair until the money and resources are fair, the class load is fair, more administrators are fair.

I would love to have merit pay. My check doesn't cover my bills, much less extras. If my students received the same amount of resources as general ed students or students in other districts or other schools, my pay would go up, as less of my pay would be needed to provide for the basics in the classroom, including books.

Merit pay cannot work in a fair way:

We need the resources available to be distributed more equally among the students and classes. (We've known this for decades and nothing seems to change. Some bury their heads in the sand and won't talk about it. The resource spread is almost a reflection of society, where the gap is getting wider and the middle is disappearing.)

We need pay that is comparable to the private sector for the same education and experience.

We need a reasonable way to weed out the truly bad teachers without unworthy administrators being able to use it as a personal forum for ulterior motives.(I know part of the merit pay motive for some is the frustration of being stuck with bad teachers. So the feeling is that we won't reward the bad or mediocre teachers. Yes, there are some bad teachers, and they need to go. But some of the poor results being blamed on bad teaching is not due to bad teaching.)

We should pay everyone fairly, get the bad ones out fairly, and pay for the students and classes fairly. I don't know how; I don't know the answers or the steps. I just advocate in my little corner for my students the best I can. I do know that most solutions involve some compromise and giving on the part of everyone involved. Parents, teachers, unions, administrators, taxpayers, educational leaders, school boards, government agencies, grantors, legislators...Everyone.

I am looking to talk with out teacher who are themselves in wheelchair. I am in my first year and I am confined to a wheelchair I have just finish practicum. I find the class difficult at times to management I was wondering how other deal with this problem?

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  • Cathy Keyes Special Education teacher: I totally understand the move toward merit pay. In private read more
  • Nancy Flanagan: Any teacher who keeps her practice sharp and continues to read more
  • Greying Teacher: I have worked for the past two years under a read more
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