Last week I attended a two-day conference in Nashville, TN on teacher pay at Vanderbilt University. Day one started at 7 a.m. and ended about 15 hours later. The information was dense and overrun with formulas and cohort talk. Having said that, I left the conference with two simple yet overwhelmingly clear conclusions:
First, this conversation requires collaboration.
More often than not, the debate in the room was a little top-down and too removed from reality. The room seemed to be 70% economists and another 20% psychometrists. I was part of a grand team of four advocates that I counted (out of roughly 500 attendees). In addition, the union voice felt dangerously low to nonexistent. Sure, there were two union members who were panelists and NYC’s UFT President Randi Weingarten delivered the keynote address (she did a great job by the way). However, considering the importance of the topic and potential effects on the teaching profession, it felt pretty unbalanced.
This is more than a little ironic considering that the most successful pay for performance plans involved intense local collaboration from the get-go. Minnesota’s Q-Comp is a voluntary program that districts can adopt after a local plan is developed by a team that includes teachers, union representatives, and other leaders. Oregon’s Class Project has modeled many elements of Q-Comp in their demonstration sites. While these projects are new and data is next to nonexistent, intense local collaboration is leading to positive changes in local culture. Education leaders have come together and are working on solutions to improve support for teachers and results for children.
Second, change is necessary.
In many ways, I was the perfect focus group for this conference. I’m an advocate and I’ve studied data enough to know where the problems are. However, I’m not an academic and know relatively little about pay for performance programs across the country. Whether the research discussed a specific program or market supply economics – the research overwhelmingly revealed that the statewide pay scale exclusively based on seniority is outdated for several reasons.
First, it doesn’t recognize the fact that times have changed and college graduates today can expect to have three to five career changes in their lifetime. The current system is too inflexible and turns off potential applicants. Second, uniformly paying teachers based on seniority has led to dangerous economic effects by creating teacher shortages in subject and geographic areas. In addition, more experienced and effective teachers tend to move to districts with less challenging populations. Finally, the starting point is too low. How can we expect to attract the highest quality graduate with such a low starting salary? It just won’t happen. If we’re serious about raising student achievement, we need to get serious about treating teachers with the professionalism that they deserve.
Research increasingly shows that the teacher is the most important element in a child’s educational progress. Kati Haycock of Education Trust reminds us that students who have two years of ineffective instruction in a row never catch up. This is a lose-lose-lose situation – teachers lose, students lose, society loses. Teachers need support in terms of compensation and professional development opportunities that lead to results in the classroom. They also need better tools so they know how their students are doing and can ensure that every student makes at least one year of academic growth within one year of instruction. It is only by working together that we can develop a solution where teachers and students win, not to mention society, our economy … the list goes on.
Conference information (including papers) can be viewed here: http://performanceincentives.org/conference/