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EXPERT TEACHER PANEL ADVOCATES MERIT PAY FOR TEACHERS: New Report Outlines a New Framework for Teacher Compensation

“We have come together as a TeacherSolutions team because we are united in our belief that teachers need to be paid differently. We agree that a carefully crafted performance-pay system has huge potential to transform the teaching profession in ways that can help all students learn more.”

The single-salary schedule for teachers is an idea whose time has passed. Instead, the nation should embrace a “carefully crafted performance-pay system” that will reward teachers for raising student achievement. So says a coalition of eighteen expert teachers whose findings were published in Performance-Pay for Teachers: Designing a System that Students Deserve. The teachers, who include National Board–certified teachers, several state teachers of the year, winners of the Milken National Educator of the Year Award, Presidential Award recipients, and a National Outstanding Young Educator of the Year Award winner, were brought together by the Center for Teaching Quality, which published the report under the name TeacherSolutions.

“In a new era, with challenges and opportunities before us that were unimaginable in post-World War II America, our public schools need a far more nuanced approach to professional compensation—an approach that acknowledges teaching quality as our best guarantee of student achievement,” the report reads. “We have come together as a TeacherSolutions team because we are united in our belief that teachers need to be paid differently. We agree that a carefully crafted performance-pay system has huge potential to transform the teaching profession in ways that can help all students learn more.”

In the report, the authors present a ten-point framework for new teacher compensation in which base pay would still be tied to experience, but teachers could earn more through a variety of incentives as they progress from “novice” to “professional” to “expert.” They recommend that the performance-pay system be open to all teachers rather than being limited to teachers who only teach certain subjects such as reading and math. In addition, the report favors pay-for-performance plans that reward student gains over time instead of a single score on a standardized test. In an example included in the report, a teacher in Wake County, NC, would earn a base salary of between $30,000 for a novice and $70,000 for an expert and could earn up to $130,000 a year if certain incentives are reached.

The framework described in the report would provide additional pay for additional degrees and professional development, but only when that training is tied to the school’s or district’s goals for boosting student achievement. For example, a teacher with a master’s degree in educational administration would not be rewarded if the local priority is to raise student achievement among English language learners.

Similarly, the structure would offer incentives to teachers who want to teach in high-need, low-performing schools, but only if they are qualified. “Sending a willing but unqualified or underprepared teacher to such a school could do more harm than good,” the report reads. Lastly, instead of rewarding seniority, the framework would emphasize “leadership,” which it defines as teachers who take on additional responsibilities, such as mentoring new teachers or serving on advisory councils.

The authors also stress the importance of flexibility at the local level and teacher buy-in when teacher pay-for-performance plans are being developed. They suggest that schools and districts need to be able to distribute incentive funds in ways that advance their specific student-learning goals. In addition, they recommend that schools and districts invite teachers with a track record of success in the classroom to be partners in compensation redesign.

In developing their recommendations, the panel of teachers examined pay-for-performance plans in Denver and Minneapolis and incorporated some components from those plans into their framework. They also expressed concern that other performance-pay systems that are now in development will not translate into the increased student achievement. Specifically, they mention Florida’s Special Teachers Are Rewarded (STAR) plan and call it “fatally flawed,” in part because only one in four teachers is eligible for any performance bonuses.1

The authors also consider the recently enacted Teacher Incentive Fund, a federal program that rewards teachers and principals for raising student achievement. In regard to the program, they say that they are “hopeful” about its potential but are concerned that some policymakers and administrators will invest the funds into compensation approaches that “repeat the mistakes of the past,” which include programs that limit rewards to teachers who teach certain subjects or that place an artificial cap on the number of teachers who can participate in a performance-pay program.

They also recognize that some of their peers are lukewarm, at best, to the idea of differentiated pay but blame previous pay-for-performance plans that were either administered improperly or ran into other problems.

“If [some teachers] hesitate to embrace most of the current plans being proposed by political and business leaders, it should be read as understandable caution born of long experience,” the report reads. “The checkered history of differentiated pay has been characterized by administrators who did not have the tools to judge good teaching, by makeshift student and teacher information systems that yielded untrustworthy data, and by implementation goals that far outstripped the dollars and technical know-how available to support them.”

One group that has taken a strong stance against performance-pay systems is the National Education Association (NEA), which represents about two-thirds of the nation’s public school teachers and prefers higher salaries for all teachers over merit pay. “Paying teachers based on the test results of their students has failed for many reasons,” NEA President Reg Weaver said when talking about the Teacher Incentive Fund. “Students learn best when teachers work as a team, not as free agents competing for a financial reward.”

The complete report is available at

1) Last month, the Florida legislature replaced the STAR program with a merit award program that would give school districts more flexibility in how many teachers are rewarded and why. Unlike STAR, the merit award program would also allow teacher unions and schools districts to work together to set up local proposals. More information is available at


Movement Underway in Texas to Substitute Pay-for-Performance with Salary Increase for All Teachers 

Proponents of merit pay suffered a setback last month when the Texas House of Representatives chose to put money that would have funded a teacher merit pay program into an across-the-board raise for teachers and other school workers. The decision occurred during debate on the state’s two-year budget and marked a victory for teacher groups who argued against merit pay.

“We’re delighted all teachers are getting a pay raise,” Brock Gregg of the Association of Texas Professional Educators told the Dallas Morning News. “The Legislature is using this money in the way it should’ve been used in the first place. Instead of basing salaries on test scores, they’re now going to give teachers the raise they deserve.”

The amendment by Representative Rick Noriega (D-Houston) was adopted by a vote of 90–56; the pay raise for teachers, school counselors, librarians, and nurses will take effect on September 1 if it is approved by the Senate. However, it may run into opposition there, as Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst (R) and other leaders strongly back the merit pay program, which was approved in a special session last year and is only now beginning to take effect.

“Teacher merit pay is rejected” is available at


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