Most educators are currently paid based on their experience and credentials – work more years, get more money. But some districts, like Harrison School District 2 in Colorado Springs, Colo., are considering differentiated pay systems that reward teachers who take on tough assignments, like working in inner-city, low-income schools, or whose students show big academic gains. Are teachers on board with these pay proposals? Well, it depends.
In Education Sector’s soon-to-be-released survey of teachers (a follow-up to our 2008 Waiting to Be Won Over), teachers show increasing support for differentiated pay proposals based on factors that they have more control over—working in a high-needs school or teaching a STEM-related subject, for example—and low levels of support for pay proposals based on factors they have less control over—like their students’ test scores. In fact, 83 percent of teachers said they supported differentiated pay for teachers who take on tough assignments in low-performing schools. Support for this proposal also grew by 13 percentage points since 2003. Differentiated pay for educators who teach in hard-to-fill subjects saw the biggest jump in support: from 42 percent in 2003 to 58 percent in 2011.
More than half of teachers were also supportive of pay increases for colleagues who consistently received outstanding evaluations from their principals—but that number has stayed the same since 2003. And if the pay increases were based on student test scores, that support dropped to just 35 percent. Some respondents voiced concerns about the validity of standardized tests to appropriately gauge progress among low-income, minority, or English-language-learner students. One teacher even said that, while she loved her job, if her pay depended on student test scores, she “would be crazy” to continue working in her school, which has a student body that is 90 percent low-income and speaks 18 different languages.
Also notable were the survey results once a teacher’s years of experience, or union membership, were considered. Generally speaking, newer teachers were more supportive of pay reforms than veteran teachers, and non-union members also seemed to be more open to the proposals than union members. In addition, alternatively certified teachers, when compared to their counterparts in traditional programs, demonstrated more support for all of the pay proposals in our survey, except for the one involving outstanding principal evaluations, by up to 20 percentage points.
As districts across the country explore new ways of compensating teachers, the differences in opinion among teachers and between pay proposals are important to note. While the ubiquitous step-and-ladder pay schedules need updating, districts should be wary of replacing them with pay-for-performance in case they scare off the very recruits they are aiming to attract. Stay tuned for more details when the survey is released on July 10.