The Intersection

Sensible Compensation Policies That Add Up

April 23, 2014

Brenda Welburn was a moderator and resource expert on improving educator effectiveness through evaluation and compensation reform at The Hunt Institute’s 2014 Holshouser Legislators Retreat. (To learn more about this issue, see The Institute’s special re:VISION series on educator effectiveness here.) She served as the executive director of NASBE from 1994 until 2012 and is known as an association manager and legislative professional with more than 35 years of experience in policy development and analysis in education and human service issues. Below she shares her insight on teacher compensation.

The movement of tying teacher compensation to student achievement has gained momentum throughout the nation, but not without serious debate on how to achieve the goals of the movement without adversely affecting the teaching profession and the learning environment.

To some it seems like a simple premise; those who perform at the highest level should receive the highest rewards. Yet for years policymakers have wrestled with the dilemma of how to support accountability plans that measure proficiency, while acknowledging the significance of student growth and progress among those students with the greatest deficiencies. To do this in a way that rewards milestones in progress – without impeding the goal of genuine student competency – is no easy task. One teacher’s class may have higher test scores, while another’s shows more measurable growth. The idea that student achievement in isolation can be the sole determinant of a teacher’s effectiveness, and thus their compensation package, does not reflect the reality of practice.

Recruiting, retaining, and compensating effective teachers is arguably one of the most complex issues facing policymakers as they confront rising shortages, budget shortfalls, and demands for greater alignment of student achievement to compensation. Few would argue that one of the most important components of a student’s learning is the effectiveness of the teacher, but ensuring that every student has an effective teacher at every grade is easier said than done and remains an elusive goal for policymakers and administrators. There is not a one size fits all compensation strategy that works for every district or state, but there are some fundamental tenets that policymakers should consider when promoting teacher effectiveness through compensation.

Effective teaching really is a team practice. Although most teachers lead instruction as individuals in the classroom, the most effective teachers rely on other effective professionals to hone their skills and evaluate their practice. Compensation policies should not look solely at the students of individual teachers, but how an entire school is moving towards excellence and reward the school and its personnel accordingly.

It’s not just about money. Salaries, bonuses, retirement plans, and other benefits are at the core of compensation plans, but there are other incentives that are essential to rewarding and promoting effective teaching. Providing teachers with the time and resources to gain new skills, and sabbaticals to recharge and rejuvenate, conveys a sense of how important policymakers view the profession and the need to retain good teachers over the long term.

Incentives for teaching in hard-to-staff schools and subjects should not devalue other teachers. It is essential that students who have the greatest needs have access to effective teachers, but when bonus plans and other incentives exclude teachers in environments with fewer challenges, or in subjects that are not deemed to be as critical as math or science, the message is that not all teachers are important. We must be about educating the whole child in a comprehensive manner, and compensation plans should not pit teachers, disciplines, schools, and districts against each other.

Keep the promise. Compensation plans should be sustainable. If a policy provides incentives for graduate study, national board certification, bonuses and other resources, ensure that teachers get what is promised to them. Make it fair, accessible, and equitable for all teachers. The long-term view will result in better outcomes for student, teachers and communities.

To learn more about the 2014 HLR, see:
RECAP: The 2014 Holshouser Legislators Retreat
Holshouser Continues Legacy of Bi-Partisan Collaboration
Resetting The Leadership Compass to Achieve Student Success
If Tests Aren’t Working for Teachers and Families, They’re Not Working
• The Hunt Institute’s Web site/events page for publications and videos
• Twitter hashtag #HLR2014

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