Teacher compensation is one among many controversial issues in public education, both nationally and in Texas. Here in the Lone Star State, that controversy tends to center both on the amount we pay our teachers, and the manner in which we reward our teachers. The latter is executed through the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers, and guarantees an incremental raise every year a teacher works in Texas education.

The alternative is merit pay, and it is gaining traction nationwide. This New York Times article highlights the successes that merit pay has had in quality teacher retention in several major urban areas, with a focus on Washington D.C.:

WASHINGTON – During her first six years of teaching in this city’s struggling schools, Tiffany Johnson got a series of small raises that brought her annual salary to $63,000, from about $50,000. This year, her seventh, Ms. Johnson earns $87,000.

That latest 38 percent jump, unheard of in public education, came after Ms. Johnson was rated “highly effective” two years in a row under Washington’s new teacher evaluation system. Those ratings also netted her back-to-back bonuses totaling $30,000.

“Lots of teachers leave the profession, but this has kept me invested to stay,” said Ms. Johnson, 29, who is a special-education teacher at the Ron H. Brown Middle School in Northeast Washington. “I know they value me.”

While the dollar figures may be extreme (even in regards to merit pay, school districts need to be judicious with how they spend their money, particularly state funds), the concept – that teaching excellence should be rewarded, and moreover, that teachers want to see their efforts rewarded – needs to be applied more liberally in Texas public education. The article does touch on Houston’s successful merit pay program, but the practice of rewarding teaching excellence is hardly universal in this state.

The fact of the matter is, the bedrock of a great education is great teaching. If Texas wants to draw strong young professionals into the field, it must stop simply rewarding longevity, and begin giving our best teachers the potential to earn what they deserve.

– James Golsan