In the corporate world, there’s something called the Peter Principle, which robs organizations of their most effective people by promoting them past the levels of their expertise.
Teachers have their own version — let’s call it the Principal Principle. Good teachers, effective teachers, who wish to advance in their careers often have only one pathway. They find they must leave the classrooms they love and become administrators.
This is due to an outdated and discouraging pay structure that doesn’t reward excellence.
Most school districts within Texas use a traditional single-salary schedule. The system was developed in 1921 to allow teachers advancement in salary for years of service, professional development credits and education degrees. For teachers who only want a standard and predictable salary advancement, this system is sufficient.
But this single salary schedule has several disadvantages. The system encourages teachers to take lots of hours of professional development courses, but it does not focus on, or even consider, whether teachers benefit from those courses — or indeed, whether their students do.
Furthermore, the single salary schedule discourages bright, energetic and ambitious new teachers from remaining in the field. They must work for years and years to receive any significant salary increase, and they can never hope to rise above certain levels.
Or, as we’ve seen far too often, they take another path — administration.
There’s a better way to compensate teachers, and that’s through a program of performance-related pay. Performance pay measures create motivation for achievement and rewards for excellence.
We know teachers go into their chosen profession for a number of reasons; they love to teach and they love to see their students learn. But at the same time, teachers want, and deserve, to be rewarded for their efforts.
Teacher compensation is our largest investment in public education, so it should be made wisely. Pay can be a powerful tool for teacher motivation and retention, and as a result, improving student achievement. Teacher compensation also increases job satisfaction and fights burnout. A carefully designed system of performance-related compensation will encourage and help teachers to remain in the field and produce meaningful results.
We have plenty of evidence. Dallas ISD’s Teacher Excellence Initiative is charting a new path.
“The traditional teacher salary schedule, which uses years of service and college degrees as the measures for compensation, places little importance on teacher performance and student outcomes,” the district explains. “The Teacher Excellence Initiative eliminates the traditional teacher salary schedule and replaces it with a compensation system based on nine effectiveness levels.”
Under TEI, new teachers start out at $52,000. But the top teachers — “master” level teachers — can make $90,000 and more.
It’s having real results. Dallas schools are improving at an astonishing rate. As the Dallas Observer explains regarding reading level, “in 2015, DISD was 11 percentage points below the state average. Now it’s within 3 points of the average. The district’s improvement in third-grade reading is the highest for all urban districts in the state.”
This is primarily due to the district’s performance-based pay system, according to the Observer: “Under the district’s 4-year-old system of merit pay for teachers, retention has improved dramatically among the very best teachers while more of those at the lowest end of the effectiveness scale have left to seek other work.”
“There is almost no turnover at all at the top of the competence scale — just over half of 1 percent — while turnover at the bottom of the scale is almost 40 percent,” the Observer explains. “Under the old system of straight seniority pay, those numbers were almost flipped.”
That’s what we want, of course — for good teachers to stay in the classroom because they want to, and because they are rewarded for their efforts.
And for Texas students to continue to benefit from those teachers’ love of teaching.
One of the strongest objections to restructuring pay in this way has been that these programs can cost more money. Legislators are working to make sure that’s no longer the limiting factor.
Legislation introduced in both the Texas House and Senate includes additional state funding to support locally developed programs that take a new approach to teacher compensation. While the current House version only applies to campuses in rural areas or high-needs census tracts, the Senate’s proposed program is open to any district in the state. Members of both chambers are currently in conference to work out differences on this and other school finance topics. Their report is expected any day.
Let’s hope this crosses the finish line. Fort Worth is poised to directly benefit from such a program. Fort Worth ISD has already implemented a stipend program to bring in top teachers at the five Leadership Academies, which were the lowest-performing schools in the district. The program has been effective in increasing student achievement on all five campuses.
If we can develop a broader performance-pay program, dramatic increases in educational quality can belong to Fort Worth and not just to Dallas. Our teachers and our kids deserve that.