A Professional Compensation Culture: Role-Based Pay


During the twelve years that I have spent in a corporate culture, I have experienced an evaluation and compensation system very different from the one that I experienced in my 26-year P12 classroom teaching career.  Rather than compensation being based on my longevity,  and evaluation being completed through a list of characteristics to be checked off, or not, I was compensated and evaluated purposefully and frequently on my performance.  I had opportunities within the system to take on increasing levels of responsibility, and to earn accordingly.  This is a role-based compensation system, as well as a performance-based one.

As teachers, there are times, I am sure, when you agree with Bill Gates’ positions on education and times when you do not.  This week, I am sending a big thank you to Mr. Gates for his editorial last week, A Fairer Way to Evaluate Teachers, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-04-03/opinions/38246518_1_teacher-evaluation-systems-classroom-observations-student-test .  While there was much in the piece that I agree with, what I thank him for is raising to the public level the notion that we compensate teachers based on the roles that they play.

Mr. Gates’ commentary focused on implementing evaluation systems with rational, measured thinking; multiple measures; and strongly encouraging building of systems that provide actionable feedback to educators; and these are all good things.  However, what most resonated with me in reading his piece, was Mr. Gates’ focus on the ways in which we can compensate teachers for the roles that they play and specifying roles for teacher leaders.  This is a model that is utilized in virtually all of the education systems in countries that the U.S. has cited as role models.

Gates specifically mentions Singapore, which uses a structured career ladder in education with three directions:  the teaching track, the leadership track and the specialist track. Educators choosing the teacher track work their way up to becoming Principal Master Teachers. For those who choose the leadership track, promotions from a leadership position within the school all the way up to the position of Director-General of Education are possible. In the specialist track, teachers are focused on research and teaching policy, with the highest level position being Chief Specialist.  At each level, there are salary increases and additional training and mentorship opportunities. (source:  Center on International Education Benchmarking.)

In South Korea, the government is implementing a program piloted in 2008, establishing career ladders in which teachers who demonstrate strong teaching and leadership skills serve as Master Teachers.  (source:  Center on International Education Benchmarking)

In his paper, Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders, Andreas Schleicher talks about the importance of implementing strong models of distributed leadership, and evidence of the impact of teacher leadership on teacher efficacy. He provides a snapshot of what this looks like in countries like the Netherlands, Scotland, and Norway. (source:  http://www.oecd.org/site/eduistp2012/49850576.pdf)

In each of these countries, teachers are selected for teacher leadership positions based on their performance in the classroom as well as for leadership characteristics.  Once selected, they are compensated for the different kinds of services that they are providing.  So, in effect, in these systems, we have role-based compensation systems rather than compensation based strictly on performance.  And, in these systems, the role of the teacher leader is firmly recognized.

When I was facilitating the development of the Teacher Leader Model Standards, (www.teacherleaderstandards.org) the 35-member consortium doing the development work (including five STOYs) had many passionate conversations about compensation for such roles.  We determined that our purview was not to define such systems as this is a policy decision and must be left up to the states who determine licensure/certification.

We have had much debate and now action around pay for performance.  Mr. Gates, I thank you for taking the first step to shifting the conversation to pay for educator role.  By no means am I suggesting that we do away with evaluation; in all of the systems mentioned above, decisions about which teachers move into teacher leader roles are made, in part, through evidence that the educator is an exemplary practitioner.  However, the time has come to recognize that teacher leadership is a valuable asset, does impact both educator performance and student achievement, and that offering such career continuums may also impact retention.

Having a national conversation around how we best implement such career continuums would be a service to the field, and one that I, and many other educators, welcome.

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