Professional Compensation Based on Teachers’ Roles

Katherine BassettBy Katherine Bassett

During the 12 years I spent working in a corporate culture, I experienced an evaluation and compensation system very different from what I’d known during 26 years as a classroom teacher.  My compensation as a teacher was based on longevity and I was evaluated with a checklist of desirable characteristics.

When I worked for a corporation, my performance was evaluated frequently and my compensation was based on how fully I achieved the goals that I had set with my staff and my supervisor – these goals were examined and adjusted periodically, to make sure that they were still relevant to the company’s direction.

I also had available to me opportunities to grow and take on added responsibilities, which brought the potential for higher earnings. And, my professional learning was directly tied to the feedback that I received on my performance.

As teachers, there are times, I am sure, when you agree with Bill Gates’ positions on education and times when you do not.  In thinking about role-based teacher compensation, I thank Mr. Gates for his editorial last year, A Fairer Way to Evaluate Teachers.  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 the need to develop systems for evaluating teachers’ performance based on multiple measures not solely on test scores. He said such systems should be rational and measured and provide educators with feedback they can act upon to improve. I agree.

But what most resonated with me was the idea of specifying a variety of leadership roles for teachers that would be tied to additional compensation. This is a model used in education systems around the world that beat the U.S. in international comparisons.  This was also something that NNSTOY and colleagues with Pearson’s Center for Educator Effectiveness called for in a report we put out in December on what districts and states already are doing in this regard, and in a white paper that NNSTOY published in October.

In Singapore, teachers can pursue any of three career tracks: the teaching track, the leadership track and the specialist track. Educators who choose the teaching track can work their way up to the role of Principal Master Teachers. The leadership track provides opportunities for advancement in the school and beyond, all the way up to the position of Director-General of Education for the entire nation. Those who follow the specialist track focus on research and teaching policy and can aspire to one day becoming Chief Specialist, another national position. All three tracks offer salary increases, additional training and mentorship opportunities as educators advance.

In South Korea, the government is establishing career ladders in which teachers who demonstrate strong teaching and leadership skills are tapped to serve as Master Teachers.

Andreas Schleicher  of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development writes in his paper Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders about  the importance of distributed leadership and its effects on teacher efficacy. He provides a snapshot of what this looks like in countries like the Netherlands, Scotland, and Norway.

In each of these countries, teachers are selected for leadership positions based on their performance in the classroom and their potential as leaders.  Those selected are paid based on the role they’re in and the services they provide rather than strictly on their performance.

In the U.S. we traditionally have paid teachers based on numbers of years served; recently, we have been talking about paying teachers for performance, and a number of states and districts already are doing so. Role-based compensation shifts the conversation to tying compensation to roles and responsibilities.

I’m not in any way suggesting that performance evaluations shouldn’t matter: in each of the systems mentioned above, teachers move into new roles based in part on evidence that they are exemplary educators.  However, the time has come to recognize that teacher leadership is a valuable asset, that it has a positive effect on both educator performance and student achievement, and that offering such career continuums may also help with 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.


Katherine Bassett is NNSTOY’s Executive Director and New Jersey States Teacher of the Year 2000. She has deep experience in working with standards, having facilitated the work of a consortium to develop model standards for teacher leadership. Harboring a strong interest in continuums of professional practice, Bassett has also worked with six states to develop a common continuum of professional practice and to envision a transformed education system in which such a continuum would thrive.

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