Saturday, January 8, 2011
Should Arian Foster be paid on a single salary scale?
While I've never been a big proponent of bonuses alone or a pure merit pay system, I do feel as if I need to justify what I've written about Strategic Teacher Compensation due to a couple of interesting pieces suggesting that the reasons for a merit or performance pay system are a "leap of faith"--the idea being that there is no real way to know if a performance based system is effective.
It seems to me that these criticisms are wrong on a few points, but I'll stick primarily with the "leap of faith" issue in this blog. The other idea that I want to attack is the view that the answer is to simply increase teacher pay for every teacher.
I should establish first that my view of teacher compensation is not one purely based on test scores, nor is the proof of its success. The idea of Strategic Compensation that I support is based on a number of characteristics that teachers display or bring to the table that are measurable, even if not perfectly so. Those characteristics can also improve or disappear over time, depending on the person, which is also a justification for eliminating or modifying tenure.
The reasons for a strategic compensation system are:
1. Reward better teachers for begin better
2. Motivate poor teacher to get better or to leave the field
3. To provide compensation such that it motivates teachers to embrace or pursue the greater good of the strategic goals of the school and classroom, not simply their own benefit
4. To motivate new teachers into the profession
The criticism that such a program is a "leap of faith" is based on the idea that there is no way to really show that such a compensation program works. This is strange because there are surely ways to determine if teachers at a school are better than prior years. Perhaps some of those measurements are not simply test scores, nor might they be completely objective, but it isn't as if we'd have no clue if teachers were better. If we did have no clue, then perhaps we have the wrong people hired as educational leaders.
The criticism does have some merit because, for example, if we continue to say that only those who have a teacher's license and proper education from a teaching college are qualified to teach or that the compensation system continues to place a high value on years of service irrespective of the quality of the teacher, then goal number 4 of the strategic compensation system will never be achieved. In other words, a strategic compensation system has the most potential for good IF other barriers of entry into the teaching profession are removed.
There are other ways to ensure that better teachers enter the profession that could also work well with a strategic compensation system. One is to make it more difficult to enter a teacher's education program. For example, most engineering schools have extremely high entrance requirements. If teaching programs also had higher standards, then it is likely that better teachers would enter the profession. This does beg a question that I won't try to answer here about what makes a good teacher at various levels. I'm not an expert in this area, but those who are have told me that there is good research to suggest that the characteristics of a great K-3 teacher may not be the same as those for high school.
The suggestion that all teachers' salaries should be raised across the board simply defies common sense unless there are significant changes to tenure requirements and the teacher evaluation process. Giving a poor teacher a substantial raise just because he happens to be in the field already is absurd. Salary for any position is a reward for doing a job the way it is supposed to be done. Given the current single salary structure, this would mean that two teachers make the same salary simply because they have the same number of years of experience and the same education. Neither of these factors have been shown to have substantial causal relationship to teacher quality. In addition, they certainly have little relevance when evaluating any particular teacher. To pay a teacher more because he or she fits into a class that should be better is like paying all quarterbacks drafted in the first round the same salary because they should perform approximately the same way. I'd guess that someone like Tom Brady would have something to say about that. Could you imagine Tom Brady being paid the same as all other sixth round draft picks? Or what if quarterbacks were paid based on years in the league. I'm sure that the Rams' Sam Bradford might have a problem with that. Arian Foster might also have a bit of a problem with that logic. The undrafted rookie would make entry level wages based on a single salary schedule.
Strategic Compensation systems, if done well, have the potential to do a lot of good for education and for teachers and for the teaching profession. It isn't a "leap of faith" to suggest that we can identify good teachers and reward them for who they are and what they've done. It isn't a mystery why some teachers do better with students than others. Good educational leaders know who their best teachers are and know how to take care of them, IF they are given the means to do so.