Teacher raises: What works best?

A crucial question at the nexus of the issues of student achievement and battles between school districts and teachers unions is the issue of teacher pay scale.  A helpful study by Jason A. Grissom of Vanderbilt University and Katharine O. Strunk of the University of Southern California has recently delved deeply into this question and come to the conclusion that creative options may be best for districts seeking to boost student achievement while also facilitating teacher growth.

The two primary types of pay scale options used by school districts and evaluated by Grissom and Strunk are front loaded pay schedules and back loaded pay schedules. In the first model, young teachers, who may be attracted outside of the teaching profession by other, more lucrative job opportunities, are offered rapid increases in pay in their first years of teaching.  The goal of the front loaded model is to bring in high achieving new teachers so that students will make corollary improvements. In this front loaded model, young teachers receive an average of 37% greater raises based on years of experience than do teachers who have been in the profession longer. Critics of this model argue that these teachers are not yet equipped to provide their students with the same level of quality instruction as their veteran counterparts.

The more common model in districts that use collective bargaining, due to the dominance of older, more experienced teachers in teachers unions, is the back loaded pay schedule. The theory here is that veteran teachers are the ones who will help students make the greatest achievement gains, so those teachers should be retained through attractive pay scale options. On average, these veteran teachers receive salary increases of 135% more than non-veteran teachers. This model has sometimes been held up as a paragon of the problem of teachers unions: older, burned-out teachers protect each other but do not help students make gains.

Grissom and Strunk, after serious study of the empirical evidence, suggest that neither plan is the silver bullet for satisfying teachers or increasing student achievement. First, the authors argue that there is correlation between back loaded pay schedules and a lack of student achievement gain; however, the correlation is so small that it cannot be seen as causal.  Further research here would help clarify the efficacy of back loaded pay schedules.  Furthermore, the authors argue that front loaded schedules do help attract quality, young teachers, but that this cannot as of yet be conclusively linked with greater student achievement. In conclusion, Grissom and Strunk offer creative options that may break the mold of these two dominant pay scale models. As succinctly summed up by Amber M. Winkler of the Fordham Institute for Advancing Educational Excellence, “For districts struggling under onerous collective-bargaining agreements, other financial perks such as loan-forgiveness or signing bonuses might make sense instead.”

For a link to a summary by Amber M. Winkler, see http://www.edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-weekly/2012/september-13/how-should-school-districts-shape-teacher-salary-schedules.html#body

For the original article, please see http://epx.sagepub.com/content/26/5/663