Reforming Teacher Pay in Maine – Part 2 Making Alternative Teacher Compensation Systems Work

Read the full report | As The Maine Heritage Policy Center described in a recent Maine View policy brief entitled Reforming Teacher Pay in Maine – Part 1: How Alternative Teacher Compensation Systems are Improving Student Outcomes, one of the efforts being made to improve the quality of the teacher workforce is an attempt by school reformers across the nation to change the way teachers are paid for the important work they do. Organizations from across the political spectrum have called for an end to the ubiquitous “single salary schedule” pay model, which the non-partisan National Governors Association, among others, has claimed “works against quality teaching.”

In its place, school districts in Maine and around the country have established compensation systems that pay teachers, at least in part, based upon their measurable contributions to increasing student achievement. Many of these systems reward teachers for taking on high-need teaching assignments or for serving as mentors to new teachers, while others provide pay bonuses to those teachers whose efforts result in improved student outcomes. Most alternative pay systems also involve substantial redesigns of student assessment systems and development of new teacher training and support programs.

Despite the success this new approach has shown, putting such complex compensation and support systems in place has proven challenging. Past efforts have suffered from political opposition, design flaws, poor management, and underfunding. In response to these issues, researchers interested in this approach have focused in recent years on how best to design and implement alternative compensation systems. What does the research say about how such systems should be developed?

Findings:

• The goals of any proposed change to the current pay system must be clearly tied to a school district’s objectives for student achievement. Establishing clear, measurable goals will help build support among stakeholders, whose backing is critical for long-term success. The cooperation of teachers is especially important.

• Pay systems tied to teacher effectiveness must use multiple means to measure that effectiveness. This may mean investing in new assessment instruments and developing more advanced data management systems.

• Reforms to teacher pay should be part of a far broader effort to improve teacher training and support. Systems should be put in place to align teacher training to educational needs, as indicated by assessments of student outcomes.

• Pay systems developed on the local level in response to local needs are more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach. The proper role of the state is to provide technical and financial support to local districts as they develop systems to meet local challenges.

• Reforms of this kind will require a long-term commitment, financial and otherwise, from policymakers at all levels.

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