Teacher Compensation: Let's Get with the Program

"The nation will not continue to lead or to create new jobs if we persist in viewing teaching the profession that makes all other professions possible as a second-rate occupation."

More words from the eminently quotable Lou Gerstner, Jr. (see Trend Watch)

Let's hope that all the commotion around The Teaching Commission's recently released report, Teaching at Risk: A Call to Action, doesn't die a quiet death somewhere in the face of what commission chair Gerstner terms "the unrelenting wall of the status quo." The various school reform initiatives calling for any serious changes in American public education have been suffering this very fate as far back as we can all remember.

Call me an optimist, but the stir surrounding this particular report has a different feel to it. Perhaps there's some sort of unspoken consensus that education has reached such a critical spot that we're finally ready to take a hard look at the system and acknowledge that we're at what New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell calls "a tipping point." It is not insignificant, by the way, that included within the membership of this high-powered commission is Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers (a group recently described by The Wall Street Journal as "historically allergic to any and all accountability.")

At its core, the Call to Action recommends the following changes:

  • Teacher bonuses based on student achievement
  • Competitive salaries, with pay tied to expertise and performance
  • Higher salaries for teachers working in troubled schools
  • Increased pay for teachers in understaffed areas such as math, science, and special education.

Radical stuff? Think about it. Every single one of these practices has been long established as sound and just plain sensible in the world of business, where motivating workers by rewarding success and holding failures accountable is what turns the hamster wheel. Certainly, it is time to consider such a plan essential to retaining our best teachers.

Of course, implementation means facing many of the same challenges we've recently been forced to face around student achievement. Measuring teacher performance will require technology gathering and analyzing data including lesson plans, student records, and more. In this month's cover feature "Data: Mining with a Mission," author Judy Salpeter shares tips from more than 20 educator-experts on exactly how to accomplish such a task.

We're interested in your views on the Teaching Commission's report. Let us know by responding to our Quick Poll question in Trend Watch.

Susan McLester, editor in chief, T&L smclester@cmp.com

Read other articles from the March Issue