Sunday, August 14, 2011

Replace Lane System with Leadership and Responsibility Compensation

 In this post, I want to suggest that it is time to replace traditional lane compensation --  progression in teacher pay based upon the earning of post bachelor degree credits -- with responsibility pay embedded in a career ladder.

The University of Wisconsin's Consortium for Policy Research in Education has done a lot of work on  strategic management of human capital in education.  Among their publications is a series of papers making recommendations for reform in teacher compensation, and I often turn to CPRE research, because it is is thoughtful and well documented. One of the things that I like about CPRE's work is that it carefully distinguishes among teacher "base pay,"  "base pay progression," and "variable pay". Base pay is the regular pay that you receive in your particular position. It is the pay that you are entitled to as long as you keep your job.   Base pay progression is the way in which your base pay increases. Across the country, in almost all districts, teachers base pay progresses based on steps -- the number of years that the teacher has been employed in the District, and lanes -- a pay increment that is earned by passing post college coursework.    In most districts, the teacher must pay for the credits earned out of her own pocket in order to earn lane credit.   The cost and time commitment required to earn lane credits can be considerable.  A teacher who advances to the highest possible lane  puts in tens of thousands of dollars earning lane credits and numerous hours of class-time and (hopefully) study.  Variable pay is pay contingent on meeting some objective, such as student test score results, and variable pay is almost non-existent in most systems.  Today's post does not argue for variable pay:  it argues that responsibility and leadership pay should supplant the current lane system for base pay progression.

Public teacher compensation provides base pay progression based on  "training and experience."  There is a fair amount of research that suggests that teacher performance and student results improve with experience, although some critics claim that the effect is limited to the first five years of teaching, more or less.  However, because step increases are provided regularly and somewhat reliably (when the State provides adequate funds to pay them), steps attract teachers into the professions at lower salaries than they would otherwise accept, if only base pay, without step progression, were offered.

The problem with lane pay is that there is overwhelming evidence that, with some exceptions, lane pay does not equate to conduct that improves teaching and learning.  The Center for Educator Compensation reform presents a bibliography of studies that make this point:
The preponderance of evidence suggests that teachers who have completed graduate degrees are not significantly more effective at increasing student learning than those with no more than a bachelor’s degree. Five studies reviewed by Rice (2003), which examined student achievement in a wide variety of grades and subject areas, found that teachers having completed an advanced degree had no significant effect on student performance (Summers &Wolfe, 1977; Link & Ratledge, 1979; Murnane & Phillips, 1981; Harnisch, 1987; Monk, 1994). Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor (2007a) also found that on average, elementary teachers who had completed master’s degrees were no more or no less effective than others at raising student achievement, with one exception. Elementary teachers with master’s degrees appeared to be less effective, on average, than those without advanced degrees if they earned the degrees more than five years after they started teaching.
Now there are exceptions to this basic claim.   Secondary teachers surely benefit from advanced substantive training in their field of responsibility.   Biology teachers who know more biology will likely do a better job of teaching biology, especially when they are teaching higher level courses.  Historically, however, Districts have exerted very little control over the kind of courses that must be taken, and districts have demanded virtually no proof that the course taken actually translates into improved instruction.    The question is whether there might be a better use of scarce compensation dollars that would actually attract and retain quality teachers, and do a better job of improving teaching and learning, than the current lane system.  I believe that the answer is responsibility pay -- compensation for leadership and responsibility.

CRPE writes that many young highly motivated teachers come to public education with expectations for advancement that differ from the old training and experience paradigm:
Anecdotal evidence from several sources, however, suggests that once in the system, these individuals want to be successful in the classroom, to be in schools led by instructionally oriented principals, and to be in an organization with high expectations for the achievement of all students and that relentlessly pursues that goal. The individuals also want career ladder structures that put them in positions of responsibility around the instructional program, such as a teacher team leader role, an instructional coach role, a content expert role, etc. They also want a pay system that is based on their performance, taking into account both their level of instructional expertise and improvements in student achievement. They do not want to have to wait several years for a leadership position as an assistant principal, nor wait 20 years to get to the top of the salary schedule. They want a performance-based career ladder and salary structure that lets them move up to higher pay either based on new and increased responsibility or their own performance and/or the performance of their students.
This idea of advancement through leadership, I believe, is critically important to the ability of education to respond to changing needs.  Contrary to the popular belief system, education has too few leaders, not too many, and the shortage of leaders makes it almost impossible for public education to be agile --  that is to respond to changes at the pace necessary to make necessary changes.   We can't add tons of more administrators to solve this leadership gap, and it wouldn't help anyway.   We need to rethink the pyramid of leadership within the teaching profession itself.   In some districts, those few with plenty of resources, the solution is to add specialists in the central office, but these specialists are not part of the district's teaching infrastructure.  They aren't in the school on a daily basis.  They don't eat with fellow teachers in the lunchroom.  They don't teach any longer, and consequently, their ideas are constantly being criticized as being out of touch and unrealistic.  In most organizations, leadership is embedded in the organizational infrastructure.   Leaders have supervisory responsibility as well as productivity responsibility.   But the teaching profession is structured so that teachers as a profession are basically powerless to participate in the management of their own profession.

An army has privates, corporals, sergeants, lieutenants, captains and so on.    Each level of leadership has a direct connection to the persons above and below.  In a school district, there is no pyramidal structure of leadership.  Teachers are teachers are teachers.   This system stifles teachers who have drive to improve their institution.  It turns professionals who would like to see change into cynics instead of active contributors.   We desperately need to reform the profession of education so that young teachers who aspire to display their talents for leadership have a recognized place in the systemic structure: so they can make a difference in what we do.

If the school district wants to improve elementary science instruction --- something that we need to do -- there should be science leaders in each building, teachers with strong science backgrounds who, as part of their instructional leadership role, can be delegated the responsibility to lead their fellow teachers in making that transformation.   If the school district wants to improve the implementation of its use of web-based communication with students and parents -- something that we need to do -- there should be teacher leaders who can lead the implementation of these changes, not as a special assignment, but because they are recognized teacher leaders with operational responsibility.   And the only way that we can make this happen is to restructure the current structure of the profession and provide opportunities for advancement and compensation through leadership and responsibility.

A teaching structure that rewards initiative, leadership, and contributions to school improvement would transform the profession.  It would be good for teachers, especially those with leadership potential,  and it would create public support for better teacher compensation.

New Teacher Pay Structures CPRE Research Paper (2009)
Lane Improvement as a Cost Component
Arizona Career Ladder
Center for Educator Compensation Reform   Summary of research on link between student achievement and training and experience.


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