Merit pay, pay-for-performance, steps and lanes—these and many more terms get thrown around in the national debate over teacher compensation.
But how often are teachers asked what they think? And more importantly—handed realistic budget numbers and given the opportunity to consider trade-offs?
Recently, over 140 teachers from Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) got that chance. The non-profit organization Teach Plus invited ERS to facilitate a workshop to help IPS teachers think about the big picture of teacher compensation and to give them a voice in the future of their district's compensation structure.
In 2011 Indiana passed a law requiring districts to limit the amount of raises from experience and education—typically the primary way teachers advance up the salary scale—to a maximum of 33%. The remaining portion must come from other things, including “teacher evaluation results, instructional leadership roles, and activities to address the academic needs of the students in the school.” 1 IPS teachers have been working under a wage freeze for several years, and there is now momentum to change the system.
ERS based the evening on the Teacher Compensation Workshop that has been used with nearly 300 teachers and district leaders in the past year, and as well as our Strategic Design of Teacher Compensation series of memos. Teachers discussed the pros and cons of compensating teachers in radically different ways. Should teachers be paid for taking on different roles, such as acting as team leaders or mentors, and, if so, how would those roles be structured? Should teachers be paid extra for working in hard-to-staff schools or hard-to-staff subjects, such as math, science, and special ed? Should teachers be paid for effectiveness, and if so, how could they ensure evaluation criteria is clear and fair?
As teachers designed a compensation system for “District X,” a fictitious mid-size urban district, they immediately identified the complexities involved. One teacher said, “The exercise made it easier for me to see what is really happening, what could possibly happen, and what the opportunities are.” There was a shared understanding of the fiscal realities and the need to make tough choices. One team reported, “We made some good decisions, but it will be hard without increasing investment.” But perhaps one third grade teacher summed up the mood of most participants when she said, “I realize now… this is hard.”
Teach Plus will summarize the findings of the workshop and will share those with teachers as well as district leadership. This session was seen as just the beginning of many conversations around how IPS should best redesign its teacher compensation structure. ERS would like to thank Teach Plus for inviting us to run the workshop, the IPS teachers’ union for their participation, and a special thanks to the over 140 teachers who energetically and thoughtfully engaged in the conversation.