Teacher Pay Reforms: The Political Implications of Recent Research

Dan Goldhaber
Center for American Progress
December 2006

If teacher quality is the "most important schooling factor influencing student achievement," as this report claims, why aren't we putting better teachers in failing classrooms? The University of Washington's Dan Goldhaber argues that teacher pay is among the main answers. To begin with, he says, the "single" or "uniform" salary schedule keeps talented individuals from becoming teachers. This argument isn't new, but Goldhaber presents interesting data to back it up. He determined that the average salary gap between teachers and non-teachers ten years out of college is $18,904 for those who hold a non-technical degree; for math or engineering majors the gap is $27,890. Goldhaber then looks at ways to narrow these gaps. Although merit pay, knowledge- or skill-based pay, and so-called "combat pay" (see here) plans may never bridge this yawning gap, he thinks they do minimize the financial sacrifices that a teacher must make, thus attracting more high-quality candidates. (As evidence, he cites a RAND study which found that a $1,000 increase in beginning teacher salaries lowers teacher attrition by three to six percent.) The last section outlines the main hurdles to implementing these reforms. Goldhaber's approach here is balanced--he doesn't give the unions the shellacking they deserve on this issue--but he's fairly optimistic. The Department of Education has recently launched an initiative that will fund merit and combat pay pilot programs in various states and districts. And the A.F.T. is showing signs of acknowledging the need for pay reform. (Not the N.E.A., of course.) Those looking to join this campaign will find in this report a good map of the territory. Read it here.

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