Improving Teaching Through Pay for Contribution

Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel
NGA Center for Best Practices

This short paper from the National Governors Association is an indispensable primer on the merits of "pay for contribution" among teachers, of which there are many forms: additional pay for performance, for working "hard to staff" schools, for meeting "skill shortages," and more. The paper makes an especially useful contribution to the (occasionally heated) debates over these reforms by invoking data from other sectors, some of which have found bonuses to be more effective than salary increases in improving staff performance. It also reminds readers that there is very little evidence (except in high school math) linking teachers' advanced degrees to student performance. In fact, there is little evidence at all to suggest that current pay structures, which prize such degrees, bear any relation to what works best for students. As much as 97 percent of teacher performance appears to be explained by factors other than "degrees, certification, or experience"--virtually the only factors that determine pay in many schools today. Finally, the Hassels rightly point out that there is tremendous public support for offering better teachers better pay (up to 80 percent of those surveyed support it), but teachers' unions are often able to cow politicians into ignoring that widespread sentiment. One hopes the nation's governors will read this report carefully and follow the lead of (and perhaps improve upon) their pioneering peers in Florida, Minnesota, and Texas, for example. Those governors have found ways to reward teachers who demonstrate results or who teach in especially high-need subjects and neighborhoods, though their efforts generally have been useful first steps rather than fully developed pay for contribution schemes. You can find the paper online here.

Eric Osberg is a Vice President and Treasurer at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute