Teachers have undoubtedly suffered financially in recent years. The pain has largely been borne by early-career teachers in the form of layoffs, pension cuts, and pay freezes. In the D.C. area, where fiscal pressure is starting to ease, raises are coming back—good, but not great news for young teachers.

The good news is that school boards in Montgomery County, Arlington, and other districts are increasing pay instead of cutting class sizes, despite opposition from parents. The cost in Fairfax County was a one-pupil increase in the student-teacher ratio.

Across-the-board raises help experienced teachers much more than others.

Across-the-board raises help experienced teachers much more than others, however. In absolute dollars, a 4 or 5 percent raise on an $85 or 90 thousand salary dwarfs the equivalent increase a first-year teacher sees on $40K. For districts that are among the nation's front-runners in teacher evaluation and the development of meaningful career paths, across the board raises are a disappointing sop to the status quo.

District leaders who are looking for next-generation models to apply in their own schools could do worse than consider Public Impact's recent recommendations. Its recent whitepaper sketches a variety of career paths that would allow star teachers to expand their impact on students—and increase their take-home pay.

Rewarding teachers who sacrificed pay and job stability during the recession makes sense. But K-12 leaders should focus on improving the competitiveness of pay in early years and tie pay to teachers' contributions and progress along career paths that help kids. Reforming pay for teachers can benefit both educators and their students.

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