No easy alternatives for teacher compensation

Despite the current economic crisis facing California schools, some education think tanks within the state are beginning to look at alternate models for teacher compensation.

Traditionally, teachers have been paid according to a salary schedule that is based solely on years of service and post baccalaureate education. However, a handful of districts in other states have begun experimenting with alternative methods for determining teacher salaries.

In California, only San Francisco Unified School District has taken a step toward developing an alternative teacher compensation model. Last July, the city approved Proposition A, which will use a parcel tax to generate revenue to help recruit and retain teachers. Under the plan, teachers working in high demand subject areas or at schools with high turnover rates will receive additional financial compensation.

Hoping to create more dialogue and encourage more districts to consider alternative salary structures, Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) and the Full Circle Fund will host a conference dedicated to discussing alternative teacher compensation. The conference will be held in Oakland on March 30 and Los Angeles on March 31.

According to David Plank, PACEs executive director, the current pay schedule is fundamentally flawed and should be reevaluated.

We know that what we are doing is not working, Plank said.

Plank does not expect to see immediate, state-wide changes, but is hoping to encourage unions to negotiate changes in the salary schedule on a local level. However, such a move would be an additional expense for school districts, as he feels unions would not consider any plan that would reduce the salaries of some teachers in order to help others.

According to Jeff Camp, chair of the education impact circle for Full Circle Fund, districts can look for help from federal, state and private programs to implement new and innovative models for alternative compensation.

If a district and a union have a really original and ambitious idea in this area and get community support, there will be programs to support it, Camp said.

Even if the financial concerns can be addressed, districts would still have to grapple with how to best identify and reward high quality teachers. Because so few districts throughout the country currently engage in alternative teacher compensation, it would be difficult to draw upon successful models.

Both Camp and Plank agree that the approach to alternative compensation should be varied and specialized to each individual district and union. Examples of criteria that districts could use to differentiate pay include rewarding teachers in high demand subjects, working at a hard to staff school, becoming a master teacher, assuming extra duties, or student performance on standardized tests.

A system that determines pay based on standardized tests, however, could become controversial and is unlikely to garner union support.

Marty Hittelman, president of the California Federation of Teachers, doubts that any local union would show interest in adopting any form of alternative compensation that is based on test scores.

I am sure that the future is not paying teachers based on standardized test scores, Hittleman said.

Bobby Ritter, who has a Master's Degree in Journalism Education from the University of Missouri, is a freelance writer from Fair Oaks and teaches Journalism and English at Roseville High School.