What Should Determine Teachers’ Pay?

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The issue of teacher pay is among the most enduring in debates about the teaching profession. Many believe that more ambitious, driven individuals would be attracted to teaching if there were greater earning potential and a more direct correlation between effort and compensation. Houston recently became the nation’s largest school district to implement a merit pay plan for teachers based on student test scores. Denver, another large school district, has recently done so as well.

In an informal online poll that ran from January 6 to February 24, 2006, visitors to were asked whether level of education, merit/job performance, or years in the classroom should most affect teacher pay.

In total there were 433 respondents, 268 of whom described themselves as educators. Of all respondents:

  • 50.8 percent answered “merit/job performance”
  • 24 percent said “years in the classroom”
  • 17.1 percent said “level of education”
  • and 8.1 percent were undecided.

The numbers differed substantially between the educator and non-educator groups.

Among educators:

  • 41.8 percent answered “merit/job performance”
  • 29.1 percent said “years in the classroom”
  • 19.8 percent said “level of education”
  • and 9.3 percent were undecided.

Among non-educators:

  • 65.5 percent answered “merit/job performance”
  • 15.8 percent said “years in the classroom”
  • 12.7 percent said “level of education”
  • and 6.1 percent were undecided.

The poll invited respondents to comment, and many of them did. Below is a sampling of comments arranged by answer:

Merit/Job Performance
“While experience and educational background are important, pay really needs to be based on performance—just like many other jobs. Experience and education will enhance a teacher’s performance.”

“I think we should be like most professions and be paid based on how well we do our jobs. Many people are worried about the ‘fairness’ of an evaluation system, but I believe one could be constructed that would look at multiple ways to measure the progress you make with students based on where the students were when they came into your classroom.”

“It’s not the years but the effort and inspiration put forth.”

Years in the classroom
“The experience one gains from years in the classroom is what allows skill to develop and mature. On-the-job training, in this case, has the ability to make for the most seasoned and effective teachers. Nothing else can do it!”

“Experience and knowledge of subject and the student body is too often ignored in favor of those who can convince using the jargon of the latest bandwagon.”

“Schools already lose almost 50 percent of new recruits in the first 5 years. One way to encourage people to stay is to reward longevity … ”

Level of education
“Those teachers who choose to further their education should be rewarded. I got my Masters and can hardly pay for it with my small raise. Teachers who have been there a long time, however, are making more money and doing less work.”


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