AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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AFT Resolutions

PROFESSIONAL COMPENSATION FOR TEACHERS

As we begin the 21st century, well-prepared, highly qualified teachers are essential if we are to ensure that all students achieve the high standards necessary for them to lead fulfilling lives and become productive citizens. In today's competitive marketplace, it is increasingly difficult to attract and retain the best teachers; to accomplish this, we must guarantee a salary commensurate with their education, experience and the challenging and complex tasks they perform.

 

We need a compensation system for teachers that has a competitive base pay and benefits for all, and, when possible, forged through cooperative labor-management relations that include multiple opportunities for teachers to advance along the salary scale in addition to seniority and education level. Given the teacher shortage and the need for highly skilled teachers who can deliver standards-based instruction resulting in improved student achievement levels, the AFT believes we must enhance the traditional compensation schedule using approaches that contribute to more effective teaching and learning.

 

We are not alone in our interest in improving teacher quality by enhancing existing compensation structures.  School boards, administrators, state legislators, governors and business groups are proposing various strategies to promote teacher quality, several of which include recommendations on how teachers should be compensated.

 

The AFT has long believed that professional pay is an integral part of an educational system that promotes teacher quality. The late Albert Shanker, former AFT president, had a vision that school systems must move beyond the "rigid hierarchy" of the traditional salary schedule and compensate teachers as other professionals in our society are compensated, when he remarked:

 

If we are to achieve professionalism, we have … to develop new processes, new institutions, new procedures that will bring us what teachers want in addition to what we get from collective bargaining status, dignity, a voice in professional matters, the compensation of a professional.[1]

 

It is clear, then, that AFT must take the lead in engaging our members and the public in a discussion of teacher compensation issues. Indeed:

 

n   Teacher quality is uppermost on the reform agenda. Study after study has documented the important relationship of teacher quality to student achievement. A survey conducted by Recruiting New Teachers found that the public is aware that higher teacher salaries are critical to increased quality, and they are willing to pay more for quality teachers.

 

n   Teachers are significantly underpaid, and the public knows it. The profession lacks a competitive edge in the wider job market. According to Education Week's "Quality Counts 2000," beginning teachers are paid on average almost $8,000 less than graduates with comparable education, and that gap widens to more than $23,000 after 15 years of teaching.

 

n   The United States is experiencing a significant shortage of qualified teachers. Over the next 10 years, more than 2 million teachers must be hired to meet the demand for teachers caused by rising student enrollments and teacher retirements. At the same time, surveys have shown that fewer college students are interested in pursuing teaching as a career. Although some professionals unsatisfied with their jobs have moved into teaching, the majority of second-career seekers reject teaching for its low pay and tough working conditions.

 

n   New state policies and local contract negotiations regarding professional compensation for teachers have looked at additional approaches to increasing teacher salaries. These policies include various forms of "pay for performance," including individual and group incentives, pay for knowledge and skills, and recruitment incentives such as loan forgiveness and low-interest housing loans.

 

In keeping with Shanker's vision, the AFT believes that the union should achieve professional compensation not by eliminating the traditional salary schedule but, instead, by considering ways to enhance and improve it. The AFT believes it is time to explore viable, fair and educationally sound teacher compensation options that will raise salaries while contributing to efforts already under way to assure high-quality, well-prepared teachers for all students.

Current AFT policy on teacher compensation supports the following:

 

n   endorsing additional compensation to teachers who earn advanced certification by passing the demanding, performance-based assessments of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS);

 

n   placing new teachers in shortage fields (e.g., math and science) further up on the salary schedule; and

 

n   paying teachers for mentoring, peer support and other professional development activities.

 

Furthermore, AFT affiliates have implemented additional pay options such as:

 

Pay for additional roles: Several affiliates--Boston, Cincinnati, Dade County, Fla., Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Rochester, N.Y., and Toledo, Ohio, to name a few--offer financial incentives to teachers who take on different roles and responsibilities. In Rochester, N.Y., the long-standing "Career in Teaching" program offers a progression of job responsibilities and opportunities for professional growth throughout one's teaching career and offers financial incentives to the top two levels of the four-level program.

 

Pay for National Board Certification: Numerous districts with AFT affiliates offer fee support and/or salary supplements to teachers seeking and/or achieving National Board Certification. As of October 2000, 17 had fee supports and salary supplements, eight had fee supports only, and 21 had salary supplements only.  In Minneapolis, teachers with National Board Certification qualify for the next lane on the salary schedule. Those already in the final lane of the salary schedule receive an additional $1,500 per year.

 

Pay for schoolwide improvements: Several affiliates--Cincinnati, Rochester, N.Y., Boson, Minneapolis and Douglas County, Colo.--have developed schoolwide incentives to encourage teacher collaboration on improving student growth. In Douglas County, teachers set a goal, construct a plan for achieving that goal and submit a final report on the effects. A Group Incentives Board determines whether to award a bonus. In New York City, the United Federation of Teachers is experimenting with its Chamber of Commerce and school district on a plan, "Breakthrough for Learning," that provides professional development and awards bonuses to all staff in schools that reach predetermined targets for student achievement.

 

Pay for knowledge and skills: A few AFT affiliates--most notably Cincinnati and Douglas County, Colo.--have developed innovative knowledge- and skill-based pay systems.

 

Where We Are: The Traditional Salary Scale

Despite the innovations described above, today, and for the greater part of the last century, most teachers across America have been paid according to a salary schedule that awards compensation to teachers based almost exclusively on levels of education and years of experience. This system was originally created to accommodate an industrial model of education where teaching was perceived as requiring low-level skills. Teachers were perceived as "interchangeable parts," each doing the same thing in isolation of their colleagues and under the watchful eyes of supervisors.

 

The traditional salary schedule was developed in response to discriminatory practices and to ensure fairness in the system. Implemented prior to collective bargaining, the current teacher salary system was designed to eliminate differential pay based on gender, race or educational level of students taught (elementary, middle or secondary). The current system rewards teachers with more experience and those who had attained "greater knowledge," as demonstrated by their earning additional college credits and degrees. In the absence of more proximate measures of teacher quality, this approach has a commonsense validity—the more you know about teaching and the longer you do it, the better you should be at it. And, this traditional salary schedule is easy to understand and administer, predictable and perceived as objective by teachers.

 

Nonetheless, the traditional salary schedule has several limitations. It has not produced salaries for teachers that are competitive in the current job market given their education, nor does it reflect the complexity of the work they do. In many salary schedules, it takes a very long time to reach the top of the schedule, which undermines teacher recruitment and retention efforts. As typically implemented, the traditional salary schedule does not reward additional skills and knowledge that benefit children (e.g., licensure in multiple fields), exemplary practice (e.g., attainment of National Board Certification) or extraordinary circumstances (e.g., teaching in hard-to-staff schools). It does not respond to market forces (e.g., shortages in particular teaching fields such as science, math and special education), nor does it provide incentives for teachers to assume differentiated roles (e.g., mentor, lead teacher, curriculum developer). Finally, it fails to provide incentives for teachers to acquire skills and knowledge needed to deliver standards-based instruction.

 

Failed Merit Pay Schemes

While the AFT is encouraging locals to explore various teacher compensation systems based on local conditions, it is not abandoning the traditional salary schedule. Failed attempts to implement differentiated pay options, like merit pay systems, identified a few teachers as "outstanding" and paid them extra, rewarding teachers on the basis of supervisory ratings or student test scores. Nevertheless, these schemes have failed. Why did they fail?  Research and experience show that the merit pay schemes:

 

n   were underfunded;

 

n   used quotas for determining quality;

 

n   had questionable or difficult-to-understand assessment procedures for evaluating teaching, resulting in perceptions that favoritism rather than merit was driving the system;

 

n   were designed so that either you earned merit or you didn't--there were no gradations of merit, only "winners" and "losers";

 

n   gave rewards to teachers in the wealthiest schools more often than to those teaching the neediest students;

 

n   did not improve student performance and were unconnected to outcomes; and

 

n   created teacher morale problems stemming from the creation of unfair competition in a profession where cooperation and collaboration are valued.

 

Professional Compensation: The Requirements

Teacher compensation should not be considered in isolation but instead must be considered as part of an educational system that includes curricula aligned with standards, continuous professional development for teachers and paraprofessionals, and the other necessary conditions and resources to support teaching and learning. Indeed, to achieve the goals of standards-based reform, address the teacher shortage, advance the teacher quality agenda and make teaching a true profession, teachers' careers must include:

 

n   rigorous, in-depth preparation;

 

n   clear, enforced standards and qualifications for licensure;

 

n   access to mentoring and induction activities;

 

n   ongoing, high-quality professional development for all teachers;

 

n   teacher evaluation based on professional standards of best practice; and

 

n   professional compensation systems, with opportunities for earning additional pay, that have the potential to attract new teachers and retain experienced ones.

 

The following conditions and resources should be incorporated into any professional compensation system if they are not already in place:

 

An adequate salary base for all teachers: The base salary of any teacher compensation system, including the entry level, must be competitive with the salaries of other professionals to assure an adequate supply of skilled, qualified teachers and the retention of those already in the profession. Moreover, any new teacher compensation initiatives must accompany sufficient salary increases for all teachers. Indeed, the public and policymakers have come to recognize that efforts to address the teacher shortage and improve teacher quality will require additional monies for teachers. This may require additional state and federal resources for localities whose tax base cannot support such salaries.

 

Sufficient funding: If teachers are going to seek out additional professional development opportunities, take on additional responsibilities or more difficult teaching assignments, or subject themselves to the rigorous National Board for Professional Teaching Standards evaluation process, there must be meaningful financial incentives to encourage teachers.

 

Credible, agreed-upon standards and measures of professional practice: Compensation proposals that reward teachers for their skills and abilities must be based on clear, agreed-upon standards designed by the profession. The evidence upon which those standards are judged must be apparent to all, and the roles of teachers and supervisors in the evaluation system must be clearly defined.

 

Clear steps to improving professional practice combined with the necessary supports: A viable teacher compensation system must include a well-developed and adequately funded professional development system, designed by the profession, to help teachers achieve the necessary skills and knowledge to improve teaching and learning.

 

Labor/management collaboration based on mutual trust and respect: Redesigning and implementing teacher compensation systems are labor/management responsibilities. No system will succeed if it is imposed on teachers by the district or the state. It must have credibility and the buy-in of teachers, and that can best be achieved through labor/management negotiations.

 

Incentives that are available to all eligible teachers: Any teacher compensation system must be fair and open to all teachers who meet the criteria for additional pay, without quotas or reductions in individual monetary amounts as more teachers qualify.

 

Easily understood standards and procedures for awarding teachers additional compensation: Clear and concise information about proposed teacher compensation systems must be provided to all teachers.

Compensation systems could include the following components and conditions:

 

Incentives that focus on the acquisition of knowledge and skills that support the goals of districts, schools and teachers: Financial systems must be in place to encourage teachers to acquire knowledge and skills in areas that are of importance to schools (e.g., earning a second credential in a shortage field, using technology in instruction, enhancing knowledge and skills related to teaching reading, learning a new, research-based program, etc.).

 

Multiple opportunities to increase teacher compensation and advancement: Teachers should be eligible to earn additional compensation in a variety of ways. Systems might be developed that compensate teachers for advanced skills (e.g., reward for achieving National Board Certification or meeting high standards of professional practice); for acquiring new knowledge and skills; for assuming additional responsibilities (e.g., peer assistance and review, providing professional development to colleagues, mentoring other teachers, serving on curriculum committees); for working in hard-to-staff schools; and for schoolwide efforts that result in noteworthy changes in student achievement, attendance, reduced dropout rates, parental involvement or other valued educational indicators.

 

Incentives for teachers who agree to teach in low-performing schools, hard-to-staff schools and/or shortage areas: Increased compensation is necessary to attract teachers to difficult assignments and shortage areas if we are to have qualified teachers in every classroom. Such financial incentives are not, however, the only solution. In addition to meaningful pay incentives, districts must be held accountable for making such schools safe and orderly, assuring that high-quality leadership is present and that ongoing professional support is available to all staff.

 

Multiple measures of student progress for schoolwide and/or group incentives: Teachers working together make a significant difference. Compensation systems with schoolwide rewards based on multiple measures of student outcomes (e.g., standardized test scores, student work, classroom assessments), as well as other indicators (e.g., attendance rates, dropout rates, disciplinary incidents and the like) might be considered. Such programs encourage the collegiality and support that promote student growth. Nonetheless, it is critical that any schoolwide or group incentives be developed jointly by management and labor; include credible, technically defensible indicators of student progress; and assure that determinations of student progress are based on improvement, not absolute scores, with comparisons based on similarly situated schools.

 

AFT Recommendations on Compensation for Teachers

The AFT encourages and will support local unions and/or state federations that choose to explore fair, flexible, labor/management-designed teacher compensation proposals that:

 

n   provide adequate competitive base salaries, including entry-level pay

 

n   encourage collegiality and improve professional practice and student learning.

 

While some districts and local unions have been moving in this direction for several years, others are just beginning to consider these issues. Depending on local circumstances and experiences with teacher compensation proposals, and mindful of the urgency of providing an adequate salary base to attract new teachers and retain qualified teachers in our profession and our schools, exploration might include increased professional compensation for:

n   knowledge and skills that advance and/or address high-priority educational goals;

 

n   schoolwide improvement;

 

n   achieving National Board Certification;

 

n   mentoring new and veteran teachers, providing peer assistance and review, serving as lead teachers, etc.;

 

n   teaching in shortage areas;

 

n   agreeing to teach in hard-to-staff and/or low-performing schools;

 

n   assuming additional responsibilities; and

 

n   instructional practice that meets mutually agreed-upon high-quality professional standards.

Teachers are the most basic educational resource communities provide to students.  By assuring a competitive salary base and an enhanced salary schedule, together with rigorous preparation and licensure qualifications, mentoring and induction, on-going professional development and evaluation based on professional standards, all students can be afforded equal access to well-prepared, qualified teachers.  Anything less denies students access to the quality education they deserve.


[1] Albert Shanker. "The Making of a Profession," American Educator. Fall 1985.


(2002)