Colorado District Implements Innovative Teacher Pay

Published July 3, 2013

A trailblazing Colorado school district has implemented a first-in-nation pay system that will reflect teachers’ value by rewarding hard work instead of seniority. The Douglas County School Board will pay its best teachers up to 9.2 percent more, starting in 2013-2014. The plan injects $15.7 million into pay raises, bonuses, and other compensation starting this fall. No teacher will receive a pay cut.

Douglas County “continues to lead the nation in commonsense reforms. It makes perfect sense to pay teachers more in hard-to-fill positions, such as in math and science, to attract a larger pool of applicants,” said Pam Benigno, education policy director for the Denver-based Independence Institute. “The public is ready to support a pay system for teachers that is more aligned to the private market.”

The district’s pay-for-performance plan will tie salaries to teachers’ performance ratings, from “highly effective” to “ineffective.” It will also pay teachers according to five salary groups, with the highest pay for areas of greatest need or competition, such as high school math, and the lowest in easier-to-fill subjects such as gym.

U.S. school districts typically pay teachers according to years in the system and degrees earned, no matter what grade or subject they teach. Recently, some districts have explored bonuses for teaching in high-poverty schools, and salary bumps for hard-to-fill positions such as special-education and calculus.

The wealthy suburban district also offers virtual schools, charter schools, and the nation’s only district-run voucher system. The voucher plan is tied up in court, however.

Pay for Student Performance
States spend about $15 billion to give automatic pay increases to teachers who have earned advanced degrees, although there’s little evidence to suggest this improves education, according to Georgetown University researcher Marguerite Roza, who examined 2007-2008 data.

The average pay increase under Douglas County’s new system is 4 percent, half of which will be an ongoing permanent pay increase and the other half a one-year, one-time bonus. The district has also agreed to cover a $2.2 million annual increase to state pension contributions, and a $1.2 million increase in health insurance costs for all teachers. With these benefit increases, the average teacher salary jumps 5.2 percent.

“We want to continue to attract and retain the very best. These increases are very much deserved by our staff. We value the hard work of our employees and their dedication to our students,” said Douglas County Board of Education President John Carson.

The new system requires evaluations of all teachers and principals, starting this school year. When the evaluation is fully implemented, 50 percent of a teacher’s assessment will come from student test scores. Tenure, which a teacher can earn only after three sequential years of positive evaluations, will now also be lost after two consecutive years of poor ratings.

Salaries for teachers in the lowest bracket will rise to $61,000. In the highest bracket, special education therapists can earn up to $94,000.

Image by ISKME.