Study: Teacher Performance Pay Is a Good Option for Maine

Published September 1, 2008

As school districts nationwide experiment with new systems for paying teachers, a new study by the Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) suggests the Pine Tree State should abandon its traditional payment system in favor of performance-based compensation.

“Maine desperately needs good teachers,” said Stephen Bowen, MHPC’s director of education policy. “The question is, can you use the pay structure to get you those top-quality teachers the school system is simply not producing for us?”

MHPC released the first installment of a two-part report, Reforming Teachers Pay in Maine, in June. In that first installment, titled “How Alternative Teacher Compensation Systems Are Improving Student Outcomes,” Bowen explains alternative compensation and reviews research showing certain types of performance-based teacher pay have led to positive student outcomes elsewhere.

Successful Program

The report describes Denver Public Schools’ ProComp model, which has many components, including professional evaluations done by trained teachers and administrators; pay for performance tied to students’ test scores, attendance, and yearly improvement; and incentives for teachers to take jobs in high-need subjects and tough schools.

A four-year pilot study of the Denver program found “significant learning gains” among students of participating teachers. Since the model was implemented in 2005, the number of teachers applying for jobs in Denver’s most challenging schools has multiplied eightfold.

Denver’s ProComp system “has a lot of different ways for teachers to show they know what they are doing,” Bowen said. “The research indicates you want a fair measure of what the teachers are able to do.”

New Models

The second half of the study, to be released in September, will answer the question, “If we decide to do [alternative compensation for teachers] what do the successful models look like?” Bowen said.

Most Maine school districts use a “single salary schedule,” determined by a teacher’s years of service and level of education. This is the system the United States has used for nearly a century because of its simplicity and image of fairness.

The problem with the single salary schedule, said Bowen, is that the two factors–years on the job and education level–do not have any impact on a teacher’s effectiveness.

Planning and implementing an alternative compensation system is anything but simple, the study notes. There is a range of alternatives, from paying more for teachers in high-need neighborhoods to tying salary to objective student outcomes such as test scores and/or critical classroom observation.

Looking Ahead

William Slotnik, founder and executive director of the Community Training and Assistance Center, a nonprofit consulting firm in Boston that works with community-based organizations, school systems, and government agencies, led the four-year study of ProComp Bowen analyzed for his report.

“This is a very nuanced reform. Any effort that hopes to link what teachers earn and students learn has got to have organizational sustainability and financial sustainability,” Slotnik said. “Money alone doesn’t change anything. You must look at the broader support for teachers, such as quality of professional development, assessment tools, and supervision.”

Bowen said he understands the complexity of this type of systematic reform. MHPC is meeting with various stakeholders to get their input on what would work best for Maine. Currently, many small school districts statewide are being consolidated, and Bowen said this would be a good time for the state to implement performance-based teacher pay.

Georgia Geis ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.

For more information …

“How Alternative Teacher Compensation Systems are Improving Student Outcomes,” by Stephen Bowen, Maine Heritage Policy Center, June 9, 2008: