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A Rose By Any Other Name May Still Have Thorns


Brushing up on 'pay for performance'



At the center of a national debate about the quality of public education is the subject of teacher compensation. The issue among many is not whether to increase teacher salaries, but rather who among teachers should receive an increase and how they should earn it.

The issue of "pay for performance" for educators is gaining attention because it is touted by some presidential candidates and policymakers as the solution to what ails education. Yet much of the conventional wisdom and public discussion about teacher pay is misleading. The result is misguided policies that divert attention from addressing the root causes of teacher turnover and stagnant student achievement.

It is clear to me that folks have decided on answers before they have defined the question. The question isn't how to differentiate pay between teachers. The question is how to pay teachers a salary that encourages the creation of a great public school for every child.

The bottom line is that improving teaching improves student learning, and improving teaching means paying every teacher for more training and experience. It means paying a salary that is competitive enough to keep teachers from being tempted to leave the classroom for other jobs. It means paying an entry level salary that encourages people to enter the teaching profession.

NEA's position has been clear for decades. Teacher salaries and student learning conditions are best worked out between the educators in a local school district and the local school board. NEA members around the country have been willing to experiment and pilot all sorts of plans that might fairly and appropriately provide differentiated pay. Some members are even exploring stipends for those who teach in difficult and hard-to-staff school settings.

Similarly, there are some plans in place around the country that just don't work. They are not designed to improve teaching and learning, and they make teachers competitors rather than collaborators. Let's be honest—without the support of Team NEA working in the trenches, and without guaranteed long-term funding, compensation "brainstorms" can quickly turn into a bummer.

Our members have always felt a responsibility to help students achieve, be successful, and compete in an interdependent world. We accomplish that by making public schools great places for teaching and learning—a goal that requires paying professional salaries that truly attract and retain quality educators.

As the national voice for public school employees, we know that too many teachers and education support professionals have been denied professional pay for too long. To attract more dedicated, committed professionals into these fields, we need salaries that are literally "attractive." That is the principle behind NEA's salary campaign, which is gaining traction and securing fair and competitive compensation for teachers, ESPs, and higher education employees. Bit by bit, this strategic goal is helping local communities recruit and retain the kind of education professionals that students need and parents want.

NEA local and state affiliates are exploring a variety of methods to meet the economic and professional interests of their members, and we share the thrust of that commitment. When it comes to teacher salaries, one size definitely does not fit all.

-NEA President Reg Weaver

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18-Mar-08