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Pay Teachers More?

Marc Waxman, a principal of a charter school in Denver, and Stacey Gauthier, a co-principal of Renaissance Charter High School, are corresponding about school policy. Read their entire exchange.

Dear Stacey,

As I was preparing to write back to you I decided to read a column in Huffington Post by Randi Weingarten. And, as I was reading it I saw the link to the “manifesto” signed by your chancellor in New York City and my superintendent here in Denver. I won’t get into the arguments for or against each of these articles other than to say that the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. But, interestingly, the “manifesto” has a direct connection to your last correspondence to me. It states:

District leaders also need the authority to use financial incentives to attract and retain the best teachers. When teachers are highly effective — measured in significant part by how well students are doing academically — or are willing to take a job in a tough school or in a hard-to-staff subject area such as advanced math or science, we should be able to pay them more. Important initiatives, such as the federal Teacher Incentive Fund, are helping bring great educators to struggling communities, but we have to change the rules to professionalize teaching.

In last correspondence, you wrote, “Four years ago teachers voted overwhelmingly to participate in the Teacher Incentive Fund program (Partnership for Compensation in Charter Schools, a collaboration between CEI-PEA and nine charter schools).”

You may remember that the conversion charter school I co-founded and co-directed in Harlem, Future Leaders Institute, also voted on whether to participate in the Teacher Incentive Fund program. There, teachers narrowly voted against participation.

Now that your school has been part of the program for several years, I would love to hear more about how it is going. I remember that a key issue at our school was whether participation would negatively impact the teacher culture of collaboration and collegiality. Have you had any negative unintended consequences? Has the program been successful?

On a connected note, while I often read and hear about merit pay, incentive systems, teacher effectiveness, the restructuring of schools of education, and alternative paths to entering the teaching profession as just some of the methods to increase teacher quality, I haven’t heard many people say flat out — we need to drastically increase teacher salaries. I wonder sometimes, what would happen if we doubled every teachers’ salary while at the same time creatively restructuring tenure to be both harder to attain and easier to lose. Would we see a shift in who chooses to teach and how long they stay in the profession, and could that shift dramatically impact the quality of education delivered? Of course this would cost much more, but I wonder what an analysis of the benefits to society would find. Is it possible that there would actually be a net gain for society as a whole? Does the old adage, “you get what you pay for,” mean anything in this context?


MarcAbout our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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