Friday, August 3, 2012

10 Most Innovative Ways to Pay Teachers

With merit pay for teachers surging through political debates these days, detractors to the whole system might prefer keeping alternative methods of making sure teachers receive adequate compensation in mind. Some schools, cities, and states — even enterprising individuals — believe these strategies will address the issues associated with both the current system and the controversial merit pay alike. Whether or not they grow into the new norm elsewhere, or fizzle out over time remains to be seen, but for now let’s watch and see how things develop.

    Honestly, this strategy comes off as more cruel than genuinely innovative on the outset, but it’s still an alternative idea. But a paper fronted by Freakonomics author Steven Levitt of the University of Chicago floats the theory that teachers might perform better if they receive up-front bonuses that could — should their students fail to live up to expectations — get yanked at the end of the semester. For merit pay detractors who realize that sometimes kiddos just don’t do so hot, no matter how much their otherwise competent, hard-working teachers try, this fear-based approach seems just as spiteful. Supporters, however, point out that the ongoing experiments, thus far, prove that the fear of loss actually leads to “over-performing students.”

    Several education experts and schools think a tiered raise structure rather than a straightforward one or full-blown merit pay might provide better compensation for teachers. Rather than judging them exclusively on how well their students perform, the system of several different tiers also allows for financial rewards based on professional development, experience, and other factors. Harvard’s Susan Moore Johnson and John Papay analyzed the issues associated with merit pay and devised a four-point plan to ensure educators receive salaries based on every indicator of career success. This not only addresses serious issues tied into an exclusive merit pay system, but also takes into account teachers’ desire for support and respect rather than just money.

    Similarly, schools such as Summit Prep in San Francisco, reformatted the typical merit pay structure so student performance only comprised a small slice of their teachers’ overall salaries. Rewards for professional development and other initiatives to improve one’s career standing also factor into deciding how much they make, and peer- and self-assessments play a role in determining who deserves what. It’s a better-rounded concept that understands how educator success and efficacy present themselves through more conduits than just standardized test scores. Upward movement focuses on how well the teachers master classroom content and pass it on — a more blended approach that seems to inspire grand results.

    City officials in Baltimore launched the Good Neighbors Program as a means of rewarding individuals necessary for keeping everything together (firefighters, law enforcement officials, teachers etc.). If they agree to purchase a once-abandoned home, the initiative rewards them with $5,000 toward both their down payment and the associated closing costs. Doing so helps lure great teachers into neighborhoods, reinvigorates the vacant houses, and keeps Baltimore’s students educated, which ultimately benefits everyone in the city!

    Teachers who agree to lend their talents to low-income areas for five full, consecutive years, provided they meet a few other criteria, receive eligibility to see up to $17,500 of their student loans forgiven by the feds. Everyone knows the starting salaries for educators stand as (usually!) quite paltry considering the necessary services they provide, and adding college debt on top of that only renders their situations even more fiscally stressful. With this arrangement, students in impoverished schools receive educations from top talent, who in turn have one less thing to worry about when it comes to chipping away at what they owe their lenders.

    Rather than receiving additional payment from the districts themselves, some educators turn towards the Teachers Pay Teachers website to supplement their incomes. Schools and teachers alike turn to the “open marketplace” to sell and purchase classroom materials, with everything from simple supplies to full-blown lesson plans covering every subject out there. And the money goes straight towards the teachers themselves! The company refers to it as “free market merit pay.” In addition, Teachers Pay Teachers also acts as a great social network for education professionals wanting to independently exchange ideas and insights about how to best serve students.

    Although Maine governor Paul LePage stomped out a bill financially rewarding teachers for national certification and mentoring owing to its pro-gay marriage and pro-union stance in 2012, the ideas behind it do deserve consideration. Were the legislation to pass, older teachers would’ve received up to $3000 in additional pay annually if they agreed to mentor younger ones just entering into the industry. Others could earn a little extra by participating in national certification programs enriching their classroom skills. One drawback of the Maine proposal saw some of the funding parsed out of teacher salaries, which is counterproductive, so any districts looking to implement the idea might want to consider alternative methods.

    Rather than paying off student loans after college wraps up, some organizations, like the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, willingly waive the tuition of teachers working under specific conditions. Its Illinois Special Education Teacher Tuition Waiver Program stands as one example of this pay incentive. Any qualified applicants accepted into the initiative receive full tuition to four-year higher education institutions, provided they agree to stay and teach in Illinois-based special ed classrooms upon graduation. Should they fail to deliver, the money received becomes a loan instead. Because so many schools hurt for great special education teachers, this program provides financial peace of mind and ensures students receive lessons from the most qualified individuals.

    New York City is one such region distributing bonuses to schools who show improvement rather than individual teachers, believing it offers up even more incentive for everyone to chip in and challenge underprivileged students to succeed. Administrators and staff decide whether or not to participate, too, so any additional pay comes because of opting in rather than seeing such a structure forced onto them without any input. It functions similar to merit pay, with bonuses rewarded based on how well students perform on standardized tests, but everyone involved reaps the benefits. Year One saw 62% of schools and 80% of teachers receiving a grand total of $21.9 million in financial rewards.

    Not reducing the salaries of hardworking administrators, of course. Instead, institutions like The Equity Project Charter School pay some of their teaching staff six figures of fun because they streamlined their entire staff. They don’t offer up vice principal positions, for example, and accept volunteers. As a result, the generous salaries for educating some of New York City’s poorest-performing students keep educators sticking around, grateful that they can make a living wage with what they love and not have to constantly search for openings elsewhere.

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