CPREConsortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Wisconsin Madisonchildren

Design Process

In education, as in many other areas, it is tempting to look at what's worked somewhere else and expect that the same "recipe" will work elsewhere. Organizational leaders, the public, and the educational community itself may look at or hear about something being done in a neighboring district, or in another state, and decide that it's time to do the same.

In the context of compensation design, as well as many other applications, the "me, too" approach can be dangerous. Simply copying something being done elsewhere ignores important issues of context, including the actual problem being addressed, why the approach chosen is the preferred solution, along with the organization's history. Thus, while we believe it is time to change teacher compensation systems and have ideas and suggestions on what approaches to try, the exact design of a compensation program must be developed in the local context.

To that end, we have identified 10 key process principles that should be attended to when developing, designing, and implementing a teacher compensation system.

  1. Involvement of all key parties, especially those whose compensation is being affected, is the preeminent principle for successfully changing compensation policies. The design team should be representative of the teachers, other staff included in the compensation program, school levels, specialty areas, and administrators. While the public has a stake in the product, its involvement in the design process typically should be more restricted and advisory than those who are directly affected by the program.
  2. Broad agreement of all parties on the most valued educational results, student achievement, is crucial. Without such agreement, it will be difficult if not impossible to align organizational goals and resources.
  3. Performance to be rewarded should be measurable and the measurement method must be valid, reliable, and legally defensible. In a knowledge- and skill-based pay system, sound, comprehensive and objective evaluation systems need to be in place to assess teacher knowledge and skill development. With a group-based performance award system, there must be a mechanism by which to evaluate organizational products and processes, such as measures of student achievement and academic performance.
  4. Adequate and stable funding must be assured to the extent possible. Lack of funding and a lack of a long-term funding commitment have been key aspects of the downfall of many efforts to reform compensation in education. Transition funds often are needed to move from the old to a new knowledge- and skill-based pay structure. Both knowledge- and skill-based programs and group-performance awards need a stable funding pool. Funding that is integrated within the school finance structure is less likely to be vulnerable to cuts than a separate funding pool.
  5. Quotas, whether minimum or maximum, should be avoided. All schools meeting performance-improvement targets should be rewarded, not just a fixed percentage of schools. Similarly, all teachers should be given an opportunity to develop the fundamental knowledge and skills specified and rewarded in a knowledge- and skill-based pay plan. Organizational excellence is dependent on consistent rewards for improvements in performance and accessibility of the rewards to those motivated to achieve the rewards.
  6. Make investments in ongoing professional development to support both knowledge- and skill-based pay systems and school-based performance award programs. Improved and changed instruction is a key tool in improving student achievement in a standards-based environment. Professional development must be provided that not only addresses knowledge or skill gaps, but that also addresses new or emerging types of knowledge and skill that are needed. Professional development funding should be no less than 2-3 percent of the operating budget.
  7. General conditions of work must be addressed. The new compensation system should be integrated into the rest of the human resources system and other organizational processes. For example, a knowledge- and skill-based pay system should be consistent with teacher evaluation and professional development should be focused on skills included in the pay system. A school-based performance award program should be consistent with both the content and timing of the testing program.
  8. Management maturity is important. Administrators and the school board should have good working relations, and the administration should develop a history of working cooperatively with teachers and their unions to further system goals and objectives. Restructuring the salary schedule should occur in an environment characterized by interest-based bargaining, in which each party recognizes the interests and concerns of the other parties and a relationship of trust exists.
  9. Labor maturity goes hand-in-hand with the behavior of the administration. Teacher associations, and their members, need to have positive commitment to the academic goals of the school, good working relations among themselves, and a tradition of working with management toward education system key goals.
  10. A commitment to review and revise the plan until it is "perfected" is the key to long-term success. Even the most well-thought out plans will have initial bugs or unintended consequences, and can be viewed with skepticism by some stakeholders. In addition, organizational context can change and require a modification at some point down the road Thus, an organization needs persistence to continue i mplementation, to revise the plan when problems are identified, and to encourage full participation to see how the plan works when fully implemented. Positive risk-taking behavior should be encouraged by acknowledging even partial successes that can be attributed to the new compensation program.

Source: Allan Odden & Carolyn Kelley, Reinventing Teacher Compensation Systems, CPRE Finance Brief, September 1995