Texas students deserve effective (and well-paid) teachers

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Increasing the attractiveness of the teaching profession, recruiting higher-quality candidates, rewarding effectiveness, and retaining the most effective teachers are all integral to creating a world-class teaching corps in Texas.

Effective teachers improve outcomes for students. With almost 360,000 teachers serving almost 5.4 million Texas students, ensuring that students learn from effective teachers year after year is essential to awakening their potential and allowing them to succeed.

Increasing the attractiveness of the profession, recruiting higher-quality candidates, rewarding effectiveness, and retaining the most effective teachers are all integral to creating a world-class teaching corps in Texas that will dramatically increase student achievement.  Students deserve to learn from a high-quality teacher every year, and the Texas legislature has an opportunity in 2019 to give students what they deserve.

From experience to effectiveness

Only 3% of a teacher’s influence on student achievement can be attributed to factors like education level, years of experience, and certification status. Unfortunately, virtually every school district in Texas uses these factors to determine 100% of teachers’ pay raises each year. In order to recruit and retain effective teachers, district pay structures must reward teachers for the excellent work they are doing in the classroom.

These pay practices, like the traditional salary schedule, treat all teachers as if they are interchangeable pieces that districts can move or replace with little consequence. But recent research and meta-analysis data show that, if the reward is targeted and large enough to meaningfully impact behavior, student outcomes improve.

In the most recent evaluation of the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant, students whose teachers receive pay-for-performance bonuses gained an additional four weeks of learning. A study of Texas teacher cohorts from 1987 to 1995 found that a $1,000 salary increase was associated with an almost 3% reduction in overall attrition and a 5-6% reduction in attrition among Hispanic and black teachers. A more substantial increase in pay is likely to have an even bigger impact. A December 2018 study corroborates these findings – retention bonuses for highly effective teachers led to increased retention and gains in student achievement.

Models that inspire

Following multiple legislative sessions of advocacy, no headway had been made in the effort to create a statewide imperative for districts to use compensation to improve student outcomes. Legislative committees took up teacher compensation in the course of interim hearings, during which time three members of our esteemed Educator Board testified in support of merit pay systems. 

Fortunately, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance took a holistic view of school finance reform that included changing the way we compensate teachers. In the course of its hearings, the commission heard from several Dallas ISD leaders on their innovative Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI) and Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) program, as well as from San Antonio ISD leaders describing their Master Teacher program.

Together, these programs have used compensation as a powerful lever to improve student outcomes in Dallas, particularly in its most challenging campuses. The district created its own system to reward effectiveness by looking to other big-city districts’ successful merit pay programs and incorporating educator feedback from their own teachers.

Successful merit pay programs, such as Dallas ISD’s, include:

  • Performance-based targets and comprehensive evaluations: Teachers rated as highly effective, based on test scores, observation data, or a combination of the two, can receive higher annual raises than teachers rated as less effective. High-quality evaluations include multiple measures – student surveys, objective measures of student growth, at least three rating categories, annual evaluations and observations for all teachers, professional development tied to evaluation, and written feedback after each observation.
  • Targeting high-priority areas: A recent survey of teachers highlights that 83% of teachers support higher salaries for teachers who work in neighborhoods with low-performing schools, and 58% support paying teachers more for teaching hard-to-fill subjects. Merit pay plans can reward effective teachers for teaching in hard-to-staff schools and subject areas.
  • Significant and sustainable increases in pay: Research demonstrates that if the incentives are large enough, paid out over multiple years, and targeted to effective teachers, teachers will transfer to low-performing schools.
  • Keeping teachers in classrooms: Merit pay can reward teachers for assuming additional leadership roles and pursuing professional development opportunities, allowing them to receive additional pay without leaving the classroom. 69% of teachers are not interested in becoming principals, but 51% are extremely, very, or somewhat interested in teaching part-time and taking on additional roles and responsibilities within the school.

Making merit pay work statewide

Texas schools are faced with various challenges when it comes to the implementation of merit-based compensation systems. For this reason, Texas Aspires will seek to pass statewide legislation in the 86th session to encourage districts to create pay structures that work for their communities. Taking cues from Dallas ISD, not merely recreating TEI for the whole state, is the right path forward for Texas.

As such, Texas Aspires, working closely with our Educator Board, will actively champion legislation to provide additional state funding to districts that adopt a locally developed evaluation and compensation system (while providing a state model for districts lacking the capacity to create their own). To be eligible for additional funding, evaluation and compensation systems should include academic achievement as a component, allow recognition for leadership roles, provide substantial increases in pay, and be targeted at effectiveness, high poverty schools, or hard-to-staff areas.

Teachers are our schools’ most important asset. Policies that reward effectiveness can drive academic achievement for students in every region of the Lone Star State. And if our state is to succeed, we must use the opportunity in 2019 to make merit pay a priority in the Texas Legislature.

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