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HB 1262 Incentive to Reform Educator Pay Certainly Has Caught My Attention

Do you want to know how to get my attention? (Besides gift-wrapping a new Star Wars Lego set, bringing home a box of piping hot pizza, or asking if I want to go to the Colorado Rockies game, that is.) Write something like this in the introduction of your education policy report:

If a rational system of teacher compensation, aimed at recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, were designed from scratch, it is unlikely it would bear any resemblance to the system that is currently in place.

Thus begins Dr. Michael Podgursky’s paper “Reforming Educator Compensation,” part of the George W. Bush Institute’s Productivity for Results Series. All the names and titles sound kind of stodgy, but I appreciate the paper’s clear and concise approach, getting to the heart of the matter.

Since we typically don’t have the luxury of rebuilding educator pay from scratch, the conversations around changing a system require more effort to challenge the unsustainable comforts of the status quo. Podgursky directly takes on two points of the inefficient old salary schedule.

First, he brings up the fact that the single salary schedule “suppresses pay differentials by teaching field.” Douglas County has taken one approach to rectifying this inequity; it’s called market-based pay. And they weren’t even the first. My Education Policy Center friends highlighted The Classical Academy charter school’s differentiated strategic compensation back in 2011.

Second, Podgursky observes that the old model “suppresses differentials by schools within districts.” His larger and well-taken point is that — for the sake of productivity — decisions regarding compensation would be more effectively placed at the school level. Decision-making closest to the student tends to be the best!

But there also may be something to be said here about ensuring the most effective teachers are drawn to helping the lowest performing schools. We know that study after study shows struggling low-income schools in particular have less access to great instruction.

Enter House Bill 1262, a bipartisan proposal by Representative Priola and Senator Newell. Building off Senate Bill 191′s evaluation and tenure reform, this legislation seeks to create a grant program that would reward the most effective teachers with monetary bonuses for agreeing to work in struggling schools.

Incentives work, and incentives matter. This proposal certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all of education reform, but it looks like a step in the right direction. It doesn’t appear to tread too roughly on local prerogatives, either (especially given that the Jeffco school board president has said that a real move toward performance pay is on the docket). Of course, a strong leader, sound curriculum, and enhanced culture of high expectations also are key to turning around low-performing schools.

Yet any time policymakers send the right kind of signals, it helps. The big lingering question is determining how much incentive is needed to make the lawmakers’ apparent intentions work. Surely a number of different education groups will want to weigh in on the HB 1262 debate.

When all is said and done, I may not be the only one whose attention this conversation captures.