In 2011, Florida's legislature passed an ambitious performance pay policy that requires districts to pay their most effective teachers the district's highest annual salary awards. Recognizing the importance of this law, NCTQ has praised Florida as a national leader in performance pay in our State Teacher Policy Yearbook.
Florida's policy favoring performance over the accumulation of graduate degrees is aligned with longstanding research that demonstrates that paying teachers more for earning advanced degrees generally does not positively contribute to student learning.
Recently, we evaluated a subset of Florida's districts to determine how well they implemented this law. The discouraging results have implications that go beyond the sunshine state.
As detailed in Backing the Wrong Horse: The Story of One State's Ambitious but Disheartening Foray into Performance Pay, there is a clear disconnect between the law's intent and its implementation in 16 out of the 18 districts we studied (roughly a quarter of Florida districts). Only two districts actually pay larger salary awards to their teachers who earn the highest ratings ("Highly Effective") than to teachers who have earned master's degrees.
Across the studied districts, a teacher would, on average, need to be rated Highly Effective four years in a row to earn as much as a teacher earns in a single year for having earned a master's degree.
Despite our mostly disappointing findings, two districts—Hillsborough and Duval—were the exception to the rule. Both of these districts provide teachers with larger salary awards for being rated Highly Effective than for earning master's degrees. Hillsborough and Duval demonstrate that districts, particularly those in states with strong state policies, need not necessarily follow traditional pay schemes and can instead compensate their most effective teachers with their highest salary awards.
Although Backing the Wrong Horse only examined Florida districts, other states should pay attention to its implications. Each district in every state with a performance pay policy should review its implementation to determine whether teachers with advanced degrees earn larger salary awards than teachers with performance that is rated as more effective and, if such a disconnect occurs, take measures to correct the imbalance.
Otherwise, if Florida is any indication, districts will continue to invest significant sums of money each year in a compensation system that is not reflective of what they no doubt value most: student learning and growth.