Novel Solutions on Teacher Pay

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In the April-May edition of Policy Review, Frederick M. Hess, director of educational policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, tackles teacher compensation, laying out a series of proposals that will certainly not be widely circulated in NEA newsletters except for incendiary purposes. Hess does not step lightly in his assertions that the teaching profession is by and large not underpaid. He offers a particularly strong and fresh set of arguments on what is wrong and what ought to be done about salaries and pensions.

On salaries, Hess suggests a compromise between traditional pay scales and a purely free-market-based solution. He suggests adopting "pay bands" like those currently used by the Department of Defense (no bastion of radical HR reform), in which, for example, "teachers with seven to ten years of experience would earn $40,000 to $80,000, depending on the difficulty of their assignments, the demand for their skills, and their performance." While Hess is careful to note that paying for performance should not, as many have pushed, simply be based on student test scores, he is also adamant that the inability to evaluate teachers with "mechanical precision" not serve as an excuse to avoid evaluating teachers or holding them accountable for the results of the evaluation.

Hess's proposals are particularly persuasive on the need to reform teacher pension systems that require teachers to stay in a retirement plan for six to ten years before they become "vested" and able to claim even a fraction of their benefits. Hess asserts that "defined- contribution" arrangements, such as 410(k) or 403(b) plans, increasingly used in other professions, would provide teachers more professional and geographic flexibility and make teaching more attractive for recent college graduates and mid-career professionals.

The article is an excerpt from Hess's latest book, Common Sense School Reform (Palgrave Macmillan).

"Teacher Quality, Teacher Pay" Frederick M. Hess