Rewarding top teachers: A fourth way of getting teacher quality

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Marc Tucker sent a provocative Valentine last week to education wonks of the world: Have an honest and open debate about the strengths and weaknesses of the most popularly touted strategies for improving teacher quality.

Tucker puts three main strategies on the table:

1.) Fire the worst (not Tucker's favorite option)
2.) Radically improve the quality of new teachers
3.) Invest in the teachers you have

Tucker's most partial to the second strategy (and we can't disagree), but he's also persuaded by the logic of the third, building the capacity of current teachers. What Tucker envisions would not be the the "spray-and-pray" version of professional development all too often practiced by districts, but rather "disciplined practice" at scale, with teachers getting rewarded and coached in their pursuit of excellence (think elite athletes).  Unfortunately, even Tucker concedes there's no evidence that a district could become the equivalent of the U.S Olympic Training Center.  

While there's no reason to dismiss any of these strategies, we also think there's a fourth one that deserves consideration: paying great teachers a lot more money. 

If districts could systematically reward high performers and keep them in their schools, those teachers themselves could set the tone needed to sustain the disciplined practice Tucker envisions but worries may not be feasible. These teachers would serve as the models for others to emulate, and districts could enlist them to support other teachers. But if districts don't do a better job of retaining them, it's hard to see how any effective professional development strategy could take root.