While giving local districts authority over pay scales, the state should ensure that effectiveness is a factor in teachers' compensation. The bar for this goal was raised in 2017.
Salary Requirements: Arkansas provides local districts with a Minimum Salary Schedule to determine teachers' salaries. Because the salary schedule provided by the state is based on teachers' years of experience and earned advanced degrees, Arkansas in effect mandates how districts will pay teachers. Arkansas's salary schedule was updated for the 2016-2017 school year.
Performance Pay Policies: Arkansas's Alternative Pay Program requires the use of "a variety of objective criteria that are credible, clear, specific, measurable indicators of student achievement, and generally accepted best practices to determine pay." The program requires that not more than 50 percent of its eligibility requirements or alternative pay be related to annual increases in test scores. Also, the alternative pay must be at least 10 percent of the teacher's salary.
Arkansas Code 6-17-2403; 6-17-119
Give districts the flexibility to determine their own pay structure and scales.
Arkansas may find it appropriate to articulate the minimum starting salary that a teacher may be paid; however, it should not require districts to adhere to a state-dictated salary schedule.
Discourage districts from tying compensation to advanced degrees or experience.
Providing additional compensation for advanced degrees in the state salary schedule is particularly problematic. Doing so sends a clear message to both districts and teachers that attaining such degrees is desirable and should be rewarded, whereas extensive research demonstrates that advanced degrees generally do not have an impact on teacher effectiveness. Similarly, Arkansas's salary schedule sends a message to districts that the highest step on the pay scale should be determined solely by seniority. By establishing these guidelines for teacher salaries, the state limits the ability of districts to structure their pay scale in ways that emphasize teacher effectiveness.
Arkansas recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that it is implementing a tiered licensure system that encompasses an educator career continuum. There will be at least four levels of licensure, including an early career license, a career professional license, a lead professional license, and master professional license. Proposed rules will be placed on the state board's regular meeting schedule. Further, Arkansas noted that it has amended its minimum salary schedule law to allow school districts to incorporate into their salary schedules differentiated pay for these licensure levels. This will enable districts to pay teachers who are teacher leaders and master professionals a higher salary.
In a follow-up response, Arkansas reiterated that it only provides a minimum salary schedule, and that districts are free to develop their own salary schedules as long as minimums are met. Districts are also allowed to align salary schedules with the new tiered licensure system.
Compensation reform can be accomplished within the context of local control.
Teacher pay is, and should be, largely a local issue. Districts should not face state-imposed regulatory obstacles that prevent them from paying their teachers as they see fit; different communities have different resources, needs, and priorities. The state can ensure that all teachers are treated fairly by determining a minimum starting salary for all teachers. However, a state-mandated salary schedule that locks in pay increases or requires uniform pay deprives districts of the ability to be flexible and responsive to supply-and-demand problems that may occur.
While leaving districts flexibility to decide their own pay scales, states should promote compensation tied to teacher effectiveness and discourage districts from basing pay solely on criteria not correlated with teacher effectiveness. Across the country, state and district salary schedules are based primarily on just two criteria: advanced degrees and years of experience, neither of which is correlated with teacher effectiveness. The impact of advanced degrees on teacher performance has been studied extensively, and research has shown that such degrees generally do not make teachers more effective. Years of experience do have an impact on teacher effectiveness very early in a teacher's career, but this effect appears to fade out after the first few years of teaching. Because of their predominance in current salary schedules, states need to take a proactive role in preventing districts from basing teacher pay primarily on these two criteria.
Performance pay is an important recruitment and retention strategy. Performance pay provides an opportunity to reward those teachers who consistently achieve positive results from their students. The traditional salary schedule used by most districts pays all teachers with the same inputs (i.e., experience and degree status) the same amount regardless of outcomes. Not only is following a mandated schedule inconsistent with most other professions, it may also deter talented individuals from considering a teaching career, as well as high-achieving teachers from staying in the field, because it offers no opportunity for financial reward for success.
States should set guidelines for districts to ensure that plans are fair and sound. Performance pay plans are not easy to implement well. There are numerous examples of both state and district initiatives that have been undone by poor planning and administration. As the use of value-added models now allow for the development of a more meaningful understanding of teacher effectiveness, districts should ensure that performance pay systems consider both qualitative and quantitative measures in order to fairly assess and compensate teachers for their performance.
States can play an important role in supporting performance pay by setting guidelines (whether for a state-level program or for districts' own initiatives) that recognize the challenges in implementing a program well. A few states now require that districts build performance into salary schedules, moving away from bonus structures that teachers know may be subject to budget constraints and competing priorities.