Performance Pay – The State of Educator Compensation in Delaware
In Delaware, teachers are compensated according to the salary schedule as dictated by state statute. This schedule stipulates that salaries be indexed across the state with increases earned annually based upon years of experience, along with graduate credits earned and attainment of certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. However, local school districts are able to supplement teacher salaries with funds derived from local taxes. This capability puts low-income communities/school districts at a disadvantage because they are unable to raise enough funds to compensate teachers on par with their more affluent counterparts. In Delaware, this additional tax-based incentive has led to enormous salary disparities among schools. For example, Brandywine School District has an average annual salary of $75,463 for teachers with 15-19 years experience and a Masters Degree compared to $61,338 for Laurel School District for a teacher with the same qualifications. In addition, as stipulated in the previous post, these increases have little to no relation to student achievement. Therefore, Delaware’s current salary structure distributes funds to teachers based on factors not related to student outcomes, while simultaneously incentivizing teachers to work with students from higher income backgrounds.
Delaware’s winning Race to the Top plan seeks to lay the groundwork for addressing these disparities by rewarding educators based upon their overall impact on student learning, and also encourages highly-effective educators to work in high-needs schools. Here’s how it works: First, Delaware will use RTTT funds to continue implementation of the Academic Achievement Awards Program, which provides $150,000 to five schools that narrowed the achievement gap significantly and/or exceeded their adequate yearly progress for two or more consecutive years. Second, Delaware will offer significant retention bonuses, from $8,500 to $10,000, to highly-effective teachers and leaders to continue to work in high-needs schools. Third, the Delaware DOE’s Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Unit will encourage participating school districts to utilize RTTT funds to create compensation models for effective or highly-effective teachers in critical subject areas or hard-to-staff classes.
The initial steps outlined above are laudable. Yet, moving forward, Delaware also will have to think critically about how the state can help school districts utilize new assessment and evaluation data to construct policies and practices that reward effectiveness inside the classroom and help build, support, and ultimately compensate a robust teaching force. Otherwise, the state will continue relying on a compensation structure that does not encourage excellence and limits the opportunities for the neediest students to gain access to highly-effective educators.
Next week, we will look at obstacles in implementing a state-wide performance pay compensation system and ascertain lessons learned from others who have ventured down this path.