Educator pay and improving student outcomes

Originally posted to Wayland eNews Discussion Forum

A study reported on in yesterday’s Boston Globe (9/22/2010) concluded that bonus payments to teachers did not improve student outcomes. There’s enough nuance in the article to make it worth a quick look–I won’t try to capture the pros and cons here.

For the most part, teachers already work hard to improve outcomes. It’s hard to see how the prospect of a distant end of year bonus might cause a teacher to do something different in the classroom on a given day. If we’re going to spend more for improved outcomes (and in the current financial climate, that’s a huge “if”), I think that there’s a better way.

Instead of tying the money to outcomes, I propose putting it toward resources that could affect those outcomes. Namely, I’d spend it on extra professional development. More so than most fields, teachers simply don’t get enough time to learn together and improve their collective craft.

Collaborative in-service training during the school day can be impossible to schedule without using substitutes to cover classroom time, and using substitutes in that way may reduce outcomes as much as improved teacher effectiveness increases them. So, why not pay teachers an hourly rate for extra professional development time outside the school day?

For this to work, of course, the professional development can’t just be a series of one-off seminars–it needs to be cohesively designed to span the school year and tie directly to actions in the classroom.