Eagle County Experience with Teacher Pay Reform Should Embolden Others

Reforming how teachers are paid to better match the goals that benefit students in our education system is a tricky business. On one hand you have some people who oversimplify the issue of “merit pay” and think that it should be quite easy to implement a new system that has a positive impact on student achievement. (Of course, there is a significant grain of truth in what they advocate, as an analysis of a pilot program in Little Rock has shown.)

On the other hand, you have entrenched opposition within elements of the education establishment who find it too hard to overcome the inertia that keeps the lockstep salary schedule in place. Paying teachers strictly for years of service and degrees is inefficient and ineffective, but a variety of obstacles are readily summoned to trip up any momentum toward compensation reform.

That’s why it’s great news to read about a Colorado school district like Eagle County that at least has been working outside the box for the past six years to re-design teacher pay. Most noteworthy is that their system not only includes significant rewards for boosting student test scores, but also that it’s showing broader support among district teachers.

Eagle County isn’t alone in our state. Other school districts have been fairly good on this front – with innovations from Denver’s ProComp (PDF) to Douglas County, Fort Lupton, and Harrison – but no one has moved completely away from the old salary schedule like this mountain district has done.

It’s been a developing process, one of improvement, but what Eagle County now has in place sure beats the old salary schedule. The Denver Post story explains how pay-for-performance was turned from a net negative to a net positive in their school district. More districts should pay heed and learn a lesson: not that leaving the old salary schedule is a scary step to be avoided, but that the road to reform has been paved by the experiences of others – creating an opportunity ready to be seized.