Happy Teacher Appreciation Day! Let's All Cheer for Performance Pay!

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day! Note that I say “Teacher,” not “Teachers” — and not just because it sounds much less awkward that way. Many, many teachers no doubt are worthy of appreciation. But they should be appreciated, and treated, as the diverse and skilled individuals they are. They bring different backgrounds to the profession, serve different groups of students in different kinds of schools, and teach different subjects in different styles.

And guess what? Many of them get different results! So why not talk about appreciating them as individuals? It’s healthy for us all to be reminded that teachers aren’t widgets. It’s safe to say that #TeachingIs something that varies in different contexts.

Thankfully, when it comes to how teachers are paid, we also see some innovative diversity in Colorado. Take a look at Harrison’s Effectiveness and Results program, pay-for-performance in Dougco, and Eagle County Schools’ “Professional Excellence, Accountability, and Recognition.” While the three look somewhat different, they share in common the feature of dropping altogether automatic pay raises based on seniority and degree credentials.

Then there are other famous alternative pay plans, like Denver’s ProComp, which isn’t truly performance pay but sometimes gets lumped into the same box. As recently as three years ago, there were various other K-12 compensation reforms in action in Colorado.

Now with the momentum behind Colorado’s SB 10-191 — eventually tying teacher and principal evaluations more closely to measurable student learning gains, and making tenure decisions accordingly — school districts have a firmer basis to judge and reward educator effectiveness. Meaningful value-added measurements can be weighed into different locally crafted pay formulas. As a result, school boards in Jefferson, Adams, and Mesa counties are seriously exploring their own merit-based pay models.

No doubt there are some out there who would suggest my idea of appreciating individual teachers and their professional excellence through differential pay systems isn’t really appreciating teachers at all. Hopefully, they could come up with arguments that can’t be so easily debunked.

But you know what? Addressing teacher compensation in individual rather than collective terms should cast a new light on serious debates like this one and take the wind out of the sails of today’s snappy Tweet:

And what’s the icing on the cake? As the National Council on Teacher Quality has pointed out, many of the school districts with the highest available salaries have some type of pay-for-performance system. And the best teachers don’t have to wait out decades in the system to reach those earning levels.

Please join me in telling a great teacher in your life how much you appreciate them today, and then take the next step in supporting more pay systems that reward those great teachers!