Director of Education Reform
Like the school calendar, teachers’ salary schedules are a relic of the past.
They were originally created in the 1920s to address the concerns of female elementary school teachers who thought that their secondary school counterparts – who were overwhelmingly male – were making more because of their gender.
Now they are being used to perpetuate the status quo.
Salary schedules reward teachers for traits that have little to do with improving student outcomes.
Instead, they prevent schools from adjusting pay to attract different kinds of teachers and eliminate the possibility of luring high-quality candidates away from the private sector.
Salary schedules also limit a school’s ability to incentivize highly effective teachers to work in failing schools.
Below is the 2011-2012 salary schedule for Wilmette Public Schools – the same one I used in a previous blog post about how teachers’ salary schedules work.
As you can see, this salary schedule rewards teachers for doing two things: teaching longer and taking courses.
This scale implies that experience is always beneficial – that an 18th-year teacher is always more effective than a 10th-year teacher. This is not the case.
Evidence shows that experience is not an accurate predictor of quality. While most peer-reviewed studies indicate that some teachers significantly improve during the first few years of teaching, they level off with little to no improvement during the rest of their career.
Research also shows that teachers with master’s degrees are no more likely to be effective at raising student achievement than teachers with bachelor’s degrees.
It’s clear that the salary schedule makes no sense if we want to pay teachers according to how well they do at raising student achievement.
But there’s more.
The salary schedule also fails to take into account that schools need to offer higher pay to lure certain types of teachers – particularly those involved in math and science –from taking jobs in the private sector. As it stands right now, new math teachers are paid the same as new history teachers, even though the former are harder to find.
Higher education doesn’t even make this mistake. Colleges and universities regularly pay professors in math and science more than they pay professors who teach social science. This makes sense because the former have other well-paying options that they can pursue.
What type of math and science teachers are you going to get if you offer low pay? Probably - but not always - the ones who couldn't get hired in the private sector.
Teacher salary schedules also prevent schools from offering increased pay to highly effective teachers to teach at failing schools. Numerous studies have shown that teachers have the most influence on student outcomes. Not having a policy that boosts failing schools by adding high-quality teachers is shameful and shortsighted.
Rather than debate whether we should start math and science teachers at a higher point on the salary schedule or any other combination of minor reforms, the Illinois Policy Institute supports scrapping teacher salary schedules altogether.
Instead, we support a system where students are free to attend a school of their choice – where principals will be allowed to use the money they receive to hire the best group of teachers they can muster.