Moderate Democrats Pledge To Reform Teacher Compensation

Via Matt Yglesias, we have Sen. Evan Bayh’s (D-IN) moderate caucus sending a letter to President Obama “voicing support for his key education goals” and pledging to “lend our voices to the debate as proponents of education reform.” One of the places in which the moderates hope to get some work done is in reforming teacher compensation:

We commend you for the emphasis you have placed on teacher quality…The research confirms what our intuition tells us: nothing has a greater impact on outcomes in the classroom than the quality of our teachers. We must do more to recruit, prepare, and reward outstanding teachers and part of that means overhauling the way we compensate them…We look forward to working collaboratively with teachers to develop these new compensation systems — a critical ingredient to their success.

There is an undeniable need for teacher compensation practices to be overhauled. But before that can happen, the system for evaluating teachers needs to get a lot better.

Currently, in school districts that use binary evaluation ratings (satisfactory or unsatisfactory), “more than 99 percent of teachers receive the satisfactory rating.” In districts that have a wider array of rating options, “94 percent of teachers receive one of the top two ratings and less than 1 percent are rated unsatisfactory.” If we’re telling almost every single teacher in the country that he or she is doing just fine, we’re never going to be able to link compensation to effectiveness.


CAP released a report yesterday by Morgaen Donaldson that lays out some ways in which teacher evaluation systems could be altered so that they actually provide some actionable information. There’s lots of good stuff in there about how to design fair and reliable evaluations, but I also like this bit, about giving principals incentives to use due diligence when evaluating teachers:

When principals dismiss teachers, the district should not undermine principals by failing to follow through on their decision or by forcing them to take a sub-par replacement. They should also provide administrators incentives for thorough evaluation by offering them rewards for detailed feedback. Lastly, they should pressure administrators to evaluate accurately by reviewing evaluation reports and by incorporating an analysis of principals’ evaluations of teachers into district-level evaluations of principals.

This makes sense, because better evaluations won’t be very useful if principals don’t actually put any effort into them. And any overhaul of teacher compensation has to start with a better system for deciding which teachers are the most effective and innovative.