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Change pay, change teaching?

One thing holding the teaching profession back is its vastly outdated pay system, say proponents of new compensation plans.

'Telling me I'll have some great pension plan 20 years down the road isn't going to keep me here now.' – Ben Jackson, teacher at Bruce Randolph School in Denver.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/staff

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Taylor Betz will make a lot more as a high school math teacher this year than her normal salary might suggest.

There's the $2,300 bonus she gets for working at a "hard-to-serve school," the $2,300 for filling a "hard-to-staff position," the $2,300 that all teachers at her school are likely to get for raising student scores on state tests, the $2,300 "beating the odds" bonus she gets for significantly raising the math scores of her own students, and a few smaller bonuses.

Given the extra money, it's easy to see why a teacher like Ms. Betz would be an enthusiastic supporter of the "pay for performance" system that Denver has adopted. But even though such systems are proliferating, they're still both highly controversial and little understood.

Performance pay is one of several areas getting attention right now as education reformers zero in on high-quality teaching as the key to helping students learn. The thinking goes like this: It takes good teachers to improve student achievement, and it will take better pay to lure and keep good teachers.

Not only that, advocates of these plans say, but pay should be more directly linked to how well teachers do. And one way to make that link is by looking at students' scores on standardized tests.

Critics, including many unions, point to several issues. It's difficult to determine which teachers are most effective, and it's particularly unfair to tie pay partly to student test scores, the critics say. Also, there's a lack of solid evidence so far that changing the pay structure really improves teaching.

Proponents, meanwhile, insist that one thing holding the teaching profession back is its vastly outdated pay system.


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