"Using A Market Place Model to Attract Teachers." By Suzanne Burkholder and William L. Bainbridge. The Illinois School Board Journal. January/February 2002.


By William L. Bainbridge and Suzanne Burkholder

Chris A. is a nine-year veteran of the public school classroom. This school year, her first-grade class includes students from several different countries who speak five different languages other than English. Reading levels range from those just beginning to read sentences to those reading several grades above their age level. She earns accolades for her effective teaching, and is successful at unifying this diverse group of students while meeting the unique learning needs of each child. She is exactly the kind of experienced, results-getting teacher school districts are eagerly seeking to improve achievement in their poorest, lowest-performing schools.

She is also one of many who believe that to improve learning in underachieving schools, we must have the best, most experienced teachers in the poorest classrooms.

"It may be the only way," Chris said recently, "but you have got to pay teachers in those tougher schools more to teach there. There is so much more involved. The safety issues alone are unbelievable. To get teachers to leave schools like the one where I am now, it's going to take more than a few dollars."

Chris knows what she's talking about. The school where she teaches now is clean, bright and safe, in a quiet middle-class neighborhood. Art covers the walls, faculty and staff collaborate regularly, and parent involvement is high. But before going there, she taught in a very different environment, a less advantaged school in the same district. She tells stories of kindergartners who had to get themselves to school in the mornings because their parents were too hungover to get out of bed. Kids who ate breakfast and lunch at school, then went hungry at dinner or went door-to-door asking for food. Students who threw things at her in her own classroom. Needing to have someone escort her to her car after parent conferences in the evenings.

"In that kind of environment," Chris said, "what you are doing isn't just teaching. You're a social worker, a nurse and everything else."

A couple of years ago, administrators of the large urban school district where she works offered Chris a higher salary to accept another assignment in one of the district's most troubled schools.

She was offered just $1,000 above her current yearly salary.

"I thought about it," Chris said, "but I told them, 'Put a zero behind that number and we'll talk.'"

With critical teacher shortages in most schools around the U.S., we may no longer be able to afford NOT to pay teachers more for working in the places and fields where they are needed most.

It is widely known that in this country we are facing one of the worst teacher shortages in years. Maryland's State Board of Education, for example, estimates that 10,350 new teachers will be needed to start the 2001-2002 school year. In New York, at least 16,000 teachers are needed to staff current openings.

With good reason, state education officials throughout the country fear they will be unable to fill all the teaching positions. In Maryland, the 2000 graduating class at the state's 22 colleges offering teacher education programs produced 2,550 teachers, a four percent decrease from the previous year. What's worse, only about 1,500 of those 2,550 teachers entered the teaching profession in Maryland schools. The rest either left the state to teach elsewhere, or entered other professions.

Of those actually entering the teaching profession nationwide, the attrition rate is phenomenal. According to the National Education Association, this country's largest teachers' union, between 20 and 30 percent of new teachers in rural and suburban school districts leave the field within the first five years. In urban school districts, nearly 50 percent quit in the same time frame.

This grim picture is further complicated by the fact that teaching professionals are employed on the same salary schedule regardless of the market for their specialty. Teacher compensation is based upon seniority and education level alone-not marketplace demand. Few or no opportunities for advancement are provided unless the teacher leaves the classroom for administration, and few or no incentives are provided for teaching excellence.

While student learning outcomes are critically important, we should shift the debate about school accountability away solely from student test results and look at what we can do to improve the quality of teaching and the desirability of teaching at all levels in our nation's public schools.

We need to attract good teachers who are committed to their profession, and reward teachers who are qualified and want to teach in areas of most critical need. We must begin to differentiate salaries for public school teachers, as we do for higher education teaching staff, corporate employees, healthcare and manufacturing workers.

When comparing the salary data from other fields, we should also compare working conditions. The most common number of workdays for a classroom teacher in the United States ranges from 185 to 200 days per year with generous nonscheduled or vacation days. While higher education teaching staffs may enjoy equal or more generous work schedules, healthcare and manufacturing workers tend to work 250 days per year with vacation and holidays much less generous than that of teachers. The required number of hours in the scheduled workday tend to be less for teachers than other comparable groups, however, most teachers spend many hours outside of the school day preparing lessons, grading papers, and talking with students, parents and other teachers. Some people question whether the additional professional responsibilities offset the difference in hours of the workday.

The school reform movement focuses attention on improving academic achievement for all students from all backgrounds-and rightly so. Debates about increased funding, proficiency testing and standardized curricula as means to improve student learning abound-but what about the other side of the equation? We have all heard the computer programmers' maxim that says "Garbage in, garbage out." If the input is lousy-if children are not receiving the highest quality instruction possible-then no amount of funding or testing, nor the best-designed curriculum, can improve the academic output and promote high student achievement.

Why the decreasing numbers of high-quality teachers? According to an Education Week study, in 1998 teachers ages 22 to 28 earned an average of $7, 894 less than other college graduates of the same age. For teachers in the 44 to 50 age group, the wage gap is even more shocking. These professionals earned on average $23,655 less than those of the same ages in other professions. In addition, compared to other specialized fields, those who attain more education or training do not receive a big salary payoff. Teachers with master's degrees earned about $12,500 more than teachers with bachelor's degrees. In non-teaching professions, those holding master's degrees earned an average of about $24,600 more than those in the same fields who held bachelor's degrees, nearly twice the difference for teachers. Even more shocking, teachers between the ages of 44 and 50 who held master's degrees earned on average $32,000 less per year than people with master's degrees in other occupations.

Given this wide gap, dedication and selfless altruism aside, why would anyone want to enter the teaching profession?

The current pay formula in most public school systems is a lock-step grid through which all teachers in a given school organization receive the same starting salary. They receive pre-set increases in uniform increments as additional years of experience are gained. Teachers with master's degrees or Ph.D.s also receive pay increases, but again on a uniform schedule, comparable to all other teachers with the same amount of education and experience. The quality of a teacher's work in the classroom is rarely recognized, and even less frequently rewarded monetarily.

Although teacher unions are frequently blamed for the socialistic "salary schedule" system, in the first half of the 20th century school administrators and boards adopted these schedules, which treat all college graduates going into the teaching field as if they have the same marketplace value. This happened before collective bargaining entered the school workplace. Today, a few forward-thinking teacher union leaders may consider alternative forms of compensation for teachers such as pay for marketplace demand or performance. Most hold fast to the traditional salary schedule rather than risk any qualitative criteria for salary adjustment. In addition to making the system easier to administer, the salary schedule made sure female teachers received the same pay as male teachers, who until then had been paid more than women. While noble in its time, we would argue that maintaining this pay system is now harming women ore than it is helping them.

Because over the years more women entered the teaching field, particularly in elementary education, teaching has come to be known by many as a "women's field." One of our society's most shameful inequities is that we regard "women's work" as less worthy of high pay and secure benefits than traditional male fields, such as engineering and accounting. It must be noted, however, that more women than men have traditionally chosen classroom teaching, in part, because they sought a calendar and work day that paralleled their children's school schedules and, therefore, eased the challenge of finding appropriate child care. The relatively generous paid leave policies in public education far exceed the federally mandated Family Medical Leave Act and have served to help attract millions of women to teaching. As long as women assume the major responsibility for child care and seek the employment opportunities that are most amenable to those responsibilities, the education workplace is inclined to balance its financial offers with those benefits. Although a wage gap still exists, women have moved into traditionally male professions and shattered misconceptions about women's abilities; they now earn salaries almost comparable to men's. Any gains in closing the wage gap most likely have come from the fact that, once in the professions, women have been paid based on a marketplace pay system.

In K-12 teaching, no one, male or female, currently has the opportunity to be compensated for excelling to their fullest potential. Furthermore, the best minds in the various disciplines are choosing not to enter teaching because they know they can gain greater compensation, earn recognition, and achieve higher success in other occupations. We are losing our best teachers before they ever enter a classroom.

The idea of marketplace pay for teachers is based on a well-known and common-sense business practice that rewards individuals whose skills are in the greatest demand. Most people know specialists in more demanding college majors are generally paid more than generalists. People in technical fields like chemistry, physics and mathematics typically make more than history, sociology or physical education majors. College admissions directors know that entry-level students majoring in physical science fields, for example, have higher entry-level SAT and ACT scores than those majoring in social sciences and humanities.

A recent review of data from state education agencies demonstrates a critical shortage of teachers in fields such as foreign languages, mathematics, technology education and special education. Similar shortages do not appear for teachers of civics, history, physical education, English, and elementary grades in suburban school systems. Urban and rural poor settings are experiencing increased shortages in nearly every field.

While we can argue the relative value of the people in any one profession is no greater or lesser than anyone else's, we cannot argue the fact that there are more history majors than chemistry majors. More competition also exists among scientific firms than among social service agencies to attract the highest-quality employees. Because there are more elementary teachers available than math teachers, math teachers should be able to demand and receive higher compensation for their skills.

Public education should be no different in terms of compensation than the rest of the workplace. In fact, many research-oriented colleges and universities around the United States already use a differentiated marketplace-driven salary model.

Under a marketplace pay system, school districts would be able to offer higher pay to teachers who have certificates in critical areas, or who choose to work in urban environments where students are less advantaged and funding is sparse.

Another major component of the marketplace pay system is the concept of higher pay for productivity. While this should be a goal, teacher evaluation systems are much more subjective than data-based salary differentiations predicated on documented areas of critical shortage. In our view, marketplace pay would be much more acceptable to the staff and community than so-called merit pay.

Implementing marketplace changes in the current pay system in most of our schools may not be easy. Some will argue that stratifying salary based on areas of certification or college majors is unfair because it implies some teachers are worth more than others. Such is absolutely false. Excellent social studies teachers are as necessary as excellent chemistry teachers. But right now, we need chemistry teachers more. Because chemistry teachers are in sparse supply, and because chemists can make far more money in drug research firms and in industry, they are not flocking to public schools. We also need more good teachers in schools serving disadvantaged students, where increased salaries should not be based solely on marketplace principles, but on teaching conditions and the demands of the responsibility.

While recognizing teachers by rates of compensation and status has been repugnant to many, the times demand not only marketplace pay, but recognition of outstanding teachers through variations in their assignments, extra compensation, and status among their colleagues in terms of instructional influence and direction. Our colleges and universities are the envy of the world. Nearly every higher education institution in this nation has a career ladder for instructors to move up to full or even endowed professor. Our schools need to consider a career ladder with provisional, professional, master and executive teachers.

We need to pay teachers what they are worth in the marketplace, to encourage dedicated people to remain in their classrooms and inspire others to strive for excellence themselves. If we don't begin to recognize these realities and pay the best teachers more to instruct where we need them most, we will never truly achieve the highest learning goals for our children.

William L. Bainbridge, Ph.D., is President and CEO of SchoolMatch, a Columbus Ohio based educational research, data and auditing firm. Suzanne Burkholder, Ph.D., is a Past President of the American Association of School Personnel Administrators and serves as Executive Director of the Ohio Association of School Personnel Administrators.