Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pay Teachers $100,000 or More

Occupying my time with our 4th snow day of the year has allowed me to make multipletweets, read several articles, play board games and ping pong with my family, lose in video games to my boys, catch up on others blogs, and finally reflect on what our educational system can become. Two blogs today have helped to confirm my idea on how schools can change to meet the needs of our students.

After reading Paul Wood's post about snow days and Aaron Eyler's post about class sizes of 50, I am convinced more than ever we can create a structure that allows all student exposure to the best teachers and greatly increase teacher pay, all while decreasing the amount of money and resources spent on education.

Educators know and research has proven, the greatest factor in increasing student learning is the quality of instruction the student receives. Unfortunately, all students do not receive quality instruction every day. If we could guarantee every student was exposed to high-quality instruction from the best teachers, we could greatly increase student learning.

We also know that teachers are not paid at the level they should be, especially our best teachers. The factory model we currently use supports mediocrity and encourages teachers to be paid for their experience or their level of degree, not for their ability to help kids learn.

Our current system is just not as efficient as it could be. We are investing millions of dollars in a model designed to prepare students for a world that no longer exists. The structure needs to be transformed and with effective leadership, we can create a learning network that is economically feasible and truly meets the needs of all learners.

I have been thinking about this for a while. My former boss Arnie Snook and I used to talk a lot about what schools could be as more and more technology became available. We discussed a system that could help assure all students received instruction from only the best teachers. In this system we would be able to pay these teachers a salary of $100,000 or more for their ability to help kids learn.

I believe it is possible and I believe it could help solve two of the biggest issues with our current system:

  • Teacher Pay and
  • Teacher Quality

Our state has long been considered to have one of the best if not the best educational system in the nation. In Iowa, as I am sure it is in most states, schools receive a dollar amount per pupil living in the district. The cost is funded by state aid and local property taxes. This money is used by schools for many things, but 80% is used for salaries. Even though most of our funding goes to cover personnel costs, it is in my opinion that most teachers still are not paid well.

What if instead of all of that money going to the district, and then being divvied out to teachers, the money was given to the parent to be spent not on another district, but on individual teachers. This would be similar to a voucher, but instead of all of the money being paid to another district, it would go to individual teachers.

For example as a parent, lets say I get $5000 of the $5800 dollar/pupil cost to pay for my child's education. I could choose which teachers my child would have and I could pay them at a rate deserving of their skills. So if I wanted my child to have the best Math teacher, I could pay the teacher $1000 for his/her services. If the teacher had 100 students, he/she would get paid $100,000. There would have to be some sort of regulations placed on what could and couldn't be charged, but hopefully you get the idea.

I am sure all teachers would like to make $100,000, but after reading Aaron Eyler's postabout class sizes of 50 and potentially handling 250 students in a blended learning environment, teachers could potentially earn $250,000. I think that is probably a good pay raise for most educators.

Not only would teachers get paid a nice salary, those teachers that were not as effective would be eliminated. If people didn't want to hire you to work with their kids, you would have to find something else to do. The teacher unions would be dissolved and we would have a more capitalistic system in which the best teachers made the most money.Capitalism at its finest.

Good teachers are paid good money, and all students would be guaranteed the best teachers. Sounds like a good idea to me. If you wonder how this is possible, study blended learning environments, 1:1 schools, and online classes. Less money is spent on busses, books, and buildings and more money could be invested on student learning. Every student is given a laptop, a netbook, or a smartphone. Why not? These devices are a cheap way to open up the world to every student.

It is possible and I think it is needed. There are plenty of excellent teachers available to serve in this kind of system, why don't we give them a chance to increase their circle of influence from one classroom to the rest of the world.

I would love to have the opportunity to choose my children's teachers not only from educators in my district, but from others in the state, nation, or world for that matter. My children's education would be truly personalized to meet their learning needs and we could design a learning program that met each child's needs. That is exciting to me not only as an educator, but as a parent.

I look forward to your questions and comments. Hopefully this will spur some discussion about the role of state departments of education, administration, buildings, sports, and more. I have thought about most of it, but am anxious to hear everyone's thoughts. Under the leadership of John Carver, Van Meter Schools is committed to creating a system that empowers students to find their passion and learn in a system that enables them to THINK, LEAD & SERVE.


  1. As a math teacher...I would be concerned how parents would choose the "best" teacher for the some parents have had poor educational experiences themselves---especially in the area of mathematics! My fear the "best" could become "the easiest" or "the most fun"...or the teacher who would "keep my child eligible for sports".
    My sister and I differed greatly in our HS experience...her "best" teacher would have been the one with the least "best" teacher was the one who taught me the most. So I would have a difficult time with the word "best" it will be replaced by parent's own definition of the word...not necessarily reflecting the true meaning????

  2. Great point. I have thought about that. The key would be creating a system to effectively evaluate teachers based on student learning (I don't have the model for that:) I am not in favor of using standardized test scores, but there has to be a way to effectively measure the impact a teacher typically has on student learning. Probably need a math teacher to come up with the formula to determine a teachers effectiveness. My point with the blog is that there are thousands of excellent teachers out there and with technology today, I believe all kids should have access to those teachers.

    For example, at Van Meter, we have two math teachers. As a student/parent I have two choices for say Algebra. But if I had a choice of 100 or 1000 teachers, don't you think I could find a teacher that best meets my needs. I envision a teacher creating a bio explaining how they teach, etc. and with the data to back it up. I know we have had students move from one math teacher at Van Meter to the other because that child's needs were not being met, for whatever reason. Every kid is different.

    On the other hand, imagine if you had the opportunity to teach 150 kids in a blended learning environment. Those kids would choose you as their teacher, so there would be a level of commitment on their part. Imagine how far you could take those kids. The sky would be the limit. On top of that if each teacher was paid $1000/student you could make $150,000. Students would learn at a high rate and teachers would be paid what they are worth.

    I hope this makes sense. I hope we can talk about it more. I want kids to have the opportunity to learn from the teacher that is "best" for them. Talk to you soon.

  3. I can really relate to part of your post, Deron, particularly the part about the factory model and paying teachers based on their experience and education. While I'm not complaining about my own personal compensation as a high school math teacher in Eastern Iowa, I do think it is a shame that our compensation system is just as flawed as many of our classrooms. Here's what I mean:
    In the typical classroom, teachers create a currency of "point accumulation" rather than learning. Students learn to complete and take seriously assignments with large point values and ask for extra credit assigments when they desire a better grade. In the same way our compensation system in education is flawed...we encourage mediocre teachers to stay longer so that they can get paid more. Even worse yet, we hope they'll take graduate courses and seminars so that they can get even more money, even if these seminars don't directly improve their practice. How silly is our system?

    You may have encouraged me to blog about this...

  4. One of the problems with this scheme is that it assumes that teaching is one person job; it is not.
    I also think you've not spent much time in a larger urban system. I'm a big proponent of online and blended learning and the current rationales we use to group learners in buildings is impractical at best, but turning public education into a wholly entrepenurial environment will create some unexpected consequences, I think.

  5. Dan, I can see your point if that is the perspective you take, though I didn't specifically state it in the blog ( I will with future posts) the idea is that the money would be spent on everyone needed to educate the child. For example if I am making $200,000 at $1,000 a student, I may have to hire someone to help me work with some of the students. So if I am the expert teacher, I may hire two novice teachers at $40,000 a piece to help teach my class. The expert teacher makes $120,000 and the novice teachers make $40,000. Ultimately I would like to see a menu of options to choose from for teachers. As a parent, I could decide which teacher is best for my child. I think there would have to be a role for public districts to regulate teachers, etc. So part of the per pupil funding would still go to the district.

    You are thinking of a large school in the old modality. In this new model, Schools would ultimately be smaller. I could be taking classes from teachers throughout the state w/o leaving my house. Or I might meet them off site in a internet cafe. There are tons of options. The idea is to make the best teachers available to all kids. Though I agree it might be challenging to make it entirely entrepreneurial I think teaching and learning would improve if there was some aspect of being rewarded for doing a good job.

    Thanks for the comment, and look for more posts in the future answering some of your questions.

  6. I understand it's time to look at how we evaluate teachers. But until that system is in place, I could never support a pay system like you describe.

    As an arts teacher, I am a member of a group of professionals who teach in "untested" subject areas. As such, I have been relegated to "less important" status by my fellow teachers, and the public - we have taught everyone very well that importance is determined by testing.

    Yet, I am more effective at what I do than many others who teach in those "most important" areas.

    And actually, the techniques that the math and English folks are finally catching up with, are techniques we in the arts have been using for years. But instead of asking us how to do it, you're all reinventing stuff and cutting our programs.

    So, I think I'll stick with the system we have now. At least I get paid the same level as everyone else, even though I work harder than most of them. To work twice as hard and get less would really stink.

  7. As a new teacher, I'm attracted to this system. I'd like to believe that I have room to grow. I know I have a lot to learn certainly, but the current pay scale tells me otherwise. I'll get a few hundred dollars a year more for finishing some grad classes, but it doesn't matter if I actually glean anything from them. The tenure structure tells me that If I just survive long enough, I'll be protected from ever having to truly improve. Yes, there are many many wonderful tenured teachers, and pay does not guarantee quality. These are just my emotional reactions to the state of the pay system.

    I also feel we could successfully educate larger groups. When I think about how PD is done in many schools, I see large groups of 50+ being taught by a principal or lead teacher of some kind. They are able to facilitate the learning of these big groups because they understand how to use cooperative learning.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post Deron! Everyone's comments above were helpful as well; this is an important topic to discuss!

  8. Deron,

    An intriguing idea. One I want to take some time to digest. My initial reaction as a practicing science teacher was COOL! Would that also mean a change in what is taught, perhaps even required by schools? Also, a change in professional development? There certainly are challenges to this, but I love your willingness to put out something new and daring.
    I share the same feeling that I would love to be able to choose my teachers and my kid's teachers. I wasn't even thinking about choosing teachers throughout the state (or beyond?!) until your response to Dan's comment. A transformation this would be indeed!

  9. Deron,

    I like the concept but "free and appropriate" may go out the window when the non SES parents kick in and pay a little more to have their student educated by the best. While I know that the system may be fractured and there is a need for change, why not change the system where we demand that each teacher is moving from good to great.

    A system like you are referring to may come to being, but unfortunately it may occur instead because of teacher shortage or lack of funding, rather than innovation and providing the choice of the best teacher.

  10. My big fear about this is the fact that I have seen parents try to use everything and anything at their disposal to fight against poor grades and/or disciplines. Now, of course, being a teacher, I take the side of the teacher and I am willing to concede the teacher may have been at fault, somewhat, but most times, all I see are lazy kids and parents who are enabling them. Again, to stress, I realize I am biased, but from where I'm sitting, by and large, parent complaints have less to do with legitimate concerns and more to do with protecting their child, no matter what. This, of course, may be the school I teach at and not symbolic of the system as a whole, but I have to go with what I know here.

    So, what would prevent a parent, under this system, from using their money to threaten the teacher? If Johnny earns a "D" in my class because he barely turns in the assignments, how would you avoid Johnny's parents calling me and threatening to pull their money from me and transfer Johnny to another teacher if I didn't raise Johnny's grades without him making up the work? Or, if they "buy" me for a year, what would prevent them from threatening to tell their friends with kids a year younger not to pay for me next year if I don't remedy the situation?

    What about when Johnny disrupts my class? If I send home a warning or write an office discipline, what's to prevent the parent from using their money as leverage against me? We have had kids who disrupt class and then have their parents chew us out if we dare to write them up for it. Now, in your system, how could we prevent Johnny's parents from threatening to pull their money if we don't rescind the discipline?

    I'm afraid that this system would have me more focused on lessons, assignments, and decisions that favored attracting more "clients" than it would on helping the students master the standards I was hired, in good faith, to teach. Everything I did would be tempered with the thought, "Would this attract clients?" rather than the axiom I try to use, which is, "Does this benefit the student?"

    I also see this destroying the team concept of teaching. Why would I help my peer when by helping them with a lesson or lending them supplies, I could be helping them become the "better teacher" in the parent's eyes? There are times when I've done great lessons that if I hadn't seen another teacher do and asked them questions or for supplies, I wouldn't have been able to pull off, to help my students. But why would that happen if it meant less money for the other teacher?

    I apologize if I am coming off as pessimistic or hostile. However, with all due respect, it seems that this plan seeks to replace the factory model with an advertisement model, where the teacher with the best pitch (including your system of evaluation, least complaints, more willingness to do what the parents want, word of mouth, the teacher "drumming up business" by trying to attract customers, etc.) supersedes their actual ability to teach.

  11. I love the comments, both positive and negative. It tells me I need to post more information in my next blog. I think most of you get the basic idea of the model I am describing, but there is more to it than what I have described in one blog entry. I think it is apparent there would have to be some sort of regulatory body to ensure students didn't bounce from teacher to teacher because they didn't "like" the one they had. In all the training and experiences, I have had over the years, one of the things that stands out is that all parents want what is best for their kids. Sometimes the parents needs as much guidance and coaching in what that is. Scott McLeod talks about not making rules and policies for computer/internet use because of the 1 or 2% of people that misuse it. Just because there are some parents that would try to circumvent the system, doesn't mean it won't work. I don't know about your schools, but in all of the schools I have worked in, there have always been students, parents and teachers that have tried to manipulate the system. So don't shoot the whole idea down because of a few outliers.

    The goal of my blog was to get people to think differently. I think it has worked for some, but I am sure there are still others that revert back to what they know which is the current system. That is ok, but the reality is that we need a system that ensures the highest quality of teaching for all students. Our current model does not guarantee that.

    Also, there is concern about non-core classes, not being paid as much. I don't think that was mentioned in my blog, but I can understand the concern. I think Sue is right that core subject teachers are trying to get their classes more similar to project based subjects such as the arts, music and sports. I believe that students will still want and more importantly need to take those classes. I think one could argue that classes that help teach creativity, might be the most important classes in school. Now with that said, I still see them being a part of the "elective" class offerings, but I think they are still needed in the new model. I want all classes to be collaborative, creative, and student-centered, regardless of the subject area.

    I love the comments and I am looking forward to writing a new blog entry to better clarify my idea. Keep the comments coming:) and be sure to read John C. Carver's blog as well.

  12. Interesting concept.....I would pay big bucks for a pair of teachers to combine approaches. A class where my student could get both math and science credit or English and social studies credit. This model could allow the good teachers to sub contract to specialists or guests that have expertise in one area or another to give value added experiences to my student. Could I pay some of that money to a non education professional to give my student elective experiences for credit? Like for music lessons? An internship with a regional veteranarian that is advancing special techniques in animal surgery? Spending a summer helping build a house with a local contractor? Interesting indeed!

  13. Dave, I like the way you think. We need to think big. John sent out the video from Brad Paisley, Welcome to the Future. I think it is what we will see with some of our ideas for education. It will be here sooner than we think. Thanks for the comment.

  14. My frustration with even envisioning this type of classroom is that we are working in a system that can't even get enough guts to force districts that need consolidate to erase their border lines and combine. Now we're talking about erasing the lines that form our classrooms.

    I know you have many more ideas and points on this subject and it is a great "Vision" of education in the future.

    Now, how do we move from the present to that vision of the future?

    What can our 12, soon to be 24+ one-to-one districts do now?

    Are we marching on Des Moines later this year with a plan?

    Are there plans for all of us to sit down April 7th or sooner to tatically speak?

    I think we need a time a place to meet each week (hashtag?) and invite all one-to-one Iowa schools and start this conversation more within our state borders.

    If you guys have a plan, we'd like in on it. If you want to start expanding your classrooms, your offerings, let's talk on how to set that up.

    Let me know what we can do and I'll do the same for Van Meter.

  15. Deron,
    I've been thinking a lot about this since I read the post on Friday. I must admit I didn't take the time to read the comments above so forgive if I repeat something previously stated.

    There will be no teacher who would not want to make more money regardless of the amount. That being said, I think one of the critical components is for us to understand the apprehension of most with this type of system. I believe the problem comes down to options over inputs and outputs that judge the decision of how much a teacher makes. For the system to function as it should, teachers need to have a "menu" several decisions to make:
    1) Am I going to go with the traditional tenure track as it exists now, or am I going to select the new system where my pay is based on a number of benchmarks.
    2) What inputs do I want to use as the basis for the decision of my pay increment? (student feedback, colleague, community service, etc)
    3) What outputs do I want to use as the basis for my increment decision? (test scores, midterms, finals, grade improvement over the year)
    4) How many students and classes am I willing to take on in my quest for earning more money?

    There are several more, but these are the big ones to consider. Much of the angst towards merit/performance pay is a result of teacher anxiety over standardized tests. Truthfully, I can understand why, but that's why the key is to neutralize the problem with a formula that teachers have options. I could go on and on about this topic, but I think you are off to a great start.

    Great post, and thanks for bringing me in on the conversation!

  16. Dominique I will get to your post later about the 1:1 schools in Iowa. I love the idea about a hashtag. That could work.

    Aaron, the thing I like about you, is you get it. You have effectively summarized many of my comments from above. However, you have done a much better job of describing the "inputs/outputs." My vision is just what you described a menu of options to choose from. Each teacher would be able to determine what he/she wanted to teach, how they wanted to teach it, how many students they could handle, etc. to effectively help students learn at the highest level. You have began to address how teachers will be assessed, and how parents will know if the teacher is really making a difference. You have also pointed out that each teacher can decide how many students he/she wants to take on.

    Teachers that are very traditional, need to understand that there will continue to be a market for that. However, they will be held responsible for ensuring learning. The reality is teachers are not really held accountable for the learning of all students in our current model.

    I could see administrators developing teams of teachers in packaged deals for parents to ensure the learning of their child. As a principal, I could get X number of teachers that I know are the best and market them to parents for a certain percentage of the student generated income. I would develop the best "team" of teachers I could to improve student learning.

    John C Carver wrote a post about a local hospital in Iowa. The idea is that there is a main hub in one location, and many satellite facilities scattered throughout the state. Each satellite facility has access to the best doctors, just not on a regular basis. So, nurse practitioners run the facility on a day to day basis. If you could do that for schools, theoretically, you could ensure access to the best teachers for all students. Each satellite would have a "teacher practitioner" to do some of the day to day procedures, but the "Master Teachers" would make contact via technology and make periodic rounds to the satellite schools.

    There will be more to come on this as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and keep the great posts on your blog coming.

  17. I am not trying to rock the boat, but here are a few things to think about. I completely agree that most teachers are not paid anywhere near what they should, however, I also think that some teachers are being paid correctly for what we “perceive” their efforts to be.

    A few examples are, at the beginning of every year the students are told by their teachers “I am in my room until 4:00pm after school if you have any questions or need help with anything.” We pick up our children every day and you would not believe how many teachers are in their cars and driving past us on a daily basis. School gets out and by 3:25 at least 5 teachers have walked out of the building and are in their cars before all my kids even make it to my car. It is rather frustrating (let alone a safety issue with students left in the building and staff leaving) for the students that do try and seek out assistance and the teachers are not there.

    The next scenario is students are told they can always come in before school starts for assistance, when in actuality, the busses are pulling up to the school and there are still teachers pulling in the lot.

    The students are told to track their grades and progress on JMC which is a great program, however, there are multiple teachers that do not put grades in on a regular basis (for weeks to up to a month). Some teachers don’t give back the homework, or tests (another way of tracking their progress) and then the day grades are due for eligibility it is too late to do anything about it.

    Grading papers or electronic homework is time consuming I can understand that, however, if the teachers stayed at school for a full 8 hour work day they may be able to get more papers checked, grades entered and be available for students.

    I think that we have some outstanding talent among our teachers at Van Meter. I somewhat agree with teachers being paid based on their performance, however, I don’t think an outstanding teacher of 21 students can give the same level of dedication, time, and energy to 50 or however, many students pay to buy him/her as their teacher. The parents would be buying that teacher and not the teacher’s aids, and would want all instruction and attention from that specific teacher and not the aids. What happens if someone moves into the district after school has already begun. How are they going to buy the best teacher? Their child would not get the ideal education because there is already 50+ kids in that class this year.

    A major selling point for people choosing our school is the small class sizes and one on one attention during class. I strongly do not agree with increasing our classroom sizes regardless of how many teachers are added.

    There are other schools in our surrounding area that do have 2+ teachers to a room of 50+ kids. It is very distracting to have 2 different teachers teaching 2 different things at the same time in the same room. The number of students that end up having to repeat the year are higher.

    Your thoughts?

  18. As a parent looking at this is a good concept, but on the secondary level there are teachers that go above and beyond to help and teach students and there are a few who do not. They are there and pick favorites and refuse to help the struggling student. So this would be a way to insure that your student gets the best education and attention they deserve.

  19. Deron, I like your proposal a lot and have been thinking about teacher subscriptions for a few months. Web 2.0, open-source education, home-schooling coops, and pay platforms like Supercool School all suggest ways we can get more quality teaching to more kids. Certainly ad-hoc blended schools like those kicked around by the #RevolutionEd folks also provide a model for pre-packaged subscriptions of pre-packaged teacher alliances, were such a model to go private.

    The process you describe is like moving from public access to cable to premium cable with HDR.

    I also generally like teacher apprenticeship, though I haven't spent enough time thinking through its particulars myself to comment further on it.

    Here's my concern:

    Capitalism at its finest sucks for the disenfranchised. Help me understand how moving to teacher subscriptions will provide quality education for everyone - #nonrhetorical. Most content area teachers already have caseloads of over 100 students. Is there any assurance in your system that highest quality teachers will teach more kids? That we won't need the same number of teachers we have now? That we'll move further from our culture's win/lose mentality from naming education market driven? That teachers won't essentially be bribed to subscribe the students that reflect best on them? Will unions really be abolished, or will they maneuver to abet state governments and the fed in setting subscription rates, min/max teacher caseloads, and required enrollment rates by federally defined membership population?

    What happens to students in need of adaptive technology or the hardware and software necessary to subscribe to a particular teacher? Could a teacher use proprietary 3rd party software as a means to select students from higher socioeconomic brackets? Do parents foot the bill from their allowances for equipment now provided by school systems?

    Where do the kids go during the day? For breakfast? For lunch? Before and after school? For counseling? How does teacher subscription provide for the social services ancillary to education? Do teachers have to rent out classrooms in each district represented by their students? Do they pay extra for stage time? Shop time? Shop assistants? How much overhead cost will go to on-site managers, their networks, and distant localities/realtors?

    Or do schools become community hubs for enrichment and community involvement while content gets further isolated from the real world by technology?

    How can we support teacher subscription AND ensure that community schools improve the quality, authenticity, and relevance of what they do for kids? Do site-based virtual schools already do this?

    What keeps divisions from diversifying pay now based on student and parent-feedback (#okaymayberhetorical)?

    Is this system already in place as private companies pay instructional designers and corporate trainers more than on-site facilitators of students' virtual work?

    What if divisions start by letting kids, parents, other divisions or states subscribe to feeds of teachers doing work in F2F classrooms?

    I think something like what you describe is do-able and stands a chance to benefit more kids than traditional F2F schooling does, but I'm not sure that a privatized teaching corps is the best way to do it. The $100+K looks great, but the more I think about paying apprentices, paying tech vendors, leasing space, and paying an agent or manager to arrange all that, the more I want to experiment with the idea from my classroom first. Maybe if school divisions started thinking of themselves as teacher's agents...?

    Am I being too afraid?

    Great post. Thought-provoking.

    I'm eager to hear more -

    All the best,

  20. I'm glad Chad asked all the questions and raised all the concerns I would have had I the time to do it whilst teaching. Instead, I'll focus on a different aspect of response.

    My concern is that this proposal preserves the notion that knowledge is cleanly divided into different subject domains to be taught and learned more-or-less divorced from other subject domains, and all of it thoroughly divorced from the notion that all knowledge is part of and intricately connected into a highly complex, still-developing whole.

    To extend the hospital analogy (though I don't think it is wholly applicable to education), when a person goes into a hospital he or she is not treated by a single doctor, but by a team of physicians, nurses, therapists and support staff. Teachers should also be able to form teams (schools?) that as a group would approach learning in a much more holistic way.