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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Proceeding With Care on Tying Evaluations to Teacher Pay

April 05, 2013

For more context, The Washington Post features an op-ed today by Bill Gates, A fairer way to evaluate teachers.

As states and districts begin putting new teacher support and evaluation systems in place, they’re asking how the information from those systems should inform teacher compensation. That’s an important question given how much money we spend on education and how to ensure the best results for students. But states and districts should proceed cautiously as they move into this uncharted territory.

You might think that’s surprising coming from us. People sometimes assume that because Bill came from the private sector, the foundation supports awarding merit pay or bonuses to teachers annually based on test scores.

Actually, we don’t think that’s the right solution for education. We’ve looked closely at lessons from education and other sectors in the U.S., talked with experts, and examined the practices of high-performing education systems in other nations.

While there’s still a lot we don’t know, here’s what we and our partners have learned to date: Salary reforms shouldn’t be pursued in isolation—they should be part of the overall value proposition for teachers, along with such factors as working conditions and opportunities for growth. We’ve learned, for example, that to attract top talent to hard-to-staff schools requires more than financial rewards. Teachers also want a strong school leader, better working conditions, the chance to work with like-minded colleagues, and professional development opportunities.

Rather than focusing on bonuses based on discrete accomplishments, we need a more holistic approach. We’d do well to look at the experiences of other top-performing nations. Jurisdictions like Shanghai and Singapore have built career structures linked to compensation that reward good teaching. In these systems, accomplished teachers can add to their base pay by taking on additional roles and responsibilities that expand their reach—whether through developing curriculum, coaching and mentoring other teachers, or working within and between schools to spread best practices. The goal is to attract, retain, and reward consistently effective performers and make great use of their skills and expertise. Such systems also honor the collective and collaborative nature of work in schools and elevate the status of the teaching profession.

While such principles offer a great starting point, we still have a lot to learn. Over the next few years, we’ll be working with our partner sites and districts on pieces of the compensation puzzle. These include how to attract effective teachers to hard-to-staff schools and subjects, and how to create meaningful leadership opportunities for effective teachers that pay them more to honor the greater impact they are having. But before we put any compensation reforms in place, let’s make sure teachers have a credible evaluation, feedback, and support system they can trust. And let’s do it in a way that continues to strengthen the profession. Otherwise, we’ll be building our house on sand.

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