“Except for different salary levels based on years of classroom experience, unions insist on equal pay for every teacher in a district, regardless of productivity, professionalism, subject taught, and expertise. This is less respect than one would give a dog as it denies agency, ignores incentives, and effectively equates everyone to the lowest common denominator.”

            –Byron Schlomach, Director of the 1889 Institute

As stated above, the teacher compensation structure in Oklahoma is flawed. Good teachers should be rewarded, and bad teachers should not be in the classroom – much less paid the same because the unions demand it. Unfortunately, administrators have no incentive to compensate teachers based on their performance. Due to the monopolistic structure of our public education system, administrators have no incentive to economize. Unlike a commercial enterprise, they do not have to attract and retain customers (students). Students are assigned to their schools and districts based on their addresses and have few alternatives. Even with the advent of charter schools and recently passed legislation expanding open transfer, schools still face little competition for students.

Some states and districts have resorted to convoluted measures of teacher performance to attempt to justify different levels of compensation. Last month, the Washington D.C. school district released their review of the IMPACT program – a performance-based teacher compensation program intended to reward good teachers and make it easier to fire low-quality teachers. First implemented in 2009, reviewers had 10+ years of data to evaluate.

The teacher evaluations under IMPACT are complex. However, to oversimplify the process: 65 percent of a teacher’s IMPACT score is based on classroom observation conducted by administrators, 15 percent is based on teacher assessments of student achievement, 10 percent is based on student surveys, and 10 percent is based on “commitment to school community.” Teachers could also gain/lose a minuscule number of points based on “Core Professionalism,” a measure that looks at things such as absences, tardies, compliance with school policies, and interaction with peers and parents.

While the initial data look promising, including high levels of teacher retention, increased student enrollment, and rising NAEP scores, there are a few flaws with the program. First, the program gives outsized influence to administrators. If the subjective opinion of the administrator essentially dictates the teacher’s performance grade, why even measure other factors? Second, the program fails to take into account one crucial factor: parents. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that parents need and want to be directly involved in their children’s education.

Quite frankly, it’s sad that we even feel the need to set up convoluted teacher evaluation systems to measure teacher performance. Everyone knows who the good teachers are. If you were to ask parents, students, teachers, and administrators who the good teachers are, you would hear the same names over and over again.

Rather than continue experimenting with different convoluted teacher performance assessments, states or districts might simply survey parents, students, other teachers (peers), and administrators. The surveys would have to be independently administered by a third party, with equal weight given to each group. Teachers who consistently received positive responses across the survey groups could be compensated appropriately while those who were rated poorly could either receive additional help or be terminated. In addition, states could evaluate administrators based on student achievement via standardized testing and total enrollment numbers. This would allow teachers to be accurately evaluated based on their performance while also incentivizing administrators to reward high-performing teachers. While this would be a vast improvement over other teacher evaluation systems, even this model would fall short of our expectations.

Ultimately, the solution to this issue is school choice. In a state with a robust choice system, the pluralistic nature of the education system would force administrators to make economic calculations, incentivizing them to bring the best possible product to the table in order to attract students and retain top talent (teachers). This would create an atmosphere in which great teachers are highly sought after and command a premium, while low-quality teachers make less money or – even better – don’t have a job.

Tyler Williamson is a Research Associate at 1889 Institute and can be reached at [email protected].

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.