Archived Information

CPRE Finance Briefs: Reinventing Teacher Compensation Systems - September 1995

History of Teacher Pay Changes

The history of teacher compensation provides a rich source of information on how change can "stick" when it is aligned with the strategic needs of schools and existing organizational forms (Protsik 1995). For example, in the latter half of the 1800s, local communities designed schools to provide basic academic skills and moral education for children. Teacher compensation consisted primarily of room and board provided by the local community. The "Boarding Round" pay system was a strong incentive for teachers to maintain positive relations with community members and to maintain a high moral character. It also reflected the barter economy of the time.

In the early 1900s, teacher preparation became more uniform, requiring higher levels of education, and schools began to reflect the bureaucratic organizational structures of the developing industrial cash economy. The Boarding Round system was replaced by a position-based salary system that reflected the new form of teacher work, the cash basis of the economy, and increased preservice education requirements. This system also paid elementary teachers less than secondary teachers (which in part reflected differences in education required for these positions), and unfortunately, paid women and minority teachers less than non-minority males, reflecting societal biases of the time. Nevertheless, the position-based salary schedule was a salary system aligned with the strategic aspects of the economy and school systems.

The single-salary schedule emerged early in the 20th century in response to further changes in the social and educational context. Opposition to overt discrimination and demand for greater teacher skills led to the system which paid the same salary to teachers with the same qualifications regardless of grade level taught, gender or race.

The single-salary schedule did not, however, pay every teacher the same amount. Differentials were provided based on the objective measures of years of experience, educational units, and educational degrees. It paid teachers salary supplements for coaching sports, advising clubs, and coordinating activities. The bases for paying differential salary amounts were objective, measurable and not subject to administrative whim.

The single-salary schedule was appropriate for the bureaucratic, hierarchically organized school of the first half of this century. Administrators were responsible for goals, objectives and school success, and teachers were responsible mainly for delivering a basic skills-focused, standardized curriculum. Teachers needed a beginning set of skills which were assessed in the process of licensure. Once in the system, they were paid more for each year of experience, a practice typical of bureaucracies and the way most workers were paid in the broader economy (Kelley 1995; Odden 1995).

But as the next section shows, this salary structure is not adequate for schools of today. Current reforms are requiring teachers to continuously expand their professional instructional skills, take on management and leadership roles within schools, and focus on results produced as much as services provided. A revised teacher compensation structure could help to address these new and more complex system needs.

Performance Awards in Kentucky

Adopted in 1990, the Kentucky Instructional Results Information System (KIRIS) rewards schools that show improvements toward performance standards over time. Every two years, schools that exceed their improvement goals receive funds which teachers, school counselors, and the principal may distribute as they see fit. Funds may be used as salary bonuses, for professional development, or as school improvement funds. In 1994-95, the awards were about $2,000 per teacher in eligible schools, or a total appropriation of $26 million.

A six-part accountability index is used to measure improvements in school performance. Five parts are based on the results of reading, math, social studies, science, and writing scores on open-ended tests; a problem-solving activity; and student portfolios. The sixth component is a non-cognitive composite score based on factors such as attendance and graduation rates.

In the first year (1994-95), 38 percent of the schools received bonus awards. It is still too early to tell the long-term impact of the program including the type of behavior it incites within each school.


[Table of Contents] [Linking Compensation to Organizational Needs]