Teacher Raises Earlier In Career Correlates To Better Student Performance: Study

11/21/2012 12:35 pm ET

A new study has found that frontloading teacher salaries —that is, awarding larger raises early in a teacher’s career and smaller raises later — are associated with better student performance in multiple grades.

To test their hypothesis that districts are likely to benefit from a front-loaded salary schedule, the study’s authors — Jason A. Grissom and Katharine O. Strunk — matched compensation data to school-level student performance data on math and reading achievement tests in 4,500 districts across 28 states during the 1999-2000 school year. They examined the relationship between salary schedule frontloading and student performance across grades and at multiple points in the achievement distribution, i.e. basic competence, proficient and advanced proficiency.

The authors controlled for differences in cost of living in various districts when looking at teacher compensation, and also controlled for the difficulty of tests and demographic characteristics on the student side.

Overall, they found that in both elementary and middle schools, districts that front-loaded teacher salaries saw higher rates of student achievement. That said, the authors go on to clarify that the nature of their data set prevents them from determining whether these higher achievement levels are actually an effect of frontloading.

According to the report, recent debate on teacher compensation has centered primarily on the use of merit pay to reward teachers for their students’ test score gains. Most salary schedules are currently structured in a way that awards teachers pay increases as they gain years of experience and pursue further education, such as a master’s degree or some other accumulation of credits. However, the size of the raises tends to vary considerably from district to district.

In providing a rationale for front-loaded salary schedules, the authors cite research that indicates teachers are the most important school factor in predicting student performance, and that school district success thus depends on a district’s ability to maintain a high-quality teacher workforce. The authors write that providing teachers with higher pay is one means of achieving this goal.

As the National Council on Teacher Quality points out in a blog post, Grissom and Strunk also find that districts where collective bargaining is required are more likely to practice backloading — concentrating raises among veteran teachers. However, there is potential to imitate front-loaded salary schedules through loan forgiveness programs, signing bonuses and retention bonuses.

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