Huffpost Education
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Tom Vander Ark Headshot

How to Pay Teachers

Posted: Updated:

Summit Prep, a model high school south of San Francisco, has the smartest teacher development and compensation system I've seen -- and they are part of a coherent school model I wrote about last week. It's primarily a skill-based system that is focused on what teachers need to know and be able to do to accelerate student achievement. It is closely linked to the most extensive professional development program I've ever seen.

Demonstrated expertise across seven dimensions of the Summit Prep continuum places teachers on one of four levels: basic, proficient, highly proficient, and expert. The measured dimensions of teaching include Assessment, Content, Curriculum, Instruction, Knowing Learners and Learning (i.e. special ed, ELL, etc), Leadership, and Mentoring.

Summit founder Diane Tavenner said, "Teachers are charged with gathering and presenting evidence of their performance as demonstrated in student work and achievement. For example, a teacher wanting to be evaluated as highly proficient on Curriculum/Differentiation would have to present evidence he/she consistently differentiated throughout the course, and that students of all levels of prior knowledge and skill were able to access and demonstrate mastery as a result."

Placement and movement on the continuum are based on a combination of principal evaluation, peer evaluation and self evaluation is considered. Summit pays math and science teachers more because that's what the Bay Area market demands. To move from starting salary (over $50,000) to top of the scale (near $100,000) a teacher must be rated expert in at least four of seven dimensions. It usually takes at least two years to move up a level.

Student achievement is the basis for all goals that determine annual performance bonuses of up to 10 percent of base salary. The smart bonus system is based on:

25 percent school-wide results: API, College Acceptance, AP Equity and Excellence, Parent and Student Satisfaction.

25 percent grade-level results: API or AP Equity and Excellence, other external assessments, Parent and Student Satisfaction, and Peer Input.

50 percent individual results: API, AP Equity and Excellence, Observation and Evaluation, Parent and Student Satisfaction, Self Evaluation, Director Evaluation

What I love about this system is that it "empowers teachers to present any and all evidence they believe is valid and appropriate to judge student performance, while simultaneously ensuring that objective student performance data is always included. Teachers embrace it and respect it because they have control over presenting a total package of performance."

Summit, like all the other California CMOs will be introducing blended learning models next year. Summit will undoubtedly tweak their pay and development system accordingly. Other systems, including those that recently adopted value-added measurements, will have more work to do. Here's some advice I provided to New York on their proposed pay system back in April:

In addition to building a dynamic data framework, it's important to note that personal digital learning will change school structures. There will be more differentiated staffing: teaching teams with three different levels with unique roles. Master teachers will guide new teachers and paraprofessionals. Teams will be augmented by remote teachers, specialists, and tutors supporting students online. Teams and technology as a tool will make it more difficult to directly link the gain of an individual student with the performance of an individual teacher.

Blended learning -- school models that incorporate online learning to boost productivity -- introduces new roles and relationships. It makes learning more of a team sport. Informed judgments based on demonstrated expertise, like the Summit system, will be augmented by team-based recognition and incentives.

Diane has been thinking about how the system will adjust to the blended learning environment, and she believes Summit is well positioned. "I see a shift in percentages of the bonuses -- more toward grade level team and school-wide vs. individual" And, "the continuum as a structure should hold up well, since we have a culture that embraces adding/removing/revising the strands based upon what we are observing is most important to student learning in our environment."

As I concluded few weeks ago, "While edReformers may not like it, dynamic staffing models will require the application of judgment in teacher evaluations and that's hard to write into policy." Diane summarize the Summit employment philosophy:

It is a core principle of charter schools -- hold us accountable for our outcomes, and give us flexibility with our process, and it has to be extended to our students and teachers. For me, the confidence and willingness to embrace and allow for judgment is central to the success of not only our pay systems, but blended learning as well. The power of the Summit system is not that we have developed a magical list of the perfect evidence that with precision accuracy tells us who is a good teacher and who isn't. It's powerful because it gives teachers a high degree of accountability AND responsibility, and thus attracts the right people and incents them to perform.

When you step back and look at it holistically the "carrots" get us more than 90 percent of what we want and create a culture where people are happy, resilient and motivated -- a place where I want to work and kids want to go to school. I have a tolerance for a system that isn't 100 percent perfect because I have a stick if I need it -- at-will employment. This same approach is bleeding into our blended plans. It is what will ultimately allow us to create the space for teachers and students to create and design ways to get kids to our outcomes (college/career ready) in ways we can't even imagine today.


Rick Hess commented Friday on former Fairfax superintendent Jack Dale's paper on teacher pay. Rick and Jack voiced skepticism of merit pay system. I think most aren't well designed and are not forward leaning (i.e., holding us back, not propelling us forward). The Summit Prep system is thoughtful and dynamic -- a good example of a powerful teacher development culture that creates a powerful student development culture.