Options and Opportunities
This report examines the feasibility and desirability of reforming Wisconsin’s teacher compensation system by incorporating a performance-based component into the determination of teacher salaries. In particular, this report examines how schools in Wisconsin may become part of a school-based performance award system, in which all teachers in a school can achieve increased financial compensation if their school, as a whole, meets a set of predetermined performance objectives. The report concludes that the State of Wisconsin, or any of its local school districts, should adopt such a performance-based pay plan and benefit from the improvements this policy will engender.
Teacher compensation comprises roughly 50 percent of all funds put into public education,1 which is more than any other single element of the budget for public schooling. Therefore, any alterations in the amount of teacher pay, or with how salaries are distributed among teachers, can have dramatic effects on public school budgets and the personnel priorities of school administrations. Moreover, teacher salaries maintain a prominent place in debates over education policy in general and school finance issues in particular. There remains a great deal of contention between views over the size of teacher salaries (whether they are too large or too small) and over whether the factors that allow teachers to increase their pay are conducive to quality schooling. Many education policy experts, leaders of teachers unions, teachers, and members of the general public argue that teacher salaries and benefits should garner even greater portions of public education budgets. An equally large number of people contend that teachers are paid fairly, proportional to their work. In the alternative, they argue that is objectionable to simply raise the pay for all teachers, without a system for allowing pay differentiation based on individual teacher performance.
Yet these statements tend to only reflect the cost side of the equation. An equally important question is what effect on teaching quality and student learning can occur from altering the teacher compensation system in a manner that rewards performance? If greater teacher pay has a positive correlation with desired educational outcomes, such as significantly increased student performance (especially among traditionally low-achieving students), increased student attendance and graduation rates, and a reduced number of student retentions at grade, then the net social gain from such an investment could be positive. Therefore, undergirding this entire report is the connection between how pay-for-performance can better motivate teachers, inspire more qualified persons to enter the teaching profession, and signal to teachers that their performance is valued more than just their level of seniority. Another theme is that Wisconsin has many of the assessment tools already in place to facilitate the implementation of a performance-based pay system.
Overall, this report provides a forceful primer on school-level, performance-based pay for Wisconsin schools. Much of it takes the form of a blueprint for state and local policy makers, who can then be armed with both descriptive and normative arguments for tying teachers’ pay — to some degree — to school performance. It also provides detailed information on how various issues and concerns with effectively implementing performance-based teacher compensation reforms can be addressed, thereby aiding the success of such a policy in Wisconsin. Finally, this report serves as a sensible argument for why Wisconsin schools should begin teacher compensation reforms that will help financially reward those groups of teachers that actually achieve the learning goals that have been set by the state and local school districts.