Pioneering Teacher Compensation Reform: K-12 Educator Pay Innovation in Colorado

IP-2-2011 (March 2011)
Author: Ben DeGrow

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Executive Summary
The transformation of teacher compensation is an integral piece of improving the overall quality of the K-12 instructional workforce. Research overwhelmingly shows the predominant single salary schedule, which pays teachers strictly according to seniority and academic credentials, to be ineffective and financially unsustainable. Numerous local innovations place Colorado at the forefront of teacher compensation reform.

Standing at the head of the pack is Harrison School District Two’s Effectiveness and Results plan, fully implemented in the fall of 2010. Having eliminated the unproductive single salary schedule, Harrison provides three key lessons to policy makers:

  • Credible measures of effective instruction should enable teachers to earn more or less.
  • Effective teacher performance pay also requires reform of evaluations, professional development, assessments and data.
  • Formal teachers union collaboration is not vital to reforming compensation and may impede enacting effective performance pay.

The only other Colorado school district to jettison the single salary schedule, Eagle County Schools adopted merit pay in 2001, and then refashioned the system into “Strategic Compensation” in 2007. Several other Colorado districts have advanced compensation reform with significant financial support from the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Incentive Fund: Denver Public Schools (ProComp) and Fort Lupton’s Weld County School District Re-8 in 2006; as well as the state’s largest district, Jefferson County Public Schools, and Colorado Springs District 11, both piloting programs awarded in 2010. Another pioneer in compensation reform, Douglas County School District R-1, is developing a more comprehensive pay-for-performance system.

Many Colorado school-level innovators also have implemented a variety of compensation reforms. The Academy 20 option school Discovery Canyon has adopted performance- based pay as part of TAP (formerly known as the Teacher Advancement Program). From 1995 to 2011, many charter schools have implemented innovative approaches to teacher compensation. Reforms include salary increases for advanced career paths, teacher-ranked merit pay, market-based differential pay, and student academic growth bonuses.

Lessons from the innovative districts, option and charter schools include the following:

  • Though convincing proof still lacks, some brands of compensation reform may contribute to improved student learning outcomes.
  • Compensation reform should be viewed mainly as a tool to help shape who serves in the teaching workforce.
  • Results among the Colorado compensation innovators in improving teacher retention are mixed, at best.
  • School-wide bonus pay plans work best alongside individual awards, helping focus teachers on core academic skills.
  • Compensation reform implementation requires transparency and open channels for public and employee feedback.
  • Inequitable or overly subjective pay systems can and should be modified while still preserving a performance-based focus.
  • Different alternative compensation systems can reward different objectives, based on a school’s particular needs.

Tighter budgets should not discourage continued innovation of educator compensation. Rightly done, differential and merit-based pay can help contribute both to long-term financial health and a stronger focus on improved student learning. Pioneering Colorado districts and charter schools have paved the way for others to follow and surpass.


Posted by on Mar 30th, 2011 and filed under Issue Papers, Pay for Performance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling following comment form or trackback to this entry from your site

22 Responses for “Pioneering Teacher Compensation Reform: K-12 Educator Pay Innovation in Colorado”

  1. [...] shows up in a newly released issue paper from my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow, titled Pioneering Teacher Compensation Reform: K-12 Educator Pay Innovation in Colorado. The focus of the new paper is on Colorado’s significant number of local school districts and [...]

  2. [...] shows up in a newly released issue paper from my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow, titled Pioneering Teacher Compensation Reform: K-12 Educator Pay Innovation in Colorado. The focus of the new paper is on Colorado’s significant number of local school districts and [...]

  3. [...] Yes, many of us in Colorado do regard Superintendent Miles as a reform hero. But even he acknowledges that much hard work remains to keep improving the system they have put in place. If you want to learn more about Harrison’s Effectiveness and Results pay plan, along with other Colorado K-12 compensation innovations, please check out my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow’s new issue paper. [...]

  4. [...] Structural changes to compensation, ending the collective, seniority-based salary schedule along with its ineffective “master’s bumps” (by visiting Harrison School District Two or Eagle County Schools) [...]

  5. [...] and persistently advanced thoughtful and wide-ranging education reforms — among them a revolutionary teacher evaluation and compensation program. (Interestingly, the first and only other Colorado district to trade the old teacher salary [...]

  6. [...] and persistently advanced thoughtful and wide-ranging education reforms — among them a revolutionary teacher evaluation and compensation program. (Interestingly, the first and only other Colorado district to trade the old teacher salary [...]

  7. [...] impact how teachers are paid as well. While many local Colorado districts and charter schools are pioneering performance pay and strategic compensation, it would be great to see the implementation of the educator effectiveness law push even more in [...]

  8. [...] more productive use of those existing funds would be to follow the lead of the state’s other educator compensation pioneers and direct those rewards into a real, meaningful pay-for-performance [...]

  9. [...] pay changes is tenuous at best. Second, as Ben DeGrow noted earlier this year in his issue paper Pioneering Teacher Compensation Reform, Miles emphasizes the comprehensive approach to performance pay. Effectively overhauling [...]

  10. [...] In other words, ProComp (not best understood as “merit pay”) almost certainly is having a positive impact on student results in classrooms across Denver, though real world conditions make it very difficult to pin down the effects of one element when many reforms are taking place. My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow summarized similar observations made from a 2010 ProComp evaluation in his issue paper Pioneering Teacher Compensation Reform. [...]

  11. [...] my Education Policy Center friends, a look at local Colorado K-12 educator pay innovations titled Pioneering Teacher Compensation Reform. There aren’t 29 districts in our state moving the ball on this issue yet, mainly because [...]

  12. [...] So let’s keep fixing how teachers and other professional educators are paid. Anyone who needs some ideas might want to start by reading Pioneering Teacher Compensation Reform: K-12 Educator Pay Innovation in Colorado. [...]

  13. [...] compensation reforms like those highlighted in my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow’s 2011 issue paper on the subject. Time to stay tuned [...]

  14. [...] On the other hand, being 9th or 12th still isn’t good enough when you look at some of the significant weaknesses NCTQ has identified. As the Post story highlighted, Colorado hit the rock bottom rating for most of the teacher preparation goals — including elementary math, middle school, secondary, and student teaching. We also hit the lowest “does not meet” mark in the area of performance pay. While I appreciate NCTQ’s intent, and Colorado certainly hasn’t arrived, there are a number of local alternative compensation plans at work in the state’s school districts and c… [...]

  15. [...] look beyond even what my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow wrote in his 2011 issue paper Pioneering Teacher Compensation Reform. Miles lays out in detail the thoughtful and balanced approach to making transformational change, [...]

  16. [...] pay, it’s not entirely unheard of in Colorado K-12 education. In his 2011 issue paper Pioneering Teacher Compensation Reform, my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow explained how The Classical Academy, one of [...]

  17. [...] it comes to redesigning how teachers are paid, especially keep an eye on two districts. While the progressive Effectiveness and Results system in [...]

  18. [...] in Colorado, my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow pointed out in a 2011 paper at least one major charter school — The Classical Academy — that is using differential [...]

  19. [...] in Colorado, my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow pointed out in a 2011 paper at least one major charter school — The Classical Academy — that is using differential (or [...]

  20. [...] pay systems. As my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow pointed out a couple years ago in a report on Colorado K-12 compensation innovations, The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs is a forerunner in this [...]

  21. [...] I told you about one Colorado charter school (included in this Independence Institute report) that has been using a differential compensation model for several years. Beyond that, I’m [...]

  22. [...] sometimes gets lumped into the same box. As recently as three years ago, there were various other K-12 compensation reforms in action in [...]

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