“A great teacher can literally change the course of a student’s life.
They light a lifelong curiosity, a desire to participate in democracy, and instill a thirst for knowledge. It’s no surprise that studies repeatedly document that the single biggest influence on student academic growth is the quality of the teacher standing in front of the classroom—not socioeconomic status, not family background, but the quality of the teacher at the head of the class.” – Arne Duncan
Schools and districts making changes:
Find out what’s happening around the country as schools and districts take on salary reform! By lifting up the teaching profession, these schools are making huge strides in student achievement. We hope these stories of innovation and change inspire you to tackle the issue in your own community.New Haven, Connecticut
The New Haven teacher contract that came into effect in 2010 is already being hailed as a historic collaboration between parties that have long struggled to see eye to eye. Winning the approval of both AFT President Randi Weingarten and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, this contract is the result of four months of closed-door meetings. The contract gives teachers a 3% per annum raise for four years and eligibility for performance pay. A union committee, in conjunction with the city, will develop a system for teacher evaluations that takes into account student performance.By giving teachers a more powerful voice in structural decisions, and by encouraging innovation, this contract rewards high-performing schools.  The contract also offers to turn low-performing schools into charter schools, which would remain unionized in order to maintain grievance procedures and avoid teacher layoffs. Though the contract has been met with some criticism, particularly for school-wide bonus incentives, it’s a step towards the compromise and collaboration necessary to achieve powerful reform. To learn more, click here and here.

Washington, D.C. Schools
D.C. schools know that teacher quality can dramatically impact student achievement. That’s why they’ve enacted a program to grant [teachers] extensive bonuses and rewards based on student achievement. The IMPACT system, an effectiveness measure designed by DCPS, ensures that highly effective teachers are honored and rewarded. As a result, some teachers will earn more than $130,000 per year. Despite months of difficult negotiations, this program is regarded as a national [standard] for teacher pay. For more, click here and here.These and other reform efforts were spearheaded by Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of D.C. schools. “Our teachers, individually and collectively, are the most powerful and important resource in this school district,” said Rhee. “The progress we’ve made at DCPS over the past three years is mainly due to our many outstanding teachers.” To learn more about the outcome of these reform efforts, click here.The Equity Project Charter School
InIn New York’s Washington Heights, a new charter school is attracting high-quality teachers with a base salary of $125,000. The school received over 170 applications from qualified teachers and selected a dream-team of eight. Zeke M. Vanderhoek, the school’s creator and first principal, says he wants “to put into practice the conclusion reached by a growing body of research: that teacher quality—not star principals, laptop computers or abundant electives—is the crucial ingredient for success.” The Equity Project Charter School opened in September 2009. Read more about the school here and here. Watch one of their star teachers, Rhena Jasey, in action here. For a progress update, check out this 60 Minutes segment on the school.

Vaughn Next Century Learning Center
In 1990, when truancy was rampant and student performance at her school was the lowest in California, Vaughn administrator Dr. Yvonne Chan started a pilot program which offered teachers bonuses based on test scores and performance evaluations. Vaughn teachers are now among the best paid in the state, and administrators have a constant stream of qualified applicants for new positions. As a result, student performance at Vaughn Next Century Learning Center School is now exceeding that of similar schools around California: According to the most recent School Accountability Report Card (SARC), the school now has a 99.6% graduation rate and an API score of 753, ranking it third in California. Read more about the successes at Vaughn here and here.

Denver, Colorado
In 2005, Denver citizens voted in favor of an innovative, nine-year teacher contract that “links compensation more closely with instructional outcomes for students.” Teachers are evaluated periodically and are eligible to receive bonuses and salary increases based upon nine different sets of criteria ranging from student growth to working in hard-to-staff schools. Because of this system, the Denver school district is able to retain its strongest talent and attract new and qualified teachers. Watch this video to find out more.

Last year, the University of Colorado at Boulder released a report on the ProComp system. The report found that teachers hired after ProComp displayed higher first-year achievement in both reading and math than those teachers hired prior to the program. To read an EdWeek summary for the report, click here, or to read the full report, click here.

Denver Public Schools have seen their on-time graduation rate increase by over 5 percent in the past year and their dropout rate fall by 42 percent since 2006. In addition, the number of AP exams taken by students increased by 67 percent over the past five years, and the number of tests that received passing grades rose by about 40 percent. Read more about Denver’s increased student achievement here.

Boise, Idaho
Tom Luna, the superintendent of public instruction in Idaho, proposed a budget plan for fiscal year 2010 that includes teacher pay increases, greater focus on math, and funding for long-standing education issues. Luna requested an average of 3.5 percent increase in teacher pay: one-third of the increase will raise the minimum teacher salary and two-thirds will fund a “pay-for-performance plan for teachers.” Read more here and here.

A new study by the Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) suggests that the state should abandon its traditional payment system in favor of performance-based compensation. The first installment, released in June, is titled “How Alternative Teacher Compensation Systems Are Improving Student Outcomes.” Read the study’s first installment here. The second half of the study, to be released in September, will discuss what successful models of alternative compensation for teachers will look like.

Hamilton County, Tennessee
Hamilton County’s differentiated pay plan (also known as merit or performance pay) has been around since 2002, but this year it has a new component: teachers or principals who accept a position that the district has had difficulty filling, particularly in urban, high-poverty schools, will be offered a signing bonus. Many teachers agree that the district’s differentiated pay plan is a good way to draw teachers into the lower-performing schools. Read more about the plan here.

In 2008, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean outlined a major education reform plan which, among other things, offers incentives to put the best teachers in the schools that “need them the most.” Read more about Dean’s plan here.

In 2010, eSchool News reported that increased teacher support helped the Hamilton County school district reduce its student dropout rate from 30% to 22% over the previous year and propel ACT Explore test scores to well above the national average. Read the article here.

Prop A in San Francisco
In San Francisco, a teacher’s salary increases approximately $530 per year for the first fourteen years, and then plateaus. From 2008 to 2028, the San Francisco Unified School District will be collecting a new annual parcel tax of $198 to increase school funding. The money will be used to increase compensation for teachers and staff, improve training, promote accountability for teachers’ classroom practice, give recognition to high-performing teachers and schools, support teacher innovation, provide access to current technology, and allocate funds for public charter schools. San Francisco voters passed this proposition with a two-thirds majority. Read more about the plan here.

Rocketship Schools
The first Rocketship Education School was launched in 2006 in the San Jose area and has since been ranked one of the top three performing schools in the state of California. Since then, two more Rocketship schools have opened in the surrounding area. The schools’ innovative structure focuses energy on more professional development [for teachers], attention to individual student progress, and family involvement. Notably, the schools feature a daily 100-minute class period that combines a computer curriculum, independent reading, and enrichment programs to hone skills in those areas where students struggle most. These “learning labs” save the school up to $500,000 in spending each year, which is redirected toward staff development, teacher salaries, and school facilities. In 2010, Rocketship’s first school, Mateo Sheedy Elementary, reported a remarkable API score of 925, making it the highest-performing, low-income elementary school in Santa Clara County. Read more about Rocketship Education here and here. In addition, check out this interview with Rocketship co-founder and CEO, John Danner.

Greensboro, North Carolina
Launched in 2006, the Mission Possible program includes several schools in the Guilford County School system located in Greensboro, North Carolina. Former Guilford County Schools Superintendent, Terry Grier, had trouble attracting experienced teachers and principals to the district’s 30 high-poverty schools until the district launched an innovative salary structure to recruit more talented and effective teachers. Not only does the system reward teachers for working in the hardest-to-staff positions, but it also provides them with ongoing paid training, designed specifically for the needs of each teacher and administrator.

Since the inception of the program, the teacher attrition rate within Mission Possible schools has dropped from 29% to 14%, and the number of students proficient in reading and math has increased in all of the Mission Possible middle schools. The Mission Possible high school graduation rate has increased 11.8% since 2006. Learn more about the schools here, and read more about student achievement, teacher retention, salaries, and program costs in their evaluation report here. Or watch some videos here.

Related Articles:

How to Raise the Status of Teachers
The New York Times
This Room for Debate asks education experts, “How can the United States raise the status of teachers and teaching?”

U.S. vs. Highest-achieving Nations in Education

Washington Post
In this blog post, Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond speculates on the de-professionalization of teaching, noting that “most teachers in the United States must go into debt in order to prepare for an occupation that pays them, on average, 60% of the salaries earned by other college graduates.”

Bill Gates Seeks Formula for Better Teachers
Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Gates has been touring the country recently, urging politicians and educators to eliminate teacher salary increases based on seniority and master’s degrees and instead reward teachers for boosting student achievement.” In this interview with the Wall Street Journal, Gates argues that giving teaching a personnel system that encourages effectiveness will, in turn, boost the entire profession.U.S. Is Urged to Raise Teachers’ StatusThe New York Times
“To improve its public schools, the United States should raise the status of the teaching profession by recruiting more qualified candidates, training them better and paying them more, according to a new report on comparative educational systems.”What the U.S. Can Learn From the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts
McGraw-Hill Research Foundation
In this report published by the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation, the top-performing education systems throughout the world are studied. The results point to the fact that, in these systems, teachers are not just paid more in relation to other professions – they are also regarded more highly in society.Pay Teachers More
The New York Times Op-Ed
“A basic educational challenge is not that teachers are raking it in, but that they are underpaid. If we want to compete with other countries, and chip away at poverty across America, then we need to pay teachers more so as to attract better people into the profession.”Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining top third graduates to a career in teaching
McKinsey & Company
In this report, McKinsey & Company focuses on a relatively under-emphasized method of improving teacher effectiveness to lift student achievement—attracting young people with strong academic backgrounds to the profession.Top-scoring Countries Hold Teachers in High Esteem
Associated Press
“Nations that outpace the United States in education use many strategies to help their students excel. They do, however, share one: They set high requirements to become a teacher, hold those who become one in high esteem and offer the instructors plenty of support.”Lessons learned: At last, America may change the way it trains, recruits and rewards teachers
The Economist
“Budget, curriculum, class size—none has a greater effect on a student than his or her teacher.”

The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers
The New York Times
In the past, the impact of a great teacher has been underestimated due to research centered solely on test scores. This article presents new findings, taking into consideration broader adult outcomes, which confirm the significant legacy of kindergarten and the importance of stellar early childhood teachers.

How to Fix Our Schools
The Washington Post
Sixteen educators, superintendents, chief executives and chancellors write this manifesto for transforming our schools. They write that to truly prepare our children, we need to realize the central importance of teachers.

A Call to Action for Public Schools
As part of a TIME education feature, this article details what makes right now such an exciting time in education reform, perhaps even “the beginning of a commonsense revolution.”

Teaching: No Fall Back Career
The New York Times
Bringing together the opinions of teachers, university professors and an economist, this article discusses teaching as an increasingly attractive second career. Yet as these contributors comment on the profession, they offer words of caution and encouragement, and call attention to the essential question: how do we become good teachers?

Arne Duncan, United States Secretary of Education on Elevating the Teaching Profession
Elevating the Teaching Profession [PDF]
“Teaching, in short, should be one of the nation’s most revered professions. Teachers should be amply compensated, fairly evaluated, and supported by topnotch professional development. Yet teachers today are not accorded the respect they deserve—and teaching is still not treated as a profession on par with other highly skilled professions.”

What Makes A Great Teacher?
The Atlantic
“This tale of two boys, and of the millions of kids just like them, embodies the most stunning finding to come out of education research in the past decade: more than any other variable in education—more than schools or curriculum—teachers matter.”