On December 2nd the Ohio House of Representatives passed HB 343, an omnibus of changes to Ohio’s education policy. Noticeably absent among these changes was a provision introduced in the House Education Committee to eliminate the rigid pay schedule for teachers. Under the current law, all teachers at all public schools have their base compensation tied to the number of years they have been teaching. An amendment was introduced to eliminate this process, called a “minimum pay schedule,” and to allow alternative compensation plans in innovative districts. However, the amendment drew enough opposition to be stricken from the bill.
As a matter of course we oppose all programs that automatically and unavoidably raise spending, but minimum pay schedules specifically cry out for reform. There is no reason for every individual teacher’s compensation to be based on the same metric, least of all when there are better metrics that could be used. School districts should be free to adopt incentive-based pay structures to attract and retain talented teachers, and teachers should be able to earn a premium wage if they excel in the classroom.
Other states have considered alternatives to inflexible seniority-based pay schedules. The North Carolina House of Representatives recently examined their state’s pay schedule, and found that it “does not align to the majority of current research on the impact of teacher experience on student outcomes.” The report recommended transitioning to an incentive-based system, prioritizing the retention of new and talented teachers. Their findings track heavily with testimony they received from Dr. Jacob Vigdor, a professor at Duke and an adjunct fellow with the Manhattan Institute. Dr. Vigdor pointed out that a teacher’s years of experience cease to meaningfully impact test scores past the 6-12 year mark, which suggests a disconnect between the basis of teacher compensation and a key metric of their performance.
Whether a district prefers issuing performance-based compensation, or instituting its own salary schedule, or using an entirely unique approach, the choice should be left to them. What is needed is experimentation and innovation, not across-the-board adherence to formulas that benefit no one. Critics of reform claim that the current pay schedule is necessary to protect teachers, but this is simply not accurate. Dr. Vigdor and the North Carolina House recommended increasing the starting salaries for teachers, enabling them to reach their peak salaries earlier and actually increasing the present value of their total career earnings. This approach can be expenditure-neutral with the salary schedule while creating more incentives for new teachers to remain in the profession. Shackling teachers’ pay to seniority does nothing to reward those who are effective, nor to attract and retain new educators to the field.