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Shifting Pay Raises from Experienced to New Teachers Benefits Students

Dr. Katharine Strunk

Dr. Katharine Strunk

Veteran teachers often get the largest and most frequent raises, as districts frequently reward teachers for longevity and education with “back- loaded” salary schedules.

But Assistant Professor Katharine Strunk found that many districts are using “front-loaded” models, with salary increases early in teachers’ careers, and her analysis revealed that students appear to be achieving at higher levels in those districts.

The paper, which was published in Educational Policy by Strunk and co-author Jason Grissom of Vanderbilt University, provides compelling new data to the impassioned national debate about teacher pay policies.

Research has shown that teachers tend to improve most over their first three to five years on the job, and prospects for a salary bump early on can help draw new teachers into the profession, especially highly qualified candidates who have other career prospects.

Conversely, teachers do not become much more effective after year five, and after the five-year mark, teachers are much less likely to leave. Previous studies also show that advanced degrees have little impact on teacher effectiveness. Therefore, the authors argue that a salary schedule that rewards the early gains of new teachers would be a better use of districts’ limited funds than concentrating raises among veteran teachers.

Reach-Strunk-PullquoteThe authors’ analysis of reading and math proficiency in front- and back-loaded districts revealed that back-loading is negatively correlated with the proportion of students reaching the proficiency benchmark across elementary, middle and high school grades. Across all grades, when districts front-loaded their salary schedules, more students were at least proficient and fewer students failed the basic cut point.

Given the convincing evidence that salary bumps for new teachers are more beneficial to student achievement than salary bumps for longtime teachers, why were so many districts using a schedule that hurts them?

Strunk and Grissom tested the theory that the political clout of teachers’ unions was the reason for widespread back-loading in districts, and found that districts with more union representation had the highest salary rewards for experienced teachers and lowest for novice teachers.

strunk-data-reach“The political power of more experienced teachers, particularly as expressed through teachers’ associations and unions, may disrupt districts from being able to choose salary structures that best fit their needs,” Strunk said.

In their paper, Strunk and Grissom suggest that districts consider revisions to salary schedules, as individual merit pay proposals remain controversial and even if implemented would be only supplemental to district salary schedules.

However, given the political backlash anticipated if districts tried to shift salary schedules, Strunk and Grissom propose some alternatives that would produce the same results. Loan forgiveness programs can be used to repay new teachers’ student loans, or signing bonuses can be offered to new hires. The authors also propose that districts consider placing new teachers at higher levels on the salary schedule based on out-of-district experience, or providing retention bonuses during their first few years.

Despite evidence that front-loading is most cost-effective to districts and beneficial to students, Strunk and Grissom note that districts may be unable to shift their schedules if unions oppose the reduction of veteran teacher raises in order to increase new teacher raises.

As a result, the authors project that districts may have to maintain the current schedule for experienced teachers, while boosting new teacher raises, which would mean higher overall compensation costs from already strapped budgets.

> Read the report.


Works cited:

  • Clotfelter, C., Ladd, H., & Vigdor, J. (2007). Teacher credentials and student achievement: Longitudinal analysis with student fixed effects. Economics of Education Review26, 673-682.
  • Goldhaber, D. D., & Brewer, D. J. (1997). Why don’t schools and teachers seem to matter? Assessing the impact of unobservables on educational productivity. Journal of Human Resources,32, 505-523.
  • Hanushek, E., & Rivkin, S. G. (2007). Pay, working conditions and teacher quality. Future of Children17(1), 69-86.
  • Ingersoll, R. M. (2001). Teacher turnover and teacher shortages: An organizational analysis.American Education Research Journal38, 499-534.
  • Murnane, R. J., & Olsen, R. J. (1989a). The effect of salaries and opportunity costs on duration in teaching: Evidence from Michigan. Review of Economics and Statistics71, 347-352.
  • Murnane, R. J., & Olsen, R. J. (1989b). Will there be enough teachers? American Economic Review79, 242-246.
  • Rivkin, S. G., Hanushek, E., & Kain, J. (2005). Teachers, schools, and academic achievement.Econometrica73, 417-458.
  • Rockoff, J. E. (2004). The impact of individual teachers on student achievement: Evidence from panel data. American Economic Review94, 247-252.

This article was featured in the January, 2013 Issue of Rossier Reach