Another perspective on teachers’ pay

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education

Thanks largely to the OECD’s work in compiling internationally comparable data on education,  the issue of teachers’ pay has quietly crept up the political agenda in more than a few countries (take the recent French presidential election and the current US presidential campaign, to name just two). PISA takes the discussion a step further. It asks: does basing teachers’ pay on their effectiveness as teachers help to improve an education system’s overall performance?

As this month’s PISA in Focus notes, about half of OECD countries reward teacher performance in different ways. For example, in the Czech Republic, England, Mexico, the Netherlands, Sweden and Turkey, outstanding teaching performance is a criterion for decisions on a teacher’s position on the base salary scale. In the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and the Slovak Republic, it is a criterion for deciding on supplemental payments that are paid annually. In Austria, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Estonia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Turkey and the United States, outstanding teaching performance is used as a criterion for deciding supplemental incidental payments.

A look at the overall picture shows no relationship between average student performance in a country and the use of performance-based pay schemes. In other words, some high-performing education systems use performance-based pay while others don’t. But the picture changes when taking into account how well teachers are paid overall in comparison with national income. In countries with comparatively low teachers’ salaries (less than 15% above GDP per capita), student performance tends to be better when performance-based pay systems are in place, while in countries where teachers are relatively well-paid (more than 15% above GDP per capita), the opposite is true.

But deciding on whether or not to have performance-based pay for teachers is only the first step. Measures of teacher performance must be clearly defined and be considered by teachers themselves to be fair and accurate. School systems also have to decide whether to reward individual teachers, groups of teachers or schools. And they also have to consider whether to create one “pot”, of a pre-determined sum, out of which rewards will be paid, or to be flexible enough to allow more teachers to earn rewards.

In the end, though, salary is only part of the work environment. Countries that have succeeded in making teaching an attractive profession have often done so not just through pay, but by raising the status of teaching, offering real career prospects, and giving teachers responsibility as professionals and leaders of reform. This requires teacher education that helps teachers to become innovators and researchers in education, not just civil servants who deliver curricula.

For more information:
on PISA:
PISA in Focus: Does performance-based pay improve teaching?
Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders for the 21st Century: Lessons From Around The World
Photo credit: Performance / Shutterstock

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