Teachers’ unions have long opposed “performance pay” for teachers, making union-backed pay structures a “tax” on teaching talent.
Instead, union policies should reflect the concern of the average American family since exceptional teachers are being underpaid, are leaving the profession, and stagnation stifles student achievement.
Under so-called “pay-for-performance” policies, individual teachers receive bonuses for elevated test scores or other criteria defined by the state. Examples include student scores on Advanced Placement exams or successfully coaching academic activities like competitive debate.
In most jurisdictions throughout the country, teacher pay is uniform within those jurisdictions and elevated only based on experience. Such a scheme provides little incentive to undertake the effort needed to elevate the academic outcomes.
This is the system that teachers’ unions defend as opposed to merit, or performance pay.
Teachers’ unions prefer a one-size-fits all approach that prevents America’s most exceptional educators from receiving the pay increases they deserve — pay increases that would incentivize them to stay in the profession and focus on improving student achievement.
It’s obvious that teachers’ unions oppose performance pay because the alternative allows unions to make more money in union dues.
Unions are, by definition, vehicles of income redistribution. To promote the financial interests of teachers whose services are of lesser quality, unions must cap the earning potential of exceptional teaching talent.
This is so that teachers who aren’t as committed to producing quality work still end up with salaries in line with every other teacher. Exceptional educators foot the bill as all the extra money those exceptional teachers should be making ends up going to lesser-achieving teachers to equalize salaries. Those lesser-achieving teachers are bound to keep paying union dues because they prefer the system that unions set up.
Unions are thus willing to drive away the most exceptional teachers in the workforce if it means catering to a broader base of teachers who will keep paying union dues.
In all fairness to the unions, they are at least open about their opposition to merit pay.
Terrence Martin, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, was quoted saying, “The union is fundamentally against merit pay,” and that the union had previously fought against it.
Additionally, union contracts are typically structured to trap teachers in the same school district in which they got their first teaching job. Discourse magazine points out that, in New Jersey, teachers who decide to go a to a new school district must forfeit their seniority, which results in reduced pay.
This prevents exceptional teaching talent from moving to a new school district to get paid a more competitive salary. Union policies have stripped workers of meaningful self-determination and have made it difficult for them to be rewarded for quality work.
It should come as no surprise that teachers’ unions have disdain for the capitalist principle of rewarding good work. They instead choose to keep exceptional teachers confined in socialist mediocrity.
This mediocrity has a depressing effect on the earning potential for exceptional teachers in the public sector and harms the quality of education in American schools.
There is significant evidence that “pay-for-performance” policies would be an effective means of filling teacher vacancies with qualified teachers. As the Brookings Institute reported “(O)ffering a 20 percent performance bonus to the top performing 10 percent of teachers would induce roughly an 11 percent increase in the number of top-third students becoming teachers.”
Additionally, a study published in The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management found that pay incentives programs for teachers reduce the likelihood of teachers’ exit by 32 percent.
Despite the overwhelming data in defense of pay incentives for teachers, only 11 percent of public school districts use pay incentives to reward excellence in teaching.
Teachers’ unions keep getting in the way. Unions are willing to sacrifice the quality of education for American students and the financial interest of exceptional teachers if it means that they can collect as much money in dues as possible. Pay-for-performance policies will continue to be blocked as long as teachers’ unions have a stranglehold over politicians around the country.