Faculty Salary Systems: Rapid and Systematic Changes in Schools Worldwide

The Professional Growth "Trap"
August 1, 2015
Performance Pay Can Work In Independent Schools
August 1, 2015
Show all

Faculty Salary Systems: Rapid and Systematic Changes in Schools Worldwide

State schools, public schools, independent schools and international schools throughout the world are studying and undertaking dramatic changes in teacher salary systems and structures. These changes, once unthinkable in collective bargaining systems, are “catching on” as both teachers and schools seek greater flexibility and predictability in future earning power.

Teachers are not risk takers. They are caregivers. Many do not know exactly what salary they make, and often are unfamiliar with their benefit packages and retirement assets. This is not a criticism. It is a fact and bespeaks the commitment that teachers have in a calling to work with children.

However, teachers have a strong drive to have absolute predictability of future earning power so they do not have to think about it. In interviewing over 25,000 teachers confidentially in the past ten years on the subject of salaries and salary systems in schools, Littleford & Associates has found that teachers want to know what their increases will be in each year as far into the future as possible.

Common Salary Systems and their Pitfalls

    1. Negotiated Salaries

Fifty percent of all independent schools in the US still have traditional “negotiated” salaries for teachers upon entry and in setting salary changes each year. In other countries worldwide, the percentage of schools using “negotiated” salaries is about ten percent. These schools (and their heads) are mostly still happy with, and committed to this flexibility. That commitment begins to flag as a long- term, trusted head is about to leave. Then all bets are off.

The traditional approach can lead to unintended bias, favoritism, and age and sex discrimination in the allocation of salaries to teachers over the long term. Many heads have unpublished “scales” or guidelines in their desk drawers. Even these efforts to keep unfairness and bias from entering the salary deliberations may fail over time.

New hires may demand, expect and receive salaries higher than long-term teachers who have served in the trenches. Once this word gets out, serious morale problems can follow.

    1. Salary Scales

Thirty percent of independent schools in the US have lock step, “lane and track” salary scales similar to the public schools, and based on years of experience and advanced degrees. Approximately eighty percent of independent schools outside of the US use these lock step scales.

Abandoning totally the thought of making individual value judgments about a teacher’s classroom teaching quality, some heads have moved to lock step scales. The teachers often assume that all teachers at the school are “good”, and any poor teachers would be asked to leave. Of course, that is not the case, as most schools lack the tools, and knowledge to create, and adhere to effective, honest and consistent teacher evaluation programs.

Salary scales are inevitably undermined, as both teachers and administration seek to skirt the system to meet market realities. Furthermore, schools with lock step salary systems always find themselves confronted with the second, major goal of teachers: the ability to INFLUENCE one’s own future earnings.

Once a lock step scale is in place, a teacher only advances either by “not dying” or by going up a step on the scale each year until the scale tops out. Today, most scales bring teachers to the top quickly and then create frustration by “freezing” salaries on the top step, usually step 11, 12, 13, or 14. Schools are now recognizing long-standing salary systems research that demonstrates that beyond the first five years, there is no correlation between longevity of teaching and effective teaching.

So how do teachers and administrators “break” the scale, thereby attempting to influence their future earnings?

    1. Promotion due to earning an advanced degree or graduate credits within systems that provide columns, and thus, salary shifts, for earning graduate credits up to 120 credits. These automatic salary shifts require no administrative judgment and serve as a good public relations tool.

Known research has shown that there is no correlation between advanced degrees and effective teaching. Does a teacher with an MA degree deserve up to $4,000-$8,000 more per year (in some schools) than a BA teacher, without regard to evaluation of performance in the classroom?

  1. Promotion through “stipends” or extracurricular pay for everything from coaching to chaperoning dances to writing letters of recommendation. “Positions of responsibility” or stipend pay is the primary vehicle allowing teachers in international schools to circumvent the scales.
  2. Jumping steps on the scale, or reinterpreting a teacher’s background and experience to raise initial placement on the salary scale.
  3. Tutoring, a non “system” that can become an insidious, recognized and very Lucrative way for teachers to earn more money, even if not directly tutoring students in their own classes.

The Range or Career Ladder Concept – The Trend Worldwide

Given the liabilities and challenges of both traditional salary negotiations, and the rigidity of salary scales, it is no wonder that a new system had to be developed.

The “range”, “band” or “career ladder’ concept was the result. Versions are now in place in twenty percent of all US independent schools and many school systems around the world. Littleford and Associates has observed a clear trend worldwide in state and private schools to examine, and move toward some type of “range system” or “career ladder.”

Why? “Ranges” or “career ladders” provide a combination of the predictability of future earning power that teachers crave while at the same time provide schools with the flexibility to reward those who make the greatest contributions to teaching quality, school life and workload.

Schools that already have rigid scales find changing to a “range” the most difficult. Schools with traditional flexibility in the head’s ability to set salary decisions find moving to a career ladder an easier task. The concept, however, is adaptable and feasible in most settings.

Specifically, how may such a system work?

    1. Conceptually, the school sets either several “bands” or “ladders” through which, AND across which a teacher may move, based on qualities other than simple longevity and advanced degrees. Those other traits include: quality of classroom instruction; workload; relationships with parents; counseling and advising students; mentoring fellow teachers; demonstrating leadership skills; innovating curriculum; and seeking professional growth, among others.

The career ladder is analogous to the college categories of instructor, assistant professor, associate professor and full professor. In the school context, these are often: teacher, experienced teacher, senior teacher and faculty leader. “Master Teacher” systems have fallen out of favor because within a short period, all teachers became master teachers, thus bankrupting the system and eviscerating any meaning or distinction to the term.

Range, band or career ladder systems also presuppose some limits on how many teachers or what percentage would be in any category at any point in time.

  1. A “range” approach may involve a minimum and maximum salary at each experience level, and/or a midpoint within the range. Others set a minimum, but no maximum, allowing merit (no longer a dirty word) to influence upper placement levels. . Bonus salary programs CAN and DO operate in concert with range, band and career ladder salary systems. Many school have both career ladders AND annual merit pay bonus payments, not added to base salary, that occur within the same salary system as less frequent career ladder shifts. Career ladder shifts can involve a substantial hike in base pay.
  2. All range and career ladder systems assume judgment of some sort, and that requires an effective and trusted teacher evaluation process (as opposed to “peer coaching” or “portfolio evaluation”)

In summary, schools with established career ladders have found over time that teachers and administration are pleased with BOTH the predictability of future earning power and known rules of HOW to influence future earning power.

The Compensation Philosophy

All salary systems must be reviewed periodically. Schools make a big mistake when they adhere to a salary system long-term after it may no longer meet the needs of the particular faculty then in place. Some salary systems were designed initially for a very senior faculty, but as they retire, the group remaining may no longer be motivated by, or support the old salary structure.

Thus, the goal should be to have a logical and cohesive philosophy to any salary system and to review it. A realistic philosophy is NOT to be in “the top 10% of NAIS schools locally, regionally or nationally.” If every school has that goal (and many do), the goal is not sustainable, as the goalposts keep shifting.

For example, for young and mid-career teachers, cash salaries are important. Other schools may strive to provide a package of tuition remission, housing and family medical coverage superior to that of the competition. Has your school developed a salary system based upon what TYPE of teachers a school is trying to attract and hold, and what quality of living it believes its salary system and benefit package can provide?

The objective must be to have an intellectual dialogue among teachers, board and administration about effective and appropriate models of compensation and benefit systems now in place. From that overview, the local players can determine what, if any, changes may be desired in a compensation review process.

John Littleford
Senior Partner