A successful incentive-pay program designed by teachers and administrators works in one school district. Ladue School District in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, has 50 years of experience with merit pay. Research has shown that although merit pay does not have an appreciable effect on the way teachers teach, pay incentives do affect recruitment, retention and attendance.
Teachers cite low pay as one of the major reasons for leaving teaching. Most merit-pay plans fail because of difficulties in evaluating personnel, teacher and union opposition, poor morale, staff dissension and competition, changes in leadership and philosophy, collective bargaining and revenue shortfalls. Ladue is a small district of 3,200 students.
Residents of the community report that they place a high value on teacher quality. Many parents are college graduates. The district’s achievement scores are among the highest in the state measured by the Missouri Assessment programs, and more than 90 percent of high school graduates attend college.
Established in 1953, the district’s evaluation and salary program sought to improve instruction in an atmosphere of cooperation, respect and trust. It addressed problems of low salaries, faculty retention, teacher quality, morale and the absence of a recognition-and-reward system. The longevity of the incentive-pay program is attributed to the role played by teachers in designing, revising and monitoring the program. The original committee was composed of six teachers and four administrators, and a teacher survey was used to develop evaluation criteria. These criteria have been revised over the years to reflect changing concerns and circumstances.
In 2001, 79.17 percent of district teachers said the evaluation and salary program provided an incentive to them to improve their teaching. Retention is high; since 1993 an average of 4.86 percent of teachers left the district for reasons other than retirement. It should be noted that Ladue has many other reasons for teacher retention: low student-teacher ratio, high per-pupil expenditure, and benefits such as tuition reimbursement.
“Compensation and Teacher Retention: A Success Story,” Educational Leadership, Volume 60, Number 8, May 2003, pp. 40-47.
Published in ERN September 2003 Volume 16 Number 6