Teacher pay has been a hot topic in North Carolina for a few years now. It will continue to be a critical topic of debate as Governor Roy Cooper renewed his call for North Carolina teacher pay to increase to the national average (as he did in 2017).
Do unconditional large-scale, across-the-board pay increases for public-sector employees positively affect performance in the aggregate? That critical question gets lost in these debates regarding teacher pay.
The upcoming issue of The Quarterly Journal of Economics has an article that sheds more light on this topic. The article is entitled, “Double for Nothing? Experimental Evidence on an Unconditional Teacher Salary Increase in Indonesia.”[i]
The article covers a three-year study of the effects of this pay increase.
What did Indonesia do?
According to a Research Brief on the article, the Republic of Indonesia enacted a policy change that “permanently doubled the base pay of eligible civil-service teachers who went through a certification process. The reform moved teacher salaries from the 50th to the 90th percentile of the college-graduate salary distribution.”
The certification was phased in over ten years – from 2006 to 2015.
However, for the study, teachers at 120 randomly selected schools were given immediate access to the certification and, thereby, increased pay.
How were teachers affected?
Not surprisingly, teachers were happy with the policy. Teachers in the program had higher pay, were more likely to be satisfied with their pay and have less financial stress.
In other words, they reacted no differently than any other person who would have received a 100 percent pay increase.
How were school and student performance affected?
There was no significant change or improvement.
From the Research Brief:
Yet despite this improvement in incumbent teachers’ pay, satisfaction, and time available to focus on their main job (owing to a reduction in second jobs), the policy did not improve either teachers’ effort or student learning. Teachers in treated schools did not score better on tests of teacher subject knowledge, and we find no consistent pattern of impact on self-reported measures of teacher attendance. Most importantly, we find no difference in student test scores in language, mathematics, or science across treatment and control schools.
What is the takeaway?
The authors of the study are careful to say (and correctly so), “Our results do not imply that salary increases for public employees would have no positive impacts on service delivery in the long run through extensive-margin impacts. Rather, our results contribute to a more informed discussion on the cost-effectiveness of such a policy.”
And that is the key-term – cost-effectiveness.
We should not construe this study – and I am not arguing – to say that there is no justification for teacher pay increases. Instead, this study calls into question the utility of across-the-board teacher pay increases, due to the overall cost and educational results.
Effective teachers are critical to the future of our state. However, groups that allegedly represent teachers (such as the NCAE) only speak of teacher pay in an all-or-nothing fashion. Consistently the debate turns to across-the-board pay increases or nothing.
The problem is, concerning educational outcomes, that is precisely what Indonesia received for doubling teacher salaries unconditionally. Nothing.
It is time for lawmakers and stakeholders in the public education community of North Carolina to stop acting as if all teachers create equal value. No other industry in North Carolina works that way. Truthfully, it does a disservice to the thousands of high-performing teachers that work so hard for our children.
The discussion should be about how North Carolina can pay high-performing teachers more and incentivize all teachers in performance. Admittedly, there is not an easy answer. However, a blanket pay increase (no matter how badly the NCAE and Governor Cooper want it) is not going to improve public education in North Carolina. Lawmakers should take the lesson from this study.
Increased cost for nothing is a bad deal for North Carolina taxpayers. If public education is an investment, as progressives often say, then it’s fair to question what the return is for increasing teacher pay across the board.
Yes, some teachers should receive higher pay. But pay should be based on the value teachers bring to their classrooms; not merely because they are a member of a group. The teacher salary schedule and its penchant for doling out a pay raise based on time rather than performance is the real enemy of good teachers everywhere.
[i] Authors of the article/study are Joppe de Ree (World Bank), Karthik Muralidharan (University of California, San Diego), Menno Pradhan (University of Amsterdam), and Halsey Rogers (World Bank)