Nashville’s LEAD Public Schools Unveils An Innovative Teacher Compensation Model

LEAD Public Schools is a high performing, homegrown network of charter schools in Nashville serving predominantly low-income students of color. The network recently unveiled a new teacher compensation model aimed at supporting the network’s efforts to recruit and retain effective teachers. The compensation model is innovative and it deserves attention.

Some educators and policymakers believe, unfortunately, that the only way to incentivize effective teaching and reward teachers for their performance is to pay them based on students’ test scores. But basing teachers’ compensation in-part or in-whole based on students’ performance on standardized tests is only one way to reward teacher performance. LEAD has used the flexibility of Teneessee’s charter schools statute to incentivize teaching excellence without using students’ test scores. Instead, teachers at LEAD can earn up to a 10% raise in a single year based on their use of effective instructional practices. These are practices identified in Tennessee’s state rubric for teaching, TEAM-TN (Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model), used by all public school educators in Tennessee. The network’s leaders are confident that teachers’ continued learning and development, and their use of effective instructional practices will lead to increases in student learning. I think that’s a good bet.

As Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education, I advocated for such flexibility in state law for traditional public school districts to use innovative compensation policies and structures to attract, retain, and reward effective teachers. But that flexibility is often not welcomed by public education traditionalists who believe teachers’ pay should only be differentiated by their years of service and the degrees they hold. That thinking is not only flawed and outdated, but it is counterproductive to incentivizing teaching excellence. In any profession, professionals should be rewarded (and typically are rewarded) based on how well they do their jobs. A system that only rewards teachers for years of service and degrees, and does nothing to reward teaching excellence has not and will not lead to the improvement in instructional practice needed to improve student learning, particularly for our most underserved students.

As history has shown in American public education, if we continue with the same policies and practice that brought us slow to no improvement in learning for our most vulnerable students and widening gaps between their achievement and the achievement of their more privileged peers, we should fully expect to continue getting the same results. I am excited about LEAD’s innovative compensation model and I look forward to hearing about the impact it has on teachers’ professional practice, teacher compensation, and ultimately, student learning.

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