"Teachers aren't in it for the money." It's one of our society's favorite refrains, and one that shuts down most attempts to talk about teacher salaries. But at a time when education is a more critical gateway to success than ever before, we need to continue the conversation. Even though nobody goes into teaching to get rich, compensation is one of the most important factors determining who enters the profession and how long they stay.
In other words, money matters—a lot. And the hard truth is that the way we pay teachers in this country is shortchanging our very best teachers and holding back our schools, our students and the teaching profession. Nearly 90 percent of all school districts in America use a lockstep approach to teacher pay that completely ignores job performance. Under this system, teachers typically earn raises for two reasons only: notching an additional year of experience, or earning an advanced degree. They can't earn more for being exceptionally successful at helping students learn—and, in fact, top teachers routinely earn less than teachers who perform less effectively in the classroom. Most people would find it insane that any profession would determine pay without regard for job performance, let alone a field as important as teaching. But defying common sense is just the beginning of the story. Lockstep teacher pay makes it harder for schools to fulfill what everyone agrees is their most important responsibility: giving students the best education possible.