Educator Pay in a Competency-Based System

August 6, 2012 by

Josh GriffithHow do we pay facilitators (teachers) in a Competency Based System?  This is a question that naturally arises when we begin to focus on a system designed around mastery rather than the time-based Carnegie unit.  Competency Based Education is going to become a reality and grow in support by educators.  When I first began thinking about this question I thought the answer was going to be simple, but after thinking more deeply I begin to find faults and issues with every payment plan I have been able to come up with.  I am hopeful someone else will be able to help me find better solutions.

I just recently finished reading Off the Clock by Fred Bramante and Rose Colby.  It is a great read that I highly recommend to anyone thinking about Competency Based Education or anyone wanting to stretch their educational philosophies.  In this book they bring up the issue of salary in a Competency Based Education System. There is a chance that if learning is completely personalized there will be facilitators who have more learners they are supporting than other facilitators, including, quite possibly learners from other schools.  Do we pay these facilitators on salary, by the hour, by how many learners they are working with, by learner completion of competencies, or some other way that I have not been able to think about yet?  Below, I outline my thoughts, questions, and concerns on each of these methods.

Number of Learners: Paying facilitators by the number of learners could be a nice compensation for the differences in work load.  Facilitators who are highly sought after by learners for their services would be honored with higher pay for their increase in demand.  There is a good chance that learners are seeking the services from this facilitator because of their ability to personalize the learning for them and make it relevant and achievable for them.  My concern begins when I begin to think about our natural tendencies to take the path of least resistance.  We all know that many learners will seek out the easier facilitators who are going to pass them through the competencies with lower expectations.

Is there a solution to this problem?  Can we require the signature or sign off by multiple facilitators to approve the completion of a competency?  I know some people will probably support an end of competency/course exam as a check and balances.  If this is the case I believe we need to be very careful in how we design these exams.  In my vision of Competency Based Education there are very few multiple-choice exams, as I don’t believe you are going to get any higher than the level of understanding from the Revised Blooms Taxonomy.  And, if we are going to require higher levels of thinking than understanding, than we are going to need assessments that are more rigorous than a multiple choice test can provide.  Who is going to score each of these to ensure facilitators are not lowering their standards, to get more learners, to pad their pockets with more money?  Do we need someone checking all of them, or just random samples to ensure consistency?

Learner Completion of Competencies: I can see how this would have some of the same issues paying facilitators by the number of learners they have acquired had.  Will facilitators pass learners just so they can earn a higher paycheck?  Is the solution to this problem the same as it would be for paying by the number of learners?

A second issue I see with this is that not all courses or areas of study have the same number of standards and benchmarks.  Does this mean that they also would not have the same number of competencies?  If not, is it fair to pay a math endorsed facilitator or english endorsed facilitator more money just because they have more competencies to support than a music or physical education endorsed facilitator for example?  Can a facilitator, no matter what their endorsement, support a learner in any competency and get paid for it?  Who then gets paid, the facilitator who supported, the one responsible for deciding whether they have met the competency or not, or both?  How do we monitor this or make these decisions?

A third potential issue with this, is that learners who struggle to complete competencies could possibly begin to be avoided and supported less, since facilitators will be paid less for their time with them.  That is a very scary thought for me as these are the learners who need the most support.

Hourly: How do we monitor this?  If learning is truly achieved any where, any pace, and at any time, then couldn’t facilitators be working anywhere and at any time.  How is this time monitored if a facilitator is supporting a learner somewhere other than the walls of a school?  How do we know facilitators are using their time effectively?  At this time, I do not see hourly pay as a reasonable plan of action.  It is too hard to monitor and prove.

Salary: This seems to be the least problematic, however it also has its issues. Educators are currently paid salary, and supplemented by hourly pay for a little of their time spent outside of contract time.  Salary is currently, in most places, decided by the number years you have been an educator, your highest degree, and the number of hours you have earned towards an advanced degree or for staff development.  Does this support facilitator effectiveness?  I don’t think so.  What if salary was decided by a number of factors that proved your effectiveness as a facilitator?  What would these factors be?  I believe some of these factors could include: evaluations (possibly by peers, learners, and administration), number of learners requesting services, number of competencies achieved by learners, and learner’s success/improved success on end of course exams/state level exams and/or other high stakes exams.  By looking at all of these things we should get a better view of the effectiveness of each facilitator and be able to pay them accordingly.

Who pays the salary of the facilitator if there are students from multiple schools requesting services?  Do we take a percentage of each learner’s state funded money and pay the facilitator with this?  Now, we are beginning to move away from salary and back to number of learners.  Are their any other factors we could be, or should be looking at?

It is clear that the issue of compensation is intertwined with assessment and accountability. Thus, my current opinion is that we stay with the current salary structure while we seek solutions to creating more flexibility in the system.  We need to stay focused on students – increasing access so that learners can request courses and the services of a facilitator from another school.

What are your thoughts, solutions, other potential ways to pay educators, or problems we need to be thinking about?  I ask that you either challenge my thinking, help me find better solutions to these problems, or validate my opinions.  Let’s work together to improve education for all of our children.

About the Author

Josh Griffith is principal at Middle/High School at Collins-Maxwell Community School District in Iowa. Josh started off his career as a math teacher where he taught high school mathematics at Hoover High School in Des Moines Iowa. According to Josh, “It was here that I began to experiment with proficiency based learning. It became clear to me that this was not enough and that the current system didn’t allow it to become what I wanted or felt students needed. Last year I completed my masters degree for educational leadership through Viterbo and I am now the principal of the Collins-Maxwell 6-12 building. I am passionate about personalized learning and creating a system that will support the needs of every individual within it. I am also a husband and father of two girls and enjoy every second I get with the three of them. I hope that I am able to create a working system of personalized learning in time for my two girls to experience the benefits of it.” You can read more from Josh here

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1 Comment »

  1. Comment by Chris Sturgis 8:52 pm, August 23, 2012

    On the webinar on Art and Science of Designing Competencies, Steve Kossakoski described the Virtual Learning Academies compensation policies. It made me realize that when we need to finetune our thinking… there are differences in competencies, courses and schools. Schools are much more than a place where courses are delivered or an academic skill is built. So maybe we need to think about this a bit differently and with a more holistic approach of the value of school in terms of its multiple functions — child/youth development, child care, public health, transfer of social capital? Others?

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