How new teaching merits higher pay

December 26, 2011 

— Our nation is plagued by a failing system of education. While there appear to be endless solutions, few are yielding substantial results. I'm ready to make a statement: Educational problems may be solved with economic solutions! Pay our most efficient teachers per pupil and then allow them the option to increase class sizes and/or the number of classes they teach.

We want to recruit, maintain and empower the finest teachers in order to offer the best possible education to all students. So first, let's get down to the basics: We need to pay great teachers more.

It's not a radical idea, or even a new idea, though it seems impossible given the current economic limitations. I'm not advocating new funding in order to pay teachers more. I am instead suggesting a reallocation of funds to support the most effective teachers who are willing and able to serve more students.

Basic technologies have created significant advancements in classroom efficiencies. The 21st century classroom looks quite different than classrooms of the past. Therefore, it is now possible for a teacher who has adopted more efficient teaching practices to take on more students while offering high-quality, personalized instruction.

One of these newer practices is "flipping" the classroom. In a "flipped" classroom traditional lecture is removed from class and instead, the teacher uses video lectures that can be viewed by students at any time and as many times as needed. This frees up class time that can be used for collaboration, active learning and creative problem solving.

Katie Gimbar, a math teacher at Durant Road Middle School in Raleigh, "flipped" her math classes with a new approach called FIZZ, which mandates that the video be created by the teacher (see www.fi.ncsu.edu/fizz">www.fi.ncsu.edu/fizz). Research suggests that teacher-created videos offer the best possible opportunity for students to connect with the content in order to achieve academic success.

Therefore, Gimbar made a video for each one of her lectures and has the students watch that content for homework. She is now leading classes as large as 37 students the 21st century way: self-paced, personalized and highly collaborative.

Every day her students use this newly "created" class time to work together creating, publishing, and discussing new projects and ideas. Students in her class are grouped by skill level and are guided through collaborative learning activities by their teacher, who has essentially become a classroom facilitator.

Interestingly, all Gimbar can see are the possibilities to expand - that is, to offer this personalized, high-quality education to even more students. FIZZ was initially intended as a method that could free up class time, allowing teachers to conduct more engaging, high-level activities. However, teachers like Gimbar are showing that FIZZ can transform teaching and learning. "Flipping" the classroom with FIZZ can change the economic structure of education in this country.

Let's allow a capable and willing teacher who has "flipped" his or her classroom to increase class sizes and teach more classes. The solution to the education problem becomes fewer core area teachers, each with more students - reallocating the salaries of a few traditional teaching positions toward the teachers who are willing and able to serve additional students.

This is a simple and fair merit pay solution. Let the most efficient and effective core teachers receive higher salaries for taking on the additional workload by paying them on a per pupil basis. For example:

Salary of a teacher with Gimbar's level of education and years of service

- Teaches four classes a day and has two planning periods

- Has 115 students

- Averages 29 students per class

- Makes $360 per pupil, at a salary of $41,404

A possible salary for a teacher with Gimbar's level of education and years of service

- Teaches six classes a day with no planning periods

- Has 192 students

- Averages 32 students per class

- Makes $360 per pupil, at a salary of $69,120

This is not a silver bullet solution nor will this option be possible without a shift in the classroom paradigm where teachers are working smarter, not harder. The foundation of this shift relies on teachers adopting efficient teaching practices like "flipping" the classroom. This practice opens up class time and allows teachers the best possible opportunity to reach more students. If the classroom can be radically altered for more personalized instruction and success with larger class sizes, the benefit to teachers should be increased pay.

Lodge McCammon is a curriculum and contemporary media specialist at N.C. State University.

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