Former Superintendent Guthrie proposal: Pay best teachers $200,000 a year

  • Monday, April 29, 2013

LAS VEGAS — Paying unusually effective teachers $200,000 a year will transform the teaching profession in Nevada by attracting more top-level talent to the classroom. That’s the bold idea spelled out by former Nevada Superintendent Dr. James W. Guthrie in a new Nevada Policy Research Institute report. Guthrie was Nevada’s first appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The study, entitled The $200,000-a-Year Classroom Teacher: A New Paradigm to Rescue Nevada Public Education, details how to create — and dramatically reward — a new cadre of high-performing teachers.

“For far too long public education in Nevada has been stuck in a downward spiral,” said Guthrie. “Nevada’s education system needs a dramatic change to shake the system loose and displace entrenched special-interest groups.”

“Because teachers are rewarded for their longevity and academic credits, instead of their effectiveness, many of America’s most talented college graduates bypass teaching for professions that recognize and reward results. Offering top teachers the opportunity to earn $200,000 a year would change that paradigm and lead the cream of America’s academic crop to consider teaching in Nevada.”

Guthrie noted that identifying teachers who would be eligible to apply to become Master Teachers hinges on Nevada adding a value-added system for student and teacher assessment at a low annual cost of $3.75 per year per student. The best value-added modeling systems, while adjusting for differences in students’ backgrounds and prior performance, reveal how much academic value a teacher adds and thus help identify exceptionally effective educators.

Teachers who score in the top 10 percent would be eligible to apply to become Master Teachers, under Guthrie’s proposal. Qualifiers would also agree to remain as classroom instructors, work on a contract of 44 weeks a year, hold Master Teacher contracts only for a year or two at a time with renewable status, and have their students’ value-added test scores routinely reviewed in order to justify that they are among the highest performing 10 percent of Nevada’s teachers.

Most importantly, Master Teachers must agree to instruct at schools determined to be most in need of their services.

“With increased compensation must come increased responsibility and accountability,” said Guthrie. “There’s no lifetime tenure with the Master Teacher program. If a Master Teacher does not continue to meet these stringent criteria, he or she must not continue to be rewarded at the higher compensation level.”

Guthrie estimated that while the program could cost Nevada as much as $200 million a year, it could be funded on a revenue-neutral basis by redirecting spending that currently goes into programs of questionable consequence, such as class-size reduction.

“The evidence is perfectly clear,” he said. “Teacher quality is the most important factor in student achievement. An excellent teacher can add 18 months of learning in a year to a student, while a poor teacher adds only six months.

“In contrast, across-the-board class-size reduction is a waste of limited resources. Even the liberal Center for American Progress notes in The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction that states waste billions of dollars ‘by pursuing across-the-board reductions in class size.’

“Many legislators disregard evidence on class size to the detriment of tens of thousands of Nevada’s students. Disregarding factors that actually increase student achievement is a tragedy that disproportionally harms Nevada’s poorest and most vulnerable students.

“The $200,000-a-year classroom teacher proposal puts the focus and taxpayers’ limited resources into what matters most — high-quality teachers.”

NPRI President Andy Matthews praised the study, saying, “The current system of public education isn’t working, and to be transformed, it needs bold ideas like Dr. Guthrie’s call for a $200,000-a-year classroom teacher.

“Unlike Nevada’s current education system, which blindly funds salary increases across the pay scale, this proposal rewards the best, inspires the rest and instills accountability.”

The full study, The $200,000-a-Year Classroom Teacher: A New Paradigm to Rescue Nevada Public Education, is available at