How do Opportunity Culture schools and districts create career paths that pay teachers more, within regular budgets—especially in a time of persistent teacher shortages as schools struggle to recruit and retain teachers?
K–12 spending increased significantly over the past decades, but the share of that spending for teachers dropped, keeping teacher pay flat—even as the job has grown more demanding. While policymakers consider whether to make greater investments to teacher base pay to better align it with other professions, schools can meanwhile rethink how they spend their existing dollars.
Over 10 years of experience with schools implementing Opportunity Culture models, Public Impact has honed strategies to help schools review their use of existing funds and identify reallocations of current budgets to increase pay for all teachers on Opportunity Culture Multi-Classroom Leader teams, creating career paths that let educators advance without leaving the classroom.
Schools can ensure that students have access to excellent teaching when they are taught by Multi-Classroom Leader (MCL) teaching teams. The MCL, teachers on the team who extend their reach to more students, and the paraprofessionals supporting them all earn more.
An MCL—a teacher with a record of high-growth student learning and leadership competencies—leads a small subject or grade teaching team, for much higher pay, within regular school budgets. MCLs continue to teach some portion of the time, in various ways. They lead lesson planning, data analysis, and instructional changes through coaching, co-teaching, modeling, and collaborating with their team teachers, and they lead the creation of a tutoring culture. They take accountability for the learning outcomes of all the students the team serves. The Multi-Classroom Leadership model creates a strong environment of support, collaboration, and on-the-job professional learning for teachers; this also provides districts with an internal leadership development pipeline.
To provide higher pay, reallocation is the key, versus looking for temporary pay boosts, such as grant funds.
Main Ways to Pay Teachers More
Here are two main ways schools using these roles can pay teachers more, within budget:
Repurpose a teaching vacancy: Schools can use the funding for a vacant teaching position to pay supplements to teachers extending their reach and to an advanced paraprofessional who supports the teaching team. This is one way that Opportunity Culture schools fund supplements to educators in the Multi-Classroom Leader, Team Reach Teacher, and Reach Associate roles. Along with higher pay, this reorganization of roles enables schedule changes that make the significant support and collaboration on the team possible. Note that while teachers may extend their reach to more students, the schedules and roles allow teachers to keep instructional group sizes in check.
Reallocate other flexible funding: This may include shifting some non-classroom teaching specialists back into classrooms in higher-paid reach roles (leaving in place all special education, English language learner, and family support specialists), local funding sources, Title I funds, or other sources.
Create Career Paths
Schools using MCL teams, and systems using the Multi-School Leader (MSL) role, in which school leaders lead small teams of principals, provide more support and career opportunities to aspiring teachers, paraprofessionals, teachers, and principals, while helping students learn more. MCLs and MSLs lead collaboratively, so each team member’s strengths help the whole team, and everyone learns together. Schedule changes give them school-day time to collaborate with, guide, and develop their teams.
Typical “career advancement” pushes teachers and principals into roles without much real authority, accountability, direct student impact, development opportunity, or permanent, large pay supplements.
In contrast, an Opportunity Culture implementation provides many opportunities connected to students and continued support for teachers and principals. As they advance in Opportunity Culture schools, teachers and principals reach more students, for more pay. MCL supplements have averaged approximately 20 percent of teacher pay, for example. Opportunity Culture roles let teachers use their instructional mastery while developing their teamwork and leadership skills, and let all teachers learn on the job. Principals learn to lead teacher-leaders with the support of colleagues and an MSL. Aspiring teachers and principals learn from the best on the job through paid residencies.
How Opportunity Culture Career Paths Benefit Students and Teachers
Research confirms that without excellent teaching consistently, students who start behind stay behind. Even hardworking teachers who achieve one full year of learning growth with their students each year leave achievement gaps intact. By providing all students with excellent teaching consistently—and getting student growth like that from teachers in today’s top 25 percent, who achieve well over one year of learning growth—schools can close gaps fast.
But with traditional school staffing plans, few students achieve enough growth to catch up and leap ahead. How can far more students have access to excellent teaching?
Recruit: Recruiting people with the potential to be great teachers is important, but the U.S. economy provides many career options—often for higher pay. Recruiting alone is not enough
Develop: Most teachers and principals today work alone. Excellent teachers rarely have the authority, time, or sustained, fair compensation to lead while teaching. Solid teachers have few chances to learn on the job from peers who produce higher-growth student learning and stronger critical thinking skills. Principals do not have enough time to lead and develop teachers in dozens of classrooms. To ensure that every student has access to excellent teaching consistently, districts must help excellent teachers and principals extend their reach to more students, primarily by leading small teams. These teams must have time to collaborate during school hours, so that teachers and principals learn to excel together—and help more students excel.
Retain: To retain more educators, districts and states must provide more collaboration and support for educators to excel at work—and more on-the-job development leading to higher-paid career advancement opportunities for more people.
With Opportunity Culture implementation, districts can address all three elements to benefit students, teachers, and principals.
Opportunity Culture Roles Create Impactful Teams
Research has shown that whole teams of teachers can achieve growth like or approaching that of the best teachers using MCL teams, which include the higher-paying Team Reach Teacher and Master Team Reach Teacher roles. These teachers reach more students directly, with the instructional support of advanced paraprofessionals in the Reach Associate role. Learn more about these roles here.
Having MCL and Team Reach roles enables:
- Easier scheduling of teacher collaboration
- Saving money for higher pay, when vacant positions are traded for extra paraprofessional support
- A paid career path for more teachers
- More instruction leading to high growth for students
- More student learning time through small-group teaching and tutoring.
Districts can reach more students and teachers with great leadership by providing excellent principals with the MSL role. MSLs earn more within their schools’ budgets, while developing other principals on the job. Everyone learns to lead better, together. MSLs are accountable for achieving high-growth learning in all their schools.
And aspiring teachers and principals can learn more and earn more in paid, full-year residencies when serving on MCL and MSL teams.
With these changes, collaboration and the pursuit of excellence become the norm in each school, day in and day out, and everyone improves—together. Students and educators benefit.