The Cost of Job Security (Design Principle #7)

In my last blog, I wrote about a “culture of essentialness,” which is part of our design principle #7.The other half of that design principle is a culture that embraces accountability for improvement and outcomes. Unfortunately, our profession continues to move away from accountability. The “A-word” is associated with an unhealthy focus on student achievement or an environment that does not agree with an everybody-gets-a-trophy and at-least-we-tried culture. But accountability does not have to be heavy-handed nor unfair. Indeed, the degree of accountability should be accompanied by a similar or greater degree of support.

Accountability without support only breeds a culture of fear.

At the same time, the absence of accountability for performance outcomes almost always results in underperformance and other systemic dysfunctions such as the growth of meaningless reports and bureaucratic processes as leaders replace accountability for outcomes with some semblance of accountability for processes.

Perhaps the most consequential result of education’s unwillingness to hold leaders and teachers accountable for results is the chronically low salaries tied to a terribly ineffective salary schedule. In the absence of accountability, though, maybe teacher salaries are where they need to be. You see, there is a cost for job security and low accountability. The following excerpt from the TFS teacher evaluation system concept paper illustrates these tradeoffs.[1]

In public education, there are four basic compensation plans that reflect different aspects of an employee/district value proposition: the traditional teacher salary schedule, an incentive pay system, a pay-for-performance plan, and the “hospital model” (a highly differentiated compensation plan based on the content discipline and skill set required). The benefits and challenges of each system are broadly outlined on pages 38 through 40. Fundamentally, though, each compensation plan varies distinctly from the others in three main respects:

1. The degree of accountability the system requires.

2. The degree to which desired results and outcomes are rewarded.

3. The amount of job security employees enjoy.

The key variables for the employee/district value proposition then become the degree of accountability for outcomes, the likelihood of keeping one’s job, and the amount of compensation. At the risk of oversimplifying, the value proposition for both the employee and the organization would be more aligned or “fair” if greater accountability for outcomes were matched with greater compensation. While few would argue with the last sentence, many would argue against its natural pair (the other side of the coin): employees whom the system holds less accountable should be paid less than those who are held more accountable. The diagram below reflects this relationship between accountability and compensation.

Similarly, if the organization values student achievement and the quality of instruction, it should select a compensation plan that supports these goals. Thus, a fair compensation plan would be one in which the system pays for the clearly defined and measurable outcomes it wants. From the organization’s perspective, it would not be fair to pay employees well if they could not get the results the organization needs to be successful. The greater the contribution to performance outcomes, the greater should be the compensation.

Finally, both the Network and the employees should be honest and transparent about the “price” of “tenure” or job security. The cost to the Network is the risk of continuing to pay employees well who do not achieve what the organization values – its performance metrics. Given what we know about public education, the risk is unlikely to be negligible, and there is a cost to the Network associated with that risk.

On the employee side, job security and the “reward” of tenure are things of value. Many teachers prefer the traditional salary schedule because it is more predictable and less risky. To be fair, job security and the peace of mind that comes with it, should not be treated as valueless. In other words, a fair value proposition would balance compensation and job security: the less the job security, the greater the compensation.

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