In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Single-Salary Schedule

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Origins of the Single-Salary Schedule
  • Need for Additional Research on Alternatives to Single-Salary Schedule

Education Single-Salary Schedule
Peter Witham
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0032


The single-salary schedule has become a nearly universal feature of public school teachers. In a single-salary schedule, often referred to as a step-and-lane schedule, rows indicate a teacher’s experience and the columns indicate the levels of graduate coursework completed or degrees obtained. Within a single-salary schedule, as teachers gain years of experience, they advance down the rows of the schedule, receiving pay increases at each “step”; as they gain education, they advance across the schedule’s columns, shifting pay upward to reward attainment of a master’s degree or some other accumulation of credit. The single-salary schedule has received a great deal of criticism in the past two decades due to the lack of sensitivity to measures of teacher effectiveness and teaching in the highest-need schools and subject areas. Recent advancements in measuring teacher effectiveness have led to increased interest in alternatives to the single-salary schedule. The most popular alternative has been supplementing or replacing the single-salary schedule with performance incentives. The relatively small number of State Education Agencies (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) experimenting with Performance-Based Compensation systems are utilizing additional measures of teacher effectiveness to pay teachers. These new approaches to paying teachers are often met with resistance, as there is lack of uniform agreement on the validity and reliability of the instruments used to measure teacher effectiveness. It is certain that there will continue to be a great deal of debate about the best alternative to the single-salary schedule. One thing that academics, policymakers, and educational stakeholders agree on is that there is a need for more rigorous research on the impact of the single-salary schedule relative to alternatives such as performance incentives based on multiple measures of teacher performance.

General Overviews

As Kershaw and McKean 1962 illustrates in a general overview of the origin of teacher compensation, during the 20th century the single-salary schedule became (and continues to be) a nearly universal feature of public education. In this work, the authors trace the origin and evolution of the single-salary schedule. Both Podgursky and Springer 2007 and Ballou and Podgursky 2002 provide a general overview of how this standard practice of compensating teachers has been challenged by the current reform environment, which seeks to hold schools and teachers accountable for their impact on students. This accountability environment questions the single-salary schedule because it does not measure teacher effectiveness and teaching in the highest-need schools and subject areas. Parallel to this shift toward accountability, advancements in measuring teacher effectiveness have led to the question of whether teachers should be compensated based (at least partially) on measures of their effectiveness. Podgursky and Springer 2007 also discusses how the most popular alternative has been supplementing or replacing the single-salary schedule with performance incentives.

  • Ballou, D., and M. Podgursky. 2002. Returns to seniority among U.S. public school teachers. Journal of Human Resources 37.4: 892–912.

    DOI: 10.2307/3069620

    This article discusses how the single-salary schedule in the field of education has been challenged and how it is being supplemented or replaced.

  • Kershaw, J. A., and R. N. McKean. 1962. Teacher shortages and salary schedules. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    This book analyzes the relationship between teacher shortages and salary schedules in the public schools. It shows that the problem facing the schools is not so much a shortage in the total numbers of teachers available as it is shortages of well-qualified teachers in specific subject-matter areas

  • Podgursky, M. J., and M. G. Springer. 2007. Teacher performance pay: A review. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 26.4: 909–950.

    DOI: 10.1002/pam.20292

    This article provides a description of both historical and current research on performance–pay systems in the field of education.

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