The Iowa Department of Education is proposing a new pay structure for teachers that rewards mentoring and leadership as opposed to seniority as one of the ways the state will reform the education system. The current pay system, started nearly 100 years ago, rewards Iowa teachers for longevity and taking additional college credits.

But the Education Department director, Jason Glass, says neither are a particularly good measure of quality. “It causes us to underpay teachers early in their careers so we have a hard time attracting talent we have a hard time keeping people in the field, Glass says, “It also causes shortages in math, science, special education areas because we’re not being reactive to the teacher labor market.”

Glass proposes raising the base pay for beginning teachers from $28,000 to $40,000. Then instituting a four tier system that pays more for mentoring, earning an advanced degree, or innovative classroom work. He says teachers would be judged by a committee of their peers and administrators.

Glass also wants to do away with the process where the youngest teachers are the first to go in layoffs. Glass says the current salary structure was designed in the 1920’s to avoid favoritism. But he says the protections for experienced teachers have had unintended consequences.

“When you use a last in first out layoff procedure that targets the least experienced teachers what you end up with because of that issue of more experienced teachers tend to gravitate to more affluent schools you end up laying off teachers in your higher poverty schools,” Glass says.

The director says layoffs should be based on performance not pure seniority. However he says that does not mean judging teachers solely on student test scores. He says “cash for test score schemes have a terrible research record for success.” Glass says educators have proven that they “don’t respond to those schemes” and he says that is not what they are advocating for in Iowa’s system.

The change in teacher pay is one of a series of reforms being discussed that also include exit exams for high school students and creating additional charter schools. Glass met with reporters to discuss some of the proposals as they prepare to unveil a broader education reform package next month.