Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Attack Teacher Pay At Your Children's Peril

High on the Ed Deformers agenda is the slashing of teacher pay. Bill Gates recently advised the Council of Chief State School Officers to eliminate seniority and tenure and called for an end to giving teachers extra money for master's degrees. Arne Duncan has done likewise.

A recent post on the Shanker Blog, Attention to Pay, discusses how the arguments against the teacher salary system are deceptive and obscure the actual relationship between remuneration and teacher quality. First, teacher pay is NOT based on education and experience (though our raises are). There are sharp distinctions between districts in salary schedules, with poorer districts paying much less than affluent districts for teachers with the same experience. This is an important point because poorer districts tend to lose teachers to more affluent districts. As a result, they have higher rates of teachers who are teaching out of their content areas or without proper credentials. In contrast, there is ample evidence that higher salaries increase teacher retention.

Another falsehood promulgated by the ed deformers, particularly by Bill Gates, is the notion that seniority-based raises are bankrupting school districts. Teachers’ salaries do tend to take up a huge chunk of districts’ budgets, as much as 40-60% in some districts, and older teachers with more seniority tend to cost their districts more than younger, less experienced teachers who come in at the bottom of the pay scale. However, the main source of increasing school expenditures is hiring more teachers, (as a result of increased enrollments, class size reduction,  and other factors), not high numbers of senior level teachers earning top of the scale salaries. In reality, teacher salaries have remained flat for the past 15 years and have been losing ground to those of other professions. According to the article, in 2008, the average starting salary of a college graduate was $49,624, while the average for first-year public school teachers was $38,160. As the maxim goes, people do not become teachers to become rich (or even to earn what they’re worth). Those who go into the teaching profession sacrifice better pay and usually better working conditions to do so.

A final argument made by the Ed Deformers is that the best way to attract the highest quality new teachers is to base pay on performance, not seniority or education. First, there is no evidence to back this up. It is merely wishful thinking, or, perhaps more accurately put, a scam to garner public support for a system that will drastically erode teacher compensation and drive many out of the profession entirely. Student test scores are influenced most significantly by their socioeconomic background, not teacher quality. As a result, under a merit pay system, teachers who teach in low income schools will end up getting the lowest pay, which will drive them into the wealthier and higher performing schools, or into other occupations entirely, rather than retaining them in the less affluent schools that are the most in need of quality teachers.

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