Tag Archives: Teacher Pay

All Teachers Are Not Underpaid

A recent Brookings analysis makes the assertion that American teachers are underpaid. That blanket assertion, however, is untrue.

The Brookings analysis compares teacher pay in the United States to teacher pay in other OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations. The truth uncovered by the analysis is that compared to other OECD nations, American teachers, on average, are paid less than teachers in other nations. The author makes pointed comparisons to Finland, whose teacher pay is still less than the OECD average, but significantly higher than the U.S.

But before you join in singing the sad song of the poor, underpaid teachers, consider the following:

  • To put the international pay comparisons into context, comparing teachers from nation to nation is not comparing apples to apples. For example, as noted by the Brookings author, the teaching profession in Finland is much more prestigious than in the United States. That additional prestige factor in Finland contributes to a dynamic where college education majors are among the most highly academically capable students in higher education. In fact, the teaching profession is so prestigious in Finland that competetion for teacher education slots leaves even highly capable applicants on the outside looking in. Compare that now to the reality in the United States, where those accepted into teacher preparation programs across the country (including in my home state of Kentucky) post some of the weaker academic credentials of undergraduate students. There is no scenario in the United States where highly academically capable students can’t break into the teaching profession. While, of course, some of our teachers and students training to be teachers are among the academically brightest of their classes, that unfortunately is not the norm. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear from college education major or those considering an education degree, that they are considering or have selected teaching as a career path because their first and/or second choices proved to be too academically rigorous.
  • Second, consider that in the U.S., there is tremendous variation in what teachers are paid; variation that a mean or median national salary wouldn’t account for. Within the same state (Kentucky), a beginning certied teacher with a bachelors degree and no experience earns a 9-month base salary of $35,493 in Carlisle County Schools, and $41,756 in Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisville); that’s a difference of $6,293 a year. The difference is even more stark for later career teachers. A certified teacher with 20 years of experience and a doctorate would earn $55,290 a year in Carlisle County, but would earn a 9-month base salary of $83,199 in Jefferson County; that’s a difference of $27,909 a year. That difference in salaries highlights just how problematic it is to say that all teachers in the U.S., or even all teachers in Kentucky, are underpaid.
  • Further, consider that teacher pay in most U.S. schools is still based completely on teachers’ education and years of experience; not their effectiveness. Teachers unions in the U.S. have been incredibly resistant to reforms that would differentiate teachers’ pay based on effectiveness and/or their students’ performance. Teachers unions have consistently argued that teachers should earn the same amount in a school district regardless of what they teach and how effective they are. They contend that only teachers’ level of education and years of experience should be considered in setting teachers’ pay.

The Brookings analysis author makes the observation that increasing teacher pay could result in the profession becoming more attractive to persons who would not have otherwise considered teaching as a profession. I agree. But I completely reject the idea that there should be any across the board increases to teacher pay without reform in the areas I have highlighted here.

Should We Pay Teachers More? Let the Market Decide

“Teachers don’t make enough money.” It’s a refrain we’ve all heard over the years. In fact it’s a song that’s been sung so often that few people question its truth. The truth is the song is partly true, and partly false. It is certainly true that we do not pay some of our teachers nearly what they are worth. It is also true, however, that we pay some of our teachers entirely too much.

Salaries for the vast majority of public school teachers in the U.S. are determined based on salary schedules. Salary schedules are not incredibly complex. [Click here to access the the most recent version of the teacher salary schedule in Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisville).] A teacher can identify how much she will earn by locating her years of teaching experience and her education level. For example, in Jefferson County, KY, a teacher with zero years of work experience and a bachelor’s degree (Rank III, Kentucky) will earn an annual salary $41, 767.35. A teacher in Jefferson County with 10 years of experience, a master’s degree, and an additional 30 credit hours of coursework (Rank I, Kentucky) will earn an annual salary of $65,008.03.  That same teachers with 10 years of experience would earn $67,446.26 if she had a doctoral degree.

With a salary schedule, a teacher knows exactly how much she is going to earn in annual salary based solely on how long she has taught and how much education she has; there is no consideration of what she teaches, the demand for teachers in her area of specialization, the scarcity of teachers in her geographic or content area, or how effective she has been in the classroom. So a teacher with 10 years of experience and a masters degree who is highly effective and teaches AP physics in a school district where there are only two physics teachers, earns the same salary as another teacher in the district with 10 years of experience and a masters degree who is minimally effective and teaches family and consumer sciences, a content area where there is no shortage of teachers.

I propose paying teachers what the market says they are worth. In my estimation, a teacher who is highly effective has a higher market rate than an teacher who is mediocre or minimally effective . A teacher who teaches in a highly specialized content area where it’s difficult to find teachers ought to be paid a premium. A teacher who teaches in a hard-to-staff geographic or content area, or in a school district where it is difficult to attract and retain high quality teachers ought to be paid a premium. The truth is there is enough money in public education to pay highly effective teachers a much more competitive salary. There is not enough money, however, to pay all teachers a premium, regardless of what they teach and how effective they are.

Further, the idea of paying a teacher more or less based solely on their years of experience and education level is outdated. Seriously reconsidering teacher pay can be quite helpful in our quest to attract and retain the absolute best and brightest to the teaching profession.

Teaching Today: Change is Afoot

DSC00329Teaching today is a much different profession than it was 30 years ago. Truthfully, it is significantly different from what it was nearly 15 years ago when I became a teacher. And the profession is likely to change even more in the next five to ten years. While some veteran teachers argue that many of the current changes to teaching are unspeakable, I am convinced that much of the reform to teaching is for the best (best for children, that is). Here are just a few areas where the teaching profession today and moving forward is significantly different from what it was just a generation ago.

  • Job Security Fewer teachers today, and most likely even future teachers going forward, will enjoy the degree of job security that teachers in previous eras enjoyed. A high degree of job security has certainly made teaching attractive for some. The reality of the profession has been that regardless of whether a teacher is effective, he can usually manage to find and keep a teaching job somewhere (often teaching our most vulnerable children). That era, however, is coming to an end. For many teachers today and most teachers tomorrow, job security will be dependent on their effectiveness. Teachers who cannot demonstrate their effectiveness, through their students’ performance on standardized examinations, will find themselves struggling to keep their jobs.
  • Seniority For generations, more senior teachers have enjoyed the privileges of having first dibs on ‘choice’ teaching assignments and greater protection during reductions in force (RIF). During RIFs it has been customary for teachers last hired to be the first ones let go, while teachers with seniority have been protected; a practice commonly known as LIFO (Last In, First Out). While LIFO and other teacher seniority provisions remain a part of some teachers’ collective bargaining agreements, such provisions are becoming less common. And in cases where seniority provisions haven’t been completely negotiated away by school districts, seniority privileges are being curtailed, giving district and school level administrators greater discretion in teacher hiring and retention. It will soon be the norm in public school districts that teachers’ hiring, retention, and transfer will be based on their effectiveness, not their seniority.
  • Teacher Salary Public school teachers’ salaries have long been determined by their years of teaching experience and their level of education (bachelors, masters, doctoral degrees). In such systems, all teachers with five years of experience and a masters degree would have the same base salary, regardless of their effectiveness. But teacher pay is now being reconsidered. Policy makers, researchers, and educational leaders are questioning whether current teacher salary models makes sense in the current era of performance-based accountability. States, school districts, and charter schools are now experimenting with different approaches to teacher pay including merit pay, performance pay, performance bonuses, differentiated pay by subject area, and market-based salaries. Aspiring teachers and teachers who are relatively early in their careers should expect that in the near future their pay will be be at least in part based on their effectiveness (as measured by their students’ performance on standardized examinations).
  • Teacher Leadership While teachers have always been called on to lead in various capacities, teachers are now being asked to take on school-level leadership roles like never before. Much of the change in the expectation that teachers lead may be attributed to the increasing popularity of distributed and shared leadership models in P12 schools. Anyone going into teaching or intending to stay there should expect to take on significant formal and/or informal school leadership roles throughout their career. Such roles might include department chair, subject area lead, professional learning community (PLC) lead, peer mentor, trainer, and school or district level curriculum leadership positions.

The NEA’s Call for Duncan’s Resignation: Latest Strike in a Battle the NEA will Lose

The leadership of the National Educational Association (NEA) is mad, and on July 4th that anger reached a boiling point when delegates passed a new business item calling for the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. While historically, teachers unions including the NEA have been staunch supporters of Democrat administrations, the relationship between the NEA and the Obama administration has been a strained one, largely because of the Obama administration’s support of key elements of an education reformist agenda which includes financial support for the expansion of charter schools, the continuance of the DC school voucher program, reform of teacher evaluation to include student performance, and most notably now, reform of teacher tenure and seniority rules. The Obama administration’s support for such reforms has earned President Obama and Secretary Duncan a place on the NEA’s ‘not so nice’ list. Officially, the new business item stated that it was necessary to call for Secretary Duncan’s resignation because of the U.S. Department of Education’s “failed education agenda focused on more high-stakes testing, grading and pitting public school students against each other based on test scores, and for continuing to promote policies and decisions that undermine public schools and colleges, the teaching education professionals, and education unions.”

Duncan has flat out dismissed the NEA’s call for his resignation. In a recent AP article, Duncan is quoted as saying, “I always try to stay out of local union politics. I think most teachers do too.” Though brief, Duncan’s comment is clever dig at the union. Duncan is making the claim, which I largely agree with, that although the NEA’s leadership claims to be the voice of teachers, most teachers are not involved in the development of the union’s policy agenda and are not typically well-informed on the inner-workings and maneuvering of the union’s leadership. I go even further than Duncan and assert that many teachers, particularly younger teachers, are not supportive of the policy agenda, policy stances, and tactics of the NEA. And for that reason, I am very careful to distinguish between the voice the NEA’s leadership and the voice of teachers; I am convinced that on a variety of important policy issues their voices are not in harmony.

This call for Secretary Duncan’s resignation is the NEA’s latest move in a battle that’s gone on for about a decade now; a battle that in the end, the NEA is sure to lose. Democratic administration’s have historically been the NEA’s allies, holding off the progressive education reform ideas of conservatives. That day has passed. Much of the education reform agenda is supported and even advocated for by growing numbers of Democrats and political independents. If the next president elected is a Republican the NEA is sunk. They don’t stand a chance of reversing the education reform tide which includes the expansion of school choice, tenure reform (and in some states tenure elimination), teacher evaluation based in part on student performance, and tying teachers’ pay to their performance. But even if the next president is a Democrat, the likelihood of that Democrat being from the extreme liberal end of the party is none; it will not happen. Whether the next president is a Democrat or a Republican, s/he will have to live and lead from a more moderate than extreme position; and it is the more moderate Democrats, or neo-liberals, that are becoming more and more supportive of the education reform agenda that the NEA is fighting against.

In the end, the NEA will lose this battle. Education policy does have a tendency to shift somewhat like a pendulum, but there are pieces of the current education reform agenda that are here to stay. Charter schools and public school choice aren’t going anywhere. Public school choice will become central to public schooling, everywhere. Teachers will be evaluated at least in part based on the performance of their students; what that measurement will look like will vary from state to state and may change over time, but the days of teacher evaluation not having a student performance component are soon to be over. Tenure for teachers will go away in some places and will look radically different in most other places. School administrators will have increased authority with the hiring and removal of teachers. The days of collective bargaining agreements protecting ineffective senior teachers while more junior effective teachers are dismissed will be ending very soon. Teaching will no longer be a profession where you can go a job pretty easily, join the union, get tenure for sticking around for four years, and have a safe position for the rest of your career.

The NEA is fighting for relevance and survival. ‘The organization’s leadership knows that Secretary Duncan won’t consider resigning based on their call, and the fact that the largest teachers union in the country can call for the Secretary of Education’s resignation and most Americans won’t even take their call seriously is an indicator of the organization’s waning influence on educational leadership and educational policy. I do believe there is a future for the NEA, but not as a labor union. Teachers are not labor. Teachers are professionals. My hope is that the NEA’s new leadership will take the opportunity during this time of transition for teachers and public schooling to reform itself into the world-class professional association that America’s teachers need and deserve.