A New Deal for Teachers

From The Atlantic Monthly, although the current issue is not online -

The author proposes a deal for teachers, both existing and new. It essentially offers a trade of MUCH higher wages for a reduction in or elimination of job security and tenure.

To set the issue in perspective, due to coming retirements more than 2 million new teachers will need to be hired in the next decade, 700,000 of them in urban districts. In said districts, half of all new teachers quit within 3 years, and (uncited) studies suggest that those who quit are the smarter half. Those who stay on are more or less permanent employees, regardless of skills. In a recent 5 year span, only 62 of the 220,000 tenured teachers in California were dismissed.

One other issue is that teachers with a degree in, say, biochemistry (of all the jobs that degree qualifies one for, teaching is at the lowest end of the payscale) make exactly the same as a teacher with a degree in Physical Education (where the opposite holds).

So the proposal goes as follows - raise teacher salaries in urban districts at least 50%. In exchange, teachers would have to abandon the lockstep pay scales and the dismissal process for poor-performing teachers would have to be condensed to four to six months. Teacher salaries would start at $60,000 and the top-performing half of teachers would make $85K to $90K, and the very very best could make close to $150,000.

So, teachers and students - would you go for this? Would those of you getting science degrees go into teaching under such a plan?

Contrary to popular belief, teachers do not receive tenure they day they’re hired. They go through a probationary period that lasts, at least in Missouri, up to seven years. That’s plenty of time to determine whether a teacher is incompetent. Chances are the incompetent teachers are kept because the district can’t find enough qualified replacements.

And where’s the new money coming from? The voters in my district (traditionally considered school-friendly) just defeated a proposal to replace school buildings between 45 and 80 years old.

Let’s assume the new money appears. My school district has a shortage of qualified science teachers, so they propose to pay science teachers 15% more than English teachers.

Problem solved. Except that the math teachers then shift to science. The district has to raise the bounty to get math teachers. Then it finds itself blackballed by English, history and phys ed teachers. Soon enough everyone is back at the same pay scale.

Secondly, one parent with a loud enough voice (especially with an aggressive lawyer) can wreak havoc in a school district – even get a principal fired. Because of tenure, the one thing they can’t do is get a teacher fired. Imagine if you took care of 30 customers a day and one of them took a totally irrational personal dislike to you and got you fired.

Certainly a lot of teachers get out of the field because they can make more in other fields. But a lot of them give up because of the endless paperwork, the lack of respect, crumbling facilities and the threat of physical violence in many schools. Higher salaries won’t keep those teachers.

I’m soon to hold a PhD in life sciences (immunology), and 60K per year would certainly not be at the low end of the payscale! Believe it or not, it would be twice what a newly minted PhD makes and will be able to make for close to ten years. After a PhD (which itself takes six years, minimum, and generally more like seven), we are expected to do a post-doc, being paid about 30K (maybe making 40K within ten years). So, of course I would consider 60K to teach!

In the public secondary schools where I have taught, politics carries more weight than teaching ability. And the politics include religious affiliation.

Determining who is a good teacher is not an easy task either. For example, some people would like to see teachers paid on the basis of student proficiency test scores. Should the teacher responsible for fundamental classes be paid less than one who teaches honors classes? Should teachers be held responsible for attendance and resourses in the students’ homes?

If the OP was referring only to higher education situations, please excuse the hijack.

One question- how are you going to measure “performance”?

Because it’s a hell of a lot easier to get kids to “perform” in richer, nicer schools. If the pay scale rewards teachers for teaching at the best schools, we’ll have a situation where all the good teachers flock to the school where they will get to paid the most and the poor schools will be abandon to the worst teachers in the system.

A couple of things -

This only applies to the poor schools - that is the point of the program. It is also only a K-12 situation, not higher ed.

In the article, the subject of assessment was discussed among union leaders and administrators, who said that it would have to be a combination of student learning outcomes (testing) and peer review with pricipals making the final decision.

The money (estimated at $30B) would come from the feds.

Measure them on improvement in performace, like everyone else. Most people don’t get a raise for standing still.

Efforts to measure teacher performance and accountability thus far have a been a dismal failure. We’ve come up with a battery of standardized tests and an entirely new set of problems. And as far as we can tell, none of it is doing any damn good.

Is concern about assessment that big a deal that you would turn down the opportunity to double or triple your salary?

What good is a double salary if I don’t have the job?

One of my principals tried to get me fired because I insisted that he follow our system’s contractual agreement in dealing with me. He even came into my classroom and screamed at me in front of my students. When I tried to leave the room, he blocked my way.

A few days later we had an contractually illegal conference in which he said that I was insubordinate and that he was having that placed in my file. (That is a dismissable offense.)

If I had not taped that conference, I would have been without a job. I filed a grievance and won it. Eventually he was relieved of his duties. Too many similar situations with other teachers.

I could go along with peer review from other teachers in the department. And I think that teachers should be able to document the methods and materials that are used in the classroom.