Why stop now?

I am heading toward my 100th post. This will be #89. I started back in November of 2010. I would like to post more often, but I don’t have a lot of extra time. And, I gotta feel the passion to make the post. Blogging is reactionary.

So, let me react to the topics of seniority and teacher salary. Let me get into a few of the issues surrounding what is known in the teaching biz as single salary schedule. And, let me respond to criticism leveled by one of Wilmington’s local champions of edreform: Skip Schoenhals, a fellow renowned for his leadership in transforming a local bank, that he has described as #7 in a list of the top six banks in the region, into a banking powerhouse. As a matter of fact, there are new WSFS branches popping up everywhere!

Last month, Mr. Schoenhals stated in a speech before an audience of 1000 at the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce annual dinner that “DSEA (the Delaware State Education Association) insists on personnel practices that are more appropriate for the factory floor than in a profession like teaching. It is a philosophy where seniority drives assignments, transfers, and layoffs; and where salaries are based upon years of service and educational level, not on achievements in the classroom. This philosophy is written into state law, so practically speaking, a district has no choice but to follow this system. I ask DSEA to continue to be a forward thinking union by working with the legislature to change this law. One size or system does not fit all. Let the districts and the local union determine what would work best for them. With a system that is more reflective of the profession that teaching is, we can then work to get teacher pay to a level worthy of the task teachers perform…educating the next generation.”

Please see two of my earlier posts: Goodnight Moon , for my reactions to being taken to task so publicly and unexpectedly, and Keynote Speaking, Redux for my attempts to demonstrate why seniority is not the boogeyman that Mr. Schoenhals would like everyone to believe it is.

In Delaware schools, about 2/3 of an educator’s salary is paid by the state and the other third is paid by the individual district. So, I will agree that DSEA does have some influence on the system by which all public school employees are paid–on the state side. On the other hand, DSEA does not have much sway over the manner in which individual districts choose to negotiate with our members over salary schedules or compensation plans. I will need to investigate the Legislation to which Mr. Schoenhals refers.

So, let’s talk about pay. You get a job–you get paid for that job. One might assume that one’s pay would be commensurate with one’s work. However, any clear thinking individual recognizes that this is far from the truth. And, it cuts both ways. Certainly there are folks who are not paid nearly enough for the jobs that they do and the work that they produce. On the other end, there are people who are notorious for the immense salaries they garner for the positions they hold. Like CEO’s–top dogs in major corporations. Not only are some of the salaries astronomical, but the perks can be mind-boggling to the rest of us.

Remember three martini lunches of the 70’s and 80’s. As a third grade teacher, I used to joke that my perk was all of the crayons I ever wanted. Actually, I was spending hundreds of dollars of my own money every year on my kids and my classroom.

Teacher salaries are tightly controlled. They are spelled out years in advance. As a first year teacher, one can look up one’s potential salary for year twenty. It will be altered only slightly when and if a new contract includes salary increases, which are modest at best. It may seem strange to others, but this is the way it has been done for decades in all fifty states.  Most of us never thought anything about it. It is the general practice of most private schools and charter schools.

I started teaching in September of 1972 at the old North Star School in the Alexis I. du Pont School District for the princely sum of $8,000 for the first year. Seems paltry by today’s standards, but at the time, it was a $1000 raise from the job I had just lost in mid-summer from the Baltimore City Schools. (“Dear Grederilea Stevens: We regret to inform you that due to a city-wide budget crisis we will no longer be able to offer you employment at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Elementary School for the 1972-73 school year.” Apparently, they could not discern that my first name was Frederika. Would you want a woman named Grederilea teaching your child?)

From that moment on, I could always look up what my future salary would be. I knew that if I stayed in teaching for ten years, I would make $___ during my tenth year. If I took additional coursework, I could incrementally improve my salary. If I completed a Master’s degree program, as I did in 1981, then my annual salary would increase by a little more than $1000. No mystery; no anxiety about asking the boss for a raise. It seemed easy to understand and clear cut.

I have just finished a successful teaching career (by all accounts) with an annual salary of about $80,000. Now, $80,000 is nothing to sneeze at. However, that amount was at the end of a 39 year career with a Master’s degree (Master of Instruction from the University of Delaware) and an additional 50+ additional hours of college course work and specialized training, including some pretty high-level professional development with the Penn Literacy Network from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

All this begs several questions: (1) How do teacher salaries compare to those of comparably trained “professionals”? (2) How have teachers traditionally been able to attain a higher salary? (3)  To whose advantage is the single salary schedule? Hmm,…

The following information about Single Salary Schedule for teachers is taken from CPRE: The Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, copyrighted 2007. I recommend that you follow the link to read their entire summary. Simple and to the point. You can Google the topic to see what else is out there.

“In general, most teachers in the United States are paid according to a single salary schedule that provides salary increments according to a teacher’s years of experience and number of college/university units and degrees. This teacher salary schedule was first implemented in several big city districts in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The basic concept has not changed much over the course of the twentieth century.”

“Equitable pay: the underlying principle of the single salary schedule The single salary schedule does not mean that all teachers earn the same salary. Individual teacher salaries vary according to specific attributes of individual teachers. Teachers with more years of experience have larger salaries, as do teachers with more education attainment. Teachers also are paid more for additional jobs; e.g., coaches earn a salary supplement, as do advisors of clubs and other co-curricular activities often earn a salary increment. But critical to the success of the single salary schedule is that the basis for paying teachers different amounts, i.e., years of experience, education units and different jobs, are objective, measurable, and not subject to administrative discretion.”


Major motivations for the move to single salary schedules in the early to mid-20th century included the desire to guard against discrimination in pay among certain groups like Black and white teachers, male and female teachers, as well as elementary and high school teachers.

Until recently, most folks  assumed and would have agreed that more coursework and additional college degrees would have been a worthwhile pursuit for their child’s teachers. They would have commended those teachers who chose to seek out ways to improve their practice, to deepen their understanding of content, to hone their craft. For years, the states surrounding Delaware have required that all teachers complete Master’s degree programs within a five to ten-year window after initial employment. My education degree was from Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. I was dumb-founded way back in 1972 to discover that no such requirement existed in Delaware. There is still no requirement in this state for additional course or degree work. (You might wonder why..)

However, recent pronouncements by such education experts as Bill Gates, and others, have caused some to question the value of further education, and to espouse the cynical commentary that teachers only did it for the money.

Teachers: Y’all just can’t win. The Army tells everyone: “Be all that you can be.” But Mr. Gates, as well as other edreform gurus, have apparently  uncovered data that seems to demonstrate that additional education for teachers, that Master’s degrees, and that even earning that coveted certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Practice does not pay off in increased student test scores, and are therefore not worth the salary increases that accompany them.

Give me a break! What task, which occupation, which profession, which trade can any one of you imagine that could not or would not be improved by additional relevant and focused training? Since when do we want a teacher to step out of a four-year training program only to forego additional high-level course work? Talk about mixed messages. Teachers must become more and more effective, BUT, do not look for additional college coursework as a reliable method to get you there!  [Perhaps we should rely instead on the offerings of district-designed professional development instead. Stop laughing.]

I spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours on my Master’s degree work. Do you believe that I did it just so I could increase my annual salary by a few hundred dollars for every fifteen credit hours I accumulated, with that final reward of a $1200 increase? Not much of an immediate payoff. I did it so that I could become a better teacher, and I can guarantee you that the knowledge gained in just a few of the courses was worth all of the time and effort. The course and field work on Educational Assessment and the implementation of strategies from the course on Classroom Management made it all worthwhile and served me and my students well for the next twenty-nine years.

It took my participation on a DSEA Task Force exploring Alternative Compensation (2006-2008) and my subsequent participation on a DSEA Task Force on Teacher Career Continuums (2009-2011) to open my eyes. Prior to this experience, I would have argued to the death the value of the single salary schedule. It seemed so fair, so protective, so predictable, so simple to administer, so,…

What the hell had we been thinking? We had be lulled into complacency.

I now see it for what it is—a way to manage and actually stunt the growth of teacher salaries, to dribble out small increases over time—just enough to keep you coming back for more. Hardly the rationale for unions to hold fast to this out-dated system of compensation.

But, be careful what you wish for. Pay for performance looks so sweet, so alluring, so reasonable—you pay the most for the best. However, it has a long, long history of failure and disincentive. It can be costly (hint: you may end up spending more and more on teacher pay—more than you intended—more than you budgeted), difficult to manage, fraught with challenges, and it may end up causing dissension and competition among teachers and schools instead of the collaborative spirit and action that is so highly regarded in education. Plus, merit pay systems are often forced to cut back, to start to limit access to the pay incentives, to restrict amounts or who can and cannot be eligible for the payouts.

How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?

This entry was posted in "Reform Experts", Accountability, Attacks on Unions, Career Opportunities, Education Budgets, Education Professionals, Education Reform, Education Unions, Faculty and Staff, Merit Pay, New Teachers, Professional Development, Quality Teachers/Quality Teaching, School Improvement, Seniority, Teacher Evaluation, Teacher Tenure, Teacher Unions, Teachers and Teaching, Unions. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Why stop now?

  1. Vicki Seifred says:

    Very well put Frederika! I also hope to see during my career, a teacher-leader position that would have an experienced, educated teacher working with other teachers to improve instuctional delivery and working with new teachers. We do not need administrators who have so little teaching experience in the role of instructional leaders. Our teaching cadre has so much experience and knowledge that is never tapped! Let us develop programs that we know work! However, the huge “sticking point” will be compensation. (The argument being that teachers should be doing this already!) Teachers should be compensated for this work that is in addition to their teaching responsibilities. I would love to see some teachers go on twelve month contracts that during the summer they would be developing and conducting professional development! (What a radical thought!) I can guarantee that it would be a whole lot less than paying for an administrator and I am thinking the results would probably be much better!

    • fsjenner says:

      I fhte argument is that teachers should be doing this already, they have got to be joking. This does happen informally and without regularity or consistency all the time. However, teachers already have so much responsibility these days, there is no extra time to do well-planned, well-implemented, assessed, on-going full-time mentoring.

      It is IMPOSSIBLE for an admin who taught social studies, P.E., or English to evalaute others who teach French, chemistry, or 3rd grade reading. Deb Stevens and I looked at each other about three weeks agao and said in unison, without prompting: “It’s time for PEER REVIEW.”

  2. Annette DeBastiani says:

    So many huge issues to be dealt with in education these days – salary schedule, Component 5, DCAS, RTTT… Delaware schools are lucky to have an advocate like Grederilea on our side! You have one of the hardest jobs in the field of education right now. Really enjoyed this.

    • fsjenner says:

      Oh, Jeez. No way. Classroom work is hundreds more times challenging and exhausting than this. This is a piece of cake compared to facing a crowd of semi-disengaged, potentially hostile twelve-year olds! Really.

      But, thank you for the compliment. I have not had to send anyone out in the hall for weeks. And, that errant staff member straightened right up after that call home to her mother. 🙂

  3. Vicky Cairns says:

    Boy are you good!!!!!!!

  4. fsjenner says:

    Thank you. That means a lot coming from a pro like yourself. [Notice I refrained from saying “old pro.” Oops!]

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