The Way We’re Paid

Ever hopeful and naive, I looked at the title of this piece featured in a recent Ed Week on-line publication, Why Educators’ Wages Must Be Revamped Now, and imagined that this would speak engagingly and convincingly about the need to redesign educator salaries from the good old single salary pay scale to a more contemporary, leading-edge plan for compensation that would ultimately pave the way for a career ladder for teachers and specialists, as well as for para-educators.

In the inbox of my email, the message only included the title.  I actually saved this from February 7 to review it when I had time this weekend. I was instantly dismayed when I went to the link and found that the precis stated: “With budgets tight, states must link teacher pay to student achievement, Eric A. Hanushek writes.” (Mr. Hanushek is the Paul and Jean Hanna senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.)

Needless to say, Mr. Hanushek and I do not see eye-to-eye on plans for educator pay, public education salaries, cost-cutting measures, teacher tenure, accountability, or a valid rationale on which to base much needed changes to the way educators are paid.

I read it. Heck, it almost wrote itself. Really? This is best that Hanushek can do? In February of 2013, this is what he proposes as the new big idea? I don’t know this guy or know his curriculum vitae or background, but, if asked, I would say that this piece was done by an edreform hack. This piece fairly screams mediocre, trite, hackneyed.

The following paragraph from the piece jumps off the page and sticks to me like musilage to a sheet of fine rag paper–so to speak,…

“The big money still resides in instructional personnel, meaning mainly administrators and teachers. Salary and benefits funding for instructional employees represents the largest spending area in the typical district, bringing to mind the old Willie Sutton adage about robbing banks “because that’s where the money is.” The case for inspecting this spending, however, runs much deeper.”

Much deeper than words of wisdom from good old Willie Sutton. Gosh, I sure hope so!

What the hell does Hanushek mean? …,”bringing to mind the old Willie Sutton adage about robbing banks “because that’s where the money is.” I cannot be the only reader who is confounded by this association.

Does Hanushek mean that funding for education personnel is synonymous to robbing a bank? Or, does he mean that teacher pay is like bank (or highway) robbery? Or, that Willie Sutton, great thinker and orator that he was, has unknowingly and inadvertently created a model for educator salaries? Or, that Willie Sutton would make a good teacher?

Perhaps, in future writing endeavors, Mr. Hanushek could use the great Yogi Berra as his font of inspiration and analogy.

The beginning of this paragraph deserves one giant DUH! Of course, “the big money still resides in instructional personnel, meaning mainly administrators and teachers.” Of course, “salary and benefits funding for instructional employees represents the largest spending area in the typical district.” Jeez. Why didn’t the rest of us think of that?

Public education is a freakin’ labor-intensive service industry. We educators and administrators provide a service; it takes a lot of people to try to meet the needs of thousands of students with a myriad of needs. Students of all ages and cultures and ethnicities and religions and experiences and backgrounds and abilities and disabilities and strengths and weaknesses and talents and skills and support-systems and,…

Dare, I say it? Students are not widgets.

So, is Hanushek really saying that educators should be paid according to their students’ achievement because, as of right now, a greater proportion of money in education is spent on personnel? Does anyone else sense a disconnect here? I am looking for an appropriately misguided analogy for this.

Anyone?                         Anyone?                        Bueller?

Here is another “winning” concept from this piece: “The only way that efficiency will be significantly improved is by strengthening the relationship between salaries and performance. Currently, we dramatically underpay our best teachers while dramatically overpaying our worst.”

[BTW: The link above takes one to a 2011 piece by Eric Hanushek in Educationnext. I do not have the stamina to read this today. Something to savor for later.]

I would posit that we should be paying our worst teachers–his nomenclature, not mine–NOTHING. Zilch. Nada. Nicht. Rien.

Why on earth would we want to allow ineffective or incompetent or unsuitable or unproductive or unprofessional teachers to remain in the PROFESSION of teaching? My colleagues and I certainly do not want these folks to stay. Do not be satisfied with paying them LESS–identify them, document the problems, provide the evidence, and move them out of the profession.

This is the responsibility of school and district administrators.

Mr. Hanushek tosses in other edreformy objectives and minor achievements: doing away with LIFO (a.k.a. last in/first out), a catchy little reference to teacher tenure. I am exhausted by my own attempts to explain that tenure is not job security–in any sense of the concept–but is merely a contractual guarantee of the right to due process. It is my claim and my belief that all workers should enjoy the right to require their supervisors provide EVIDENCE of cause at the time of their dismissal.

And, of course, there is that standard reference to the ineffectiveness of basing any aspect of teacher pay on one’s college degree(s) or one’s experience in the profession: …, “numerous studies have shown that teacher pay based on degrees and experience is unrelated to teacher effectiveness.” Yep. That’s correct. My master’s degree in classroom instruction did very little to improve, enhance, or advance my classroom proficiency. Hardly worth my time and expense, let alone worth it to my paymasters at the district and state levels. Hanushek and company got the “research”–I got the experience. Which, of course, counts for very little. Oh, dear. I may have talked myself into a corner.

Hanushek continues: “Efficient policies imply paying significantly more to the best teachers—not just giving small, temporary bonuses for student achievement—to keep them in the classroom longer. Additionally, it probably also means having them teach more students, because dealing with tighter budgets and paying significantly higher salaries will most likely require slightly larger class sizes.”

Thanks, but no thanks. He will offer me an additional $10,000-20,000 a year, while at the same time increasing my class size load from 150–I am a middle school science teacher–to, let’s say, 175-180. There is a limit. After that, quality begins to erode, teacher engagement begins to decline, and we have us a morale problem –> some pretty serious potential burn-out.

This does not sound like a viable teacher attraction and retention plan to me. But, heck, what do I know?


This entry was posted in Education Budgets, Education Reform, Merit Pay, Quality Teachers/Quality Teaching, Teacher Tenure. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Way We’re Paid

  1. John Young says:

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina and commented:
    Excellent post!

  2. minnehanh says:

    I agree, Frederika! I always maintained when I was teaching that it was one job where experience really mattered. How many times did I come across a student and/or a situation that could be a real challenge and I could remember facing something so similar in a past year….. and that gave me something to work with, or at least try. Yep, experience counts. And, don’t tell me….he defines “best” teachers as those with the highest class test scores, right? How’d I know?

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