Teachers

This post appears today on the New York Times' Room for Debate blog. The question: How can the United States raise the status of teachers and teaching?

Raising the ?status? of teaching is like chasing a mirage: It looks great from a distance but it never seems to materialize. Teachers today are one of the most respected members of our society, according to opinion polls. The growing backlash against perceived ?teacher-bashing? in Wisconsin and elsewhere is more testament that Americans like their teachers. So what exactly is the problem the status-boosters are hoping to solve? Raising teachers' self-esteem? [quote]

On the other hand, it's true that teaching today is not among the most attractive careers open to talented young people. Making it more attractive is an objective we can do something about.

Today's teacher compensation system is perfectly designed to repel ambitious individuals. We offer mediocre starting salaries, provide meager raises even after hard-earned skills have been gained on the job and backload the most generous benefits (in terms of pensions) toward the end of 30 years of service. More fundamentally, for decades we've prioritized smaller classes over higher teacher pay. If we had kept class sizes constant over the past 50 years, the average teacher today would be making $100,000.

Thankfully, reformers are trying to flip this equation. Here's the game plan: raise starting pay, accelerate salary bumps to keep up with a young teacher's rapid improvement in effectiveness, offer ways for teachers...

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Liam Julian

At a KIPP charter school in Jacksonville today, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed SB 726, a bill that will set up a teacher evaluation system that judges educators based, in large part, on student test scores, institute merit pay, and end tenure for new teachers (current teachers will still be paid based on their previously negotiated contracts, but if they receive poor evaluations for several years, they can be dismissed). Florida's former governor, Charlie Crist, vetoed a similar bill last year.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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A brilliant report from Mike Antonucci at?the Education Intelligence Agency (EIA) paints a dark picture of what the recent public union defeats in Wisconsin and elsewhere mean to the National Education Association.? ?There should be no mistake about it,? he writes, ?NEA sees them as a threat to its very existence.?

Antonucci makes a compelling argument to buttress his case that the NEA has reason to go to war in the face of the recent existential skirmishes.? After several decades of membership increases (making it the largest union in America) and ?a virtually non-stop expansion of the scope of public sector collective bargaining,? he reports,?NEA numbers are down in 43 states. And, he says, ?the union faces a $14 million budget shortfall?? ??

Here's the battle cry, according to Antonucci:

`We are at war,' incoming NEA executive director John Stocks told the union's board of directors last month, outlining a plan to keep NEA from joining the private sector industrial unions in a slow, steady decline into irrelevancy to anyone outside the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. And like any good war plan for an army under siege, it allows for a defense-in-depth while preparing for a decisive counterattack.

Antonucci is by no means draping any coffins here. The NEA ??is still a political powerhouse, and will not be content with lying against the ropes, being pummeled by Republicans,? he reports. ?And ?despite its budget shortfall and freeze on executive pay, the national union is...

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Today marks history for the Buckeye State, its low-income children, and its failing schools, as well as for the dozens if not hundreds of education reform advocates who've been pushing for the last decade for Teach For America - Ohio.

Today legislation passed in both the Ohio House (HB 21) and Senate (SB 81) that paves the way for a Teach For America site (specifically, allowing TFA to place teachers across grades and not just in shortage areas) and also makes it easier for alums of the program to get certified here to teach.

The Ohio House passed HB 21 by a 64-32 vote margin, with five Democrats crossing the aisle to support it. Kudos to Reps. Celeste, Patmon, Sykes, Budish, and Salozzi for joining Democrats across the country ? including President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan ? in supporting the program.

In the Senate, the bill was amended slightly so as to require Teach For America to partner with a local university (which is required in many other TFA states but which adds undo requirements to the program). It passed by a margin of 25-8. Kudos to Sen. Turner, Wilson, and Kearney to cross the aisle in support of the bill.

I, along with four other alumnas of the program now living in Ohio, sat in the House gallery on pins and needles this morning as we listened to lawmakers debate the merits of a program that would place talented and effective teachers...

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Randi Weingarten is talented at making crazy ideas sound sensible. Today she claims in a Huffington Post op-ed that "you can't make a thorough and objective decision about a teacher's qualifications without a valid evaluation system." (That is, a national one endorsed by the AFT.) She supports this assertion with a vague reference to school administrators' "arbitrary and subjective judgment."

Of course, in the rest of the professional world managers strive to make thorough and objective decisions about their workers without a universal evaluation system. Marketers, engineers, and event planners do not need national "frameworks" and "continuous improvement models" in order to be evaluated by their managers (much less to be fired for malfeasance). It doesn't work perfectly, but it works. Why, in Weingarten's eyes, are teachers so different?

Her op-ed employs the clever trick of arguing that common ground is not that far away, if only those stubborn reformers would be willing to give up and agree with the unions. I'd call that a tautology ? if you'd only agree with my position, we wouldn't be fighting!

This is nearly as insidious as Rick Hess's favorite "it's for the kids" line. Weingarten lays out a fundamental difference between the AFT and reformers like Joel Klein, then papers over it with a call for collaboration that looks strikingly like the "highly effective until proven otherwise" status quo in teacher evaluation. There's nothing transformative about that.

? Chris Tessone...

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Last week I showed that, by one measure at least, teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers?$64,500 on average versus $57,500. These numbers are for teachers with just bachelor's degrees who have reached the last step on the salary schedule.

Matt Di Carlo of the Shanker Institute responded in the comments section with an important analysis of his own:

Mike,

Why are you using the maximum BA salary as a measure of what teachers ?actually earn?? ?It would seem to me that this is the least appropriate choice for two reasons. First, unlike the starting and fifth year salaries available in the TQ3 database, the maximum salary doesn't ?control? for experience?the schedules vary as to how many years it takes to get to the top. Second, and more importantly, most career teachers (i.e., those who might get to the top of their schedules) get a master's degree (and are required to do so in some states), so very few teachers are actually located at the top BA step. It's probably the least appropriate choice as a measure of what the typical teacher earns.

I quickly replicated your analysis. My figures for the maximum BA salary are slightly different from yours, but close enough for the purposes of a comment.

Starting BA -- Non-CB: $41,314; CB: $38,696

BA 5th year -- ?Non-CB: $43,630; CB: $43,640

Maximum BA -- Non-CB: $63,731; CB: 57,628

Starting MA -- Non-CB: $43,960;

...
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Young teachers turned around a poorly-performing elementary school in Oakland, and now they're all at risk of being fired in a LIFO (seniority-based) layoff mandated by state law:

Futures, previously known as Lockwood Elementary, was redesigned in 2007 and a particularly young staff was hired to change the school's old reputation as a place that held low expectations for its low-income and minority students.

The state education code holds no provisions for performance, though. Instead, it dictates that layoffs must be made in order of seniority. Most Futures teachers have been in the classroom for fewer than five years.

?What did we do the redesign for?? asked the school's principal, Steven Daubenspeck.

The union president blames the school's principal. She implies that all teachers are interchangeable widgets, so he should have kept the school's low-performing senior teachers instead of trying to turn the school around using new blood:

The president of the Oakland teachers' union, Betty Olson-Jones, said she feels for the teachers of Futures Elementary and that she plans to visit the school. However, she said, small school leaders ? like those at Futures ? that hired young teachers over older ones when they were redesigned are causing part of the problem. ?When [the division into small schools] happened, many of the teachers who were there and who wanted to be there and were veteran teachers were not invited back,? she said. ?And so, from 2001 through 2008, you saw a lot of veteran teachers

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One of the most striking arguments made against Republican governors' efforts to curtail the bargaining rights of teachers is that it's an "attack on the middle class." I'm more sympathetic to that line of reasoning than you might think; for all their evils, unions have been successful in giving millions of people a path to prosperity. And, as I was reminded at my grandmother's (a.k.a. "Nonnie's") funeral this past weekend, many of my second and third-generation Italian-American family members benefited from employment in public-sector, union-protected jobs. [quote]

But is it true, for teachers at least, that unions are necessary to ensure good wages? That when collective bargaining is disallowed, teacher pay plummets? I was curious, so I dug into data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality. The group collects information on teacher pay, benefits, and much more in its tr3 database for more than 100 of the largest districts from each of the 50 states. I broke out the districts in non-collective bargaining states (those where the practice is illegal--namely, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia)--and compared them to the rest. And I looked at the maximum salary a teacher with a bachelor's degree could earn. (See the data here.)

The surprising finding? Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers--$64,500 on average versus $57,500. (See the chart below.)

Click to view larger

To be...

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