Teacher Salary Speak

, Spencer Irvine, Leave a comment

A Center for American Progress (CAP) report, written by Frank Adamson and Linda Darling-Hammond argues for raising schoolteachers’ salaries. The authors make the point that the large disparity across the U.S. in education spending gaps, as well as student achievement gaps between whites and minorities, and the availability of resources to these students and their teachers makes such an increase necessary. They are highly critical of incentive pay (referred to as “combat pay”), given to teachers going to a school that struggles in teacher recruitment and retention, and alternative teacher certification programs. The authors go on to make note of successes in some states to recruit and retain new teachers, and raise academic performance among all students.

Adamson and Darling-Hammond refer to Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson in supporting their research. Ferguson claims that raised wages means more college graduates are willing to become teachers, increases teacher quality, and increases the performance of students. They cite the influence of working conditions, in conjunction with a pay raise, in recruiting and retaining new and veteran teachers. Less equality in the distribution of resources, as well as large pupil-staff ratios and low salaries, lead them to conclude that raising teacher’s salary will lead to more qualified teachers being hired and retained.  All in all, the report recommends:

  1. Equalizing resources provided by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) among the states to level the playing field
  2. Enforcing ESEA rules to balance qualified teachers serving different populations of students, giving less-advantaged students an opportunity to compete with those with an advantage
  3. Requiring states to provide reports regarding resources (along with academic progress reports for each school), such as available qualified teachers, books, materials, equipment, and the like
  4. Assessing and requiring states to distribute resources equally among schools and “a plan for further progress”

In reading the report, this particular writer found a few discrepancies. There is little or no mention of the significant influence that teachers’ unions have in deciding teachers’ salaries and pay scales, as these unions have brought about a seniority-based hierarchy. No recommendations are made regarding teacher’s union reforms. Instead, the report pushes for more federal oversight in public education, which ultimately means more money spent by the government. A primary reason why beginning teachers are not retained is that in staffing schools, seniority and experience takes precedence over competence and potential. As usual, the typical charge that teachers are underpaid is raised here, but that myth is debunked as a chart shows the mean salary of California teachers hovers at a little under $45,000 per year.  If the salary structure has to be fixed, it means that the culture and mindset of teachers and their administrators have to change to allow for these much-needed reforms.

A veiled accusation that this writer discovered is that the report blames the “highly decentralized system of governance” that has been in place for the past several hundred years for the funding disparity in public education. It is possible the authors fail to recognize that a decentralized system of government was a key part of the creation of America and its institutions. Also, this charge chooses to ignore the increase in size of the federal government in recent years, in some part due to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The report cites in its recommendations the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which expanded federal involvement in public education long before NCLB. Instead of blaming the foundation of American democracy and ignoring the expansion of the federal government in recent years, the report should focus on fixing the problem at hand.

In conclusion, CAP’s report on raising teachers’ salaries is well-written and logical, but does not address the underlying issues surrounding teacher’s salary, retention, and recruitment. The authors choose to ignore the important issues that face parents and students alike in deciding where to go for an education, such as the culture and quality of public education. The report ultimately misses the mark with its recommendations, focusing on more federal oversight and doing little to reform the unionized public school system.