Teaching as a Martial Art

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

Inner city teachers have long talked of getting “combat pay” for teaching in troubled schools but now they are taking the military analogy to a whole new level.

At a recent seminar at the Center for American Progress (CAP), Julie Kowal, a senior consultant at Public Impact, compared incentives for educators to the hardship pay offered to soldiers, although her ignorance of military culture was quite telling. “I mean, as my colleague put it, the military has been recruiting [an] all-volunteer force to go die for years, and they’ve been doing it using in large part these very large financial incentives,” she said.

Segun Eubanks, Director of the Teacher Quality Department at the National Education Association (NEA), later responded to Kowal, saying “I think that the concept that we ought to pay teachers more, that a comparison—which is a very legitimate comparison—but the fact that we want to compare teaching in these schools to welding at the top of a tall building or being on the front line of enemy fire [in the] military is a moral disgrace and something that I think we really want to keep at the front of our agenda when we look at building real comprehensive solutions to this.”

None of the speakers criticized Kowal for saying that military servicemen enlist specifically “to go die.” Although Americans already pay the highest amount per pupil compared to the other G-8 countries, some education reformers are suggesting that struggling schools offer hardship pay and other incentives to attract high quality teachers.

A new Center for American Progress report written by Dan Goldhaber finds that gaps in teacher quality occur largely within school districts, rather than between them. “Schools serving more economically disadvantaged students and a higher proportion of non-white students are much more likely to be staffed by less-experienced and less-credentialed teachers,” writes the University of Washington research professor. Goldhaber’s analysis found that in New York (excluding the city) 66% of teacher quality disparities occurred within districts. In Illinois, excluding Chicago, 63% of disparities were concentrated within school districts.

Goldhaber and Kowal recommend that teachers recruited for or already in hard-to-fill posts receive a variety of incentives. New benefits mentioned included:

– housing subsidies,
– loan repayment programs,
– retention bonuses, and
– salary increases.

At the CAP meeting, Kowal suggested that policy makers skip the question of whether to compensate for hard-to-fill teaching positions and focus on the “how” and “how much.” “I started off my interviews with all of these experts and researchers and [human resources] administrators with question one, ‘can we use compensation to address these staffing shortages?,’ and almost everyone I talked to said, ‘can we skip question one?,’” she said.

Both Eubanks and Goldhaber agreed that unions were likely to back this compensation reform over the “performance pay” alternative, but the NEA representative objected to the idea that teachers should be simply paid to endure bad schools, rather than fixing those schools in the first place. “The concept that teaching America’s poor and black and brown children in America’s hardest-to-staff schools is, that fixing the conditions of those schools, is not our number one priority…Think of financial incentives as a short-term immediate fix but be focused on a vision and a real strategy so that it’s not just financial incentives, let’s measure and see what happens and if that doesn’t work we’ll think of something else,” he said.

“We ought to be having comprehensive strategies for which, whether or not we do financial incentives first, second, or third, it’s part of a larger strategy [on] trying to fix the conditions which these schools offer,” he argued.

Kowal admitted that asking for more money for education was unrealistic in the current economy, and recommended that schools recruit teachers already attracted to the conditions at these schools. “But, okay here I go asking for a lot more money, which is not fair these days, not realistic, so I think it’s very important that we also look in education at targeting this [community] pool, targeting our recruitment to candidates who already value the things that other people find unattractive about these schools and rethinking the nature of what it is that teachers do,” she said. She also suggested using new technologies to make these jobs more attractive and to reduce the overall number of hard to staff positions.

“Besides raising salaries, Education leaders can also capitalize on this heterogeneity through the use of auctions or by investing in targeted recruitment for candidates who are inherently attracted to the conditions that make some schools harder to staff—and so will require less differentiation pay or none at all,” states the CAP report coauthored by Kowal.

That might be because the compensation figure given was an additional $4,000 to $15,000 for each teacher in these under-served schools.

Eubanks criticized the speakers for assuming that the atmosphere of these schools is too hard to change via public policy because “even if the policy challenge is harder I think we would really need to focus on the moral challenge that this issue presents and keep that front and center.”

But is more money for education really the solution? The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which provides data on its 30 member-countries, places the average annual per-pupil expenditure for these industrialized nations at $7,065 annually; the European 19 spend an average of $6,840 USD per year.

According to the OECD’s 2008 Education at a Glance, the U.S. ranked fourth highest for secondary and primary education expenditures. The United States pays $9,769 per student, according to OECD data, exceeded only by Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Norway.

America’s northern neighbor, Canada, spends nearly $2,000 dollars less—$7,837 per student annually—on primary and secondary education.

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.