We’re Not Getting the Teachers We’re Paying For

I’ve been researching and writing lately and just now catching up on the blogs.  Jonathan Chait comments on a new paper by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute by Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine, explaining that public school teachers are not underpaid.  In fact, they explain that “public school teachers are overpaid by more than 50 percent,” costing state and local governments more than $100 billion annually.  They proceed to rebut the argument most commonly offered to the contrary—i.e., the apples-to-oranges comparison that the average public school teacher earns about 19% less than the average private sector worker with a post-secondary school degree. 

Surprisingly, Chait is “willing to stipulate that [Biggs and Richwine’s claim] is true.”  Instead, he complains that they are asking the wrong question.  Instead, Chait argues, we can acknowledge that we have bad teachers.  Therefore, we must be paying them badly.  Pay them less, and they’ll perform even worse.  

Maybe the logic is escaping me, but how does Chait get from agreeing that we pay public school teachers too much to concluding that we pay them too little?  I get the point about how we might attract better teachers if we offered more money.  But that doesn’t explain why, on average, the people we are currently paying to teach our kids don’t even justify what they are paid.  What accounts for that gap? 

That’s the relevant question, and the one to which Biggs and Richwine suggest an answer.  Chait doesn’t like the answer, and he can’t contend with the analysis, so his response is to take issue with the question.  Standard evasion procedure.

Tim Kowal

Tim Kowal is a husband, father, and attorney in Orange County, California, Vice President of the Orange County Federalist Society, commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission, and Treasurer of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. The views expressed on this blog are his own. You can follow this blog via RSS, Facebook, or Twitter. Email is welcome at timkowal at gmail.com.


  1. I know what we can do. Remove any union protections, make their employment even further connected to standardized tests that are useless at best, all while making economic policy that destroys the community they’re teaching in.

    • American kids learn best by doing. So far as I’m concerned, most of school is designed for Fifty Years ago, to train kids to Obey and Follow Orders.

      Why else teach physics without a computer?

      • Why else teach physics without a computer?

        Because you dont need computers to teach physics (unless you are giving a powerpoin presentation)

        Seriously, as someone who minored in biophysics even universities dont use computers to teach physics. Physics and especially physics is not learnt better by doing. Doing most of the interesting physics experiments requires tons of money and equipment for very little return in educational value. The most you get out of doing physics experiments (in class) is learning how to deal with experimental error, writing reports etc. i.e. some practical and methodological stuff. Of course that stuff is important, but it makes little to no difference as fas as conceptual understanding goes. In fact, far more often than not, it is conceptual understanding which aids practical work than the other way around. (In fact, I can’t remember a single physics experiment I did which gave me a better understanding of the physics concepts. All my understanding I got from textbooks and lectures)

        Of course, it probabl would be different for chemistry and biology, but computers are not needed until you are going to use computational methods to solve problems. For most, if not all of elementary and highschool science, this is just not necessary.

  2. > But that doesn’t explain why, on average, the people
    > we are currently paying to teach our kids don’t even
    > justify what they are paid. What accounts for that gap?

    Assuming the evidence is correct (and I’ll have to read the reports to have a solid answer, but I imagine I might have some methodological questions), it would buttress up a long-held point I’ve tried to hammer home at both political parties: there is no critical mass of teachers.

    Let’s look at LAUSD. From (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_Unified_School_District)

    “During the 2007-2008 school year, LAUSD served 694,288 students, and had 45,473 teachers and 38,494 other employees.[1] It is the second largest employer in Los Angeles County, after the county government.”

    Getting a teaching credential is non-trivial. Student teaching is worse. The barriers to entry for public school teaching are sufficiently high that many people who would be good teachers don’t even consider the field; whether the actual salary is commensurate or not is less important in this calculus than the actual wide-held belief that you can’t get by on a teacher’s salary.

    Let’s say for the sake of argument that LAUSD has a huge population of terrible teachers. 33% of them could be fired outright. Let’s further say we had the magic power to do so.

    You can’t generate 15,000 good teachers out of thin air. Who are you going to replace them with?

    • Lots of moving parts, lots of blame to go around. Teachers unions want to protect teachers against arbitrary administration, but administration loses much of its ability to get rid of bad teachers and reward good teachers. Any quality teachers we get out of a regime like that is only by accident, or through the altruism of teachers who keep going out of a sense of duty.

      It’s fiscally impossible to ensure a critical mass of good teachers in a system like that. Increasing the compensation package will draw more good teachers, but more bad ones, too. Given it’s hard to know who’s good and bad at first, and given the difficulty in firing the bad ones, your ROI will be minimal if any.

      Education is a very costly place for the labor movement to wage its battle.

      • I don’t really have a beef with any of this reply. Just for the record.

      • Does it have to be, though? If you can come up with some reasonable criteria on what a bad teacher is (as opposed to someone just learning the ropes), then there’s probably a way to get teh unions to agree to saying “don’t do this.” (I’m thinking teachers who can’t be heard at the back of the classroom, teachers who read directly from the book, teachers who don’t show up to class…)

        I don’t think you can effectively talk “performance” with teachers, as so much of a kid’s performance is dependent upon themselves. Likewise, it can’t be how much the kids like the teacher.

        • That would work great if it weren’t for the union’s contention that There Is No Such Thing As A Bad Teacher.

    • Speaking of LAUSD, it has some of the worst schools around, but it also has some of the best.

      El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills is an LAUSD school, and regularly places at or near the top in the nation Academic Decathlon.

      Same public school administrators, same public school teacher’s union, same onerous rules.

      But they have a group of parents who are rabid about their student’s performance.

      I wouldn’t extrapolate this to cover all schools always, but it does point out that private/ public or union/ nonunion isn’t the great driving factor that we often think it is.

      • Among other things, schools with parents who are rabid about students’ performance have the ability to attract the best teachers (if that’s important). So it becomes a loop of sorts. There’s also a sense of zero-sum. And doesn’t answer the question about what to do about those places that can’t entice the best students.

        On the other hand, of the six elementary schools I fill in at, there is one that is stand-out good and two or three that are stand-out bad. As best as I can determine, it mostly comes down to the student populations. If there is a difference between the teachers, it’s not immediately apparent to me. There is the question of expectations (“If they learn something, even better.”), though it’s hardly causal (the people at that particular school didn’t want up one day and decide that teaching wasn’t important).

        That being said, the more we say that it’s all about everything except teaching, we’re making a much, much more broad statement with much wider ramifications than “so let’s leave teaching the way it is.”

        (I do agree that union/nonunion is not the driving factor. It definitely should not be the discussion. But it, and the degree to which the union culture extends even into non-union states, is part of the discussion.)

  3. People love to pretend that student performance is somehow disconnected from parental priorities and decisions, as if teachers are the sole force in the child’s acheivement.

    Except of course when they become valedictorians- then the teachers were nothing more than passive bystanders.

    In my anecdotal experience, nothing is more indicative of a student’s performance than the family and social norms that the student is in.

    • Unless, of course, you’re advocating homeschooling, in which case parents haven’t got a clue and should just stay the hell away from trying to teach anything to anyone.

      • If you want to homeschool your kids, great. Don’t expect me to pay for it through tax breaks and subsidies.

      • Actually, Duck, I think that’s mostly true. The issue isn’t whether parents are competent to teach their kids, but whether they ensure that their kids do their homework, ride their ass about low grades and praise them for high grades, etc. It’s about whether they just set the expectations and push the kid to live up to them, not about whether they could teach the kids themselves.

        Hell, statistically I’m in the top 1% in education, but I sure as hell don’t fool myself that my knowledge base is broad enough to home school my kid. I can’t teach my kid trig or chemistry, but I can make sure she does her trig and chem homework and studies for her tests.

        • I know a few homeschoolers. The ones I know are competently educating their kids. Statistically, IIRC, homeschoolers do just fine in college, when compared to traditional schools.

          I think most people who are motivated to go the homeschooling route work pretty hard at it; however, it’s hard to say anything definitive without a lot of research because there are a lot of selection biases going on there.

          • I’ve seen some homeschoolers do well and other not. When i worked with runaway teens they usually didn’t like school and had done poorly. The easy out was to say they would do home school, typically with no parent to help them and get them to do the work. It was a naive idea on the kids part and by the homeschooling programs. The programs just signed up anybody who said they would give it shot. Complete fail in every case i saw, usually fast. The few troubled kids i saw succeed found a strong parent figure to guide, push, cajole and teach them.

          • A co-blogger on Hit Coffee is a family attorney who generally works for left end of the economic spectrum; she reports rather similar things with regard to community college. Except instead of it being a kosher way of getting out of going to K-12, it’s a kosher way of getting out of having a job (the only ones of which they would be able to get would be… undesirable). It’s hard, sometimes, to separate the desirous from those looking for a way out.

        • I think once you get to high school, homeschooling starts to get a lot trickier. But there are a lot of programs in place to help the motivated (not that it’s free). Homeschooling would/will be an option for us, depending on how good or bad the local schools are where we end up.

          • When i’ve see homeschooling work well it has generally been with younger kids. For the right teens and parents i can see it being wonderful. Homeschooling is one of those things that can be a good idea but to often its strongest advocates also do harm by overselling it.

          • This is no doubt my bias talking, but I think a lot of the overselling is in response to the harsh condemnation of it by knowbetters.

      • I’ll certainly agree that there’s a point at which the students’ cirriculum surpasses a parent’s ability and knowledge.

        I’m not sure how an el-ed major reading a prewritten lesson plan about algebra is an improvement on that.

        And, again, it leaves us with the question of what exactly parents are supposed to do at that point. Is there anything they can do other than be cheerleaders for high school?

    • Another sort of people love to pretend that Teacher Quality is very, very important. Thus, we should make sure to pay teachers well and give them great pension. And they believe this right up until it’s time to figure out what to do with the teachers who aren’t succeeding. At that point, of course, it’s completely on the parents. Or the eeeeevil standardized tests. Or something.

      My view is that either teacher quality is important or (outside of outliers in either direction) it’s not. If it’s important, then we need to be able to replace the bad ones. If it’s unimportant, then that has implications all its own.

          • Jaybird, are a Zen Buddhist? I wanted to be but they kicked me out of their monastery after less than two weeks.. To make matters worse, all the brake fluid leaked out of the brake lines in descending a 6,000 ft high mountain and ended up crashing into a tree, totalling the car. Dog and I were fine, so off to the Redwood forest (Big Basin) we went, with a little help from passersbys. A week later or so, we (dog and I) both climbed Mt. Whitney–such fun, such beauty! I must see the West again, and soon!
            Ah, the good ole days

      • I think the issue is that some of the most important things about good teachers are not measurable. Some of them may even be contradictory. A “good education” can be some large set of wildly different things.

        So, yes, we need good, brilliant teachers. But no, I don’t believe in measurable, quantifiable (outside of outliers, as you say) standards.

        • AUGH. Sorry sorry sorry, that was me, not Jaybird! I was in the wrong web browser and paying insufficient attention.

        • Mari, I am actually skeptical of any sort of straight pay-for-performance based on a test. There are just too many factors that can’t be controlled for. However, if teacher quality is as important as a lot of people believe, you have to be able to fire the bad ones and replace them with better ones. If not hard metrics, then either administrative discretion or parental choice. And beyond that, it makes it really hard to argue that teacher pay should be standardized within a system (even if we might agree that paying based on testing is itself… problematic).

          • Parental evaluations are bound to be skewed.
            Had half an AP English class cheat with Cliff Notes once…
            Teacher gave ’em all C’s or worse… Those parents were not going to be happy campers — and it’s always a coin flip on whether the teacher or the kid gets the rage (assuming they believe the teacher at all).

          • I don’t disagree with you, Kim, that parental evaluations can be skewed. Honestly, it’s one of my least favorite. But I think it could have a place in a multifaceted assessment system. Low test scores plus low parental approval allows a principal to take action. That sort of thing. Every form of assessment is flawed, which to me suggests that we should look in more than one place (though to others, it means that we should make it difficult to act on any of them).

          • Will,
            hmm… yeah, multifaceted. But also discretionary. If there are known problem cases (singularities), we can just “cut them out” of the picture.

      • Actually, if you’d actually care to look, most teachers don’t mind standards. It’s just their standards (evalulations from other teachers/administrators/students and so on) don’t line up with those of the ‘reform’ movement.

        Standardized tests are close to useless and yes, shockingly, parents have a lot to do with how well parent’s are doing. But, hey, let’s say you’re correct. That we can use standarized test to determine how good a teacher is. Let’s say there are two teachers. One brings a class in an ‘failing’ school from the 30% percentile to the 60% percentile on the standarized tests. One keeps a class at an upper-middle-class school in the mid-90’s for the fifth straight year? Who’s the better teacher? Who deserves a bigger bonus? Who should be laid off if cuts are made?

        I’d also point out we’ve been told since the early 80’s that America’s schools are “broken,” teachers need to be made more “accountable,” and that “reforms” conceived by an alliance of the business community and conservative technocrats in government need to imposed “for the sake of the children.” Are there a nation’s worth of broken 35-45 year olds that were taught in the 80’s?

        • As I said to Mari, I think that pay-for-performance (on a teacher level, at least) based on testing is problematic. You can control at least somewhat for the types of scenarios you’re talking about, but there are other things you can’t control for and with each teacher is a relatively limited sample set in any given year. That being said, I disagree that standardized tests are anywhere close to useless, which probably puts me right back in the “Enemy of Jesse” camp.

          I am more than open to other forms of appraisal. In fact, I would insist on it. But the appraisals have to have teeth. Whether administrative discretion, parental choice, testing, or some clear-cut combination of the three. To the extent that teachers are on board with that, then great. My impression, unchanged since I have started spending time in teachers’ lounges, is that teachers are vaguely in favor of standards, the resistance extends beyond mere testing.

          • I vote we just use the Japanese system — shame a teacher out. This, to a good extent, prevents people from getting kicked out when they really just needed a good wakeup call… and it appeals to teachers’ sense of altruism in general. (bonus points if you can find a decent place to stick the “I just got an education degree” person. we have informatics nurses around here, they don’t see patients.)

          • “But the appraisals have to have teeth.”

            It seems to me that this is really what calls for “standardized testing” are about. Not so much that standardized testing is the perfect way to do things, but that it’s a way, and right now we have no way.

      • I think there are two things going on at once, there, Will. It’s not as simple as an either/or; it’s a related-rates issue.

        When we were debating public school vs. private school for our kids, I came down one the side of, “Let’s try public, because really… unless they get a terrible teacher that actually makes it hell for them to go to class, they’ll be fine. We’re going to read to them and work math problems with them and until they get to 7th grade at the earliest it’s all stuff either you or I could teach them anyway.”

        When you have engaged parents, teacher quality is less of an issue. When you have disengaged parents (both working, or lower income with other problems and issues, or any one of a number of other things), then teacher quality is more of an issue.

        At the far ends of the spectrum, things don’t work out well. When you have disengaged parents a good teacher can probably still pick up some slack… when you get to actively negative parents it takes a miracle worker (or a very strong school community) to give the kid a shot at an even break.

        (When you have really engaged parents, you can get the issue where they’re actually making things worse because they’re engaged in all the wrong ways. This is obviously less destructive than, say, a parent who has a restraining order and beats their child, but it can be bad in its own way.)

        I guess my point is that sometimes, in some communities, Teacher Quality is very, very important because the deck is stacked pretty hard against a large number of the kids. Success is unfortunately in the margins; you get a lot a failures but if you can get a couple of extra kids out with a quality education at the end of the day you probably are pretty dang good at your job.

        In other communities, Teacher Quality is less important because the kids have a lot more external healthy motivating factors and they’ll learn what they need to learn even if the teacher is just average folks.

        Usually, the better teachers wind up at the “better” schools, which are not necessarily the schools where they’re most needed.

        • I agree that there is a variance in how much it matters, but even between the two groups you’re talking about, it’s likely that there would be a relationship. If it’s affecting the lower SES students harshly, it’s likely to affect the upper, too. It just might be less noticeable (in the sense that it would be less alarming).

          Double-agreed on your last paragraph. If I were king, we’d financially lure great teachers to the schools where they are needed most. If I were a regular teacher at the district where I fill in, after several years of discouragement at one of the lesser schools, I’d likely be aching to be transferred to one of the upper. Or eying other districts (since the pension program is statewide).

          • > It’s likely to affect the upper, too. It just
            > might be less noticeable (in the sense that
            > it would be less alarming).

            Oh, sure. And from a justice standpoint, I’d rather not pay someone to be a below-mediocre teacher for my children, even if they were learning everything they needed to know at home, for a very long laundry list of reasons.

            I’m just saying that there’s three parties involved here, the parents, the teachers, and the kids themselves. Actual harm being done depends on a confluence of factors. And it’s really hard to measure the goodness of a teacher when you have a good, engaged parenting cadre because the kids will do well (through the extra work of their parents) than say perhaps a teacher one classroom over who is actually a better teacher but has all the troubled kids and disengaged parents.

            Everybody wants quantitative metrics. This is a bad space for it.

          • If I were king, I’d set up decent rotations. People stay at a crap school for about four years, then get rotated out for about eight (works best if the two schools are near each other, natch).
            It’s one thing to expect good work from a good teacher — but those ghetto schools are soul-crushing (kinda like ER nursing can be…).
            We need a system to make teaching livable.

        • “We’re going to read to them and work math problems with them…”

          Sounds like homeschooling.

          And I know that you don’t think of it that way, or mean for it to be taken that way, and everyone thinks of ‘homeschooling’ as something that racist Jesus-freaks do. But if you’re supplementing (or supplanting) what happens in school with independent activity at home then you are homeschooling.

          • Though technically true, there is a substantive difference between supplementing a school with at-home tutoring and bypassing schools entirely. When I mention that I would consider homeschooling, I am not referring to the at-home tutoring that they are going to get regardless.

          • Right. Homeschooling is something that crazy religious conservatives do. Private tutoring is totally different. I mean, just to start with, you can’t call it “homeschooling” if it doesn’t happen in the home.

            I can’t believe I’m making this argument, but I am. I feel like an atheist telling an agnostic that no, he’s actually an atheist.

          • (1) Having your kids go to a school for 180 or so days a year and helping them with their work.

            (2) Having your kids not go to school and instead taking on the entire task of their education.

            You don’t see a difference here?

            Would it help if I repeated: I am considering (or would consider) homeschooling my future kids! Does that suggest that maybe, maybe I (a) don’t oppose homeschooling and (b) don’t consider homeschooling something that “crazy religious conservatives do” (unless you think I think I am a crazy religious conservative)?

            But that I might actually consider there to be a difference between (1) and (2)?

          • My wife (prez of the PTA) helps teach science classes at the local public school because science is heavily de-prioritized in California’s pre-highschool public education system.

            We’re doing sort of the opposite of “homeschooling” as traditionally labeled, we’re trying to help up the public school performance by increasing parental involvement.

            It helps that in spite of our neighborhood school’s demographic (largely economically disadvantaged kids)… the economically advantaged people who also send their kids there are correlated highly with people who work at Caltech or JPL or who have higher degrees in everything under the sun and are really interested in improving public education – these are people who 15 years ago would have been sending their kids to the local private school and volunteering there, and now they’re sending their kids to the local public school and volunteering *there*, instead. Not to say that the economically disadvantaged parents don’t help out too (because they do, and some of them spend a *lot* of time working at the school), but it’s not like we’re at a public school where none of the parents have any time to volunteer at all. Sometimes all it takes is a small critical mass of people who push really hard at getting things done.

            This is one of the reasons why I hate the current incarnation of zoning laws in most places. They don’t generally trend towards creating communities where socioeconomic diversity exists, at all.

          • “You don’t see a difference here?”

            I see a difference between a Ford Explorer and a Mazda Miata.

            I also see a difference between these two things and taking the bus.

          • I see a difference between a Ford Explorer and a Mazda Miata. I also see a difference between these two things and taking the bus.

            “I don’t really want a Ford Explorer.”

            “But you’re buying a Mazda! Neither are taking the bus! The only reason you are saying you don’t want an Explorer is because you associate it with boring suburbanites!”

            (FWIW, I actually agree that some of the hostility towards homeschooling is cultural. But there is absolutely no disconnect between helping a kid with his homework (or supplementing classroom learning) and saying that you don’t think homeschooling is a good idea.)

          • Yeah, my post didn’t come out quite as awesome as it sounded in my head.

            My point is that “homeschooling” can (and should) mean more than “total replacement of professional teachers with parents”; that the goals and methods of homeschooling are actually a lot more common than people think. Patrick claims that he isn’t too concerned about teacher quality because he plans to do a lot of teaching himself, and I think “wow, how is that different from a homeschooler?”

          • > Patrick claims that he isn’t too concerned
            > about teacher quality because he plans to
            > do a lot of teaching himself

            Sorry, you misread me. I am concerned, generally, with teacher quality. Certainly teacher quality matters quite a bit at my particular neighborhood school.

            I was less concerned with the particular case of potentially having a single incident of less than stellar teacher quality at the beginning of my children’s education, when compared to, say many middle class people who live here in Pasadena and are still freaked out by the idea of sending their kids to public school based upon handed-down freakouts from back when they did busing.

            I also don’t have much of a problem with homeschooling, and think that there’s way too much stigma attached to homeschoolers, but I do believe that Will has a point; there’s a difference between augmenting your child’s education yourself, and doing it entirely yourself.

  4. Chait is, I think, trying to claim that if the libertarian “you get what you pay for” argument is true, then the problem is not that teachers are bad, but that we aren’t paying enough to get good teaching. We are, you might say, trying to have gourmet beef for McDonalds’ prices.

    • I get that. But Chait has already stipulated that Big Macs are too expensive for what they are, i.e., they’re only worth $2, they charge $3, but for the quality the consumer really deserves, they should cost $5. There’s at least two problems there: why are we paying $3 for what should cost $2? And how do we get the high-quality $5 burger we’re after?

      • I can’t seem to read that article–my browser hangs and crashes every time I try to load it–but, from your summary, it seems that Chait is agreeing that teachers are paid more and that their performance is tied to compensation, but not agreeing that it’s a bad thing. What he’s saying–to continue the food metaphor–is that we’re trying to pay hamburger prices for steak, when what we ought to be doing is paying lobster prices for lobster.

  5. According to the studies I’ve seen, something like 50% of teachers quit within the first five years. Most of them I’ve known personally lasted about a year. Imagining that most people aren’t “naturals” who excel from the first day (as we would with every other profession that hasn’t been romanticized by Hollywood movies) how many years might it take you to become a really great teacher, if you had the desire to do so? Assuming that most teachers don’t get into the profession for the large payday, what other sorts of things might you need from the institution to support you as you learn the skills of a tough job? If they expected that you’d not last any longer than a year or two, how much support might they give you?

    • I think a big reason for the large early turnover is that teaching requires a certain kind of temperament that a lot of people don’t really have. Unfortunately, in our training system you go through *a lot* of training before ever really stepping foot in a classroom. Because of all of the barriers put up, it’s hard for someone to “give teaching a try” to see how you respond to a bunch of kids alternately looking for leadership and challenging your authority.

      • … so far as I understand, there’s no barrier whatsoever to becoming a high school physics teacher. Got a science degree? Check. (maybe it’s take a test, but I think it’s mostly “yay! someone who might be competent! we need you NOW”)

      • Kim, it varies from state to state, but science and math teachers are most likely to get a pass simply because there are so few of them. Back home, this meant that they could indeed get a job teaching, though their job was provisional in nature. If a certified teacher applied for the job on Tuesday, you’re out of the job by Wednesday. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it was a shallow foundation on which to build a career. But… it is also a start!

  6. From what I have seen, we probably are both underpaying and overpaying teachers – early career teachers are underpaid – low starting salaries, crappy assignments while mid- and late-career teachers are overpaid – seniority pay, additional pay for graduate education that often has minimal pedagogical value, preferential assignments.
    This kind of situation inevitably leads to a fair amount of potentially good candidates dropping out of the profession early and others to never seek it, leaving you with a nice lot of middling quality eating up a big chunk of the payroll.

    • Um, you’re gonna’ have ‘middling’ quality in any profession. Even in the NBA, most players are neither Michael Jordan nor Gheorge Mhuresan. They’re JJ Reddick. A solid role player who’s a decent shooter, but not great.

      Even if every single teacher had as much job security as a fry cook at McDonald’s, most teachers would be average, there would be some crappy ones and there would be some great ones.

      • That seems like a complete dodge of my point, are middling to worse professionals eating up a disproportional share of compensation? In situations where pay is heavily linked to seniority and credentialing, it seems obvious to me it will be as I don’t accept that seniority and credentials are correlated to quality at all relative to the way compensations are typically structured.

        Security has minimal impact there, it’s also not a union/non-union issue because as far as I’ve ever seen, the structure is pervasive in districts regardless of the strength of unions in that area.

    • +1 for bringing up the backloaded nature of teacher pay. I’m actually less concerned with how much teachers are paid as I am with how they are paid. The incentive is to find the easiest job possible and just hang in there for a couple decades (and maybe grab an extra degree along the way).

      • This is a wicked hard problem to solve. Non-monetary compensation (access to cheap loans for housing or education compensation/repayment) is the only thing I can think of.

        Certainly nobody is going to stick around in a career that pays you the most when you get started. Although it *might* work anyway, if enough people taught for five years and then moved on. Tricky.

        • You absolutely can’t pay them most when they get started, but I think you can mitigate the differentials. But what I would really like to see is the more experienced teachers getting paid more for tougher assignments. This opens up a can of beans I’m not going to explore, though, since I don’t want to sidetrack the discussion.

          • Not to encourage the side track, but:

            “Your reward for accomplishing that difficult task is to be assigned a more difficult task!”

            Not necessarily a bad idea, but… burnout.

          • And getting paid more! Don’t forget the “getting paid more” part!

            That’s how it works in most places. You get paid more over time in part because your jobs get more difficult, more complicated, and more important.

          • …. that’s inspired. I really like the idea of saying, “hey, you’ve done well in this cushy job”– we trust you, take something harder.
            It’s a way of routing the good teachers to where they’re needed most.

          • > And getting paid more! Don’t forget the
            > “getting paid more” part!

            Good point. Still, generally speaking I think teaching falls right into the wheelhouse of the sort of intelligence work wherein the best level of extrinsic motivation is, “Pay them enough that money doesn’t matter and then give them other extrinsic rewards that fulfill stuff on higher levels of Maslov”.

            Most teachers that are good ones (disclaimer: anecdotal, that I know, yadda yadda) aren’t so much interested in big paydays as they are having a decent middle class income and having more autonomy and maybe more opportunities for stuff like going to conferences and geeking out with other teachers.

            > That’s how it works in most places. You
            > get paid more over time in part because
            > your jobs get more difficult, more
            > complicated, and more important.

            Oh, I don’t think it’s a bad approach, to be clear. It does have a tendency to reverse the Peter Principle; rather than promote people until they can’t do the job anymore, you give people opportunities until they stop reaching for new ones, and I think that works.

            But you do have to have some sort of anti-burnout measures in place.

          • I agree about the burnout thing. In my perfect world, they would be able to step back into a less stressful situation. I’d also like to think that spending a few years in the stressful environment would look great on one’s resume. And, I think if we make a point of saying “We consider these teachers to be valuable” that it can change perceptions and self-perceptions. I am skeptical of most efforts of saying “We should make teaching a high-status job,” but this is one way where we could make a particular kind of teacher a high-status job – at least within the profession – by drawing in the more ambitious teachers and rewarding them for their work.

            This is something that has only come to me really in the last couple of months. I’m still mentally sorting it out. It could be that six months from now I will consider it as ridiculously utopian as I consider the “We should pay all teachers more as a status signal,” a similar idea of which I am more skeptical.

    • grad education means “overtime” pay (working at local community college over summer)

      • That’s no doubt true some of the time, but it’s also true according to the pay schedules I’ve seen that they get an actual raise as well.

        • If it’s not mandatory (we need to separate continuing certification requirements from optional additional credentialing to get into higher payscales), then it’s not ‘overtime’. If I choose to go get an MBA in the expectation of earning a higher salary, that’s on my own time.
          The question is if the value of one’s work is increased commensurate with the additional compensation one earns. What pay schedules I have seen, it seems quite clear that the equation comes out as a big time loser for schools, students and taxpayers.

          • … you miss what I’m trying to say. my fault. A high school teacher makes $0 in the summer. If they have a trade (painting houses), they make $x. If they have a masters in math, they can get higher paying jobs than tradesmen (like being an associate prof at the local college).

          • Ah, it still took me a minute to grok. Now that I (think) I do, I’m not sure if there’s a takeaway for the issue at hand.

  7. Unions have been touched on in this thread as in many previous discussions. I have linky goodness to studies that discuss if there are differences in test performance in states with and without unions. There is little evidence that states with unions have worst performance on measurables like tests. There a fair bit of evidence showing better test performance among other good things in states with unions.

    Plenty of links to various studies at all the above links.

    • The first one really raised my blood pressure until I realized that Shanker was making the minimalist argument (that no, we can’t trace all of our problems to teachers unions – certainly agreed on that point).

      In the second and third, he acknowledges the glaring problems in the first and does a good job stressing the inconclusiveness of it all. For those that don’t want to follow the links, basically the NAEP results (once broken down a few ways) mildly favor union states overall, but with a possible negative effect for the lowest students. The third points out a number of mitigating factors.

      The long and short of it is that no, you can’t improve everything just by getting rid of the unions. I come from a non-union state and everything actually more-or-less works the same way as it does in union states in terms of pay salaries and the firing of incompetent teachers (or lack of firing them).

      • Yeah as he says at the end “its complex.” This is the nitty gritty of ed. research; boring, technical, full of caveats and exceptions. What passes for our national dialogue, and especially the ideologues don’t really care about whatever the data can show us. As a people we just are crap at dealing with complex, multi-causal phenomenon.

        • The Shanker argument avoids the point: we pay union teachers more for the same mediocrity, proven by his own evidence!

          “Charter schools, which are largely free of both unions and their contracts, overwhelmingly perform no better than regular public schools…”

          Same here. But charter schools are far cheaper.

          Now what if we put the money we’re overpaying union teachers into more teachers [reducing class sizes] and other assorted bright ideas?

          Fishing amazing, that the most obvious question is the one not asked.

          • I don’t have the links in front of me, but reducing class sizes does not lead to better education results until you get to very small groups (1-2 students per teacher).

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