Teaching Profession

Teaching & Learning

May 28, 2003 6 min read
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Economists: Scrap Single Salary Schedule for Teachers

A Washington think tank put that provocative question to two economists last week. Richard Vedder of Ohio University and Michael Podgursky of the University of Missouri spoke at a seminar at the invitation of American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Frederick M. Hess. Both of the academics write on the subject of teacher compensation for the current issue of the journal Education Next, which Mr. Hess edits.

The two professors agreed that a good case could be made that, as Mr. Vedder asserted, “teachers are paid roughly what they should be, given market conditions.”

That is, the current level of pay is likely to be high enough to ensure an adequate supply of teachers, Mr. Podgursky explained. While that did not seem to be true in the late 1990s, he said, “we’re entering an era where [high turnover] is going to decline a lot,” in part because the economy has soured.

Mr. Vedder allowed that if he were pressed, he’d hazard that about one-third of teachers are overpaid, one-third are correctly paid, and one-third are underpaid. That’s because the variation in teacher quality and teacher quantity is barely recognized by the rigid salary scales most school districts use, he said. Math teachers should be paid more because they are scarcer, for example, and top teachers should be paid more, in his view, because they are better.

“We ought to encourage districts to experiment with different pay scales,” added Mr. Podgursky. “The uniform salary schedule has got to go.”

Teacher-Quality Pitches:

If the nation really does want to improve the quality of its teachers, everybody has a part to play, including community organizations, federal lawmakers, and parents.

“A Community Action Guide to Teacher Quality,” is available from the Public Education Network. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Additional resources on teacher quality are available from the Alliance for Excellent Education.

That’s the recent message from two education advocacy groups. Both launched campaigns this month keyed to the teacher-quality provisions of the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, which requires a “highly qualified” teacher in every public school classroom by the end of the 2005-06 school year.

The Public Education Network, a Washington-based umbrella organization for 80 local public education funds, released a how-to guide for community leaders who want to raise teacher quality. The network, whose members are largely working to improve schools in low-income communities, believes that an engaged constituency is the surest and best way of improving public schools.

The guide advises leaders on collecting and using teacher-quality data, engaging the community, and crafting an action plan with a good chance of success. The printed report comes with a CD-ROM containing “tools” organizers might use, such as a framework for collecting data on teachers.

Part of a three-year teacher-quality initiative, the guide is based on the experiences of eight communities that received federal grants to address teacher performance: Chattanooga, Tenn.; Greenville, S.C.; Lincoln, Neb.; McKeesport, Pa.; New York City; Philadelphia; and Raleigh, N.C.

“Simply stated, students perform better when they have well-qualified teachers,” said the president of the group, Wendy D. Puriefoy, in a statement.

Meanwhile, the second group, the Alliance for Excellent Education, also based in Washington, has both teacher and principal quality in its sights.

Formed two years ago, the organization presses for better educational opportunities for the nation’s poorest- performing middle and high school students.

It wants federal lawmakers to help enhance the quality of teachers and principals serving those young people by offering tax incentives, loan forgiveness, and scholarships to able educators willing to work in high-poverty schools.

But because lawmakers don’t function in a vacuum, the group’s new campaign takes to the streets as well. A bumper sticker designed to raise awareness of teacher quality bears the message: “My child has a highly qualified teacher. Does yours?”

It also directs readers to the organization’s Web site, where parents and others can learn the legal definition of a “highly qualified” teacher and get information about pending federal legislation favored by the group.

Bonus Bust?:

A high-profile effort by Massachusetts education officials to lure more and better people into teaching has not proved itself, a study concludes.

The paper by R. Clarke Fowler, an education professor at Salem State College in Massachusetts, faults the fast-track training program— which featured $20,000 bonuses—for high attrition rates among the teachers it prepared and for wasteful recruiting practices.

Teachers who came through the Massachusetts Institute for New Teachers, or MINT, left the profession after their first year at nearly twice the national rate—17 percent vs. 9 percent, Mr. Fowler said. On the recruiting side, he reports, just over three- quarters of the program’s graduates would have entered without the bonuses, and some $900,000 was wasted, he contends, on ultimately fruitless recruiting trips outside New England.

Many of Mr. Fowler’s points are not disputed by state officials, who overhauled the program this school year. (“Mass. Bonus Program To Favor Ed. Schools,” Dec. 4, 2002.)

The bonuses, for instance, no longer go to those who sign up for MINT, but rather to teacher-candidates in education schools. That’s a plus for the alternative program, which now does not have to worry that applicants are motivated by the money, said Orin Gutlerner, who coordinates MINT for the Massachusetts education department. Recruiting these days is now largely limited to New England, he added.

Another change is the close connection MINT has forged with five of the state’s high-poverty school districts. This summer, for the first time, candidates will be bound for one of those districts in the fall when they start teaching.

Teacher Residency:

In Boston, meanwhile, professionals and recent college graduates who want to teach in that urban district have another new pathway to the classroom.

Strategic Grant Partners, a coalition of family foundations, announced this month that it had awarded a $2.2 million grant to the Boston Plan for Excellence. The local education foundation will administer the program for the 64,000-student Boston public schools.

The program, which is scheduled to start in the fall, is modeled after a medical residency, according to Ellen Guiney, the executive director of the Boston Plan for Excellence. “This is building on Boston’s expertise,” she said.

Participants in the 14-month program will work under supervision in classrooms four days a week for an entire school year. On the fifth day, they will study under experienced teachers, administrators, and professors from local colleges and universities.

Upon completing the program, the teachers will earn certification not only in their chosen fields or subjects, but in special education as well. Completion of the program also entitles participants to a master’s degree in education from the University of Massachusetts Boston. In addition, the teachers-in-training will each be given a $10,000 stipend and a $10,000 loan, which will be forgiven if the candidate teaches in the Boston schools for three years after completing the program.

—Bess Keller & Michelle Galley inclass@epe.org

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