Category Archives: Teacher Pay

What “Jersey Shore” tells us about teacher pay

Popular attitudes towards public education suffer from an ignorance of some basic principles of education, such as the law of supply and demand.

Recently a friend of mine said something along these lines: “Isn’t it disgusting that the cast of ‘Jersey Shore’ gets paid $45,000 per episode when teachers in this country don’t get paid that much for a whole year?”

What I know about  “Jersey Shore” is very little. I suspect (I have not bothered to do a Google search) that it is a  “reality show” on some TV network, about people who spend their time baking in the sun at a beach on the Atlantic Ocean.

As you might surmise, I don’t see any need to watch that show. But millions of people, or at least hundreds of thousands, find the show compelling, entertaining, or otherwise worth their time. That fact means that advertisers hand over money to the producers of the show, who in turn pay the “actors” of  the show. That’s no “God’s-eye-view” judgment that “Jersey Shore” is more important to the health of the health of the country than education, but it does illustrate the economic principle of scarcity: That which is scarce, relative to the demand, fetches more than that which is not.

Nationally, the “average” teacher earned about $54,000 per year, which isn’t wealthy, but not exactly a starvation wage, either. (I suspect, though don’t know with certainty, that this number does not include health or retirement benefits.) The number in Kansas is lower ($49,000), but then again, Kansas has a lower cost of living than, say, the east-coast urbanized zone from Washington, DC to Boston, or the sprawling settlement that is Southern California. There’s another factor about teacher pay that must be kept in mind, too: Teaching offers job security that is not present in many jobs. Getting fired for non-performance almost never happens, thanks to the power of tenure and contracts. Even getting let go for economic reasons is not as likely as in some other industries (witness the recent, massive “edujobs” bailout from Congress.)

Finally, the pay of teachers has been affected by the trend towards “smaller class sizes.” Simply put, you can have few teachers earning a lot, or more teachers not earning as much. The path the nation has taken in recent decades is to increase the number of teachers. As any student of Econ 101 can (if he’s paying attention) tell you, when the supply of people supply a service goes up, that puts downward pressure on wages.

Portable pensions, please

“The most potent education reform may be the one that’s too often considered a side issue: pension reform.” That’s the word of the editorial writers at the Wall Street Journal.

Before you dismiss the suggestion based on the source alone, consider this: New teachers, once they get past the initial rough year or two, are sometimes the best teachers a school has. They haven’t had time to get worn down or cynical, for one thing. Yet the current retirement system effectively discourages them.

The Journal also quotes a report from Education Sector, which says under the current approach “”too many veteran teachers who are burned out stay because they do not want to walk away from the benefits and service time they have accrued.” That’s not exactly what students need.

For more on the report, see what I wrote a short time ago.

Kansas’ teacher retirement plan is underfunded, obsolete

It used to be that the teaching corps was made up primarily of the brightest and best of women, who had few other job options available to them. The world has changed, and it’s time–past time–for our personnel policies to change with them. One such necessary change is to the retirement system.

The group Education Sector has a new report, “Reforming Teacher Pensions for a Changing Workforce” (PDF). It says that most states have several problems with their pension systems for teachers and other government employees:

First, they’re woefully underfunded, with long-term obligations exceeding expected revenue by $450 billion. (For perspective, that’s about 12 percent of the entire budget of the U.S. government, with its far-flung military bases and many domestic programs.)

Next, and most important for our purposes here, current retirement policies are bad for education. The current approach “features elements that compel teachers to stay on the job, regardless of burnout or a desire to pursue a new career, until they reach a certain career milestone, after which they retire immediately or else begin to lose out financially.”

There are a number of political and legal obstacles to achieving both financial solvency and a retirement policy that encourages excellence in education, the authors admit. They survey the various ways in which defined benefit, defined contribution, and cash balance plans affect teachers differently.

Today’s pension schemes are built around a profession that practitioners remain in for 20-30 years with an expectation that performance and value continue to improve over time. But gains in teacher effectiveness are heavily concentrated in the early years.[So there’s less need to keep teachers employed in the same job for decades on end.] And younger workers, including teachers, are much more likely to move between careers. Solutions to the pension problem should be designed with an eye toward how the profession will look in the future, not how it looked in the past

By the way, how is Kansas doing? Not very well.  A state with a “funded ratio” of 100 percent has all the money it needs to meet its long-term obligations. A state with a ratio of over 100 percent has more than it needs. Kansas? Its ratio of 59, second-worst in the country. Only Illinois does worse. Kansas’ unfunded liability (for state employees, not just teachers) is over $8 billion, or nearly $3,000 for every man, woman, and child in the state. Note that these numbers are based on data from 2008–before the economy turned south.

For a more detailed look at the financial health of KPERS, see this report (PDF) from a research center at KU.

Of baseball players and teachers

“The best teacher in America should make $25 million, like A-Rod; and a handful of teachers should make millions. The average teacher should make what a minor-league player earns. And bad teachers should be cut during spring training.” — Nathan Benefield of the Commonwealth Foundation, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Give us $100,000-a-year teachers*

The Chicago Tribune recently ran an article about teachers in the state who earn $100,000 a year. Most of them, as you might expect, are in wealthy suburbs of Chicago.

The Tribune ran into some grief from the teachers union, and the paper ran an editorial that’s worth reading. The board said it’s happy to have $100k teachers–but only if they’re the right kind. Here’s an excerpt:

We’ve argued countless times that teacher pay should be based on performance, documented against measurable standards. In Illinois, it’s based largely on longevity.

Our agenda is excellence in education. You can’t achieve that without excellent teachers, and you can’t attract and keep excellent teachers unless you pay competitive salaries. Illinois taxpayers understand that.

Our agenda is to shatter an education status quo that resists installing clear performance measures for teachers, that resists expanding the number of innovative charter schools, that resists competition. A $100,000 teacher who can demonstrate excellent gains by her students has earned her keep.

You can read the whole thing here. A companion editorial reminds us of some of the benefits of being a teacher, including job security, little or no required travel, a liberal leave policy, summer vacations (or if you will, the ability to have a significant amount of time that’s self-directed, even if it is in fulfillment of various official requirements), and retirement benefits. It concludes, “It’s often said no one gets rich as a teacher. Yes, no one gets chief-executive rich, or pro-athlete rich or movie-star rich. But you can do very well as a teacher, compared to the broader work force. There’s nothing wrong with that. And there’s nothing wrong with expecting teachers to demonstrate through performance measures year in and year out that they deserve what they make.”

Now, I understand there are problems with subjectivity in evaluation, favoritism, and factors outside the control of the teacher. But isn’t that true of many jobs, especially the professions? I’m also aware that test scores don’t reveal everything, and that there are methodological problems with using student scores to evaluate teacher performance. All this, however, doesn’t mean that “time on the job plus the number of post-college credits” should be the sum total of what determines teacher retention and pay.

The Commonwealth of Virginia, for example, is moving towards using student academic progress as part of the process of evaluating teacher performance.

The says,

Virginia’s weak teacher accountability provisions are getting a fresh look.

According to plans presented to the state Board of Education on Thursday, new guidelines would require evaluations to consider student growth as a “significant” factor.

Current law only requires evaluations to be conducted every three years and does not tie them to pay.

For more on teacher pay in Kansas, see this page, which is under development.

The Gates Foundation: Outsized Player in Education?

The Washington Post describes some of the work done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in education. It notes that the foundation is advocating many of the key reforms in education today, including smaller schools, charter schools, and teacher evaluation.

One question that runs throughout the article is whether the foundation has too much influence. Certainly it’s got money to hand out, and it does push the envelope of what political leaders and education industry leaders are comfortable with. But it’s also possible to overstate the influence.

Consider this:

Overall government spending on K-12 education, estimated at more than $500 billion a year, dwarfs what the foundation gives. But the Seattle-based charity, with a $35 billion endowment, towers over others in the field. It gives nearly four times as much annually to elementary and secondary education as the second-biggest player, the Walton Family Foundation.

A $35 billion endowment sounds large, and it certainly is. But unless the foundation expects to spend itself out of existence soon–something few foundations ever do, at least intentionally–it is indeed going to be dwarfed by government spending. If the foundation gives away 5% of its assets each year–a moderately aggressive spending policy–it gives away $1.75 billion per year, or a ratio of 286:1. Note, though, that education is only one of several programs within the Gates foundation  (health care in the third world is another, and there are still others I’m not aware of), so in 2008, the foundation gave, according to a companion article in the Post, $219 million for education. Bump that up to $500 million just for kicks, and government spending still outspends Gates Foundation spending by a ratio of 1000:1.

There are several ways of looking at this: The tail wags the dog; school officials are so desperate for money they will do anything demanded by someone dangling money in front of them; or the education industry has a weakness to fads. Perhaps all three-if not more. I happen to agree with some of their programs and disagree with others. Some people quoted in the article point out the obvious, which is that the Gates Foundation (and anyone else, for that matter) can grab onto ideas that look good now but turn out to be not so good. That’s one reason why funds for school choice programs would be a great addition to the foundation’s portfolio: A new program would help students immediately (many of the foundation’s reforms have long-term effects), and would offer a bottom-up approach to complement the top-down approaches funded so far. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon. For one thing, it has given $1.6 million (small change, admittedly) to teacher unions in an attempt to mend fences–and unions are no fans of school choice, for reasons that run from ideological to self-interest.

The article closes with a mention of a new pay experiment being conducted in Florida, funded in large measure by foundation money:

The Hillsborough system, with 193,000 students, emerged last year as the foundation sifted thousands of candidates for a project nicknamed the “deep dive.” Crucially, the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association had already accepted the idea of bonuses linked to test scores and other metrics.

Over seven years, the $100 million grant will fund staff development, testing, salary and other start-up costs for a career path that aims to elevate teachers who excel and encourage those who flounder to get help.

Every year, teachers here will be evaluated on a formula based on student achievement gains (40 percent), principal observation (30 percent) and peer observation (30 percent). By 2013, a four-tier pay scale will take effect that will reward high performers regardless of their academic degrees or years of experience — a major break from precedent. Veteran teachers will be allowed to remain in the seniority-based pay scale or opt into the new one. New teachers will not have a choice and will be subject to more rigorous scrutiny before gaining tenure.

That sounds like a reasonable, gradual approach.

Indiana, Oregon, try market and performance-based pay

Marketplace-based pay is coming to Indiana, at least in baby steps. Some teachers will be paid more for filling hard-to-staff jobs, while others will get paid more for student achievement.

According to the Indianapolis Star, the “Indiana Department of Education this week applied for a federal grant to implement TAP, a system of incentives and training for teachers, at 44 schools throughout the state.”

That’s 44 schools, not 44 districts, so the project is indeed modest. But given the grip that the unionized factory model has on public schools (first in, first out, pay based on seniority), it counts as positive reform.

Contrary to the fears that deviating from the union scale means teaching to the test (and putting teachers in the position of being paid for something they can’t have total control over), teacher bonus pay is based on a mix of factors: “All teachers in the school would be eligible for substantial bonuses, according to a formula based 50 percent on principal evaluations, 30 percent on how their own students improve and 20 percent on how the entire school improves.”

To its credit, the state’s teacher union hasn’t blocked the idea, but has left it up to bargaining units at the district level. Still, it can’t quite shake the union model of pay: It “has no problem with teachers getting extra pay for extra duties but grows concerned when some teachers are paid more than others. That kind of system, the union has argued, can lead to abuses.”

To be fair to the union, school principals aren’t always up to the task of evaluating teachers. I believe it was the National Council for Teacher Quality that suggested a need for principals to be trained in the art of evaluation.

Six districts in Oregon, meanwhile, will apply for some TAP money as well. According to, “The Oregon districts applied to win a share of the Teacher Incentive Fund, a relatively small $400 million pot of federal Race to the Top money set aside to encourage schools to measure and reward the effectiveness of teachers and principals.”

Has anyone in Kansas considered going after this money?

Click here for information on TAP, which works in many states. It gets some of its funding from the U.S. Department of Education, with foundations and others supplying the rest.

Teachers who achieve more should be paid more

A few weeks ago, the Florida Legislature enacted some sweeping changes in how public school teachers are paid in the state. Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the bill, but it’s still worth looking at the reasons for the legislation.

After the Legislature passed the bill but before Crist vetoed it, former Gov. Jeb Bush offered a defense of the bill in an op-ed published in the St. Petersburg Times. Among his points:

A decade ago, the state enacted the A+ plan, which gave schools bonuses if the students in the school achieved specified gains on FCAT, the state’s assessment.

Most recently, reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for disabled students increased significantly, compared with either a modest gain or even a drop for the nation as a whole.

SB6 would build on that idea. The important factor is to use not test scores at one point in time, or test scores against a standard, but changes in the score over time: “Because some students start the school year below grade level, teachers will not be measured on what their students know. Rather, teachers will be measured on how much each individual student learns during the year in their class. Students will not be compared with each other, only to their own progress from one year to the next.”

The measure, he says, would help retain effective teachers. “Moreover, the bill requires even higher salaries for truly exceptional teachers who help their students make up for lost ground.” Don’t forget, it’s students who are performing at the lowest levels who have the most opportunity to gain–meaning their teachers have the most opportunity to earn a bonus. By contrast, today’s method of paying teachers rewards not effectiveness or even (in most cases) for teaching in challenging schools, but for staying on the job a long time.

Bush says, “Nearly half of teachers leave the profession in the first 10 years, many because of the low pay in the early years. Rewarding effectiveness instead of longevity will keep the best of the best in our classrooms.”

I suppose you could say that we need to raise teacher salaries across the board. But that would do nothing to address the longevity-based compensation scheme. If you’re going to be paid the same amount to work in a challenging school as you are for working in a school of supportive parents, why would you choose the former, unless you had the opportunity to earn a bonus? To be sure, some teachers will voluntarily take on a difficult task for the same pay, but is that fair to expect, as a matter of policy, that will happen on a large scale?

Equally controversial is SB 6’s plan to end teacher tenure in exchange for higher pay.

It also calls for paying math and science teachers more. Again, many teachers will find this objectionable, but it’s a simple recognition of the fact that people who are able to teach math and science have more options for work outside teaching than those who teach other subjects. They will need a greater incentive to work in a school than, say, a history major, whose job prospects are relatively less promising.

I’m leery when someone says that enacting law X or Y is a moral imperative, since it’s so easy to say that, especially when the facts are not on your side. But as Bush makes the plea anyway:

Closing the achievement gap for poor and minority students is the moral imperative of our nation. Thousands of teachers across Florida overcome tremendous challenges faced by their students — poverty, lack of parental involvement, an unstable home life — to ensure their students learn a year’s worth of knowledge in a year’s time. Unfortunately, their hard work in these tougher jobs is currently unrewarded. Many good teachers leave these jobs for suburban schools or leave the profession altogether for higher pay. That’s why the bill requires higher salaries for teachers who work in high-poverty schools.

To be sure, schools have been oversold as the secular gospel of our time, meant to overcome racism, prejudice, poverty, poor parenting, and many other ills. But the way we recruit and reward teachers should be based not simply on time on the job, college credits earned, or even on adhering to some gold standard of teaching methods. All teachers should be paid, but we should give greater rewards to those who have done the most to help their students achieve academic gains.

Prohibit multi-year teachers contracts

Should school boards be able to obligate future legislatures to spending increases through the use of multi-year employee contracts? A former journalist who has watched the politics of schooling in South Florida says no.

What do you think?

Kansas Gets a D- on its policies regarding teachers

One of the groups leading the charge for some sensible reforms in how we hire, supervise, fire, and pay teachers is the National Council on Teacher Quality. The group got a lot of press last year when it released its Teacher Policy Yearbook, which is a “review of state laws, rules and regulations that govern the teaching profession,” addressing “teacher preparation, evaluation, alternative certification and compensation.”

The group offers five criteria for judging any changes to personnel policy [quoting from this page]

  1. They are supported by a strong rationale, grounded in the best research available. (A full list of the citations supporting each goal can be found at
  2. They offer practical, rather than pie-in-the-sky, solutions for improving teacher quality.
  3. They take on the teaching profession’s most pressing needs, including making the profession more responsive to the current labor market.
  4. They are for the most part relatively cost neutral.
  5. They respect the legitimate constraints that some states face so that the goals can work in all 50 states.

The report evaluates five different areas of state policies. Here they are, taken from the Kansas-specific version [PDF] of the national report.

  • Delivering well-prepared teachers. Grade: D+
  • Expanding the pool of teachers. Grade: F
  • Identifying effective teachers. Grade: D
  • Retaining effective teachers. Grade: C-
  • Removing ineffective teachers. Grade: F

All in all, a poor showing.

Each area (represented by the five letter grades) has a number of goals, for a total of 33 goals. Of those, here’s how Kansas policy breaks down:

  • Fully meets: 2
  • Nearly meets: 2
  • Partially meets: 8
  • Meets only a small part: 6
  • Does not meet: 16

How can Kansas improve? Here are a few items from each area. While the report does comment Kansas policy in some goals, I’ve focused in this list on goals where Kansas “does not meet” or “meets only a small part.”

Delivering well-prepared teachers

  • Require college students who enter teacher-training programs to achieve a minimum score on a college entrance exam or basic skills test.
  • Require would-be elementary teachers to pass a test on methods of teaching reading and basic knowledge of mathematics.
  • Require teacher-training programs to increase the amount of data they collect on their graduates, so as to verify the effectiveness of the programs.

Expanding the pool of teachers

  • Require mid-career candidates for alternative certification to pass a subject-matter test, and use the results, as appropriate, to let candidates test out of certain classes.
  • Allow other organizations, such as school districts, to prepare teachers.
  • Eliminate the requirement that alternatively certified teachers be hired only after an exhaustive search for traditionally certified teachers
  • Require alternative certification programs to collect more data on their graduates, so as to verify the effectiveness of the program.

Identifying effective teachers

  • Extend the probationary period for new teachers to five years and create a mechanism for evaluating teacher effectiveness.
  • Require districts to use student performance as the preponderant component of the tenure-granting process. (Today, it’s one of many components, and the language gives districts too much wiggle room to ignore it.)
  • Require all probationary teachers to be evaluated annually. (Today, it’s required for only two years.)

Retaining effective teachers

  • Pay teachers more for demonstrated classroom effectiveness, and for being granted (a reformed version of) tenure.
  • Start new teachers higher on the pay scale if they have relevant work experience.
  • Pay effective teachers more if they work in hard-to-staff subjects or schools.
  • Start a pilot program to test pay-for-performance, and look to Tennessee’s approach as a guide and food for thought.

Existing ineffective teachers

  • Put a strict limit (one year) on districts using non-licensed teachers, but be sure to require subject-matter knowledge.
  • Enact a policy whereby teachers who receive an unsatisfactory evaluation are placed on an improvement plan; make all teachers who receive two unsatisfactory recommendations in a row (or two in five years) eligible for dismissal–even tenured teachers.
  • Differentiate the dismissal process for teachers under question for ineffective teaching from those suspected of committing felonies or morality rules.
  • If a school or district wishes to terminate a teacher for performance, make any appeals be heard before a panel of educators, not a court.

Those are a few of the recommendations. The document is 152 pages long, so I have highlighted only a few elements of it.  For example,  the report report identifies state(s) with best practices as well as research that supports the recommendations for each goal.

Should You Get Paid Just for Showing Up?

The following op-ed comes from the John Locke Foundation, an organization in North Carolina. While it references the situation in that state, the logic applies just aoubt anywhere, including Kansas.

Merit Pay For Teachers Makes Sense

Andy Taylor

School will soon be out for summer, but the issue of education reform will not.

Over the next few months, President Obama will roll out a number of proposals designed to improve public schools. Some of these will look like the usual reflexive effort, generated by left-leaning education “experts,” to throw money at the problem. But others, interestingly enough, are worth supporting. Obama has some encouraging ideas about expanding charter schools, for instance.

I want to focus on another idea kicked around in the White House: merit pay for teachers. This does not sound like a particularly radical idea — after all, the most activist Democratic president since LBJ is intrigued by it.

The North Carolina Association of Educators, however, has drawn a line in the sand on the issue. The union is vehemently against salary that is differentiated based upon performance. To this point, they have prevailed upon their allies in state government to protect against the policy.

Currently, with the exception of cost-of-living adjustments added by counties, teacher pay in North Carolina varies along just two dimensions. The first makes sense. Teachers are given pay increases based upon the training and education they receive — essentially getting a graduate degree or becoming certified by a national board.

Some, like economist Jacob Vigdor of Duke, are skeptical about the amount of value these experiences add, but since they are costly and voluntary the teachers who go through them are presumably more motivated and capable than their colleagues. At the very least, these experiences signal merit.

The second dimension does not make sense, however. Borrowing from Woody Allen’s maxim that “80 percent of success is showing up,” the state believes teachers should be paid for sticking around. This principle wouldn’t be so bad if longevity were earned and teachers weren’t tenured. But, largely protected from dismissal, our public school teachers generate raises by punching a clock rather than doing their job well.

Performance, therefore, isn’t incentivized much. Poor teachers slide by. They don’t serve the interests of their students or the taxpayer, and they take advantage of the good will and professional integrity of their more talented and hardworking colleagues.

They are protected by public policy and NCAE — an organization that purports to promote the interests of all teachers but that really works only for the worst.

This is particularly troubling when you consider that aside from fundamental biological, social, and economic characteristics — Is the child disabled? Is the child from a broken home? Are the childs parents unemployed? — teacher ability explains most of the variation in student accomplishment.

The research shows matters like moderate reductions in class size, the presence of an assistant, and the availability of technology have minimal effects. You have a good teacher, the students progress. Put a bad teacher into a high-tech classroom with an assistant and relatively few students, and there’s little to nothing in the way of development.

The Obama administration is going to call for small merit raises and financial incentives to get teachers to work in rural and poorer schools. Gov. Beverly Perdue has iterated this. Guilford County has its “Mission Possible” program, although, again, this is really just a one-time bonus for teachers who go to work in low-performing schools. But we can do more than this. We can reward achievement systematically.

Salary structures need to be overhauled with annual raises to base salaries given exclusively for merit. So as to have confidence we are rewarding excellence, we should gather as much data on teacher performance from as many sources as possible.

Direct classroom observation and general assessment by principals or assistant principals are critical. Parents care the most about a child’s academic progress, and their views about the teacher’s performance should be taken into consideration as well.

We now put students through a variety of tests — the “end-of-grade” for grades 3-8, prekindergarten screening, etc. The previous year’s results can be used as a benchmark against which to compare this year’s and, in turn, provide a measure of a student’s advancement and the value added by her teacher.

We already have much of this information. It can all be done with little additional effort and administrative cost.

With these reforms, performance will be rewarded. Talented individuals — or those who generally look at salary ceilings rather than floors — will no longer be discouraged from entering the profession because they can be certain of earning more in other fields. Students and parents will benefit, as will taxpayers who will receive greater return on investment. The losers? NCAE and inferior teachers, whose pay will lag that of their colleagues.

Sounds like a good deal to me.

Pay for Better Performance?

Should teachers get paid based on their students’ performance? When you consider how important a good teacher is to a student’s academic success, there’s something to be said for it. Of course there are various methodological problems involved, particularly in estimating just how much a student has gained over the course of a year.

That doesn’t mean the effort isn’t worth trying. The Teacher Incentive Fund of the U.S. Department of Education is one means of encouraging such efforts. The Education Innovator, a newsletter (PDF) of the department, discusses how some schools are using variations on the pay-for-performance model.

Performance Pay? A report in TIME

From the Center for Education Reform comes this news. Could it be part of the solution to the teacher shortage in Kansas?

PERFORMANCE PAY MERITS A CHANCE. “Across the country, hundreds of school districts are experimenting with new ways to attract, reward and keep good teachers…. But the idea gaining the most momentum – and controversy – is merit pay, which attempts to measure the quality of teachers’ work and pay teachers accordingly,” says Time Magazine this week with a cover story on what is perhaps the most important issue for public schools today. Veteran reporter Claudia Willis points out that standardized assessments today offer a “less subjective window onto how well a teacher does her job.” She contributes to the national debate by highlighting several promising programs in place across the country, including the innovative Teacher Advancement Program, a program out of the Milken Family Foundation, which encourages teachers to be innovative and promotes interaction and accountability among peers. If anyone doubts the power of performance-based pay, just listen to Denver teacher Taylor Betz: “Now I refuse to let kids fail,” she says. “I’m going to bulldoze whatever the problem is and solve it

How to Attract More Teachers: Reform Pay Structures

Time magazine looks at the need for new teachers in the country, and discusses the possibility of merit pay. It’s a controversial idea, of course, but as the magazine says, parents know that not all teachers are of the same quality–that’s why they lobby to get their particular kids into a specific class.

It also mentions other concerns in schools, such as the fact that many high school students are taught by teachers without sufficient knowledge of the subject and lack of teacher support in the classroom.

As the article makes clear, there are a lot of issues to think through in setting up any merit-pay system. But thinking through them can be a useful exercise.

Merit Pay Helps Students in Little Rock

Five elementary schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, experiment with using merit pay for teachers. The results are positive. In the experiment:

teachers could earn a bonus worth as much as $10,000. According to the year two evaluation, students in schools where the program operated in 2006-2007 enjoyed greater learning gains than their comparable peers did in math, reading, and language on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. The evaluation also surveyed and interviewed teachers at participating and comparison schools.

Read the whole thing here.

More Money is Not Enough

After the history of spending increases in the last decade, after the court-required spending increases of the last few years, will the Kansas Legislature decide that what schools need is … still more money?

From the Wichita Eagle of January 9 (“Senate leaders talk school-funding hike“):

Senate Republican leaders on Tuesday proposed extending the state’s education funding law to 2010 with a $65 million increase for public schools.

The proposal would increase spending by 2.2 percent, meeting a state mandate that future increases match the increase in the Consumer Price Index. The increase equates to a $59 increase in the base aid for each student, with $37 million going to school districts and $28 million going for related increases in contributions to their employees’ pensions.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt of Independence, Senate Vice President John Vratil of Leawood, and Education Committee Chairwoman Jean Schodorf of Wichita offered the proposal.

Now that the “adequate education” argument has run its course (for now), the latest argument is that the state needs to increase its spending in order to attract teachers:

[Education Commissioner Alexa Posny estimates] 42 percent of teachers leave after the first seven years. Another 32 percent will be able to retire in the next five years.

The concern for getting a sufficient number of teachers is most obvious in high school math and science. Why not allow some differential pay to attract those people? Across-the-board increases will only take money away from packages that could attract teachers where they are most needed.

Which Test? And How to Pay?

The Pratt Tribune noted that USD 382 has received little new money from the recent Montoy-required spending increases that the legislature has doled out.

State aid is based on enrollment, which is declining in the Pratt school district (a loss of 238 students over a 10-year period), and inflation has taken a toll. Fuel and food costs have risen significantly, Davis said. In addition, the Legislature “tinkered with” the low enrollment weighting formula, giving fewer of those dollars to USD 382 and districts smaller than it. Some of the new funds were earmarked for districts that have a high concentration of low income families, and Pratt didn’t qualify, he said.

Fewer students mean fewer responsibilities for the district–or at least a challenge to redirect existing spending. Perhaps a better way of funding education is not to give extra money to schools for students of low income families, but give the money to families directly, and let the schools that are best at responding to those families reap the rewards.

Meanwhile, the statement that the district hasn’t gotten a large increase of late shouldn’t make us forget that the district has increased its efforts a lot over the last 10 years:

Pratt’s total expenditures have increased from $7.7 million in 1996-97 to $12.1 million in 2006-07, according to figures at the Kansas State Department of Education website. The per pupil expenditure rose from $5470 to $10,254.

The story then turns to performance, referencing our recent report (PDF) on the subject:

The Flint Hills Center for Public Policy points to a 93 percent increase in per-pupil funding statewide since 1993 ($5987 to $11,558), but notes that translates to a 33 percent increase after adjusting for inflation. The non-profit think tank contends that student learning has not progressed satisfactorily, based on National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, which indicate that roughly 50 percent of fourth grade students are not proficient in mathematics and that reading scores have stagnated.

That certainly looks like a problem, don’t you think? (For more on the NAEP, see the U.S. Department of Education.)

Then there’s some question about the utility of the NAEP, commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card:

NAEP scores were chosen as a measure because Kansas has participated in the program since 1998, according to John R. LaPlante, education policy fellow with the Flint Hills Center.

NAEP is not a used as a general test in Kansas, however some pilot studies have been done, [Superintendent Glen] Davis said.

We’re not sure what is meant by “not used as a general test.” Certainly Kansas does participate in the NAEP, and has since 1998. (Select “Kansas” from the drop-down box on this page from the US DoEd). Representative samples are used from each state in the country.

On the state assessments, schools look much better:

On the Kansas State Assessments, which are normed to national standards, students do show progress. The Kansas State Department of Education reports strong performance in reading, mathematics and writing for all students and decreasing gaps for disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.


A class-by-class analysis shows that 79 to 99.9 percent of Pratt students scored proficient or better on state reading assessment tests in 2007 and 72.3 to 89.4 percent on math tests. In the majority of cases, percentages were higher than for previous years.

NAEP is based on a national standard, too.  So there’s certainly a discrepancy there–or else students in USD 382 are doing much, much better than those in the rest of Kansas.

We also learn that teacher pay is a big issue for the next year:

The biggest focus of Kansas Association of School Boards and administrators’ groups in 2008 will be to ask the Legislature for an increase on the base state aid to support pay increases for teachers, Davis said. Kansas ranks 39th among the states for salaries and the goal is to reach the middle.


“I could support targeted funding for teacher salaries,” Davis said. “I think that’s an area where we have to make improvement or we’re going to have a major crisis as far as getting young people to enter the teaching field.”

Four words would address the problem: Merit pay. Differential pay.

Source: Carol Bronson, “Trickle Down,” Pratt Tribune, 1/7/08

Bonus Pay for Teachers?

From McPherson comes a step in the right direction Superintendent Dr. Randy Watson made an informal proposal for three possible means of instituting bonus pay:

The first area of the plan seeks to compensate teachers and coaches for honors earned such as Teacher of the Year or Coach of the Year. One case that Watson said would fit the criteria perfectly was when industrial arts teacher Arlan Penner received a Teacher of the Year award from SkillsUSA.

The plan could also compensate an entire school’s staff if student-testing results for that school reach a certain level such as Standards of Excellence on statewide assessment tests. Last year every school in the district reached a Standard of Excellence on at least one assessment test, according to Watson.

The final area is for a department or grade-level bonus plan for areas that excel such as a third-grade class or science department.

Watson seems to be on the right track:

“When we get into the dollar amounts, businesses are tied into the profits they make but school districts don’t make a profit. Here we would measure success by student achievement, which unfortunately is not tied at a state level to the amount of money you receive,” Watson said.

Source: USD 418 school board considers bonus pay for teachers, McPherson Sentinel, September 25. 2007

Negotiations in Lawrence

Talking pay in USD 497 Lawrence:

LEA [union] negotiators have suggested adding $2.1 million into the salary schedule. Kelly Barker, a Southwest Junior High School teacher and LEA’s lead negotiator, said the offer would keep pace with districts in Johnson County and Topeka. The offer is based on an $1,800 raise for a teacher who has served 15 years and has a master’s degree plus 10 more credit hours. … District negotiators last offered about $1.4 million.

So what’s the right salary for a teacher? It’s really hard to tell:

District negotiators say its current early retirement package places it above market.

But what is the market? Other school districts. But school districts are not like your standard business. The salary of people in a normal professional office–doctor, lawyer, architect, and so forth–is based on what voluntary buyers willingly pay. But the voluntariness of paying for teachers is muted by two factors. One, good teachers can’t be paid more, unlike, say, a good engineer. That’s because they’re tied into a salary scale more suitable for a factory. The second reason is that consumer sovereignty is rather limited. If you don’t wish to patronage the particular district, you must physically move–no small task.

Teachers, school district must close $1M salary gap, Lawrence Journal-World, August 20.

Kansas Teacher Pay

With the buzz is that teachers in Kansas need to be paid more, it’s time to ask just where they do rate when it comes to pay.

Our friends at North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation have looked at teacher compensation in the states. They take NEA data, which places Kansas 38 in all states, and then make adjustments for pension matches and differences in the cost of living.

The stated NEA salary of $41,369 for a teacher in Kansas becomes $49,506. The state’s ranking goes from 38 to 27.

Analyst Terry Stoops ran the numbers for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.  In that list, the adjusted pay for Kansas teachers is $49.788, though the ranking (27) is the same as with the North Carolina iteration.

On the adjusted scale, Kansas ranks higher than Colorado (29), Nebraska (35), and Iowa (41), though lower than Missouri (11), Arkansas (12), and Oklahoma (14).

We’re all for outstanding teachers getting paid more. But right now, the system treats everyone the same.

More on Teacher Recruitment

More on teacher recruitment and retention:

Posny said at the end of June, Kansas schools had 1,144 teacher vacancies out of 37,000 positions. That’s about twice as many vacancies as June 2006, she says.

A number of ideas are being floated, some good, some bad:

• Increasing teacher pay. Kansas ranks 38th in average teacher pay at $39,351 per year. The national average is $47,602.

• Increasing funding for mentoring programs where veteran teachers help new teachers.

• Financing “grow your own” programs where districts pay college tuition for para-professionals and others who want to become licensed teachers.

• Removing both salary limits and pension penalties for districts that hire teachers who have retired.

• Providing more flexibility in licensure regulations.

• Offering financial incentives to college students who commit to working in critical shortage subject and geographic areas.

How about this: Find out who the good teachers are, and pay them more.
Commission to address teacher shortage, Lawrence Journal-World, August 22.

New Contract in Wichita

From the Wichita Eagle:

The United Teachers of Wichita announced today that teachers in the Wichita public schools ratified their contract for the 2007-08 school year.

The union said 93.3 percent of the teachers who voted accepted the tentative agreement, which calls for a 4 percent raise but a slight reduction in health benefits. 6.6 percent voted against the new contract.

The tentative agreement between UTW and the Wichita school board will be considered for ratification by the board at a meeting tonight.

Wichita teachers agree on contract, Wichita Eagle, August 13

Looking for Teachers

The search for teachers continues in some districts:

“Despite heavy recruitment efforts that have become more expensive and time-consuming, USD 457 Garden City still is looking for 15 teachers and other districts in the area also have openings, with school starting next week.”

Now is too late, of course, to make significant changes to policy. But Kansas ought to consider changes that might make future recruiting easier, such as flexible pay schools. Move away from years-of-service and number-of-credits pay to performance pay and according to market conditions. If people with science degrees can make more money working in industry than they can teaching, why shouldn’t they be paid more–and by more, we mean more than someone with an education degree whose prospects are more limited?

“Garden City isn’t the only school district having trouble staffing all its classrooms. As of June, there were 1,100 teacher vacancies in Kansas, and administrators say the shortage is nationwide.

USD 214 Ulysses still has two teaching openings this week, and two other positions will be filled with long-term substitutes, said Superintendent Bill Hall.”

Why can’t the substitutes be given permanent jobs? The article doesn’t say, nor does it speculate on whether the individuals have the knowledge and skills to do the job. Perhaps the problem is arcane and obsolete requirements concerning teacher credentials?

Speaking of which …

“”The one teaching vacancy in USD 363 Holcomb is an early childhood special education teacher employed by the High Plains Educational Cooperative, which provides special education services in the area. The position opened on Monday, a week and a half before school starts, Superintendent Robert O’Connor said.

He said Holcomb also has been searching for a counselor since Liz Sosa left the position about two weeks ago to become director of business retention at Finney County Economic Development Corp. — and it’s not having much luck. Although he’s received several applications from candidates with counseling experience, he hasn’t heard from any who also have teaching experience, a requirement for certification in Kansas.

‘That’s one of those certification flaws that’s jumping up and biting us,’ O’Connor said.”

USD457 is making a few changes, such as recruiting in other states.

“Additionally, the salary schedule is structured so that the hire of a less-experienced or less-educated teacher costs less than paying a long-serving veteran with more degrees.”

Here again is a logic that has little direct correlation with what we actually pay schools do to–teach children.

There are a few other changes underway, too:

“The frustration has reached the Kansas State Board of Education, which approved in June new teacher licensure regulations that make it easier for Kansas school districts to hire teachers from other states or countries, as long as they pass exams in the subjects they teach. The new policy also allows a teacher with an endorsement in one science subject to gain an additional endorsement by passing an exam.”

The article suggests also that schools need to pay teachers more. But again, this should be done according to the particular need; mere across-the-board increases will waste funds that could be spent on the hardest-to-staff areas.

The article closes by reminding us that working conditions (most notably, No Child Left Behind) play a role, too. There’s certainly room for talking about that.

Teaching slots still open, Garden City Telegram,  August 7

LJW: Money Isn’t the Only Factor

Yet another article on teacher recruitment and attraction comes from the LJW, this time in an editorial (“Job Satisfaction,” August 5).

“State education officials are right to be concerned about the ability of Kansas school districts to hire the teachers they need.

A quarter of the state’s 35,000 teachers will be eligible to retire in the next four years, Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis told the state’s 2010 Commission, which studies education issues, this week, and many university students are bypassing teaching careers for higher-paying jobs.

The main focus of any discussion of how to attract more people to the teaching profession usually falls on money. In order to get more teachers, you must pay them more.”

You knew that was coming, didn’t you?

But wait.

“When the average teacher salary in Kansas ranks it 38th among the 50 states, money clearly is one part of the puzzle, but are there other reasons teaching has become an undesirable job for many young people or that trained teachers are leaving the profession?

Teaching isn’t the highest paid profession, but many people over the years have found that it offers non-monetary rewards. There’s a lot of satisfaction in helping children grow and develop into healthy, productive adults. Has that somehow changed?”

Perhaps people are looking for opportunities in less bureaucratic environments, where individual effort is rewarded rather than being constricted to a salary scale that is more suitable to a factory environment?

Nope. Blame the feds:

“The demands of the classroom obviously have changed. It seems it is less about the one-on-one relationship between teachers and students and more about objective measurements of student success. While well-intended, the federal No Child Left Behind program has forced teachers to push all of their students toward standardized goals rather than nurture individual talents.”

Granted, we have our differences with NCLB, too. On the other hand, if some students are not performing up to grade, shouldn’t a teacher be concerned about that?

“Respect is another major factor in job satisfaction and is something teachers may find lacking in their profession. It seems that parents don’t respect and support the actions and decisions of teachers as much as they once did. Unfortunately, many students also seem to adopt that disrespectful attitude by the time they reach junior high or high school. Teachers now are expected to deal with myriad social and family issues that weren’t their responsibility a generation or two ago.”

There’s a chicken and egg problem: to what extent do parents slough off their responsibilities because the schools will take care of them? And when families are enabled by private scholarship funds or voucher programs to choose their own school, discipline is less of a problem. Why? Greater buy-in.

“The 2010 Commission is looking at several strategies to attract more teachers and keep them in the profession. Higher pay is at the top of the list, but they also are considering programs to help teachers repay student loans and have districts contribute toward the tuition of students who commit to come back to teach after graduation. They also are looking at more funds for professional development and mentoring programs to raise the satisfaction and status of the profession.”

Tuition reimbursement and loan repayments are simply another way of saying “more money.” But as the LJW editorial points out, the amount of money isn’t the only consideration.

“Are there other factors that should be addressed? Do teachers need more flexibility in their schedules? Do they want more or different training? Is there a way to take some of the administrative burden off teachers and give them more time to just work with youngsters, which probably was the main thing that drew them to teaching in the first place?”

Now we’re getting somewhere.

“Every job has its ups and downs, and it’s true that more money makes just about any job look better, especially if someone is trying to support a family. But, while higher salaries are important, making teaching a more attractive profession may be more than just a matter of dollars and cents.”


More on Teacher Recruitment

Across the board pay raises to alleviate the teacher shortage? That’s expensive, and perhaps not terribly useful. After all, an across-the-board raise means that money is not being targeted towards the jobs most in need of teachers. It also would perpetuate the factory-style way of paying teachers (time in service) rather than bring about what professionals really need, which is pay for performance.

Yet it would appear that there’s little thought being given to merit pay.

The Lawrence Journal World reports on the ongoing commission dealing with teacher recruitment and retention:

“This is probably the most serious problem facing school districts,” Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis told the 2010 Commission, which studies education issues.

One-fourth of the state’s 35,000 teachers will be eligible to retire in the next five years.


As of June, there were 1,144 teacher vacancies statewide with the most serious shortages in special education, math, science and foreign languages.

“What are we going to do to make the teaching profession what the best want to get into?” asked 2010 Commission Vice Chairman Ray Daniels, former superintendent of the Kansas City, Kan., district.

Again, how about … treating professionals as professionals, not factory workers?

(“State funding for education to be put to test,” August 1)