Teachers, Tenure and Pay

EOE #1

Education Equality

A lot has been written about K-12 teacher tenure since the education-equity case, Vergara v. California, June 10 ruling. Judge Rolf M. Treu essentially agreed with the plaintiffs—nine California students—that the state’s laws governing teacher tenure and dismissal unfairly saddle disadvantaged and minority students with weaker teachers.

Ironically, this lawsuit isn’t about teacher tenure per say. It is about teacher equity, or rather teacher equity distribution, a subject that has been a focal point of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. NCLB has received a lot of flak regarding its common standards and high-states testing mandate but what its greatest achievement, or attempted achievement, has been the program’s Equality of Educational Opportunity of which Teacher Equity Planning is a part.

EOE #2

Education Equality

This lawsuit comes as California is working on its own “Plan for Highly Qualified Teachers” which was written and approved by the State Board of Education in September 2010. It reflects the steps the state is currently taking to ensure that students from low-income families and minority students are not taught at higher rates than other students by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers.

This month the U.S. Department of Education detailed its long-delayed “50-state strategy” for ensuring that poor and minority students get access to as many great teachers as their more advantaged peers. But fewer than half of states have separate teacher-equity plans on file with the department.

Meanwhile, a national survey of teachers found that core classes in high-poverty schools are twice as likely to be taught by out-of-field teachers as similar classes at schools serving more advantaged students. The difficulty in compliance is reflected in the fact that states have a limited authority and capacity to ensure that districts distribute teachers fairly, since decisions like hiring and transfers tend to be made at the local level. In addition, states are also focused on developing new teacher-evaluation systems that take consider student outcomes.

EOE #4

Teacher Strike circ. 1910

The idea of teacher tenure started as part of the labor movement in the late 19th century. Just as steel and auto workers fought against unsafe working conditions and unlivable wages, teachers too demanded protection from parents, administrators and politicians who would try to dictate lesson plans or exclude controversial materials. New Jersey became the first state to pass tenure legislation when, in 1910, it granted fair-dismissal rights to college professors and during the 1920s it was extended to elementary and high school teachers as well. Today about 2.3 million public school teachers in the U.S. have tenure.

Though tenure doesn’t guarantee lifetime employment it does make firing teachers a difficult and costly process, one that involves the union, the school board, the principal, the judicial system and thousands of dollars in legal fees. As a result of union contracts and state-labor laws in most states, a tenured teacher can’t be dismissed until charges are filed and months of evaluations, hearings and appeals have occurred. Meanwhile, school districts must pay out thousands of dollars for paid leave and substitute instructors. The system is deliberately slow and cumbersome, in order to dissuade school boards and parents from ousting a teacher for personal or political motives.

EOE #9

Tenure and Poor Teachers

But where the tenure track for college professors can require a record of published research and probationary periods of up to 10 years, K-12 teachers can win tenure after working as little as two years in some states. And thanks to the rigid testing requirements put in place by the No Child Left Behind Act, the academic freedom that tenure was meant to protect has been severely curtailed.

Some school districts have resorted to separation or “buy-out” agreements to avoid extensive hearings and costs. In what then Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called “the dance of the lemons” some districts simply transfer inadequate teachers to other schools. When former Mass. Gov. William Weld tried to pass legislation requiring teachers to take competency tests every five years, teachers unions complained calling the bill adversarial and intrusive. Weld defended himself by explaining his stance as “anti-slob teacher,” not “anti-teacher.”

In 1997, Oregon abolished tenure and replaced it with 2-year renewable contracts and a rehabilitation program for underachieving instructors. Other states like Connecticut, New York and Michigan have simply eliminated the word “tenure” (from the Latin tenere, meaning to hold or keep) from the books while retaining the due-process rights it embodies. In Toledo, Ohio, officials have adopted a more proactive approach by establishing a mentoring program to improve teacher performance.

EOE #6

Scapegoat Teachers

Some teachers argue tenure has become a scapegoat for the low test scores and graduation rates in U.S. schools. Underfunding, overcrowding or improving students’ home environments won’t be solved by eliminating tenure. In addition, the need to protect teachers from social attacks remains as important as ever — especially in science classrooms where evolutionary biology and creationism are at odds.

Next to parents K-12 teachers are arguably the most important people in any society. They are in a position to shape a child’s attitude and outlook for the rest of their lives. So it’s curious that teachers are treated with so little respect and that it seems everything from unmotivated students to dismal test scores to disappointing graduation rates get blamed on teachers.

The U.S. teaching profession, and it’s just that – a profession, have evolved from when female teachers could get fired for being seen in public with a non-related male, getting married or for even wearing pants to being responsible for America’s ability to be competitive in the global economy. So why should they continually have to worry about paying the rent next month?

EOE #12

Teacher Pay

According to an October 2010 survey by the American Federation of Teachers, teacher salaries range from a low of $20k in Georgia to a high of $98k in Connecticut with the median being $51k. In California, teacher salaries range from a low of $57k to a high of $77k. By region, teacher salaries average $48k in the Great Lakes; $54k in the Northeast; $37k in the South; $38k in the Southwest; and $61K in the West.

Teachers have a college degree, an advanced credential and, in many cases, master’s degree in education. So why should they get paid less that other professionals. Nationally, compared to other occupations, average teacher salaries are lower than, accountants, architects, attorneys, retail buyers, chemists, civil engineers, economists, education specialists, environmental engineers, forensic scientist, geologist, computer programmer, psychologist, registered nurse, research analyst, systems analyst, and tax auditor.

What I propose is that we do away with tenure and double teacher pay. When Michelle Rhee was superintendent of Washington D.C. schools she proposed a new contract allowing teachers to earn as much as $130,000 a year if they forgo their tenure rights and the growing number of charter schools offer teachers higher pay with no tenure and no unions.

By paying teachers the same as other community professionals this alone would have a positive effect on student test scores. How do you ask? Besides the immediate increase in parent and student respect studies have shown that when money is taken out of a higher cognitive job equation people tend to perform at a higher level.

EOE #8

Teacher Motivation

In a motivational speaker Daniel Pink lecture (YouTube: Daniel Pink–Drive) an MIT study revealed that once you got past rudimentary cognitive skills higher incentives, like money, lead to poorer performance. When the task gets more complicated & requires some conceptual and creative thinking, these kinds of motivators don’t work. They found that if you pay people enough and take the issue of money off the table so they are not thinking about money but are focusing on their work they perform better.  Three factors lead to better performance and personal satisfaction – autonomy (self-directed) – mastery (the urge to get better at doing things) and purpose.

Management is great if you want compliance but if you want engagement, which is what we want in today’s work force, self-direction is better because it’s fun which is more satisfying. The study also found that adequately paid workers were more creative when the challenge was to create something and then gave it away rather than sell it as in Lenox and Wikipedia. People respond positively to the challenge of mastery along with making a contribution to the world. This is called a transcendent purpose motive. When the profit motive becomes unmoored from the purpose motive bad thing happen, like bad service, because we are not only profit maximizers but also purpose maximizers. The science shows that we care about mastery very deeply and we want to be self-directed. If we start treating people like people and not horses, get past the ideology of the carrot and stick we can build organizations that not only make us better off but also make the world a little bit better.

EOE #10

Effective Teachers

In a recent Tomas Friedman article on Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which compare how  well 15-year-olds in 65 cities and countries can apply math, science and reading skills to solve real-world problems,  Andreas Schleicher, who manages PISA, said that thehighest performing PISA schools all have “ownership” cultures — a high degree of professional autonomy for teachers in the classrooms, where teachers get to participate in shaping standards and curriculum and have ample time for continuous professional development. So teaching is not treated as an industry where teachers just spew out and implement the ideas of others, but rather is “a profession where teachers have ownership of their practice and standards, and hold each other accountable.”

So if the MIT study is right adequately paid teachers will perform at a higher level and create some amazing learning environments and tools. If teacher compensation is taken off the table it will also reduce the influence of the teacher unions since their primary carrot to teachers is their bargaining for higher pay. The teachers could then direct the unions rather than the other way around.

EOE #11


Polls show a mixed picture of teacher sentiment. In a 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher there is evidence morale is low. Just 39 percent of teachers reported being “very satisfied with their jobs,” down 23 percentage points in five years. But in the 2013 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index teachers report having a lot of daily positive experiences and give themselves high marks for their general well-being, ranking No. 2 behind physicians for their physical, emotional, and financial health; and the 2012 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll found that while a majority of the public supports using student achievement as a factor in teacher evaluations, an even greater proportion reports having confidence in teachers in general.

So where would the money come from to raise teacher compensation? The two most cost neutral solutions would be to combine some of the nation’s 13,600 school districts and switching to integrated digital curriculum which would save approximately $8 billion per year by eliminating paper textbooks. This would go a long way in professionalizing the U.S. k-12 teaching profession.


Support Articles

 Arne Duncan Unveils 50-State Teacher-Equity Strategy

Rifts deepen over direction of education policy in the U.S.

A brief history of tenure

We can do better

Daniel Pink – Drive


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