Schedule Conflicts

As most people know, the majority of public school teachers are paid based on salary schedules. Most (but not all) contain a number of “steps” (years of experience) and “lanes” (education levels). Teachers are placed in one lane (based on their degree) and proceed up the steps as they accrue years on the job. Within most districts, these two factors determine the raises that teachers receive.

Salary schedules receive a great deal of attention in our education debates. One argument that has been making the rounds for some time is that we should attract and retain “talent” in the teaching profession by increasing starting salaries and/or the size of raises teachers receive during their first few years (when test-based productivity gains are largest). One common proposal (see here and here) for doing so is reallocating salary from the “top” of salary schedules (the salaries paid to more experienced teachers) down to the “bottom” (novice teachers’ salaries). As a highly simplified example, instead of paying starting teachers $40,000 and teachers with 15 years of experience $80,000, we could pay first-year teachers $50,000 and their experienced counterparts $70,000. This general idea is sometimes called “frontloading,” as it concentrates salary expenditures at the “front” of schedules.

Now, there is a case for changes to salary schedules in many places – bargained and approved by teachers – including, perhaps, some degree of gradual frontloading (though the research in this area is underdeveloped at best). But there is a vocal group of advocates who assume an all-too-casual attitude about these changes. They seem to be operating on the mistaken assumption that salary schedules can be easily overhauled – just like that. We can drastically restructure them or just “move the money around” without problem or risk, if only unions and “bureaucrats” would get out of the way.**

Salary schedules aren’t just one-shot deals. When teachers and districts negotiate salaries, they don’t start with a blank slate. Schedules are, in many respects, evolving systems, which emerge over time as a result of continuous negotiation (and, in bargaining states, approval) by both parties.

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The Myth of Security

When the Business Round Table released a report that showed public employees made 43% more than their counterparts, a lot of eyebrows were raised. That would have been quite a result, except as more reputable think tanks have discovered, that report was riddled with errors, bad methodology and a sprinkling of fantasy.

Innovation Ohio has just published a piece titled The 43% Myth that takes apart this bogus report from the BRT and AEI, piece-by-piece. Let's focus on just one of the most outlandish claims the BRT made, because it gets to the heart of SB5 and corporate education reform.

BRT adds 10% to public employee salaries for the benefit of “job security” they claim these workers enjoy. The number itself was artificially inflated by the researchers’ methodology, but also falsely suggests that this “benefit” costs taxpayers anything. If, as BRT asserts, public workers remain in their jobs longer, it actually saves employers money by not having to locate and train replacement workers as frequently.

How much security do educators have to begin with? We took a look.

We can see in the graph below, that educators have experienced significant employment declines in this recession - over 200,000 since 2009.

In Ohio specifically, we can look at the declines over the past decade. In December 2001 there were some 322,700 people in local government employment connected to education - teachers, education support professionals, principals, etc. In 2010 there were on average just 288,600.

That's a loss of 34,100 jobs in public education in Ohio.

It is clear to see that education has not been a particularly secure profession. When one considers that it also requires regular voter approval of tax levies to even maintain current staffing levels, anyone claiming that being an educator draws a 10% "security bonus" is someone who hasn't familiarized themselves with the facts.

To add to this uncertainty, corporate education reformers now want to tie employment to test scores, in a means that is unproven. By swapping mythical job security for promised (but not delivered) higher pay, corporate reformers believe teachers and students benefit alike. However, no evidence exists to support this claim, indeed, evidence of the damage these policies produce is now surfacing.

Rhee vowed to remove significant numbers of teachers. About a third of the 4,000 teachers on the payroll on Sept. 1, 2007, are gone, through firings, layoffs and normal attrition, according to D.C. officials.

It has left the teacher corps younger and less experienced. The proportion of first- and second-year teachers has increased in all wards of the city, according to an analysis by Mary Levy, a lawyer and education finance expert who has worked as a consultant to District officials.

The biggest increase in novice teachers, who often struggle in their early years, has been in low-income areas of the city. Nearly a quarter of the teachers in Ward 8 are beginners, triple the level in 2005. But other communities have also seen a spike. In Ward 5, the proportion has gone from 9 percent to 22 percent.

Job security has been destroyed, and a profession that already suffers from high attrition, has seen that problem escalate significantly. Teachers are not motivated by profit, and when their employment becomes driven by such factors, it drives them out, not higher.

It should also be noted that in Ohio, while corporate reform measures are targeting job security, they have not appropriated a single dime to go towards merit pay.

The goal, therefore, is to lower costs, not increase quality. With these corporate education reform policies, costs will surely go down, as will the quality of education Ohio students receive, and in the long run - that's the cost that the state cannot afford to bare.

What We Lose When Teachers Retire

In many of his speeches, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cites the projection that one million teachers will retire over the next decade. He uses this projection to support his policy objectives to transform the profession by reforming teacher evaluation systems, identifying effective and ineffective teachers, rewarding and removing teachers based on their effectiveness, and recruiting a new brand of teacher.

These are all common strategies leaders use to improve the labor force, but I wonder if these are the right strategies to emphasize when one third of the individuals in the profession are about to exit. I worry about the loss of what Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap call "deep smarts" within schools. In their book Deep Smarts, Leonard and Swap describe how experienced professionals carry a highly sophisticated mixture of explicit and tacit knowledge. This knowledge is developed over time when experiencing variants of common problems. Leonard and Swap describe how this specialized knowledge is often lost when experienced professionals leave an organization. They urge organizations to protect this essential knowledge that resides in the heads of their professionals.

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Punishing Experience

The Dispatch had a wrong headed editorial over the weekend, promoting SB5 provisions. Specifically it chose to cherry pick the sad fact that good teachers are losing their jobs because of the reckless budget. But make no mistake, it's budget cuts, not lay-off policies that are causing job lossses, as the Dispatch itself reported back in January.

This editorial promoted a lot of reaction from teachers, this example from a Dublin teacher we thought should be highlighted

In response to the June 5 Dispatch editorial, “Punishing Talent”, it’s obvious that the author chose to ignore why seniority is used to determine staff reductions. Teachers that are most desired in today’s job market are the lowest on the pay scale. Seniority does not protect experienced teachers; it assigns those who can most easily be rehired to be let go first. It has nothing to do with talent. Every teacher in the building was chosen from hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants. But only those with less than five years experience are even being considered for new job openings by all districts in today’s economy.

Our governor has assured that your own district cannot afford to hire the best, highest qualified, most experienced teacher in the job market today. Don’t take my word for it, ask your school administrator or take a look at who gets the job open within your district.

On the same day as this wrong headed Dispatch editorial was published, the Akron Beacon Journal chose to look at facts instead of rhetoric, and compared public schools in Akron to Charter schools and found

13 years after the first school opened in Ohio, charter schools generally — and Brennan's schools specifically — have failed to match, let alone exceed, the academic performance of traditional schools.

Why would these charters suffer such terrible results, year after year? The answer is incredibly simple, and obvious to anyone who takes the time to examine the data

Brennan's high schools also were much lower than Akron Public Schools in three other categories: teacher experience, qualifications and pay.

Teachers at the city's public high schools averaged at least 15 years of experience, according to the report card data. Ellet High School posted the highest average of 19 years' experience.

One Akron Life Skills school reported an average of 13 years' experience, but the other two had a much greener staff, averaging only two and six years experience.

In addition to more years on the job, teachers at traditional schools also are more likely to have a master's degree. Two-thirds of Akron Public Schools teachers, across all grade levels, have more than a four-year degree, according to the state data.

That compares to a high of 31 percent at one of Brennan's Life Skills schools, 9 percent at another and none at the third.

Better qualified, more experienced teachers produce better results. Yes, when lay-offs do happen some great teachers lose their jobs because they lack seniority. But in the aggregate it's exposure young teachers gain from experienced mentors that makes them great. The data clearly demonstrates that experience and qualifications matter most. If we were to start firing experienced teachers, using some half-baked student testing regime, to save money - from whom would junior teachers learn from in order to become great?

The Dispatch article fails to answer this question, instead, like a Brennan charter school it simply wants to race to the bottom and ignore the facts, by punishing experience.

Teach For America: From Service Group to Industry

One of the best articles written on Teach for America

Although Teach For America began twenty years ago as a well-intentioned band-aid, it has morphed into what is essentially a jobs program for the privileged, funded by taxpayers and wealthy individuals. TFA was originally designed it to serve a specific need: fill positions in high-poverty schools where there are teacher shortages.

A non-profit organization that recruits college seniors primarily from elite institutions to teach for two-year stints in high-poverty schools, preceded by five weeks of training. TFA has grown from 500 teachers to more than 8,000 teachers in thirty-nine rural and urban areas.

As TFA is expanding, it is no longer just filling positions in shortage areas; rather, it’s replacing experienced and traditionally educated teachers. To justify this encroachment, TFA claims that their teachers are more effective than more experienced and qualified teachers, and that training and experience are not factors in effective teaching. TFA supporters also defend the explosive growth of TFA as an indication that TFA is elevating the status of the teaching profession for ambitious high-achieving college students.

Unfortunately, while Teach for America has been very effective at elevating the status of Teach for America, it has not had a similar impact on the status of teaching as a profession.

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