Teachers back ‘combat pay’
Teachers strongly support “combat pay” — paying teachers more to work with difficult students in tough schools — writes Steve Farkas of Public Agenda, guest editorialist on Education Gadfly.
Today, the most experienced teachers tend to teach the best students in the best schools. In focus groups, teachers told us that new teachers are more likely to draw the short straw: at the building-level, they’re assigned to teach the toughest kids; at the district-level, they’re sent to work in the toughest neighborhoods. This seems paradoxical and, according to teachers themselves, plain wrong. In our survey, only 20 percent say this is reasonable because veterans have earned it while fully 61 percent say it’s wrong because it leaves inexperienced teachers with the hardest-to-reach students. Not surprisingly, newer teachers are most likely to feel this is wrong (69 percent) but the majority of veterans (55 percent) agrees.
It’s likely that many rookies who would otherwise be on track to becoming good teachers are overwhelmed by their first experiences and drop out. Those who stay in the profession may seek better positions at the first opportunity, leaving the most challenging kids for the next poor draftee to struggle with. The principal of one low performing school described to us his frustrations. Because of his school’s reputation, he’s often reduced to filling vacancies with new teachers he judges to be promising. He invests in their mentoring and professional development. But just as his bets seem about to pay off, he frequently loses these teachers to districts or schools that can offer better work environments and less stress. For him, this is a frustrating treadmill. For education leaders, it’s a public policy dilemma.
Seventy percent of teachers support financial incentives for “teachers who work in tough neighborhoods with low-performing schools.” Sixty-three percent would pay more to teachers who work with hard-to-reach students.
According to our findings, teachers know that some of their colleagues work harder and put in more effort. Most say it’s easy to spot the truly great teachers in their building, that there would be no argument about who they are, and that there would be little resentment if those teachers were paid more for taking on the harder assignments. Moreover, it’s logical that, with an incentive system to entice first-rate teachers into hard-to-staff classes and schools, the kids with the greatest learning needs will have a better chance of landing in the hands of someone who can help them succeed.
Gadfly also reviews Richard Phelps’ Kill the Messenger: The War on Standardized Testing and its exact opposite, The Unintended Consequences of High-Stakes Testing..