Changing layoff rules isn’t enough (see previous post), writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. We’re suffering from senioritis: “Our education system has way too many veteran teachers who cost way too much money and provide way too little value.”
Rigorous research is showing that, on average, teachers are just as effective after five years on the job as they are after 25 years. But the more experienced teachers cost our system a lot more. That’s true for salaries (on average, lifers make $15,000-20,000 more than their mid-career colleagues), but especially true for benefits. (Typical teachers earn million-dollar-plus pensions—if they stick out the job for their whole careers. Try matching that with your 401(k).)
Ideally, schools would employ a lot of effective mid-career teachers and a few “super-effective” lifelong teachers, who can act as leaders and mentors, Petrilli writes.
When principals have to pay the true cost of their teachers, they avoid hiring 30-year veterans. If a $50,000 a year teacher is just as effective as a $75,000 a year teacher and you’ve got $150,000 to spend, why settle for two when you can get three?
The current system is unsustainable, Petrilli argues. We can buy out the top-scale teachers, as Michigan is trying to do now. (Early retirement plans have a long history in education because of this problem.)
. . . we can compress the salary schedule so that 5-year veterans and 25-year veterans get paid about the same, since they produce about the same results. (Jacob Vigdor explains how that would work in this Education Next article.) Trimming retirement benefits—so they are more in line with what most Americans get these days—would help too.
Finally, veteran teachers could save their younger colleagues’ jobs by offering wage and benefits concessions.
I’d hate to see good but not “super-effective” teachers get the chop after 20 years. I think the solution is to tie pay and benefits more closely to effectiveness (not easy, but we can do better), so that the veteran teacher is worthy of his or her hire.
In my newspaper days, our union negotiated higher pay based on experience for the first six years. After that, the only way to get a raise was to negotiate as an individual for “overscale,” i.e., merit pay. Once granted, overscale couldn’t be taken away. As the newspaper industry has declined, the surviving journalists have accepted pay cuts and unpaid furloughs. In the real world, where your employer can go under, that’s how it works.