Duncan: Pay teachers $60K to $150K

Teachers should start at $60,000 a year and top out at $150,000, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards conference.

And pigs should have wings.

Duncan also called for improved performance-based teacher accountability and a higher bar for would-be teachers to enter schools of education, reports Politics K-12. “Top undergraduates will flock to a profession that demands high standards and credentials,” he said.

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  1. You remind me of a long profile of Roger Ailes, I believe in the New Yorker, which recounted his stunned surprise and disapproval of a single teacher in his new public school district earning more than $100,000 per year. Cross that type of reaction by the nation’s opinion leaders with the present federal, state and local budget pictures and you’re absolutely right – it’s a pipe dream.

    Top graduates will flock to professions that offer good pay and good prestige. Professions that demand high standards? Seriously, which profession left to its own devices has a good reputation for self-regulating and for drumming out substandard practitioners? I’ll just sit here, reading this encyclopedia, while I await your answer – it’ll take a few months so please don’t hesitate to interrupt if you come up with an answer. 😉 Credentialing? Credentials can be very useful to reduce competition both by raising barriers to entry and by preventing competition from outside of the field and, yes, most professions require them.

  2. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Aaron– I live in a small town– many of LAWYERS don’t make 60K, and many doctors make less than 100K. Teachers spend less money on their education and take on less risk (no one sues them for screwing up, they don’t carry individual ‘malpractice insurance.’) Teachers also work fewer hours (even counting the time spend grading) and have more predictable, family friendly schedules.

    It is insane to expect this level of pay for teachers except in high-wealth areas. Are you really suggesting their jobs come with HIGHER costs than those of Police Officers, for example?

  3. From the article:

    “We must think radically differently,” he said, according to prepared remarks. “We must ask and answer hard questions on topics that have been off limits in the past like staffing practices and school organization, benefits packages and job security…”

    If Duncan truly meant this, he would push much more forcefully for vouchers and opening up the public school system to old fashioned free market style competition. I think he mentioned that many moons ago, but nothing really developed from it. It was just words- kind of like this latest spewing.

  4. Plus, like a true statist, Duncan thinks that $60,000 means the same thing across the whole country. $60,000 in NYC and SF gets you a whole lot less than in, say, South Dakota. Hopefully Duncan understands this. Alas, I would wager that he doesn’t.

  5. I don’t agree with the assumption that top college students make for better teachers in K-8.

    I’ve just seen too many outstanding teachers who appear to have been below average students.

    How can that be? I don’t know, but that’s what I’ve seen.

    My guess is there is no correlation between college performance and teacher quality.

  6. Deirdre, I’m a lawyer, and I used to be a small town lawyer. My mother is a school teacher, now retired. My father is a college professor. My sister is a community college instructor. Help me out here, because I’m not seeing where teachers are getting the great pay and great hours that make the profession such a great deal that it’s not worth going to law school.

    I do know that Duncan is correct, that if you want to attract top students away from business school, law school, medical school, and other professions, you have to offer better pay. My point, if I must repeat it, is that the better pay will not be forthcoming in the present political and economic environment. I had not addressed “teacher envy” by those who believe that it’s an easy and highly paid profession, even at current salary levels, but that no doubt plays into why even when the economy is good we haven’t tried to boost teacher salaries to lure more high-performing students into the profession.

    Swede, where can I find the evidence that privatization of the school system will result in more highly qualified teachers, let alone more highly paid teachers? No voucher system is going to pay for Sidwell Friends. Now I know that some highly qualified, dedicated teachers work at private schools because they believe in the method of instruction (e.g., Montessori, Waldorf), because they like the environment, out of a sense of religious duty, or for similar reasons despite lower pay and benefits. But at the low end it seems like private schools are trying to avoid any credentialing or certification requirements that might force them to try to compete for teachers with better job prospects.

    Robert Wright, although my experience on the whole has been that more capable students do make better teachers, that’s a good point. I don’t have the personality or patience to teach at the K-12 level. I know that I can achieve rapport and a certain amount of success, even as a substitute, because I’ve done that. But no small part of the reason I’m not in education is that I don’t want to be in education. Would more money have done it? I didn’t get an MBA, an easier and more certain path to big bucks than a J.D., because I don’t want one of those either. I didn’t go into a big law firm because I didn’t want that lifestyle and BigLaw money, though huge, wasn’t enough of a lure. Top college students have a lot of choices. I might also cynically note, having attended graduate school, that a lot of very bright people are terrible teachers, and there’s a subset of “top students” who manage to do quite well in academia despite not being particularly bright.

  7. I could go for that — but wonder where the money would come from.

  8. (Duncan): “We should also be asking how the teaching profession might change if salaries started at $60,000 and rose to $150,000.
    Actually, Secretary Duncan said “we should be asking how the teaching profession might change” in response to changes in the salary schedule. The reporter (reasonably) interpreted ths as a recommendation that salary schedules change.

    Taking the words literally, Mr. Duncan called for empirical investigation. I expect that system performance has little relation to teacher salaries. Compare well-compensated, unionized Eastern urban districts to non-union rural Western-State districts. Compare Catholic schools to the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s schools. Compare US system salaries and performance to teacher salary and system performance in South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.

    Taking Secretary Duncan’s words as a recommendation that districts raise teacher salaries, Mr. Duncan expresses an irresponsible attitude toward public finance. Dunno what Secretary Duncan means by “should”, here. Seems to me, taxpayers’ agents “should” spend as little as possible to achieve any desired level of performance. For example, what is more precious than oxygen? We will die without it. How much did your city, county, State, or national government spend to supply you with oxygen last year? Unless you’re a government-employed industrial diver, $0.00 is my guess. When a government spends more than necessary for a good or service, it has less to spend on other goods and services.

    Lastly, it makes no more sense to pay all teachers the same salary or to put them all on the same salary schedule, regardless of subject area, than it would to pay bicycle mechanics, auto mechanics, A/C mechanics, and jet engine mechanics the same salary or to put them all on the same salary schedule just because we call them all “mechanics”.

    Secretary Duncan is either a fool (unlikely) or a lying shill for the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel.

  9. If prospective teachers had to attend 3-4 years of graduate school as rigorous as law school or med school, and had to pass a licensing exam as hard as the bar or USMLE, then I’d support paying them similar salaries to those professions.

    The problem is that this country needs way more teachers than there are individuals who could pass a rigorous gatekeeping process. There are something like 3.5 million K-12 teachers in the U.S. compared to only 760,000 lawyers and 660,000 physicians.

  10. Roger Sweeny says:

    Crimson Wife,

    We could pass laws requiring flower arrangers to take 4 years of rigorous grad school courses. That would not be a good reason to pay them $100 an hour.

    I went to law school (the one on Mass Ave) and spent considerable time with lawyers. The course work was rigorous but very little of it is used by a practicing lawyer. A common complaint is that law school overflows with academic activity but teaches little practical lawyering. Even within the organized bar, there are periodic proposals to take off the 3rd (last) year of law school. That would make it easier and cheaper for prospective lawyers, which is why the idea never goes anywhere.

    Teachers should not have to take 3-4 years of impractical education courses, no matter how rigorous they are. If a teacher performs a service worth 100K, pay her 100K. If she doesn’t, don’t.

  11. “a higher bar for would-be teachers to enter schools of education”

    The course content and general atmosphere at the typical school of education is a serious deterrent to high-quality people entering the profession in the first place. So are the policies which force teachers to put up with verbally or even physically abusive students; ditto the micromanagement by administrators.

  12. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I’m not sure where the idea that the pay for a job should have anything to do with how difficult it is to qualify for, or how much credentialing is required… but we need to nip that in the bud right now.

    I realize that with government jobs, you can’t let a labor market take care of itself, because the contract is, essentially, a law and you can’t rewrite the law every time you need a new hire. There’s also the fact that we don’t want the sort of institutional turnover in government services that we have in the private sector.

    Teacher pay should be about how much we think we need to pay to get the people that we want — period. Were I opening a high school, I know the people I’d want. I also know I’d have to offer them some substantial sums, because they already are doctors and lawyers and IT professionals and professors in college. They already outearn most high school teachers, save for the most senior.

    But those are the people *I* want, and I’ve been told my aspirations are a little unrealistic. (On the other hand, based on conversations I’ve had, a substantial mark-down would be possible if I could guarantee the quality of their co-workers… so there’s that to think about.)

    Who are the people we want? And what are they making right now? Doing what?

    My guess is that most of the people we want are already teachers, making just whatever it is that high school teachers make. What most people probably want is to replace the bottom 20% of teachers (measured by academic/cognitive ability and social grace) with the same number of people from a category more or less functionally equivalent with the top 20%.

    That’s not really a money problem. That’s a staffing/HR problem.

  13. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I should also point out, in line with what david foster said, that I personally know several dozen people who probably would be excellent high school teachers who considered it at one point, but were turned off by the credentialing process, which they uniformly saw as silly, expensive, and a waste of time.

  14. tim-10-ber says:

    Aaron — are you saying just because a teacher is certified or has a credential they are good? I have evidence of national certified teachers who are an absolute joke…a certification or credential is not worth the paper it is written on. It is what the teacher does in the classroom and inspires in the kids that count…I am clearly assuming here the teachers are masters of the subject they teach…

  15. Stacy in NJ says:

    Why in heck would a federal employee (Duncan) feel it’s his place or competency to comment on what teachers’ (or any non-federal employees) salary should or should not be?

    The mind boggles at the arrogance.

  16. Duncan believes that the magic unicorns will bring the money.