A new generation of teachers

“For the first time in memory, a majority of teachers have fewer than 10 years of experience,” write Celine Coggins, Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel in Expanding the Impact of Excellent Teachers in Education Next.

As the Teach Plus report Great Expectations: Teachers’ Views on Elevating the Teaching Profession shows, early-career teachers want clear standards of excellence, performance measurement, and overhaul of compensation and tenure. They also want to get out of their classroom walls and collaborate with peers to meet student needs in flexible instructional groups.

Schools must create an “opportunity culture” to develop, retain and deploy excellent teachers, they write.

The deal on the deal in Chicago

The proposed Chicago teachers’ contract moves the district in the right direction with “a step back here and there,” concludes the National Council on Teacher Quality. However, “some of the most positive changes like the longer school day predate the contract and are a result of state law or previous negotiations.”

Among the unknowns: How well the new evaluation system will be implemented, whether the union will keep under-enrolled schools open and whether the district can come up with an extra $295 million over four years through  “COLA reduction, step and lane compensation, and savings in layoff benefits, sick day compensation, and a new wellness program.”

Chicago teachers earn more than most urban teachers, but about the same as suburban teachers in the area, says NCTQ.

Teacher Beat has more on the question:  Where’s the money coming from?

Los Angeles shortens school year again

As Chicago lengthens the school day, Los Angeles keeps shortening the school year. A deal with the teachers union would cancel up to five instruction days in the coming school year and reduce teacher pay by 5 percent. “This would bring to 18 the number of school days cut over four years,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

There is, in fact, a strategic advantage for unions in taking furlough days and shortening the school year. The salary cuts that result are temporary; they expire after one year and must be renegotiated every year.

In the process, teachers avoid making permanent concessions on pension or health benefits. L.A. Unified employees still pay no monthly premiums for health insurance for themselves or family members. And teachers still receive raises based on experience or additional education.

Shortening the school year also “could generate the outrage needed to build public support for boosting state funding,” political analysts say.  “You’re not going to mobilize nearly as many people by warning them about the need to renegotiate pension and health benefits,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

“Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento recommended legislation this week that would allow districts to cut up to three weeks off the next two school years — on top of the five days already approved, if voters fail to approve a tax initiative on the November ballot,” reports the Times. They’re going to kill puppies and kittens too.

How to stretch the school-district dollar

Stretching the school-district dollar is a must in tough times, writes Fordham’s Michael J. Petrilli in a new policy brief.

“Aim for a leaner, more productive, better paid workforce,” he advises.

In the last two decades, school systems have hired all manner of instructional coaches, teachers’ aides, program administrators, support staff, counselors, psychiatrists, specialists, and so forth. Redefining these roles—and those of classroom teachers—provides great opportunities for increased productivity. None of this is easy, but districts should consider:

Asking classroom teachers to take on additional responsibility in return for greater pay. Can they do without aides? Handle larger classes (or student loads)? Take on mentoring roles along with classroom instruction? Where these additional responsibilities enable the system to operate with fewer staff (even if that means the remaining staff work a longer year), the system can justify higher pay while still realizing savings.

Districts also should rethink special education, Petrilli writes.

For example, if a district uses a “co-teaching” model with regular teacher and a special education teacher in the same classroom—which is hugely expensive—could it try a pull-out approach instead? Or if the best model has these students staying in the classroom, could the extra services be provided over the summer, or after school?

He also suggests a more aggressive salary schedule that lets teachers reach the maximum base pay more quickly, prioritizing salaries over benefits and “thoughtful” integration of technology.

 

RESPECT for teachers (and their unions)

RESPECT, which stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching is the administration’s new competitive grant idea for education. The $5 billion would reward states and districts that work with teachers and their unions, education schools and others to remake teaching. Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave no specifics, but Ed Week’s Politics K-12 suggests some possibilities:

. . . overhaul teachers’ colleges to make them more selective, create career ladders for teachers, give extra money to teachers who work in tough environments, bolster professional development, revamp tenure, craft evaluation systems, and make teachers’ salaries more competitive with other professions.

Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association, is all for it.

A new $5 billion spending program has little chance of being approved, notes Politics K-12. The money is part of the $60 billion American Jobs Act proposal, “which is going absolutely nowhere in Congress.”

It’s an election year, and President Obama—and other Democrats—are expected to face a tough campaign season. They’ll almost certainly need help from the teachers’ unions blockbuster get-out-the-vote apparatus. Proposing a bunch of new money to improve the teaching profession might go a long way to assuaging educators—and their unions—who are less than thrilled with the administration’s focus on using student test scores to at least partially inform teacher evaluations.

Turn out the vote now, but will he respect you in the morning?

Teachers matter — now what?

Teachers Matter. Now What?, writes Dana Goldstein in The Nation, citing the Chetty study on the long-term effects of high value-added teachers.

Given the widespread, non-ideological worries about the reliability of standardized test scores when they are used in high-stakes ways, it makes good sense for reform-minded teachers’ unions to embrace value-added as one measure of teacher effectiveness, while simultaneously pushing for teachers’ rights to a fair-minded appeals process.

What’s more, just because we know that teachers with high value-added ratings are better for children, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we should pay such teachers more for good evaluation scores alone. Why not use value-added to help identify the most effective teachers, but then require these professionals to mentor their peers in order to earn higher pay?

That’s the sort of teacher “career ladder” that has been so successful in high-performing nations like South Korea and Finland, and that would guarantee that excellent teachers aren’t just reaching twenty-five students per year but are truly sharing their expertise in a way that transforms entire schools and districts.

Reformers have been advocating teacher career ladders for a long time. Why aren’t they used more widely?

Secondary teachers are smarter

While would-be elementary teachers have below-average SAT and GRE scores, aspiring secondary subject-matter teachers compare well to other students, writes Education Realist.

The Richwine-Biggs study (pdf), which concludes teachers have lower cognitive skills than workers with similar education levels, combines elementary and secondary teachers, Realist complains.

Secondary teachers specializing in a subject — English, history, math, science — have “much stronger academic histories” than elementary, special education and phys ed teachers, ETS reports (pdf).

 

Overpaid teachers

Teachers earn similar wages — and much higher benefits — when compared to similarly skilled private-sector workers, concludes a study released in November by Jason Richwine of The Heritage Foundation and Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute. Including benefits, teachers make $1.52 for every dollar earned by similarly skilled workers in the private sector.

In a new paper and an Ed Week article, Richwine and Biggs respond to their many critics.

Comparing teachers to private-sector workers with similar levels of education misses the difference in cognitive skills, they argue. The study measured teachers’ reading and math skills on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) and found “teachers are paid commensurately with their cognitive skills.”

Teaching requires “important organizational and interpersonal skills that formal tests may not capture,” they concede.  However, these skills should be valuable in other jobs as well.

If teachers are not fairly paid for their non-cognitive skills, one would expect teachers who shifted to private-sector jobs to receive significant raises. But they do not. Using data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, we are able to track changes in individuals’ salaries as they switch jobs. We have shown that the average public-school teacher suffers a slight wage decrease upon leaving the profession.

Paying all teachers more money won’t improve teacher quality, they argue.

What is needed is a more rational system that pays teachers according to their performance, encouraging the best teachers to stay and the least effective teachers to leave the profession.

Public school administrators rarely have the flexibility to do this, they write.

College majors that lead to well-paid careers

Which college majors lead to career success? A Wall Street Journal chart, based on 2010 Census data, looks at unemployment rates and pay for various majors. Nursing  (2.2 percent unemployment, $60,000 median salary) and finance (4.5 percent unemployment, $65,000 median pay), tend to pay off for graduates, the Journal notes.

Education graduates have low unemployment rates and average $40,000 (elementary) to $47,000 (science and computer specialists) in median pay. Education psychologists do much worse and administrators do much better.

The arts category includes everything from visual and performing arts to liberal arts,  geology and earth science (huh?) and cosmetology and culinary arts (lumped together), which rarely requires more than a certificate or associate degree. Still, those cosmetologists and cooks (unemployment is 7.3 percent, median pay is $41,000) do about as well as drama and theater arts majors.

Study: Public teachers are paid well

Public school teachers are paid as well as similarly skilled private-sector workers but receive much better fringe benefits, concludes a study by Andrew G. Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and Jason Richwine, a Heritage Foundation policy analyst.

Public-school teachers earn less than non-teachers with the same level of education, but “teacher skills generally lag behind those of other workers with similar ‘paper’ qualifications,” they write.

Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent. Teachers who change to non-teaching jobs, on the other hand, see their wages decrease by roughly 3 percent. This is the opposite of what one would expect if teachers were underpaid.

Public-school teachers contribute less than private-sector workers for generous pensions and retiree health coverage.

Factoring in the value of more generous fringe benefits and greater job security, public teachers receive compensation 52 percent greater than market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion a year, Biggs and Richwine conclude.

Update:  Here’s more on the study, plus a reaction from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who charged the AEI report “uses misleading statistics and questionable research.”

“If teachers are so overpaid, then why aren’t more ’1 percenters’ banging down the doors to enter the teaching profession?” Weingarten asked in the release, referring to higher-income Americans. “Why do 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within three to five years, an attrition rate that costs our school districts $7 billion annually?”

 If teachers earn the same as comparable private-sector workers but eventually qualify for a better pension (and job security tied to seniority), a high attrition rate among new teachers isn’t surprising:  New teachers often get the toughest assignments and the fewest perks.