Why teach in Oklahoma?

Shawn Sheehan won “teacher of the year” honors in Oklahoma, but earns less than novice teachers in many other states. Photo: Oklahoma Department of Education

Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma’s teacher of the year, has six years of experience as a high school math teacher and a master’s degree, writes Matt Barnum on The 74. Sheehan earns $35,419 year, or just over $38,000, including benefits.

Teacher pay is very low in the Sooner state, reports Barnum.

The average starting salary in the state is just over $31,000, among the lowest in the country. A Tulsa teacher with a master’s degree and 13 years’ experience still makes under $40,000; a teacher with a doctorate, National Board Certification, and 33 years’ experience makes just less than $60,000.

Teachers can move to any of the states surrounding Oklahoma and expect a significant pay raise — and many do just that.

South Dakota and Mississippi, which pay even less, are raising teacher pay.  Yet, 59 percent of Oklahoma voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have raised the sales tax to boost teacher pay by $5,000 a year.

Oklahoma is turning to uncertified teachers to cope with a teacher shortage.

Why LA’s teacher housing has no teachers

The Sage Park Apartments were built on vacant land near Gardena High School and opened in 2015.School employees — but not teachers — live in the Sage Park Apartments, which opened in 2015. Photo: Los Angeles Times

To retain teachers, Los Angeles Unified built two below-market apartment complexes on district land and is finishing a third. Not one teacher lives in the district’s affordable housing, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Teachers, who start at $50,300 a year, earn too much. Instead, the apartments are occupied by low-paid school employees such as cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers and aides.

Federal subsidies used to build the apartments “restricted the units to households that earned 30% to 60% of area median income,” the Times explains.  That’s less than $35,000 a year for a single person.

Diamond Jones, 24, a special education assistant who earns $15 an hour, pays $588 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, less than a third of the market rate.

Are teachers underpaid?

Teachers are underpaid, compared to other college-educated professionals, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute.

“Since 1996, the teacher wage gap — the gap between what teachers make in weekly wages compared with similarly educated and experienced workers — has increased from -4.0 percent to -17.3 percent,” the report concludes.

Factoring in benefits leaves teachers earning 11 percent less than comparable workers, according to EPI.

It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, argues Fordham’s Michael Podgursky. Public school teachers and other public employees receive far more generous pension benefits than private-sector workers. The value of those benefits isn’t calculated accurately in Labor Department statistics, he writes.

Let’s say that the Fordham Institute contributes $1 to a 403(b) plan for its employee (we’ll call him Mike). D.C. Public Schools makes a contribution of $1 for Mary, a public school teacher, to its teacher retirement fund. Mike invests his $1 in a low risk government bond and earns 2 percent for twenty years. The D.C. teacher retirement fund, by contrast, assumes that it will earn 7.5 percent over the long run and gives out benefits to Mary accordingly. Moreover, these promises to Mary are legally binding and can’t be cut, so from Mary’s point of view, this is a risk free benefit.

At the end of twenty years, Mike has $1.49 in his account, but Mary has a benefit worth $4.25.

He cites a 2011 analysis by Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine which found “workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent,” while “teachers who change to non-teaching jobs . . . see their wages decrease by roughly 3 percent.”

San Francisco Bay Area districts with high housing costs are offering “bonuses that can range from $1,000 to $10,000 for hard-to-fill positions in special education, math, science, dual immersion language, and for speech pathologists and school psychologists,” reports the San Jose Mercury News.

The problem with raising teacher pay

“When it comes to K-12 education policy, Hillary Clinton is campaigning on platitudes” and talk of raising teacher pay, writes Kaitlin Pennington on Ahead of the Heard.

Despite low and stagnant teacher pay, raising teacher pay across the board is a bad idea, writes Pennington, a Bellwether Education Partners analyst.

Instead, districts should use teacher compensation as a lever to attract, retain, and support a high-performing teaching force, and they need to do this in a financially sustainable way. Base salary increases may be part of the solution, but districts also need to consider other key components of teacher compensation including teacher effectiveness, the speed of salary growth, bonuses and rewards, incentives for hard-to-staff schools and positions, and so on.

Most teacher salary schedules aren’t linked to teacher performance, explains Bellwethers’ Learning Landscape.

FireShot Capture 161 - Teacher Effecti_ - http___www.thelearninglandscape.org_teacher-effectiveness_

U.S. teachers: middling skills, low pay

We’re mediocre! We’re mediocre!

Compared to teachers in other countries, U.S. teachers are “perfectly mediocre” in cognitive skills, writes Dick Startz, a University of California at Santa Barbara economics professor, on Brookings’ Chalkboard. “American teachers seem to be a touch above average in literacy skills and noticeably below average in numeracy,” he writes, citing a paper based on data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies.

U.S. teachers do as well as other American college graduates in literacy, but are weaker in math than college-educated Americans or teachers overseas, researchers found.

However, the U.S. gets “much better teachers than we pay for,” writes Startz. Compared to other college graduates with similar skills, teachers are underpaid, the analysis concluded.

Position of teacher cognitive skills in the skill distribution of college graduates

Researchers said raising pay could attract higher-skilled people to teaching, reports Education Week.

“The estimates here indicate that teachers are paid some 20 percent less than a comparable college graduate elsewhere in the U.S. economy after adjusting for observable characteristics,” wrote Eric Hanushek of Stanford’s Hoover Institution and his German coauthors.

Teachers’ cognitive skills have a “robust impact” on student performance, the study concluded.

Countries with top-performing schools “recruit their teachers from the top third” of graduates, a 2007 McKinsey study found.

Without literate teachers, pre-K will flop

Highly literate pre-K teachers can help disadvantaged kids develop vocabulary and pre-reading skills, writes Connor Williams on The 74. But many preschool teachers aren’t well educated. How will we hire and train early educators who can close language gaps?

“We know the child’s word-gap risk increases his/her lifelong academic, social and income disparities,” e-mailed Elizabeth A. Gilbert, Director of the University of Massachusetts’ Learn at Work Early Childhood Educator Program. “The low-literacy early childhood educator’s word gap is one of the results of such disparity.”

It’s not enough to be great with kids, or have loads of charisma. Early educators need to build emotional connections with children, yes, and that can help students develop social skills and perseverance. But they also need to help students develop linguistically.

Preschool teachers are paid more like babysitters than teachers. If that doesn’t change, it will be impossible to hire highly literate pre-k teachers. It’s very clear that low-quality preschool and pre-K doesn’t improve children’s odds of success in school.


It’s the same old teacher shortage

Despite what you hear or read, there is no national teacher shortage, asserts Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality. A few districts are having real problems, but the real shortage is nothing new: “All schools, as they have for decades, continue to struggle mightily to find certain kinds of teachers (STEM, ELL, special education).”

Why? Schools refuse to pay more “to attract people who have skills which are marketable elsewhere, to live in an undesirable location or to work in tougher environments,” writes Walsh.

Teacher-prep programs have been over-enrolling students for years, “routinely graduating twice as many new elementary teachers as public schools hire each year.” she writes. Now programs are graduating fewer surplus elementary teachers.

Teacher-prep programs have been over-enrolling students for years, “routinely graduating twice as many new elementary teachers as public schools hire each year.” she writes. Now programs are graduating fewer surplus elementary teachers.

Some districts have begun to panic, Walsh writes.

They’re used to having to sort through a pile of resumes to find a single good hire. They are not nimble or flexible enough to adapt their recruiting and hiring practices to a tighter job market.”

What is a reasonable response to a downturn in teacher production?  It’s not to open the floodgates and let anyone teach. We need to continue to encourage teacher prep programs to become more selective and do a better job preparing new teachers, so that districts don’t have to count on 20 resumes to find a single qualified teacher.

There’s a huge pool of credentialed teachers who left — or never got a chance to enter — the profession, she writes. “And we encourage districts to pay teachers in chronic shortage areas or who are willing to teach in really tough locales more than others.”

Teachers are professionals — not missionaries

Teachers are skilled professionals — not missionaries, writes Amanda Ripley in The Washingtonian. Talking about teaching as a low-status career for the selfless drives away the smart, ambitious people the profession needs.

In Washington, D.C., public school teachers earn as much or more than other college-educated professionals, Ripley writes. Median pay was $75,000 last year and “teachers who work in low-income public schools and get strong performance reviews can earn more than $125,000 after fewer than ten years.”

In addition, teachers can “apply to become master educators, who formally evaluate teachers and provide targeted feedback.”

Yet, “many people still talk about teachers as if they volunteer in a soup kitchen—as if the hardest part is just showing up,” she writes.

Hope Harrod, DC’s 2012 Teacher of the Year, is tired of being told she’s doing “God’s work.” Teaching is not a sacrifice for her. It’s an “intellectual journey” she finds “deeply engaging.”

By “intellectual journey,” Harrod means the workplace questions that teachers grapple with daily: Why is Juan insisting that the answer is 15.5 and not 18? What’s happening in his head that isn’t happening in Scarlette’s head? How can she give him the tools to take apart his own process and rebuild it, piece by piece?

D.C. “now retains about 92 percent of its highest-ranked teachers,” writes Ripley. Boosting pay and status makes a difference.

That issue comes up in a Tampa Bay Tribune story about a veteran teacher who quit to become a librarian, complaining of mandatory lesson plans, endless meetings and micromanagement.

The profession of teaching comes in for a lot of “bashing,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “The unions and reformers and legislators, whoever, are telling you that teaching is a lousy job and nobody lets you do it the way you want to do it. It has a way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Teacher pay is skewed to late-career teachers

Low teacher salaries often are linked to high turnover or teacher shortages, writes Marguerite Roza on Brookings’ Chalkboard. Districts make the problem worse by steering pay to high-seniority teachers nearing the end of their careers.

Young and mid-career teachers — the ones most likely to leave — earn less so senior teachers can earn more.

Teaching doesn’t resemble other professions, her study finds. “Other professionals (lawyers, doctors, accountants, computer programmers) reach their peak salaries around age 40; teachers enter their 40s with much lower earnings on average and don’t hit peak earnings until age 55 or so.”

Most teachers still earn “step” increases for experience and “bumps” for graduate credits, Roza writes. “In some districts, the differential is so high that a senior teacher earns the equivalent salary of two junior teachers for the same job title and duties.”

Annual cost of living increases (COLAs) often exacerbate salary differences between early-career and late-career teachers.

The $100,000 teacher

Does It Pay To Pay Teachers $100,000? asks NPR.

The average pay for U.S. teacher is about $56,000, but pay-for-performance schemes in cities such as Washington, D.C. are pushing salaries to $100,000 and higher.

Elementary teacher Hope Harrod earns much more thanks to Washington D.C.'s performance bonuses.

Washington D.C.’s performance bonuses have pushed elementary teacher Hope Harrod’s pay to nearly $100,000.

Hope Harrod, a D.C. elementary teacher for 14 years, saw her pay go way up in 2010 under a new teacher evaluation system created by Michelle Rhee, then the city’s schools chancellor.

Now earning close to $100,000 under Impact Plus, Harrod feels “like I’m very much in a system that’s honoring me in a way that other systems don’t honor other teachers.”

This year, 765 D.C. teachers earn $100,000 or more, including bonuses, reports NPR.

Rather than advance teachers solely on the basis of seniority or education, the city school system rewards performance, with an evaluation system that involves classroom observations, test scores and other criteria.

. . . Essentially, the contract was a trade: more money for important concessions. Teachers agreed to competitive performance evaluations and the loss of tenure protections in return for the chance to increase their base salaries and receive bonuses.

Applications for teaching jobs have risen by 45 percent, say D.C. officials.

Some teachers oppose performance pay because they fear evaluations will be unfair and inaccurate.

“In nearly 90 percent of districts across the nation, teachers are not recognized for their effectiveness through increased compensation,” reports the Center for American Progress. a CAP report looks at 10 cities that are revamping their pay systems to reward top teachers.