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Replacing the Traditional Teacher Salary Schedule

January 28, 2013

My daughter posted “Do Teachers Have it Made? Hardly” an article from WNYC’s Schoolbook blog on Facebook. The article was reviewing a movie of the same name that was released last fall, a movie profiling four teachers, one of whom taught in Brooklyn. The article described what all public educators know: teachers are underpaid when compared to others with the same education level and, as a result, most of them are forced to work an additional job to make ends meet. Ninive Calegari, one of the co-authors of the book the movie was based on, made a statement that got my attention as one who negotiated contracts with teachers for decades and tried in vain to change to existing salary schedules:

Ms. Calegari said she did not expect school districts to raise salaries without compromises from teachers. She said she also was not opposed to paying teachers more if they were especially talented (provided the evaluation system measuring that talent is not solely based on test scores), something that teachers unions have, until recently, resisted.

In my Facebook comment I cautioned that this teacher should be careful what she wishes for… because the pay schedules were put in place in the 1950s and 1960s because male teachers were routinely paid more than female teachers and secondary teachers paid more than elementary teachers. Moreover, unions got a foothold in small districts because school boards often determined if teachers were “especially talented” OR “especially un-talented”. An English teacher who taught “controversial” materials might be deemed “less talented” than n English teacher who stuck to grammar. A reading teacher who used “phonics” might be deemed more talented than one who emphasizes the reading of children’s literature. A science teacher who doesn’t present creation science might not receive high ratings from a Board…. This is why the current step-and-track system is in place.

There are other alternatives, one of which is described in detail in “Race To The Top – NO”, one of the white papers found on this blog. Before abandoning the system in place based on fair and objective criteria like years of service and credits, make sure there is an equally fair and objective system to put in place.

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