Archive for August, 2019

Pay Disparities for Teachers Will Never Disappear… But They CAN Be Closed with Thoughtful Legislation AND More Money

August 31, 2019 1 comment

In Teacher Shortage, Protests Complicate Educator Pay Dynamics, AP writers Morgan Smith and Sally Ho describe the experience of districts in the west as they try to remediate the pay differentials between districts by expanding the amount of money allocated at the state level. Using a Utah teacher who increased her pay by 25% as the result of switching districts as their exemplar, the writers describe the shortage of teachers across the nation without stating the obvious: districts serving the children of affluent parents are not encountering this problem while districts serving children raised in poverty are. Why? Because until states abandon or greatly limit their reliance on local property taxes it will be impossible for proper poor districts to ever close the gap with affluent districts. But Mss. Ho and Smith sidestep this issue altogether, instead relying on this quote to make it sound like improving teacher compensation packages will require some kind of mathematical genius:

It’s difficult to compare school pay scales because of the endless variables across classrooms and campuses, said Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington. But merely increasing salaries for all without differentiating for other factors such as student population challenges and regional issues means pay disparities will remain as they always have existed.

“If it doesn’t address the relative differentials between school systems, there’s no reason to think it would help with teacher equality,” Goldhaber said.

In describing what is happening in Washington State, they write:

Recalibrating the complexities of the state’s overarching funding model has put school finances on a rollercoaster as lawmakers tried to redo or undo aspects of the financial levers the schools have long depended on, such as local levies.

“We see the impact of districts nearby offering a signing bonus,” Grassel said. “In that way, we’re still behind the game. We’ve not yet figured out how to get ahead of that curve.”

This just in I: All “local levies” require property tax increases so if your district is property poor or populated by people who cannot afford a marginal increase in their property taxes, a tax levy will not pass and the pay differentials will increase.

This just in II: Any teacher with a fundamental understanding of salary dynamics understands that a “signing bonus” or any “bonus” that does not add to their base pay is not going to be a retention factor OR an attraction. An astute teacher will look at the length of time it takes to reach the top salary (i.e. the number of steps on the pay schedule) and the value of the top step and intuitively understand that a compressed wage scale with a higher figure at the top is superior to multiple-step pay schedule with a low to middling pay schedule. Offering a “$5,000 signing bonus” will not change that reality and, consequently, will not attract the best and brightest to the neediest districts. Bonuses do not work as an enticement to move from one district to another and will not draw more college graduates to teaching.

This just in III: BOTTOM LINE: Improving teacher compensation requires more money which, in turn, requires higher taxes…. and with more and more requirements being shifted to States it is hard to imagine that tax increases will be occurring any time soon… which means the disparities will continue.

Contrary to the implied complexity put forth in the article, the ultimate solution is easy: raise broad-based taxes and distribute the revenues raised based on the relative wealth of each district with poorer districts getting more money. There… fixed it.

Underfunding in New Hampshire Will Continue Until Broad Based Taxes Replace Property Tax

August 30, 2019 Comments off

I accepted an assignment as Superintendent of Schools in New Hampshire in 1983, moving into the state from Maine where I served three years as Superintendent. When I accepted the position, a colleague of mine who had moved FROM New Hampshire TO Maine warned me that I was about to leave what was then one of the most robust State funding systems to the worst. He was right. Maine provided 90% reimbursement for bus purchases, transportation expenses, special education, and building aid. It also had a formula in place that supported schools based on their property wealth with property poor districts receiving substantial aid and wealthy districts getting less. In New Hampshire there was diminished aid across the board… to the extent that in one of the more affluent towns I served we got just over $25,000 in state aid.

At one of the first meetings I attended with my colleagues, most of whom led districts far more property poor than the six towns under my jurisdiction, I recall one of them saying that the current finance system was unsustainable and that he expected to see wholesale changes in the coming years. Surely the new GOP candidate, John Sununu who was an engineer, would see that more revenue was needed to ensure that schools in property poor districts across the state would need more state funds to provide equal opportunities. Now… 36 years later… nothing has changed. Lawsuits filed by property poor districts have been won and governors in both parties have done nothing to provide the revenues needed to help the struggling districts. And now, CHRIS Sununu, son of the engineer who could not see the need for more revenues, is governor and, like his father, sees no reason to increase the funds for schools. Worse, like his counterparts in the GOP, he DOES see a need to provide tax cuts for businesses on the theory that attracting businesses to the State will somehow bring more revenue to the property poor districts. But after decades of experience, he and his colleagues in the GOP should know that when businesses ARE attracted they tend to be attracted to the affluent communities that offer their employees good services, good schools, and good housing. Cuts to business taxes help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

So, in 2019, New Hampshire finds itself at an impasse. Their GOP governor vetoed the budget passed by the Democratically controlled legislature because he thought too much money was going to schools and not enough was being provided to business. The result: the state funds for school districts are the same in 2019-20 as they were in 2018-19. Consequently the towns who adopted budgets based on the legislator’s budget figures will be scrambling. Should they hire new staff based on the legislature’s budget or not? How about those bus purchases? How about the new technology they wanted to provide?

Our local paper reported on this situation and had this one poignant quote:

Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier called Sununu’s proposal “unacceptable.” He begged lawmakers to hold fast to the funding they included in the budget and described the city’s struggles after it recently closed its elementary school and consolidated its middle and high schools.

Kindergarten students, including his grandson, are now in a building that was built as a high school in 1919, he said.

“That’s the legacy I’m leaving my grandson. I’m putting him in a building that was built before my father was even born,”he said. “There will come a point in time where property-poor communities like Berlin will be totally unattractive to new investment, further exacerbating the decline that poor communities are facing now.”

Sadly, the “point in time where property-poor communities like Berlin will be totally unattractive to new investment” came decades ago. When the paper mill closed in that community and the stores were shuttered there might have been a chance to entice a new business there… but the town is so forlorn and the schools so underfunded that it is highly unlikely that anyone would want to relocate there. 

What would help? An infusion of government funding from all levels is the only way to make dilapidated communities like Berlin come back to life… but as long as we are in the thrall of low taxes governments will never have the resources needed to help communities like Berlin.

Gifted and Talented Programs Fail on Two Accounts: They Segregate Based on Race and Economics AND They Tell 90% of Students They are UN-gifted and UN-talented

August 29, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYDaily News op ed article by Alison Roda and Judith Kafka describes one of the major pitfalls of NYC’s current arrangement that separates “Gifted and Talented” students into programs designed to meet their needs: it ends up segregating white and Asian children from the economically disadvantaged African-American and Latina students:

The just-unveiled proposal to eliminate New York City’s Gifted and Talented programs, while also doing away with selective admissions for most middle schools, has predictably alarmed critics who fear that restructuring a system that sorts young children into academic “winners” and “losers” will hurt those who currently benefit from it.

Yet the city’s G&T programs do not serve a highly specialized population of children with exceptional academic needs. Instead, they help to maintain racial and socio-economic segregation by creating exclusive educational spaces. Middle schools that base admissions on students’ test scores, grades and attendance records serve a similar function: They promote segregation while framing high quality education as a scarce resource.

Instead of having gifted and talented programs that sort and select students based on test scores, grades and attendance— and implicitly on parents’ ability to navigate a systems complex as application to college— Mss. Roda and Kafka are seeking de-tracking and “…eliminating exclusive programs”. So if these programs vanish, what will take their place? Based on a Chlakbeat article by Ms. Roda, it would be school-wide enrichment, which she describes as follows:

(School-Wide enrichment) is an approach that tasks school staffers with identifying students’ interests and then developing mini-courses, more detailed units of study, and electives for older students centered on those topics.

Schoolwide enrichment “is really flipping the whole idea on its head,” said Allison Roda, a professor at Molloy College who has studied the city’s gifted programs. “Instead of sorting students based on perceived ability and whether they can pass a test when they’re 4 years old, the school’s job is to find out what those gifts and talents are and to develop them.”

For younger children, that could mean setting up small groups of students who are pulled out of their classrooms to learn the basics of photography. In middle and high school, staff can give students questionnaires about their interests and use that information to set up electives that could include topics ranging from robotics to journalism.

The idea, experts said, is to create additional learning opportunities that foster curiosity for all students in a school instead of walling off opportunities for students labeled “gifted.”

In sum… school-wide enrichment, which was popularized in the late 20th century by University of Connecticut teacher Joseph Renzulli– is based on the constructivist theories rooted in John Dewey’s philosophy and Jean Piaget’s psychology— the student-centered approach that reinforces the “notion that he learner has prior knowledge and experiences, which is often determined by their social and cultural environment. Learning is therefore done by students’ “constructing” knowledge out of their experiences.” This paradigm is the opposite of the behaviorist approaches used to break learning into its component parts and then have teachers pour the information into students… an approach that also assumes that a student’s capacity for learning can be measured by standardized intelligence tests and assume their “performance” can be measured by standardized achievement tests.

Based on my experience as an administrator for over three decades, it is clear to me that the adoption of this “new paradigm” will be an uphill battle… for virtually everyone in public schools has been exposed only to the behaviorist paradigm and it’s basis in “efficiency” seems to fit the Western perspective on teaching and learning and the Western perspective that education is “hard work”.

I hope that Ms. Roda’s advocacy for this approach results in an embrace of school-wide enrichment… for when it IS put in place every child in the school benefits. But it will only happen if those at the top are willing to persist on promoting it, for the parents of those children who have been identified as “gifted and talented” when they are four years old are already in the  pipeline and are benefitting from the special treatment their “special programs” provide them and they will not go quietly.