Monday, July 14, 2008

Poor kids' teachers earn less in Metro

By JAIME SARRIO, Staff Writer, The Tennessean

Some of Nashville's hardest-to-educate students are taught by the district's least-experienced, lowest-paid teachers, an inequity education leaders have struggled for years to address.

A Tennessean analysis of teacher salaries and experience levels shows a clear pattern: The district's top earners with the most experience and education are more likely to work in schools with fewer poor and minority students.

Nashville's not alone. For years, urban districts around the country have been experimenting with hiring bonuses and performance incentives to try to level the playing field. Some cities, including Chattanooga, have made marked gains.

Metro Nashville has been slower to address the issue, said state officials, partly because of a historically tense relationship with the teachers union. Now the district faces state intervention because of consistently low standardized test scores for poor, black and foreign-language-speaking students. (link)


Teachers Unions Stand in the Way of Educational Improvement

Nashville it a great city in which to live. We have a diverse economy, great parks system, and numerous universities and colleges. We have grown rapidly, but for the most part responsibly. We are big enough to have almost anything one would want but still small enough to feel like one unified city. We have a mild climate and are centrally located in a beautiful part of the country. Our downtown is booming and the city has a vibrancy and energy about it. The music scene and arts community give Nashville its own distinctive flavor. What Nashville does not have is good public education, not that it is uniformly bad. We have some schools that are excellent but we also have some absolutely terrible schools. Our school system is considered a failing system and will be taken over by the state.

The above article looks at an aspect of the problems with Metro schools. It is very well written with lots of examination of data and figures. The writer does a good job of explaining the complexity of the problem. The title sums up the story: The worse performing schools have the lowest salaried teachers. If you have an interest in the Nashville schools and missed this story, I urge you to click the above link. If you are not connected to Nashville, you may want to read it anyway, because more than likely the same situation, maybe to a lesser degree, exists in your community.

The following except from the story is very telling:

“Until this year, Metro could not offer bonus incentives for teachers in high-poverty schools because it violated the rules of the teacher contract, and the district and union couldn't agree how to do it. Now, a state law that takes effect this school year requires every district to offer incentives, and Metro will pay $4,000 to teachers willing to teach hard-to-staff subjects like math
and special education in a high-need school.”

No doubt there are various reason why poor students perform poorly. Poor students may not have had parents who read to them. They may not have good role models. They may not have parents who encouraged, disciplined, and motivated them. They may not have books and computers in the home. Everything is not equal. That being given, however, does not mean we should further handicap poor students by giving them the least experienced and lowest paid teachers.

The MNEA (Metro Nashville Education Association), like teachers' unions across America, has fought every meaningful education reform, every opportunity they had to do so. Incentive pay is common in the private sector; shift workers get shift differential pay. Jobs in high demand, demand higher salaries. Yet, the teachers unions have fought incentive pay at every opportunity. Teachers in math and science need to be paid more than teachers of literature. It is a harder course of study, and the private sector competition is higher for people with those skills.

The new bonus incentive plan mentioned above is a step in the right direction but does not go nearly far enough. Any teacher teaching in a high-needs school should earn more than a teacher teaching in the middle class suburbs. In my view, those teachers serving in majority black, inner city schools should get combat pay. There should be a special designation and specialized training and considerably higher pay for teachers who will devote themselves to serving the students that no one wants to serve.

It is time for the teachers' unions to stop being the obstacle to improvements in education, and it is time to bring the logic of economic incentives to the field of education.

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