Same Old Song---Will Anyone Dance?

15 July 2005

Those of you who have been recently haunting the edusphere have likely noticed lots of posts about teacher pay. Some states (like California and Texas) are seriously looking into "merit pay" for teachers. Others are simply taking advantage of a free market system: the more you offer, the better pool you attract (a/k/a the "get what you pay for" theory).

But will more pay---regardless of how it's assigned---attract more people to the profession? And, will it bring people to teaching for those vital positions that are hardest to fill: math, science, and special ed?

An Op Ed piece in the Indianapolis Star claims that a "one size fits all" with regards to teacher salary isn't appropriate. Indiana has recently been funding a program to transition people from other professions into teaching. But even with "modest successes," they still lack a deep pool of teachers from critical areas. Why teach for $32,000 a year when you can work as a drug company chemist for $60,000 a year?

As a society, we'd like to think that teaching is something of a noble profession...even a "calling." Therefore, salary and benefits shouldn't be at the forefront of our thinking. Maybe that's how things should be. It isn't how they are. People like money---for the security it gives and for the toys it buys. If one employer is willing to look at your education and credentials and pay you twice what another employer will, I'm thinking that nearly everyone would choose the higher pay. Even if you would be a knockout teacher.

The Indianapolis Star suggests that in order to level the playing field a bit, that teachers of math, science, and special ed be on a different pay scale---an elevated one which would (hopefully) allow more professionals in the industry to get into teaching without a significant decrease in financial security.
Critics argue it's not fair to pay a high school trigonometry teacher more than a second-grade classroom teacher since both work equally hard transforming lives. Is it fair to our kids that 15 percent of high school math teachers didn't major or minor in mathematics? Is it fair that 95 percent of urban school districts have openings now for math teachers and can't fill them?

I don't see any end to the teacher pay debate for the foreseeable future. I have no doubt that the NEA will fight any talk of merit pay or separate pay scales for different specialties. Instead, they will continue to endorse the pay scale developed over 100 years ago---one which rewards older teachers (and protects "bad" ones) while punishing the new blood we so richly need in our schools.

Lost in the shuffle are our students. Do they or do they not deserve the best math and science teachers possible?

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