Okay, this might actually be news to some folks. To listen to the merit-based pay crowd, you would think that we are currently throwing bales of teachers based on years of experience. But an issue brief released last week by the Center for American Progress suggests that in many states that's simply not true.
"Mid- and Late-Career Teachers Struggle with Paltry Incomes," authored by Ulrich Boser and Chelsea Straus, opens with the tale of Richie Brown, a former teacher of the year candidate and "the type of teacher every principal should want." Brown left at the end of six years because he couldn't support his family, having gone several years without a raise at all.
Brown, of course, was teaching in North Carolina (motto: "We hate teachers and hope they will go away"), but Boser and Straus show that North Carolina is not so much an outlier as a trendsetter. Here are their findings.
Mid- and Late- career teacher base salaries are painfully low in many states.
Here's where the paper throws in the striking stats that truck drivers, sheet metal workers, and flight attendants make more than 10 or 15 year teaching veterans in some states.
In some states, ten year teachers who are breadwinners often qualify for various aid programs.
Large numbers of teachers work second jobs. The paper keeps using the term "base salary" to distinguish the teachers' teaching income from their total annual income, which may include their work at other glamorous jobs.
The paper provides two charts that help provide context. Here's one that shows salary growth by state between the first year and the tenth.
Though I will gladly note with pride that we beat Estonia on this one.
The authors note that this is probably part and parcel of the general downturn for the entire middle class.
But what we can also note here is that we are not exactly pouring money into the salary raise pool. Which raises a couple of questions.
For one-- what exactly does the merit pay crowd propose to do. If the intention is to base raises on performance, will it really help if the merit-based raises are just as paltry and inadequate as the raises given for longevity? CAP uses its conclusions to make a case for more merit- and assignment-based bonuses, but this remains a pipe dream. Merit and bonus pay will not work. Beyond the issues of evaluating teacher worthiness of such bonuses, there is a more fundamental problem. Businesses pay bonuses out of the extra money they made by having a good year. School districts do not make extra money, and no school board in the country is going to go to its taxpayers and say, "Our teachers did so very well this year that we need an extra couple mill to give them the merit bonuses they deserve." CAP's data are interesting; their proposed solution is bogus.
The other big question is the same old one. Exactly how do you attract people to a profession that does not promise the ability to provide an actual life, like a grown-up family-supporting adult?
That question itself is premature, because it assumes that reformsters want to do that. The lack of career-level salary scales may well be yet another indicator that for some folks, the goal is not to attract people to teaching, but to turn teaching into a temporary job that people do for a year or two before moving on, providing schools with a cheap pensionless labor force. If that's the goal, it would appear many states are right on track.