Friday, August 29, 2014

TNTP's Teacher Pay Proposal Is Dopey

I picked the title because I didn't want to make you wade through this whole post just to get to my bottom line. That's one thing I learned from reading the TNTP report "Shortchanged: The Hidden Cost of Lockstep Teacher Pay" The other thing I learned is that you can't be afraid to recycle the same old shinola with a spiffy new spin. I can promise you that you probably won't find a thing in this post that I haven't said before. But I can be just as relentless as TNTP. So let's crack open this report and see what creamy nougat is inside.


Money is really important. Followed by an abstract of what's to come.

Why lockstep pay doesn't work

Because it doesn't include any punishments for being bad or rewards for being good. And by rewards, we mean money. Because why else would anybody want to do a good job, except to get more money?

From here the nameless authors conclude that school districts are wasting buskets of money paying for crappy teachers.

Low Entry-Level Salaries Keep People from Considering Teaching

Pay attention, because here TNTP starts to show their hand. We should offer more money to starting teachers so they will choose teaching. Part of the problem-- we're paying too much money to high-step teachers. We should move that money down to the bottom of the scale. Though they also offer a chart showing that teacher salaries rise too slowly compared to other fields.

Great teachers feel pressure to leave classroom while lousy ones feel pressure to stay

Okay-- the great teachers will be downtrodden and discouraged because they don't get recognition and more money that the craptastic guy next door, while Mr. Craptastic will stick around forever for the paycheck. So...let me think this through. The great teacher is not motivated by the paycheck, and that's why he needs a bigger one? The guy who doesn't like his job feels highly motivated to keep showing up for the job that he hates?

It doesn't exactly scan, but maybe if we threw in some dubious statistics.

The amount of taxpayer money that goes toward rewarding poor teaching is staggering. Last year, schools in the U.S. spent a conservative estimate of $250 million giving pay increases to teachers identified by their districts as ineffective.

"Estimate" is a generous word to use here for this mostly made-up number. Or this:

This goes a long way toward explaining why 75 percent of low-performing teachers remain at the same school from one year to the next, and half say they plan to remain a teacher for at least another decade.

Well, this one has a source, anyway. A previous paper by TNTP. They finish with their real point, which is that it is annoying as hell that good teachers and bad teachers might be paid the same.

The Best Teachers Aren't Recognized for Leading the Classrooms Where They Are Needed 

The assertion here is that people in different settings working with different populations are paid the same amount. The truth of which depends an awful lot on your location. But then, the value of your pay varies with location, too. I don't make huge dollars compared to folks teaching in, say, Pittsburgh, but I live in a nice 10 room house with a finished basement and two baths, residential neighborhood, large yard which butts up against a river that I paid a five-figure price for. I'm not sure they have any point here except that it's hard to compare apples and anteaters.

What's the return on a Master's Degree?

Teachers have a financial incentive to pursue advanced degrees. Some advanced degrees are not awesome, yet teachers still get paid more for having them. TNTP thinks those raises should not happen.

A Roadmap for Building Smarter Compensation Systems

This is a three-step process. More pay for beginners. Offer raises for strong performance (and nothing else). Give incentives for working in tough areas. Let's take a closer look at each, shall we?

Competitive Early Career Salaries

One cute idea-- sign-on bonuses that you have to be vested to get. Otherwise, they want high starting, and a scale that goes up quickly, within, say, the first five years. Six figures in six years is their idea. They do get one thing wrong in asserting that in most districts it takes a whole career to get to the top. Unions figured out that problem ages ago and compacted schedules. For instance, in my district you get to the top of the pay scale in about thirteen years.

I can tell you the problem with that. People at the top of the scale sometimes get testy about having fairly stagnant wages while young folks are getting big raises. Of course, you have to stick around for over a decade for that to matter. Hmmmm....

Merit Based Raises

Nameless Author carefully avoids the M word, but that's what they want-- raises based on performance, with little or no increase for longevity. Their proposal does not include the exact wording of a pitch where schools say, "Come work for us, and you may or may not get a raise, based on measures that we haven't perfected and which you can't affect."

Incentives for High Needs Schools

Do that. But don't give money to bad teachers. Just the good ones. Since high needs schools will always have low test scores, proving that the teachers there are ineffective, you will never have to give anyone a raise, ever. Score!!

Is Performance Based Pay Affordable?

Now, eighteen pages in, we get to the heart of the matter. I've argued over and over that merit pay will never work because in education, you cannot grow the pie-- you can only slice it thinner and thinner. Here's the TNTP answer

It does, however, require that school systems make a fundamental choice: Do they want to pay for years of service, advanced degrees and everything else they are currently buying with teacher salaries? Or do they want to pay for great teaching? Doing both is not an affordable option.

But paying those six-figure salaries year after year to 100% of your teaching staff is not an option either. So they are correct-- you can have this model, or you can have longevity. Their model works as long as you keep churning and turning over your staff. That's been the argument for the first eighteen pages-- TNTP doesn't want to look at career earnings, but just the first five or six years, because not only do they not care if you stick around longer, but they need you to get the heck out so that they can repurpose your salary to pay for two newbies.

And that is how we use the argument of better teacher pay to drive the McDonaldization of education. As long as we can churn and burn, this model is sustainable. But it cannot sustain a school full of lifers who all make top dollar all the time.


The paper goes on to offer some studies of school districts that have done some version of what they propose. What can I say, except that the first example is Newark. Newark. Followed by Bridgeport's Academy school. Followed by Louisiana, Tennessee, Indiana and Florida as examples of state-led salary reform. If you had somehow still been taking them seriously up until this point, you may now get off that train.

They also have ideas about how to implement this smart compensation program, finishing with the motto "Give great teaching the compensation it deserves." And that certainly sings with ambiguity, doesn't it.

It's the same old bad ideas constructed to model the charter/TFA model of schools as dispensers of speedy education product, staffed by temps who are just passing through and cashing in on their way. It's a dark and dopey vision of education, no matter how many pretty graphics you stick on the page.


  1. This is all awful, but to me the stupidest part is not wanting to pay more for advanced degrees. Since advanced degrees cost you money you can't afford, plus lots of time you don't have to do the coursework, who would ever be able to get one? So obviously more knowledgeable teachers are not desired.

  2. Never mind that private sector employees often get reimbursed for taking classes in their field and even pay for degrees. These dolts in the ed "reform" movement don't even know squat about civil service and why there has to be a step system and rewards for advanced degrees and not for the fictional "merit"--it's to prevent favoritism by supervisors like principals. Basically, these "reformers" walk all over teachers largely because of sexism. They figure women won't fight back--they've already sacrificed the right to strike in most states. Why not finish the job and pay them the same as babysitters?