Thursday, March 09, 2006

Take the Lead--First one over the cliff wins!

For years my union, the Washington Education Association, has been complaining about teacher wages here in the Evergreen State. My tendency has always been to smile politely and let them go on; I personally feel pretty adequately compensated, and you can't beat the benefits.

Recently they've started a new campaign for increased funding called Take The Lead. Bully for them! There's nothing like a good campaign, after all, and anything that gets me raise is a happy thing. What I'm having a problem with, though, is the creative use of statistics to make their point. It's dangerous, and it could backfire.

As an example, there was a mass-mailing last month to kickoff the campaign. On page 2 this fact is presented:

We are dead last in compensation among the five West Coast states -- and well below the national average, too.

Dead last is bad, right? But let's consider what that really means. In 2004 the AFT published this report which gives Washington's average salary as $45,437 for a ranking of 40th in the nation. Last we are, but there's some good reasons for that:

1) We're behind California ($56,444, #16), which by itself is one of the largest economies on the planet, elected Arnold to be governor in the middle of a budget crisis, and outprices Washington in every respect.

2) We're behind Alaska ($51,136, #7). Anyone willing to teach in Soldotna in the middle of January earns every last cent.

3) We're behind Oregon ($47,829, #6). They also have a state income tax, which is where I fear the union would like the money for this round of funding to come from.

4) We're behind Hawaii ($45,456, #4). That's a $19 difference, and they have palm trees.

5) The average national teacher salary that year was $46,597, which means we're only $1160 off the pace.

I also think it's a mistake to look at salary as the only part of our compensation. It's a mistake that Rick Hess makes, and can't we aim higher?

Let's look at another claim, from page 7: 46th in class size out of all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Here, it would seem that the head doesn't know what the hand is doing. From the NEA website:

It's difficult to track national progress in reducing class sizes because no state-by-state "actual" class size data exists. Your help is needed to convince states to report class sizes consistently.

Oops. In the facts section at the back of the mailing they cite their own rankings and estimates, which is equivalent to "'Cuz we said so."

One more. The next big argument is that we are 42nd in Education Spending!, behind even those sunsaguns in Alabama and Arkansas, and quite possibly Arizona, Alaska, and Azerbaijan, too.

For this argument to have meaning, it has to be proven that there's a correlation between spending and student achievement. I present that proof to you now:

Well, crud. The Standard and Poor's paper on the 65% solution is on point here, pointing out that the reason the 65% formula is a turkey is that the needed correlation isn't there.

So, I'm torn. Could my school do more good with more money? Hell yes. Do I think this is the right way to go about it? Sadly, no.


Blogger Chris Mitchell said...

As a fellow Washington state citizen and taxpayer (and an education advocate in my district) I am very torn on this issue. In the short term, I don't beleive more money will lead to better education for students. We can use Seattle as an example which spends almost $9000/student/yr which is a few thousand higher than the WA state average. Seattle uses this money to pay teachers more (grandfather and TRI), for a large central admin, for some small schools, and some for school choice. Their results are less than steller.

If I direct the money, I'd suggest investing in teachers. I'd be glad to spend an extra $10,000 per teacher IF that increase in salary meant a proportional increase in hours worked. I would suggest having teachers work more days in the summer. $10,000 would most likely buy an additional 2 months. If these 2 months were spent on solidifying scope and sequence, building content knowledge, developing pedagogy skills, and peer review I could support this. This represents an investment in education and teachers and has potential to give 'return' on investment.

The current system of Credit Hours seems highly diffuse (teacher chooses everything, school/district chooses little).

I'm afraid simply raising salary would not result in educational gains for students, so I couldn't support it as an educational advocate or taxpayer.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Ryan said...

The current system of Credit Hours seems highly diffuse (teacher chooses everything, school/district chooses little).

This is a valid point. I can tell you as a teacher that more than a few of the summer workshops operate on little more than a wink and a nod--they're designed to get credits and clock hours to the teachers in the easiest way possible.

I've thought too about the more money/more hours correlation. I'm a big believer in the PLC concept--teachers getting together, analyzing student test data, and refining the curriculum. If the state were to add two hours to the workweek that were strictly spent on collaboration and the other things you described I think it could make a heck of a difference. If you consider the average workweek to be 37.5 hours (7.5 * 5), that would mean a 5.3% pay increase, which would be well received.

5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suspect that the NEA number doesn't include TRI, benefits and other supplemental contracts.

And how could comparisons not consider the cost of living? After WEA tried to spread the "fact" that teachers were fleeing Washington to go to the high wages in CA, ooops. OSPI noted that more were fleeing CA and coming here.

Likewise the claims that "half" the teachers leave the profession. Clearly even free-market folks would take that as evidence of a problem. Ooops.

It is true that some areas might need higher pay to respond to shortfalls in the marketplace--special ed teachers, math experts and perhaps to fill vacancies in tough school districts, but of course, the union would oppose those kinds of adaptations.

3:42 PM  
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4:49 AM  

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