Thursday, December 27, 2007

Goldhaber Watch, Day 102

I’ve talked about the work of Dan Goldhaber out of the University of Washington before; smart guy who does a lot of good thinking about how to reform the system, even if I bitterly disagree with some of the things he’s tried in the past. In the December 19th Seattle Times he’s got a guest editorial spun out of the work that he’s doing with the School Finance Redesign Project wherein he talks about the perils of trying to implement differentiated pay for teachers based on subject, SES, board certification, etc. It’s worth reading, if only so you can be the weatherman who tries to tell which way the wind blows.

For what it’s worth (zero!), here’s some of my thinking on changing the pay structure:

Let’s Pay More for Math and Science Teachers! I’m not against this, if there’s proof that they’re getting results. If you’re going to give extra money to the same bad teacher doing the same lousy teaching that they’ve always done, that makes the whole system look foolish. If you’re giving extra money to a teacher who gets 40 kids a year to achieve at the highest level on the AP exam, now we’re talking.

(Sidebar: Those interested in the math/science teacher issue should check out the December 21st issue of the Chronicle Review for Linda Darling-Hammond’s article. It’s a great overview of the topic, and she’s a very readable author.)

Let’s Pay More for National Board Certified Teachers! Long time readers might think I’m against this. They’re right. I think that the National Boards are a waste of money, and I’m annoyed that they’ve been embraced by both my State Superintendent and my union.

Let’s Pay More for Teachers in High Poverty Schools! I’m all for it, because I’ve never heard a good reason not to.

We know that high teacher turnover is one of the factors that keeps low-SES, high poverty schools stuck in a never-ending cycle of rehiring and retraining. If making more money can convince teachers to stay there longer, that’s a good thing that will save us taxpayers money in the long run. If a bump in pay attracts successful teachers to those schools, that’s a good thing because those are the kids who need them most!

My only worry is that you might attract the wrong sort of teacher. Take Mr. Ennui, for example, who’s getting pressured by his principal to improve his practice but doesn’t really want to because hey, he’s been doing it forever and he’s only got three years until he can retire and it’s not him who’s the problem it’s the kids so why should he work hard—you might know him by reputation, even if you don’t know him personally. If he took a job in a school with a higher pay grade just for the sake of boosting his retirement, that’d be a damn shame for the kids.

Let’s Pay More for Teachers Who Live in Mercer Island! Um, no. My understanding is that at one time we had a differentiated salary schedule based on what part of the state you live in, and that just seems asinine to me. Sure it’s more expensive to live in Seattle, but there are advantages to the city that you won’t get living in Stehekin. It’s not always easy to attract teachers to some of our more distant towns, either—why would you go and teach special ed in Curlew if you could make more doing it in Spokane? The single salary schedule might have it’s weaknesses, but let’s not forget the strengths.

Also, I should be paid more. Just because.

If you could change one thing in our state salary structure, what would it be?

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