Another Colossal Pay Disaster

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Remember this? It seemed like such a good idea at the time!

If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that on last week, Governor Little just unveiled at $225 million dollar teacher pay increase to help make our state more competitive in the teacher pay department. I support Governor Little, and while that sounds great, as soon as I looked at the details I realized that this bill-like the advanced portfolios for expert teachers-is a disaster. If we pass this bill, with one stroke of pen we will ensure that every “advanced” teacher on this payscale will have either a 3 or 4 (on a 1-4 point scale) on all 22 components of their annual evaluations. 

A little background to help understand this disaster. First, schools get paid mainly in two ways: They get a dollar amount per student they have, so the bigger the school, the more money the state compensates them. The second main way schools get paid is by teacher. Each year, schools report how many teachers they have, how many years experience, and how those teachers did on their evaluations, and the state compensates them accordingly. Our state now gives districts $40,000 for a beginning teacher and caps out at $50,000 for someone who has taught for 30 years. 

Are teachers paid this way? Not really: Most school districts create a Salary Schedule that shows how much wages increase each year, and it’s important to note that because $50,000 is a ridiculous wage for someone with a Master’s Degree that’s been in their profession for 20 years, many districts actually pay their teachers above what the state compensates them because they couldn’t attract teachers if they didn’t. What Little’s plan will do is up this top rung of the ladder to $63,000 by 2025. If you ignore the 5-year phase in to this, it sounds pretty good, but the devil is in the details.

In order to go beyond the current top rung of $50,000 teachers must do several things: First, they must apply and their districts must provide written endorsements for them. It doesn’t just happen. In addition to this, they must be in leadership position, like mentor or department chair or something, they must self evaluate each year, then 75% or better of their students must improve academically, presumably on the ISAT, and lastly, they must receive a 3 or better on all 22 components of the Danielson Framework they are annually evaluated on. This bill struck a nerve because I’m in the middle of evaluating teachers, so I want to focus on this last piece.

In most states, we evaluate a new teacher each year for the first 3 years, and then once every 5 years or so after that. In Idaho, we evaluate all teachers twice each year, new and old. So in addition to evaluating all of our teachers way more often than everyone else, we are mandated by law to use the Danielson Framework for evaluation and we must break their job into 22 different components and evaluate them on all of them. 

22 Components. Every year. If you owned your own business, would you divide the job your employees did into 22 components and evaluate them on all 22 each year? Not too likely. 

As it stands right now, if a teacher gets a 1 score (unsatisfactory) on even 1 of the 22 components, you must report to the state, and immediately the school gets paid less for the teacher. That last part is important to Little’s proposal: Now, if one of your ‘Advanced’ teachers gets less than a 3 on any of the 22 components of their evaluation, the state will immediately pay you less for that teacher. 

An analogy is helpful in order to understand how this system works. Imagine if we tell a teacher that their pay is based on a dollar amount per student they teach, and their annual salary is the sum of their total students. Because we want those students to perform, we further tell the teacher that every time a student fails their course, we won’t pay them for that student. The teachers know that every F decreases their paychecks. After 1 year of instituting a system like this, something magical happens: We suddenly discover that although 15% of our students failed courses before, now no one fails. Wow…the kids just magically got smarter. And good for our teachers too, because they would’ve lost money! Unfortunately, it didn’t change our standardized test scores one bit, but we now feel good because all kids pass all courses.

There are many things wrong with Little’s bill, which I’m guessing will pass, but here’s the one that I see as the worst: Districts are already compensating their veteran teachers more than the state pays them, so you would be dumb as a district not to try to hook into the higher pay for your veteran teachers. Wait though, if any of those veteran teachers gets less than 3 on even 1 of the 22 components we evaluate them on, the state lowers what they pay you for them. My guess is that, like magic, as soon as this bill becomes law, every single one of our veteran teachers will now score either 3 or 4 on all 22 components of their evaluations. And of course, despite these score changes, it won’t affect our education system in any way whatsoever.

We have a host of problems in our education system (and in fairness, here’s what I believe to be our top 4 ), but you know what’s not one of them? Teacher performance. Despite their low pay, generally our teachers are awesome, yet teacher performance is what we seem to like to legislate the most. It’s not going to fix anything.

Clayton Trehal has been an educator for 19 years and a school administrator for 7.

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