Pay Our Teachers More, Part 1

A lot of people suggest this as a way to fix our schools. A lot of other people counter it by bringing up the "fact" (which I haven't verified, hence the quotes) that the US already spends more money per student than any other developed nation, and we are one of the worst academically. Throwing more money at the problem, these people say, isn't going to help.

I say yes and no. We do need to pay our teachers more, but I don't say this in the vain hope that if we throw enough money at education, it will magically fix itself. That's not going to happen. And I know that we can't necessarily afford to suddenly raise teacher salaries across the board - such money doesn't just exist. We need to get it from somewhere. My vote is to lower the pay of administrators, both at the site level and the district level.

This isn't just some idealistic thought - it's backed up by economics.

Before jumping right into education, let's just look at why people in general take the jobs they do. People take the jobs that give them the best combination of personal and financial satisfaction out of all jobs available to them. How important each of these two are varies from person to person, but they are the two big things at play. So when somebody moves to a new job, they are doing so because the gains in personal satisfaction outweigh the losses in financial satisfaction, or vice versa. Ideally, both go up, but so long as there is a net gain, people will at least consider the change, and a big enough net gain will almost guarantee it.

(Side note: Obviously, if you were let go from your old job, your new one may be a step down in both categories, but the new job you take is likely the one that gives you the best combination of those factors.)

Key point: People take jobs to maximize their personal and financial satisfactions (in some combination, which varies by person).

So, how does this tie into education, and why does it mean we should pay teachers more and admins less?

Think about our current situation, and the people who become teachers. For the most part, a teacher could be paid more doing something in their field OTHER than teaching... so why do they teach? Remembering takeaway #3, there are only two real reasons a person would go into teaching, which won't pay as well as other jobs in their field:

1) The person loves teaching, and their personal satisfaction from doing it is worth the lower pay. These are generally GOOD teachers.
2) The person is unable to get a better-paying job in their field, so they settle for teaching, which is the best available to them. These are generally BAD teachers, and the ones responsible for the saying "Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach." I hate this quote because it completely discounts the first group, but it does apply to the second group.

There is, of course, a third group: Those who are unwilling to take a pay cut to teach. Some of these people wouldn't be good teachers; in fact, many probably wouldn't be. But some could have potential that is never realized, and there are definitely some in this group who would WANT to teach, but literally cannot afford the pay cut. These people, with their drive, have the potential to be really good. So how do we get them?

Imagine if the starting teacher salary was $200,000/year. This would attract everybody from groups 1 and 2, and those in group 3 that aren't currently paid that much. You would have SO MANY people applying for teaching jobs that you could handpick the very best. There would be no need to settle for the people who are settling for teaching (aka, most of group 2). I don't think this is a feasible number of course, but it does show something very important, which happens to be the first reason we should raise teacher salaries:

Higher teacher pay would attract more potential teachers, both good and bad. But more people for the same number of spots means you can handpick the very best.

In Part 2, I'll give another reason why teachers should be paid more - and why administrators should be paid less.


Anonymous said...

I've got the link on your first fact:

I read it in a Larry Elder book, when we spent $6,000 per kid per year, which was astronomically more than other nations. This old but 'newer than the book' article puts that figure at $10,000 per kid per year.

With classrooms around 30 kids, that's $300,000 per classroom. Where does that money go?

Not to administrators.

...teachers unions. Those are the culprit. If there's anything taking a big shit on American education, it's the teachers unions.

Jeremy said...

That $300,000 from a classroom would barely cover the salaries of the superintendent and one principal at my school district back home. Just to put things in perspective a bit.

Also, don't forget that the $10,000 figure takes into account teacher, administrator, district, and classified staff salaries. Not to mention supplies, facilities, and utilities, and a bunch of other things (unions included).

I'm not proposing that cutting administrator salaries and raising teacher salaries is going to solve all of our problems. Especially not financially. But I am showing that economically, it's the right move to attract and keep better teachers, and increase the quality of our education.

As for the one thing taking a big shit on American education, I'd turn the focus away from teachers unions, and on to standardized testing as the be all and end all of our education policies.

Anonymous said...

That's true, though without standardized measures of some kind, it's pretty hard to evaluate who the shit teachers are.

Jeremy said...

You measure skill in teaching the way you measure skill in anything else - by observation, performed by those who know what to look for. We already have teacher observations, just not generally performed by those who are qualified to observe.

My calculus teacher in high school had a knack for, amongst other things, being able to tell which students had which teacher for pre-calculus, based on how prepared they were. Since students were assigned more or less randomly (depending on their schedule), it wasn't a matter of student ability. Those that had the better teachers were more prepared, even if they didn't have as much raw talent as those who had the (relatively speaking - we didn't have many BAD math teachers at my high school) worse teachers.

Those who were innately better would often end up ahead of the rest, but they started off behind.

Anonymous said...

You're right, but when you can't back up your observations about student performance with something concrete like test scores, it's pretty hard to fire the crappy teachers. "So and so's students seem unprepared" just won't hold up in court, especially with the 3928349273 ridiculous policies we have protecting public employees (including myself) from being fired.

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