The recent column by Dick Startz on raising teacher pay is a welcome but overdue confirmation of what educators already know: attracting and retaining the best teachers is no different from attracting talent in any profession. It’s about fair pay for the work teachers do.
His analysis proves something else educators know: paying teachers what they deserve has ever-expanding economic benefits. Investing a dollar now in a proven benefit will pay off in multiple ways in the future.
Another reason that higher teacher pay is an effective strategy for educational improvement goes back to the simple fact, proven by research, that poverty levels exercise the heaviest influence over student achievement, at least on standardized tests. For example, researchers in New Jersey recently reported that they could accurately predict the standardized test scores of middle school students up to 78% of the time simply by using factors related to family and district socioeconomic status, even with no other factors included.
The reasons are complex, but they do not indicate that poor students are less intelligent than wealthier ones. Rather, poor students get hit from many directions: their parents cannot afford to give them the same advantages and resources as their wealthier peers, they usually live in poorer school districts that likewise cannot afford the same resources as wealthier ones, and they tend to be taught by low-paid and unfortunately less-qualified teachers.
Teacher turnover, often related to pay issues, is also much higher in poor districts and causes more obstacles to student achievement.
There’s no magical exception to the rule that you get what you pay for when it comes to teacher salaries any more than with any other profession.
As Startz’s analysis shows, raising teacher pay is the type of public investment that should attract support across the political spectrum. It’s one of the easiest and most effective first steps in raising student achievement in this country regardless of how you measure it.
Addressing teacher quality and retention will also require a hard look at other factors as well. Pay is an issue, but teachers across the country are tired of being held accountable for things they have no control over, such as the aforementioned test scores. Teachers do not control their students’ socioeconomic status, but SES does control test scores.
A good teacher provides value far beyond those questionable test averages. Paying teachers for their qualifications and the value they contribute to society is an example of actual, effective school reform that should be done regardless of who proposes it.
Bryan P. Sorohan