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It Takes More Than Money

Having a Ball

A recent op-ed in the Washington Post starts with the very click-baity headline “Why not pay teachers $100,000 a year?”.

So, what’s the catch?

Because when it comes to paying teachers what they’re worth, there’s always a catch.

That’s why this hefty pay raise comes with two strings attached.

Of course.

First, a longer school year. Eliminating summer break might spark a national uprising among 8-year-olds and tourism-industry executives. But the nine-month school year is a relic. (Not many kids in Anacostia or Bethesda spend July tending the soybean crop and preparing for harvest.)1 Professionals work year-round. Teachers should, too. A longer school year could also reduce summer learning loss.

Except that kids don’t need more school. They need better use of the time we already have. And full-time teachers.

Let’s start with switching to a year-round school calendar: ten weeks in school followed by a three-week break. That would address the common concern of summer “learning loss” myth.

It would also provide blocks of time for teacher planning, collaboration, and training, all paid for just like real professionals. Not to mention the option for educators and families to take vacations throughout the year. Like civilized people.

Second, greater accountability. Many teachers are excellent; some are heroic. But any parent knows that a few just aren’t up to the job. Under current employment arrangements, it’s difficult to steer these underperformers out of the profession. And with pay based largely on seniority, mediocre teachers lack much incentive to depart or even to improve. Low-performing, less-committed peers erode the morale of the majority of teachers who do their jobs well. Treating all teachers like professionals means showing a few teachers the door.

Fine. But start by dumping the idea that “accountability” is almost completely measured by standardized test scores.

Since we’re now going to treat teachers as full-time, appropriately-paid professionals, take the next logical step and involve them in their own assessment process. Ideas like creating the role of senior teachers who mentor and evaluate those with less experience.

As the writer notes, “researchers have found that what matters most for student learning — more than reducing class size or handing out iPads — is a high-quality teacher”.

However, recruiting, training, and, most of all, retaining those “high-quality” teachers is going to take a whole lot more than money.

Don’t just pay teachers as professionals. Treat them that way well.


The photo shows teachers playing with learning ideas at one of our state conferences. Attending meetings like this with peers to collaborate on and exchange ideas is also something professionals do. Also paid for by their employer.

1. Notice the writer buying into the myth of our school calendar having agrarian roots. A sure sign of someone who has not done their homework.

2 Comments

  1. Diana King

    By the time $100K is actually approved as the salary for teachers, it will already be considered mediocre.

    • tim

      No one should hold their breath waiting for a big raise. “Better schools” is one of those issues politicians loved to talk about but never want to seriously address. At least not with money.

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