Washington State Teachers Shout,”Show Me The Money!”

Finally, Washington State teachers are getting paid more fairly given the importance of their hard work. At least in 2018-2019.

Due to increased funding for teacher salaries as a result of a long awaited court decision, all 295 school districts have to negotiate individual agreements with their teachers. Despite school starting tomorrow, 6-7% of the districts still have not settled.

The result has been a serious money grab, meaning teachers are paying no attention to whether the serious raises they’re winning are sustainable beyond 2018-2019. And I completely understand that. “We’ve been underpaid for way too long,” teachers are saying. “This is the time to right that wrong. Let others determine the sustainability and put the pieces back together if it proves not to be.”

Starting teachers will now make 50-65k, veteran teachers, 100-115k. To which I say, right on! I celebrate my teacher friends’ improved salaries not just because of my fondness for them as individuals, but because I think it has the potential to strengthen the profession which would be a significant step toward thriving communities.

But it only has the potential if the markedly improved salaries are sustainable and they most likely are not unless the state legislature loosens limits on levy spending on salaries. Time will tell how sympathetic the state legislators are to hemorrhaging districts. My guess, not very. This is two steps forward, in a year’s time, anticipate one large one back.

Some of the unintended consequences of suddenly improved teacher salaries:

• Unless today’s gains are partially or largely clawed back in subsequent negotiations, college graduates will give teaching much more serious consideration. Teacher education programs will see more applicants, and therefore, be more selective. Teacher candidates will be more representative of their undergraduate graduating classes, meaning stronger academically. Hopefully, they’ll have similar heart.

• Recruiting future school administrators will be much more difficult. Washington State administrators are not included in the large salary improvements teachers are making. Consequently, now, in some cases, top teacher pay equals administrators’ pay. To which some principals in the state are asking, “Why am I working 60 more days a year, with added hours and stress, without any additional compensation?” Fewer applicants to administrator preparation programs means principal certification programs will be less selective, meaning a dilution in the quality of future school leaders.

• Teacher education and Principal Certification programs will have a much harder time recruiting quality faculty. At my university, Assistant Professor’s begin in the low 50’s, which is less than a 23 year-old graduate of any of our teacher education programs will now make. So imagine that 23 year old says to me, “I want your job in ten years, what would you advise.” I’d say, “Teach 6-7 years, then spend 3-4 years getting a PhD (consider not just the cost of tuition, but the lost salary) and then apply. If successful, you’ll make about 60% of what you would if you had continued your K-12 teaching career.” University life has many advantages, but how many people can afford that kind of economic hit?

I’m sure there are other ripple effects I’m not anticipating, but these are important ones. Stay tuned sports fans, should be interesting.




What Amanda Ripley and Her Amazon Reviewers Get Wrong

Ripley has written a book titled “The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way“. Thanks to my brother (shout out to Ohio, not California), I recently read an article by Ripley based upon her book. Given my frustration level while reading the article, I’m not sure I could get through her book. Her Amazon reviewers loved it though.

What does Ripley and what do her reviewers get wrong? That you can improve schooling in the U.S. by arguing that Finnish teachers are far, far superior to American ones. I assume Ripley wants to help improve American schooling. She’s right that teacher education programs in the United States are not nearly as selective nor rigorous as Finnish ones. But in the excerpt at least, she doesn’t even bother exploring the reasons why, let alone propose solutions to the problem.

Dear Ms. Ripley, there are lots of reasons why teacher education programs in the U.S. aren’t as selective and rigorous as in Education’s Holy Land ( let’s create some ed jargon baby, EHL). Maybe the most vexing one is best illustrated through a question.

Whose recent performance is most impressive, Peyton Manning’s or Dexter Filkins’? To which most people in the U.S. would ask, who does Filkins play for and why haven’t I heard of him? Filkins is an outstanding writer, who, when he’s not writing books, plays for The New Yorker. And he just published an amazing story on Qassem Suleimani. Who does Qassem Suleimani play for and why haven’t I heard of him? Two teams really. Iran and Shiites worldwide.

You haven’t heard of him because American culture is anti-intellectual. How can anyone expect teaching to be a deeply respected profession when we reserve our highest pedestals for athletes, actors, and other entertainers?

Ripley also illustrates how dangerous a little knowledge can be. She’s critical of how short teacher candidates’ apprenticeships are in the U.S. I am too. Just the other day I was cringing in my office as colleagues next door weighed the merits of eight-week long professional apprenticeships.

But the problem is even worse than Ripley lets on. Not only are they far too short, increasingly candidates spend a lot of their time co-teaching because of growing standardized test score anxiety. Given the momentum for tying teachers’ evaluations and compensation to students’ test scores, an increasing percentage of principals and teachers are reluctant to “hand over” their classrooms to teacher credential candidates. Ripley doesn’t bother peeling that onion at all. Literally and figuratively shortchanging future teachers’ professional preparation is just one of other unintended negative consequences of standardized test score mania. We’ve lost our minds.

Absent from Ripley’s article, we obviously have to improve teacher compensation to have any hope of raising the profession’s profile and making teacher preparation programs markedly more selective. Related to that, we have to improve the work conditions—meaning fewer or smaller classes; more time to develop curriculum, prepare for classes, and assess student work; and fewer authors, elected officials, and businesspeople ripping teachers for not being more Finnish.

Postscript—peel more of the onion by reading Anu Partanen’s December 2011 essay in the Atlantic, “What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success“.

The Public School Budget Crisis and the Dilemma of Professional Development

From the Tacoma News TribuneDuring the course of a school year, the cost to offer professional development adds up to a tidy sum, which is getting harder for school officials to ignore as they comb their budgets for savings.

Fork in the public school budget road. Given budget shortfalls in the tens of millions, the question for the Tacoma School District, and nearly every other one, is how to prioritize among competing trade-offs including: 1) continuing professional development including the mentoring of beginning teachers; 2) retaining more teachers and thereby maintaining smaller class sizes; 3) consolidating (meaning closing some) schools; or 4) reducing pay. Put differently, the District can’t afford to maintain the same professional development program for the same number of teachers in the same number of schools at the same level of pay.

I’m here to help.

Dear Superintendent Jarvis,

While it’s not obvious, as the coordinator of my university’s Masters Teaching Certification program, I’m on the front lines of this dilemma. Currently I’m reading applications, interviewing prospective candidates, and deciding (with the help of some colleagues) who gets the chance to earn a teaching license and who doesn’t. Ours is an above average program, but we need more applicants with even stronger academic backgrounds to choose from. As you’re well aware, legions of fifty and sixty-something boomer teachers are nearing retirement.

In short order, the profession is going to need an infusion of smart, dedicated, caring teachers. The medium and long-term health of your schools depends upon my university attracting deeper and stronger pools of applicants.

While admittedly difficult, I implore you to take the medium to long view by continually asking what priorities are most likely to attract more highly capable college graduates into the profession. The “least worst” outcome is to reduce professional development and consolidate some schools. On average, K-12 teachers make 40% less than their college graduate peers.

I suspect that for every percentage of teachers’ pay you cut and for every student you add to their average classrooms, we lose strong prospective candidates to the business world and other graduate programs. Chip away at compensation and increase teachers’ work loads through larger classes and our pool of applicants will shrink and weaken. The future quality of teaching in your schools hinges on preserving pay and favorable work conditions.

Professional development excellence does not requiring flying in a math expert for two days for $5k. Doing so suggests there isn’t a single teacher within the district who has specialized math expertise that will benefit others. Paying a charismatic professional speaker for a few inspiring talks is easier than changing the work culture, but it creates cynicism because of the utter lack of follow through. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know the medium and long-term benefits of distant experts will always be negligible.

Instead, think bottom-up and assign more responsibility to your teacher-leaders for professional development. Ask them to survey their colleagues and then plan more meaningful discussion-rich sessions around the issues they’ve identified as most important.

If you carefully explain how consolidating schools is the “least worst” outcome most people will eventually come around. People are understandably upset that their property values have plummeted while their property taxes have stayed the same or increased. No one ever likes to see their neighborhood school close, but they’ll be more understanding if you help them connect the dots between school closings, greater economic efficiency, and more manageable property taxes down the road.

Yours Truly,