Teachers should be paid what they are worth

Published on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 19:32
Written by Bloomberg View

From West Virginia to Arizona, public-school teachers are in revolt. They are demanding better pay, and they deserve it -- so long as their salaries are tied to their performance.

It’s not that U.S. teachers are underpaid; the median income for the country’s 1 million high-school teachers, for example, is more than 50 percent higher than that of the general population. But relative to peers with similar levels of education, teachers are falling behind. In 1994, public-school teachers made only 2 percent less than college graduates in other fields; by 2015, the gap was 17 percent.

Cuts in state education budgets have made the problem worse. In more than half of the country, after adjusting for inflation, average teacher salaries have declined since the start of the century. In West Virginia, where pay has dropped by 8.9 percent since 2000, teachers went on strike in late February, forcing lawmakers to pass a 5 percent pay increase for the next school year. Teachers’ unions in Arizona, Oklahoma and Kentucky plan similar walkouts if their demands aren’t met.

To avoid such an outcome - which hurts students the most - both sides need to compromise. Teachers shouldn’t have to work second and third jobs to make ends meet, as many say they do, even in states with low costs of living. At the same time, pay raises should be accompanied with reforms that evaluate and reward teachers for the quality of their work.

In the vast majority of school districts, teachers’ salaries are determined by their educational backgrounds and years of classroom experience. Because they reward seniority, these pay schedules are fiercely defended by teachers’ unions. But they reduce the funds available for other priorities - like encouraging teachers to relocate to rural and low-income districts and addressing shortages of teachers in STEM subjects.

How well students perform depends on how well they’re taught. The U.S. should pay its teachers more - and give the best ones incentives to show how much they’re worth.

Bloomberg View

Posted in New Britain Herald, Editorials on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 19:32. Updated: Tuesday, 3 April 2018 19:34.