Thursday, May 26, 2005

Paying teachers more can pay for itself?

If they're the right teachers, yes.

I was going to put this as a response to a comment in my previous post, but I noticed that I was rambling on, so let's just make it a front-page entry. I want more people to look at this.

JMG wrote:
How about a law whereby teacher salary is *inversely* proportional to school achievement? And a strong enough inverse that working in the worst schools is *very* profitable?

but then wouldn't there be a disincentive to actually make the school better? JMG

I can see why you'd think this but honestly, I don't think so.

You seem to be seeing the following process: if teachers earn less the better the school achieves, then they have an incentive to do less in order for their students to succeed less, and therefore get paid more.

Do you think any parents or schoolboards anywhere would put up with this, for one thing? I'm sure more "successful" schools would be very keen on teacher accountability, seeing as how they are the districts with the most affluent and therefore active parents. We can weaken tenure, for one. If you suck, you're out.

Or how about a bonus program where your pension is based upon the earnings of the students you teach?

Secondly, let's link "success" to something which can't be faked so schools can't tell kids to do poorly on standardized tests for the sake of an easy A.

My idea is based upon the notion that an easier and more positive teaching experience is worth more to most educators than relatively small amounts of money.

I offer that the current system offers a doubly powerful incentive for teachers to choose rich school districts, and my modest suggestion is an attempt to provide a bit of balance.

You know New Orleans, JMG. Why is it that private schools can charge what they do but pay teachers almost a third less? Yes, there are powerful racial issues here, but where would you prefer to teach high school bio? What if I offered you twice as much to teach in a disadvaged school?

However, I think a different criterion than standardized test scores should be used for how "good" a school is, like the percentage of the students who go to college, weighted by the cost of those institutions. One Harvard is twenty trade schools or seven state schools (guessing).

I think many extremely talented and / or experienced school teachers would finally be persuaded to teach in underperforming schools if they were paid twice as much. But many others would still choose the excellent classroom experience an affluent district provides, and these districts could probably still pick and choose candidates.

One thing I really need to say is that I'm not suggesting lowering the salaries of any teachers, only increasing those for disadvantaged schools, and it would probably provide less chaos to have this gradually phased in.

Honestly, I think it's not so much socialism as good government, and in the long run would easily pay for itself. Better educated people earn more money and pay more taxes. I think most social programs can pay for themselves if they're structured properly.

Here are some estimates, very rounded to whole amounts, but I'm sure in the correct ballpark, for example:

Let's see, your average teacher teaches, say, five classes of twenty students, or 100 students a year.

Pay her, after taxes, an extra $20,000 a year to teach poor kids.

So, those 100 kids each need to get jobs after graduation (not weighted for inflation, humor me) which pay...

wait for it...

$200 a year more in taxes per kid, or an extra $2000 a year earned in a moderate tax bracket...

Competence in basic math and literacy is worth about an extra $10000 a year, on average, and illiterate or math-less kids tend to be in the lowest brackets, which pay the least or no taxes, so upward trends in earnings pay even more taxes.

I rest my case.

Except to say that I honestly believe that paying teachers more to teach poor kids might one day actually earn the government a profit on future taxes collected comparatively. I was being modest in my calculations.

When government invests in it's citizens, everybody wins.


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