Day: March 13, 2019

How absurd is merit pay?

Considering how grossly underpaid Texas teachers are, it is absurd to even be talking about “merit” pay for a handful of them. Some merit advocates, perhaps, simply can’t see the forest for the trees. Others are deliberately promoting a viewpoint that public education should be operated like a business.

They want to reward the teachers who are deemed to have the most success, even if that success is dubiously based on STAAR test scores, which don’t indicate much of anything except an ability to take a test.

Public education isn’t a business. It is a public service to Texas’ 5.4 million school children and their families, and it is a public responsibility of state government. We reward success with a high school diploma, and educators strive to make that diploma as meaningful as possible, a symbol that a student has been successfully prepared for continued success in the real word after graduation.

We know that it doesn’t work out that way for many children, in large part because they come to school with many issues – poverty, lack of proper nutrition, inadequate health care, homelessness – that public schools aren’t equipped to address, especially public schools that have been as under-funded as Texas schools have been in recent years. Yet, the “merit” pay advocates want to address that problem by singling out a small number of Texas’ 350,000 public school teachers for raises if they can improve their students’ STAAR scores or successfully jump through some other data-driven hoops.

Every student deserves an effective, properly certified teacher in an adequately furnished classroom, but thousands of effective, properly certified teachers are leaving Texas classrooms every year because they simply can no longer afford to make the personal and family financial sacrifices the classroom requires. On average, their pay is more than $7,000 less than the national average, and they continue to lose ground. Among those teachers who stick it out, almost 40 percent are forced to take extra jobs during the school year to make ends meet, based on TSTA’s most-recent moonlighting survey.

Let’s look at some hard numbers on teacher attrition, gleaned by Bryan Weatherford, TSTA’s teaching and learning specialist, from Texas Education Agency data.

More than 176,000 Texas teachers left their jobs in the five years between 2012-13 and 2016-17. Only about one-fourth of those were retiring from the profession. The yearly attrition figure ranged from 34,424 in 2012-13 to 36,300 in 2016-17, a loss of about 10 percent of the total teacher workforce each year. Thirty percent of the teachers who began their classroom careers in 2012-13 were gone five years later.

If one-fourth of the 36,300 teachers who left the profession in 2016-17 were retirees, that means 27,000 or so left for other reasons. Some may have left the state or transferred to other districts. But if you don’t think that large numbers of these former teachers left because of poor pay, either directly or indirectly, you are kidding yourself.

Other conditions, such as too much paperwork or having to spend too much time on STAAR prep, may have been factors. But the higher your pay the easier paperwork is to take.

Only three states – Florida, Indiana and Arizona – ranked below Texas on a recent “teaching attractiveness rating” issued by the Learning Policy Institute, and – guess what? – those states pay their teachers even less than Texas.

In Austin earlier this week, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia noted that some people are concerned that we have a “teacher shortage.” But we don’t have a teacher shortage, she pointed out.

Texas has thousands of certified, highly qualified teachers. But many of them are selling real estate, managing offices, experimenting with the dot.com world, anything that offers better compensation than the low classroom salaries they could no longer afford.

Merit pay? Absurd.