Rock Star Pay for Rock Star Teachers Part Trois

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

A few months ago I got an angry email from an Arizona teacher claiming that her school had been terribly underfunded, and that she had 32 students in her classroom. I wrote to her:

If you have 32 children in your classroom, my first question is what is your school district doing with all of that revenue?

The JLBC put the statewide spending per pupil in Arizona at $9,399. A classroom of 32 at the statewide average would mean $300,768 in revenue from the students in your class.

Her response:

1-teacher, 1ELL teacher, 1 Special ED teacher, reading specialist, principal, janitor, secretaries, music, art, PE, computer teacher, Cafeteria workers, Para-educators, paper, textbooks, hands on science materials, Computers (this is the 21st century learning) building up keep, electricity, water, tables, chairs , etc…..

She forgot to mention administrative salaries from central command. There is one tiny little problem with all of this. According to the 2007 NAEP, 44 percent of Arizona 4th Graders scored BELOW BASIC in reading.

In other words, as Dr. Phil likes to say, how’s that hiring your average teacher from the bottom third of university students and supplementing them with crowds of others working out for you?

Shape up people!

The sad reality of American public education is that our schools have become revenue and employment maximizers that all too often are profoundly unfocused on the bottom line: student learning.  Public schools ought not to be jobs programs, but focused on their mission of equipping students with the academic skills necessary for success in life.

So, if you’ve got $300,000 in revenue from a classroom (many states have more) call me crazy, but I think you’ve got $100,000 for what research shows to be going away the most important factor for student learning gains: a high quality teacher. When I say a high quality teacher, I mean a verified high quality teacher whose student learning gains are being tracked over time by both administrators and parents on a continuous basis.

The best platforms for ongoing value added assessment are web-based data products that allow teachers to develop common assessment items based on state standards. If there are state standards for a subject, you can do value added analysis on it. When schools really get going on this, they give monthly assessments. This gives ongoing assessment data that greatly drops the amount of error (using only state tests, some of the pioneering value added models require 3 years worth of data).

Overall, it isn’t very hard to imagine a system that would improve upon the status-quo in these practices. We can no longer in good conscience socially organize our efforts to teach children to read along the lines of: let’s hire an army of people who want job security and summers off , do absolutely nothing to reward merit, and hope for the best.

This must change, and it will change.


8 Responses to Rock Star Pay for Rock Star Teachers Part Trois

  1. Patrick says:

    Here in Nevada, the state’s largest school district (which has a budget of $4.1 billion and roughly 300,000 students) employs 32,000 FTE (full time worker equivalent). That is 1 full time employee for every 10 students (its actually 9.3 students when counting the full time student equivalent which is an apples to apples comparison). The second largest school district Washoe County has about 60,000 students and it employs 1 full time worker for every 9 students.

    Then, my colleague Geoff (our economist) goes on TV to talk about the state budget and he’s sat next to this union lady who goes on telling Geoff how we don’t know what its like in the classrooms because she’s in the classrooms and we have 50 students to a classroom (I seriously doubt that) but as you said – what are they doing with all that revenue?

    If she’s right (she’s clearly not) and we know the district employs 1 worker for every 10 students but students are in classrooms of 50 that means we have a lot of people who aren’t even teachers. No wonder Clark County’s graduation rate is 63 percent (but hey, at least they beat UNLV – 39 percent)

  2. JB Haglund says:

    There are loads of people in and around most school districts that get paid very well and have absolutely zero impact on what is happening in the classroom on a daily basis. I don’t know that I could count on two hands the people in our district (nothing like the size of the one mentioned in Nevada) who make well over 100K a year that have absolutely zero impact on student learning/experience/etc.

    But for now, I am just going to be glad I have summers off, keep doing nothing to deserve any merit, and hope for the best!

  3. oakleynagels says:

    Security and “summers” off are a trade-off for the low salary. I will gladly sell my tenure for a $40,000 raise, and I’ll work 50 weeks a year if you pay me (and other potential teachers) a salary that will attract the top-third of college students away from law schools, med schools, engineering careers, etc. But if you’re going to start teachers at $30K, you have to 1) accept low quality professionals, and 2) compensate them with security and “summer” (which is in quotes because for me “summer” is from June 15th to August 20th). You get what you pay for.

  4. matthewladner says:


    I agree. A wise man once told me that every system is perfectly designed to produce the results associated with it.

  5. Greg Forster says:

    Well, the problem isn’t “low” pay so much as pay not being aligned to performance. Right now the great teachers are badly underpaid, the mediocre teachers are paid about right, and the lousy teachers are overpaid (by 100%).

  6. I’ll keep on keeping on as an overqualified, underpaid charter teacher with 45 days off during the summer if I continue to feel appreciated by administrators, colleagues, parents and students. Too many of my friends have been non-renewed by poorly trained administrators just when they reach probationary level (most have over 10 years of experience and MAs)and are looking for work in a weak job market.

  7. matthewladner says:

    I agree with you Greg. From the standpoint of recruiting kids in college into the profession, the lack of an upside for outstanding performance is very damaging.

  8. JB Haglund says:

    “ongoing value added assessment.” That is a fancy phrase but what does it really mean? Education has a habit of making up fancy phrases to cover up vagaries of the profession or to make things sound important that really aren’t. If you mean a system of data for each student that teachers can constantly access and that is based on common assessments so that they can focus on raising scores in certain areas, sure that’s nice, but as the mechanism for determining which teachers are good and which aren’t, it has some glaring flaws.

    At some point, someone will have to actually stand up and admit that some of the most important things that good teachers do cannot be measured by a test. They can be measured by other great teachers or administrators that are actually educators.

    I think that data gathering and assessment is a good part of successful schooling. Teaching kids certain skills is important. Somehow pointing to it as a holy grail that will show us who is good and who is bad at teaching is dangerous. There are too many other important factors that need to be factored in.

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