Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Just for my teacher friends back in Des Moines

An article bemoaning teacher salaries in north Texas:

Slim raises won't keep teachers here for long
When Dan Hamermesh heard that Northwest ISD was paying rookie teachers $44,159, he was thrilled. "That's phenomenal! In Texas? I'm happy to hear it."

But within 30 seconds, he'd switched gears: "That's just pathetic. Absolutely pathetic. It's exactly wrong."

What was he talking about? Who is Dan Hamermesh? And why does he think that well-meaning North Texas school districts are making choices that will drive promising teachers out of the profession?

He's a renowned labor economist and professor at the University of Texas. He studies, among other things, the ways in which wages impact the decisions of employers and employees.

His concern is that school districts have poured millions of dollars into raising the salaries of starting teachers -- but haven't done nearly enough for the more experienced. The result is that teacher salaries start high, but barely move after that.

"A big increase at the low level may look impressive -- that's the number that gets published in the newspaper," he told me last week. "But who's going to wind up staying after the first few years?"

Here's what he means. When Northwest ISD announced its new starting salary -- apparently the highest in Texas history -- we splashed it on the front page. After all, $44,159 is an awfully nice salary for a 22-year-old fresh out of college.

But how much does, say, a 27-year-old who's been teaching five years get paid in Northwest? According to the district's salary schedule, $45,559 -- barely a smidge above the base.

And an experienced 10-year veteran? Try $46,961.

I'm not saying those are bad salaries. (They're more than a lot of newspaper reporters earn, for instance.) But the slope of increase as a teacher gains experience is awfully flat. Show me another profession where 10 years of experience only earns you an extra $2,800 in pay.

(That's about half a percent a year.)

I don't want to pick on Northwest ISD. The same sort of pattern shows up in just about every North Texas school district. And they're all out of whack with the rest of the country.

HUH??!?!? All out of whack?!?

They must've missed the teacher salaries in Iowa. I was making about $31K there, and that's in Des Moines where the salaries were higher. I won't even be making THAT much here in North Ruralville, and the health insurance will eat most of that up. Someone remind me -- why am I doing this? I'd scrub the floors with a toothbrush after school if they paid me $44K. Holy cats.

I hope that when our Daddy finally gets to join us here, he can find something that pays well. We're going to need it.

As for Northwest ISD and their starting salaries, time will tell. If higher salaries attract the best and brightest, and if that in turn produces great results in a district that's packed to the gills with McMansions as far as the eye can see... well, it's all a matter of building a whoop-do-doo reputation amongst all the exponential growth in the area north of the DFW metroplex. Nonetheless, in a few years there'll be new school board members, new superintendent, whatever... and in public education, teachers are at the mercy of public opinion, capricious legislators and administrative bureaucrats. It's just the way it is.

That was a Bruce Hornsby song, I believe.

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