By John Morton
Teachers are mad as hell, and they aren’t going to take it anymore. The goal of the current #RedForEd movement is a 20 percent pay raise plus more money for other school activities. To get this, teachers are staging “walk-ins” and “walk-outs.” Polls show strong support for the teachers.
Even though God created economists to make weather forecasters look good, I’m bold enough to predict that across-the-board teacher pay raises will have little or no effect on educational outcomes. Here’s why.
We already spend a lot with little to show in the way of return.
In 2013, the latest year school spending has been reported, U.S. schools spent $11,800 per full-time student. This is 28 percent higher than the average in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of 35 developed countries. Only Norway and Switzerland spent more per student. What do we get for this high level of spending? Not much. The United States ranks near the middle on the 2015 test of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA Test). The United States is 24th in science and 39th in math. Reading is the only subject where the United States is above the OECD average at 25th.
Socialism’s Last Stand
The typical teacher salary schedule is a vestige of socialism. There is no relationship between teacher quality and teacher compensation. The only variables are age and level of degrees. An old guy earns more than a young guy. A teacher with an MA earns more than a teacher with a BA or BS. Teachers and their unions have fought tooth and nail to preserve this system and avoid compensation based on merit.
Local school boards, not state or federal governments, are really responsible for teacher pay.
There is no guarantee that more state aid would go for higher teacher pay. In most states, teacher pay is controlled by local school boards, not the state or federal governments. For example, in Arizona, the Tempe Elementary School District (TESD) and the Alhambra Elementary School District (AESD) have about the same number of students. On average, TESD spent 25 percent more money than AESD. Yet TESD paid its teachers 25 percent less than AESD. Arizona teachers are upset with the state government, but they should focus on their local school districts.
Higher educational spending must be coupled with educational reform.
This is not an argument against higher pay for teachers. However, higher pay must be accompanied by higher student achievement. Al Shanker, former long-time president of the New York City teachers union and then of the American Federation of Teachers, put it this way: “The key is that unless there is accountability, we will never get the right system. As long as there are no consequences if kids or adults don’t perform, as long as the discussion is not about education and student outcomes, then we’re playing a game as to who has the power.” He also said, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of children.”
Demonstrations at state capitols will do little to improve underperforming schools and the educational opportunities for our students.