Monday, September 14, 2009

Consultants wrong on teacher pay

“We know that getting a degree is not related to student achievement.”
-Education consultant Tabitha Grossman

If this is the best consulting the state can come up with, teachers and their students are in trouble.

The Blue Ribbon Commission for Educational Excellence is supposedly exploring better ways to, as this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell puts it, "pay teachers to make them more effective and to aid students."

What sort of great ideas did the state-paid consultants come up with? Here's one: cut the state teacher salary schedule by 10% in order to give some teachers bonuses of between $3,000 and $6,000.

And how can we justify such a radical reordering of the salary schedule? According to the consultant, advanced degrees mean nothing, and after five years in the classroom teachers stagnate and don't do anything different.

Those are extremely radical propositions that are very difficult to defend. Other consultants might have come up with other, proven solutions, like smaller classes, extended school days and years, placing the most qualified teachers in the most challenged schools, etc.

But you get what you paid for. And the people who paid for these consultants definitely got what they paid for - an assault on the professional educators who are dedicated to the children in their classrooms.

Fortunately, LFT President Steve Monaghan is a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission. Steve responded with this comment:

"We will never tell teachers who have invested time, money and effort in
earning advanced degrees that they labored in vain. And we simply reject the
contention that teachers stagnate after five years. Teachers are by nature
life-time learners. Good teachers continuously learn new skills and approaches
that they can bring to their classrooms.

"We hope that over the next few months the commission will hear from
other experts who can provide very different perspectives."

A second consultant told the commission about the success of a performance-based teacher pay plan in Denver, Colorado.

But as Monaghan pointed out in this press release, there are big differences between Denver and Louisiana.

A state (Louisiana) comprises many school districts with varying needs and resources, while a single urban school system (Denver) can focus more narrowly on its specific needs.

But the more important difference is that Denver has a collective bargaining agreement with its teachers. Every change in the way teachers are paid was negotiated, and teachers voted on the plan before it could go into effect.

A plan like Denver's won't work until Louisiana has a statewide collective bargaining law.

The Blue Ribbon Commission has until May to prepare a report for Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Board of elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Regents. Let's hope some better ideas emerge before then.

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