Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Does a Higher Salary Mean Better Teachers?

Recently, a friend posted an article on Facebook: "Here's What Happens when a School Pays Its Teachers a Lot, Lot More Money."  I read the article with interest. Did a rigorous interview process and high expectations along with high pay - $125,000 per year plus incentives - result in improved student performance in a high-needs school despite larger class sizes and less administrative support?

According to the results of the study, funded by the Melissa and Bill Gates Foundation, "After four years at the charter school, eighth-graders showed average test score gains in math equal to an additional year and a half of school, compared with district students.  The study found these charter students' gains equaled more than an extra half-year in science and almost an extra half-year in English."  

The conclusion of the author? With higher pay, "teachers perform better and students learn more."

To say that higher pay led to greater student achievement gains is too simplistic and doesn't take into account other contributing factors: student motivation, parent involvement, how students were taught, how many hours of extra instruction were provided, and whether students had opportunities to participate in electives or extracurricular activities. Did teachers collaborate on lessons and share data so all students showed gains, or was each teacher judged individually?

The fact that there was a 47% turnover of teachers after one year concerns me.  Just because a teacher is experienced and has had success in the past does not mean that he or she can go into any other school and have the same results.  The first year at any school is a learning experience, and being judged mainly on student test scores does a disservice not just to the teacher, but to the students and the school itself. What message are we sending when nearly half of the staff is replaced after a year? How can we build a collaborative and inclusive culture at the school when there is such a high turnover of teachers?

In his blog, "Questioning the Data," George Couros states, " . . . what is the measure of success? You may see an increase in test scores but kids might hate coming to school every day, because it is easy to teach to a test, while also killing a love of learning in our students. You can also see that you can improve a score in anything if you put a massive focus on it."  

We all know that teaching is an art; content knowledge is not enough.. Effective teaching and learning is about building relationships with students and colleagues and having the pedagogy and skills to manage a classroom of students and engage them so they are invested in their own learning. Effective teachers are constantly learning and adjusting their lessons to meet the needs and interests of their students. As a school principal, I could not agree to a system where teachers are evaluated and retained solely on how well their students performed on a statewide assessment. Students are more than a test score, and our job as educators is to help all students discover a passion for learning so they can achieve success. A huge salary does not guarantee that.

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