Teachers: The Most Important Part of Our Education System

By the LEV Policy Team

Teacher Compensation - League of Education VotersWe begin our discussion of redefining basic education with the most important part of our education system: our teachers. Research consistently shows that teachers have the strongest school-based impact on student performance, but that is not reflected in their current pay. The Washington State Supreme Court is requiring the Legislature to increase the state contribution to teacher salary as part of its duty to fully fund education. As the state grapples with how to meet its McCleary obligations, we must continue to advocate for meaningful investments in education—which starts with investing in teachers.

Teacher salary in most districts comes from a combination of state and local levy funding. Currently, the state pays districts only $35,700 for first-year teachers with a bachelor’s degree. To provide a wage that accurately reflects the job responsibilities of teachers, districts use local levies to supplement state funded salary. The ability to pay teachers additional salary and the amount of additional salary varies from district to district and is dependent on how much districts are able to raise through local levies.

The average teacher in Washington gets paid $64,867, but the state only pays for $53,767 of that. The state must contribute more towards teacher pay, but simply changing who pays for teacher salary will not change the experience of teachers or students. Improvements to our state’s compensation system are needed to better recruit, retain, and reward high-quality teaching, including increasing starting teacher salary.

Our current state salary schedule focuses on years of experience and educational attainment rather than difficulty of the teaching assignment, job performance, or teaching certifications. Aligning teacher compensation to career advancement and attaining higher certification levels, as recommended by the Compensation Technical Working Group, would better align salary increases with the knowledge and skills teachers have accumulated. Teachers who have demonstrated excellence in teaching should also be given opportunities to take on additional leadership roles, such as serving as a mentor for beginning teachers, and be compensated for these additional contributions.

Ideally, compensation reform would include an extended contract that more accurately reflects the time and work teachers dedicate to their students outside of the school day or year, like evaluating student work or meeting with students after school. Providing teachers with a competitive salary along with an extended contract can allow more time and resources for parent teacher conferences, job-aligned professional learning, and lesson planning. An extended contract allows for restructuring professional development so it limits disruptions for students and families during the school year.

Establishing a better way to compensate teachers will help to attract and retain effective teachers, but compensation isn’t the only way we should be investing in teachers. Dissatisfaction with professional support, leadership, and other working conditions are leading causes for teacher turnover. We need a thoughtful approach to more effectively retain high-quality teachers that is informed by what causes teachers to leave the classroom. If Washington wants to address teacher retention in the long-term, we must do a better job of supporting teachers and school building leaders to tap into their incredible drive and passion for their students. We’ll be exploring ways to do this in upcoming blogs.

Our teachers are our most effective resource for closing the achievement gap and improving student outcomes. How can we move beyond the status quo and rethink the way that we compensate our educators?

#BeyondBasic

Read LEV board member Cate Simmers’ view on teacher compensation, A Teacher’s Perspective on Contracts and Collective Bargaining

Read Part 1 of our McCleary blog series, Rethinking Our Education System

Jeffrey Charbonneau named teacher of the year

In a special ceremony at the EMP, State Superintendent Randy Dorn named Zillah High School science teacher Jeffrey Charbonneau Washington’s 2013 Teacher of the Year.

Jeffrey Charbonneau is a National Board Certified Teacher and has been teaching at Zillah High School for eleven years. During his tenure at the school, Mr. Charbonneu has been an integral part of creating STEM courses, allowing students to earn college credit. He also created a Robotics Challenge and a Hiking Club and serves as an advisor to several student clubs, including yearbook.

In a statement to the press, Zillah High School Principal Mike Torres said, “I am fortunate to have Jeff as an instructor at Zillah High School. But I am even more fortunate to have him as a teacher for my own children. Both my son and daughter have taken classes from Jeff and they have expressed that he is the type of teacher every student deserves to have. He is innovative, enthusiastic, challenging and motivating. He takes a personal interest in every student. As a parent, I see how Jeff has motivated my children, not only to learn the content, but also to become advocates for learning in general. It is what makes him a standout.”

Congratulations to Mr. Charbonneau and all of the nominees!

Find out more here.

Celebrating Connected Educator Month

It’s August 2nd which means we are two days in to Connected Educator Month. Created by the Department of Education, Connected Educator Month celebrates “educators at all levels, from all disciplines, moving towards a fully connected and collaborative profession…”. The New York Times is honoring the occasion by asking 33 educators the following questions:

1. What is one important thing you’ve learned from someone in your Personal Learning Network (P.L.N.), however you define that network?
2. What one person, group or organization would you recommend every educator add to his or her P.L.N.?

Here are a few of the responses:

Carolyn Ross | Hightstown High School

Reader Idea: Personal Inquiry Projects With The Learning Network

1. My first year as a high school English teacher, I had a colleague who encouraged me to consider daily dilemmas and stressors through a simple lens: “Is this the hill you want to die on?” I owe my propensity to pick my battles (with students, colleagues, administrators and my inner demons) to this mantra.

2. The newest addition to my Google Reader is the NCLE SmartBrief. Twice a week, NCLE compiles an education brief: news stories, resources, blog posts I would otherwise have missed and fresh teaching ideas (like using e-mail spam to teach persuasive writing).

Stephanie L. Meyer | Wisconsin Public Schools

Reflections on the Third Annual Found Poem Contest

1. One thing I’ve learned from the authors of novels that I’ve taught, including Laila Lalami (“Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits”), Sarah McCoy (“The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico”) and Brando Skyhorse (“The Madonnas of Echo Park”) is that they really do want to hear high school students’ reactions to and questions about their books. They will usually write the students back whether by snail mail or e-mail.

2. All educators should be familiar with Toondoo.com, a Web site that allows students to create comic strips. I usually assign students different scenes from a particular book, print the scenes out and have the kids try to put them in chronological order, among other things.

Heather Barikmo | LaGuardia Community College

Reader Idea | ‘One in Eight Million’ for English Language Learners

1. Tumblr, as a whole, has been invaluable to me as an educator. The platform really lends itself to visual communication, and I believe language educators in the digital age can really benefit from bringing infographics and similar multimodal texts into their teaching.

2. I get so many ideas from ReadWriteThink.

More responses can be found here.

A motivated, caring, innovative, knowledgeable, effective teacher in every classroom

This blog post is written by Connie Gerlitz, one of LEV’s key activists and longtime education reform leader and activist, in response to the Seattle School Board meeting on Wednesday.

We cannot confuse our love and respect for good teachers with the fact that their efforts are not universally replicated in our classrooms, and our children are suffering the consequences as evidenced by their inability to pass required standardized tests, graduate from high school, or take a college-level course.

Teachers and school communities need our help and support – collaboration time, clean and safe classrooms, continued monetary incentives, mentorships, remediation plans, praise and heart-felt thanks.

But students need so much more and one of those things (please notice that I said “one of those things”) is a motivated, caring, innovative, knowledgeable, and effective teacher in every one of their classrooms. We can’t fix ineffective parents. We can’t fix severe disabilities. We can’t fix poverty. We can, however, move toward providing them with teachers that prove that they have the ability to educate them. One of the ways (please note that I said “one of the ways”) is to measure student progress and use that progress as a means (please note that I said “a means”) of determining whether a teacher is effective or not.

I for one have really had it with the rhetoric that says that unless we are in a classroom we don’t understand what good teaching is. It is like saying that unless we are the chef in a restaurant we don’t understand what good food is or that unless we can wield the scalpel ourselves that we don’t know whether our appendix was removed successfully or not. Our food is nutritious and tasty. We no longer are the owners of an infected appendix. Our kids can read.

I have also have had it with the rhetoric that says that a teacher can not be held accountable for results if the student is hungry or doesn’t have a pencil or has a learning disability or is unruly. Get the kid some food – there are all kinds of agencies that will help. Get the kid a pencil – there are all kinds of agencies (PTA for one) that will help. Learn how to deal with the disability or find someone who will. Find out what it takes to get the unruly one under control or find someone who will. And, please don’t tell me that I don’t understand how impossible that is.

Here is a quick story: My mother taught school for 40 years and one of her first students was a blind child (also a neighbor). Blind children were not allowed at the time to be in normal public classrooms in the Franklin Pierce School District, but the parents really wanted him to be in my mom’s classroom. First she learned how to Braille. Then she went to the school board and petitioned to allow his entry into her class. When that was allowed, she brailled all of his needed reading material for 10 years. She opened the classroom doors in that district for blind children. He is, to this day, a highly respected and productive member of our community. That was not a part of her contract, by the way. I could go for days with the countless students our daughter has mentored in and out of foster homes, out of gangs, out of drugs, out of lethargy, out of anger management problems. Her kids move along and she would not have a problem with a test that proves it. She would welcome any help she could get if the test showed she was making no progress.

When I complained once to my mom about not liking to teach students who didn’t care about learning, she took me by the shoulders and said, “Honey, get out of teaching. They are the ones that need your help. The others will do it on their own.”

We need teachers that find a way to reach the ones that really need their help – the others will do it on their own. We don’t really need school at all for those bright, enthusiastic, healthy/wealthy, self-motivators – they will do it on their own.

And, I have had it with the rhetoric that says that a teacher’s effectiveness should not be judged on the actual educational progress of her students. What is it we don’t understand about a test that tells us what a child knows at the beginning of the year and what a child knows at the end of the year? Do teachers not give students tests to figure out if they learned a subject? Is there not a test that can tell us, in part, (please note that I said “in part””) if a teacher is successfully imparting the substance of a subject to his/her students?

I love and admire good teachers and I want to pay them and help them and honor them in every way possible and have spent almost 40 years working to improve the lot of teachers so they could properly educate our kids. The system is not working. Our kids are failing. We need change and we need it now but not the change that says that we will install an accountability system that has no teeth. Why, please tell me why, the union is not in favor of finding a way to reward effective teachers and get rid of the also-rans with a system that has some teeth – a test is just one tooth but it is one of the front ones and is noticeable and harmful when missing.

Becoming Señora Wallace

In case we haven’t met yet, my name is Katie, and I’m an aspiring teacher. I joined the League of Education Voters at the beginning of July as a stepping stone to my next challenge. Teacher quality and preparation is something that comes up in conversation daily in the LEV office. Fortunately, I am on the brink of knowing firsthand what teacher prep looks like in Washington State. Let me tell you about it…

They say nothing makes sense in your twenties. You’re young. You don’t know what you want.

But I do know what I want, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I want to teach Spanish in Seattle Public Schools, preferably at a high school in south Seattle beginning in fall 2010.

I thought I “needed” to do “other things” first. For six years I was convinced that I would be a sportswriter. A few weeks into my first quarter at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, I woke up to the reality that writing about baseball everyday was not going to be as fulfilling as it was fun to dream about.

The funny thing is that I have always wanted to teach, yet I always had an excuse as to why I should wait, why I should pursue other careers.

Then again, maybe there were reasons that I was discouraged from teaching. It is pretty daunting to waltz into a broken system. Our failure to adequately fund our schools is aggravating. It is disheartening that we don’t invest more in our youth and our teachers. When you look at teacher salaries and school funding, it appears that we don’t put a high value on education.

Why would I spend roughly $80,000 on Bachelors degrees (journalism and Spanish) and eagerly apply to graduate school for my Masters in Teaching (which means another $30,000 on top of outstanding student loans!) to go into a career where I work 10-12 hours a day, take my work home with me and start out earning less than $40,000 per year?

Because there’s nothing else I would rather do. I have never felt so compelled to commit to anything in my whole life. Despite the pessimism and harsh realities of the education system, I can’t wait to have my own classroom.

As a corps member with City Year Seattle/King County last year, I had the opportunity to tutor in a Seattle high school two days a week. Those two days a week clearly reminded me of a) why I’m up for the challenge and b) why I can’t wait any longer.

Two years from now I will be standing in front of my own classroom. However, until then, I have my work cut out for me.

First step – grad school applications. Eek… October 1 is closer than I thought… I’ve been sensing the urgency of jumping into education, but this quickly approaching application deadline adds a different kind of pressure! Thankfully, I have already passed my entrance exams – the WEST-B and the Praxis II in Spanish. We’ll dive into a discussion of these educator skills tests next week…

I invite you to join me in this adventure. I’ll update you every Friday, and if something comes up during the week that I can’t wait to post, I’ll fill you in. Oh, and by the way, starting Tuesday of next week, I’ll be volunteering in high school Spanish classes once again… stay tuned!