Starting salary isn’t the problem
Your Chicken-Fried News piece (News, Chicken-Fried News, “More teachers needed,” July 23, Oklahoma Gazette) on low teacher pay has motivated me to share my two cents. I have been involved in Oklahoma education since 1968, when I began my teaching career at Ulysses S. Grant High School in Oklahoma City. Over the past 46 years, I have been a classroom teacher, union leader, school administrator and school administrator association lobbyist. For the past 27 years, I’ve worked as an independent consultant for schools in every corner of our state. Thus, I feel qualified to comment.
As you reported, teacher pay in Oklahoma ranks 49th in the nation. I cannot remember the ranking making any higher than 46th; we seem to languish near the bottom and, as a state, seem satisfied with that position.
I submit that the problem is not really the starting salary. A salary of $32,000, plus fully paid health insurance, plus retirement benefits is a decent start for a young college graduate who has likely been working at McDonalds all his/her teenage years. My starting salary in 1968 was $5,750.
The average wage in 1968 was $5,572, and today it’s $35,034. So starting teacher salary is not far from average. The real problem is the maximum salary. The State Minimum Salary Schedule, which includes a health insurance benefit, tops out after 25 years, a masters’ degree and a doctorate at only $46,000. Across the state, approximately 200 districts pay above the minimum, mostly in and around our major urban areas. This leaves teachers in approximately 330 of our state’s 527 school districts with a salary that tops out at $46,000.
I believe that if teaching is a true profession, the movement from $32,000 to $50,000 should happen in about 10 years or some reasonable amount of time given the preparation for, the importance of, and the demands of the job within the profession. Now, everyone is about evaluation and accountability, and we all want and should demand effective teachers. The state Legislature in 2010 passed an overhaul to our teacher evaluation system. We are now in the process of continual implementation of the Teacher Leader and Effectiveness model enacted by the Legislature. As we implement the law, we have been using a qualitative model that measures a teacher’s performance in the classroom in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, when the 2015-16 school year arrives, our evaluation model will include a “50 percent component” based upon quantitative measures and will be heavily weighted on value-added student test scores. In state after state, where this movement began, including Florida, lawsuits are being filed against the value-added testing model for its inaccuracies.
To sum up, we should evaluate our teachers on their classroom and schoolwide performance and demand nothing less than effective teachers. We also must pay our teachers professional wages. The money to for these things cannot come from local school districts; it will take hundreds of millions of dollars from the Oklahoma State Legislature, and these funds will be available if we’d stop concentrating on tax cuts and more on the needs of our students and teachers.
— Willie Quiñones