Dumb bunnies — teachers most certainly are not. But the rules determining their pay, and who gets to stay during lean times, aren’t very smart.
West Virginia is one of 17 states that currently use teacher salary schedules. What does that mean?
In short, it amounts to ensuring that each teacher in the state receives a minimum pay amount regardless of where they teach in the state. In a sense, it’s a fairness issue.
For the case of West Virginia, it might roughly translate to ensuring that Clay or Gilmer county teachers aren’t being paid a pittance compared to, say, their Kanawha County colleagues. In a different sense, these salary schedules make sure that each district provides a salary that is at least competitive compared to other districts within the state.
On the surface, that sounds perfectly agreeable, right?
West Virginia takes it a step further with what’s known as a salary equity program. As stated in a March 2016 report by the Education Commission of the States, “the state’s equity supplement program has been designed to ensure that teachers’ salaries do not differ by more than 10 percent.”
But how does this actually play out? Does it effectively subsidize teachers in relatively low-income counties? Does it hamstring border counties, giving the best teachers a compelling reason to take their talents out of state for a substantial raise with minimal change in commute?
Most importantly, does it give West Virginia teachers incentive to strive for the greatness that students deserve?
The salary equity program alone suggests not.
Think back to your own years in school. Can you honestly say that the difference between the very best and absolute worst teachers you had were separated in quality by a mere 10 percent? The fact that these memories so sharply differ suggests that the quality gap was far wider.
But the perverse incentives span beyond the equity program.
Chief among these perverse incentives is the lack of a performance-based pay system. The means by which educators are evaluated, as specified in law passed in 2012, reinforces the notion that performance is something of a trivial consideration.
Language in the bill specifically states, “Eighty percent of the evaluation shall be based on an appraisal of the educator’s ability to perform the critical standard elements of the professional teaching standards.” Further, only “twenty percent of the evaluation shall be based on evidence of the student learning.”
Based on the evaluation standards, it comes as little surprise that tenure is automatically granted after three years (the national average). In the instance of layoffs, seniority is the sole consideration; performance, again, is a nonfactor.
This institutional setup sends a potent message — especially to young, innovative, excited, freshly minted teachers who aspire to make a difference to the youth of the Mountain State.
Run! Run to somewhere that will appreciate your efforts! Run to someplace that rewards you, yes — in real paycheck terms, for being the absolute best teacher you can be! Run to a state that isn’t going to lay you off for no other reason than because “you haven’t been around as long.”
Run to somewhere that pays attention to real student outcomes and doesn’t allow the bad apples in the system to sully others’ reputations of excellence! Run to somewhere that hasn’t incentivized and crystallized mediocrity in its evaluation and pay systems.
The changes being sought in recent weeks won’t make the necessary strides to fix very real problems in our education system. The combination of raises and a PEIA fix are a smiley-faced bandage on a stab wound that will continue to encourage young West Virginia teaching talent to continue to bleed across the borders.
The dysfunction in the system is real. Pumping more money into a broken system fixes nothing. This is a system that incentivizes endurance, rather than excellence.
Until the state’s public education system gets its own house in order, the rest of the West Virginia taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pick up the tab.