November 5, 2012

In Defense of Gym Teachers, and Art, and Band, and Music, and . . .

On her Education Week blog, Sara Mead wrote a piece titled “Stop Picking on Gym Teachers!” in which she takes issue with Mike McShane’s AEI blog post, “When gym teachers make more than math teachers.

Both of these posts stem from my paper, “The Salary Straitjacket.” So who is right, Mead or McShane? Well, both are correct.

McShane writes, “Once we realize that different teachers have different labor market values, we can have a conversation about linking teacher pay to teacher performance.”

Mead concludes, “There are almost certainly circumstances where it makes sense to pay a really great gym, or art, or music teacher more than some math teachers get paid. The real problem is that our current system doesn’t take issues of value-added or demand/supply into account at all.”

Though they may disagree with who has better options in the marketplace, both scholars agree that schools should not pay all teachers the same. Instead they should reward teachers based on their marketability, which includes their performance.

I did not write “The Salary Straitjacket” simply to say that math and science teachers make less when they should make more. I wrote the paper because we need to rethink how we compensate teachers; the low pay of math and science was a clear illustration of why. In the end, it is not about one type of teacher being better or more valuable than another; it is about rewarding teachers for their unique contribution to their school.

I conclude the paper with this: “The bottom line is that Missouri school districts must depart from the single salary schedule if they want to attract and retain high-quality math and science teachers . . .” Replace math and science in that sentence with any other subject and I think the statement will still hold true. We must stop treating all teachers as if they are the same.

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