Saturday, October 11, 2008

Michelle Rhee's Secret Plan for Teacher Pay

The Washington Post is again pushing Michelle Rhee's plan for eliminating tenure at for new hires and any teachers who join the new program, and increasing teacher pay for those teachers:
The bold plan of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is two-tiered: Salaries as high as $130,000 would be available to teachers who forgo tenure and tie their pay to student performance, while those retaining tenure would still receive generous raises. No teacher with tenure would be forced to give it up under the voluntary plan.
I remain puzzled by this, for reasons also raised by this editorial:
Montgomery County teachers have been told that they'll probably have to forgo the 5.3 percent pay raise they had been promised for next year because of a worsening economy. Fairfax County, which this year could afford only 2 percent cost-of-living raises for its teachers, has no idea what it will be able to provide with revenue shrinking.
In other words, funds for increased teacher pay are unlikely to come from taxpayers - and given the state of the economy, school budget woes can reasonably be expected to get worse before they get better.
Still, union leaders have balked, thus jeopardizing the $200 million that Ms. Rhee says she has raised from national foundations willing to fund the contract -- but only if the District revamps how teachers are compensated.
Finally a hint at how D.C. will pay for the plan - at least initially - but more details are needed. That $200 million will last how many years? Followed by what? Massive reductions in salary? Teacher layoffs? Seriously - what's the plan to sustain this level of expenditure?

The Post complains about a critic of the plan:
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, criticized the plan in a letter to the editor of the New York Times even though, as she admitted to us, she hasn't seen the plan.
So the Post believes you can't comment on this plan unless you've seen it? Even though they have yet to print the plan, post it on their website, or point people to a place where they can read the plan?

I can't really argue with that, as I want to see the plan and its details so I can evaluate it for myself. I would like to know the specifics. Weingarten may be encountering the same problem I am having - the details of the plan appear to be a closely guarded secret, so to comment on the plan you have to rely on inferences and second-hand accounts.

But wait a second:
The union's refusal to put the proposal to a vote before its general membership is telling. Much misinformation about the proposal has been floated. Contrary to what has been said about the plan, there is apparently an appeals process for teachers who are terminated, as well as programs to aid in teacher development.
Apparently? So the Post hasn't seen the plan either, and the authors of this unsigned editorial are relying upon second-hand descriptions that they don't even know to be true. I guess it's okay to support a plan you haven't read, just not to oppose it.


  1. Once again, I want to know how we'd measure special ed teacher's performances. Would we just go by our IEP (individual education plan) goals? Because in that case, I could just make them really easy, make sure my kids meet them, and get my $130,000! Sweet!! Although my kids wouldn't be challenged, and I'd be bored....

  2. The Great Sleep10/12/08, 10:32 AM

    Any idea how much the average public school teacher makes in that area?

  3. According to, D.C. teachers have a median base salary of $53,931, and with benefits (health, retirement, disability insurance, etc.) included the amount is $76,909.

    The NEA states that a new D.C. teacher earns $38,434, and that the average D.C. teacher earns $61,195. Those can be reasonably inferred to be base salaries. Assuming the figures to be accurate, with average salaries significantly greater than the median, it is easier to see why experienced D.C. teachers might not be thrilled with Rhee's proposal, particularly its absence of detail.

    Of course, this type of information does us no good as a point of comparison without additional details of Rhee's plan. We hear about her maximum salary and maximum bonus proposals, but nothing about projected median or average salaries and bonuses, or how experience or years on the job will factor into wages. We don't know if her salary figures are for base salary, or if her figure includes benefits - as you can see, the difference can be substantial.

  4. The Great Sleep10/12/08, 2:25 PM

    Thank you for answering. That site has more information than what I had found when I looked.

    Is it common for public school teachers in high-crime urban areas to make more money than those who teach in the suburbs or in rural areas? I know that those salaries are a lot higher than in the country as a whole but I can't find any data for teacher salaries other than at the state level.

    I dont really have any comments on the plan itself yet. It's over my head. I am planning to become a public school teacher in a few years but I have only a vague idea as to what all the fuss is about with regards to salaries, teacher's unions, merit pay, etc.

  5. Teacher salaries vary by state and by region. Historically, teachers made more in wealthy districts. With state initiatives to make the distribution of education funds more even that's not necessarily the case, and there are some formerly underfunded urban districts that are now funded well above the state average on a per-pupil basis. Urban school systems are often plagued with bloated bureaucracies, crumbling infrastructure, and (dare I say) corruption, which can reduce the actual benefit of their per-pupil funding levels.

    It's interesting, also, to note that many parochial and private schools offer salaries below those of public schools, yet attract qualified teachers. Vastly increased teacher salaries may allow a school district to poach teachers from other districts, or may provide enough of a differential that teachers who might opt out of the public system (due, for example, to exhaustion with bureaucracy, poor administrative support, and classroom discipline) might stay in or opt back in. But it will take years, and a much broader adoption of high salaries, before salary initiatives improve the overall quality of graduates at teaching colleges - and, dare I say, there's actually no evidence that you'll see improvement.

  6. The Great Sleep10/12/08, 5:48 PM

    Thank you. I know it isnt going to do me any good to sit around worrying about salaries when I still have three years to go. But it does help for me to have a basic idea of what it's going to be like so I can think about if I should try and find some other line of work.

    Here, public schools seem to offer new teachers about $25000 a year, but a lot of schools are downsizing their staff and so nearly the only way to find an open position is to find a small, rural school where there was only one teacher in a subject and that one is retiring. So it's a difficult market and there are always more applicants than there are openings. I hear that the situation looks better in other areas of the country, but I would be too afraid to live in a city and getting certifications to teach other subjects would probably take me too long. I'll think about this before I get too far involved in this curriculum; thanks for being helpful.

  7. I teach in Detroit Public Schools, and we get more than some smaller districts (class C, D, etc.), but less than Plymouth-Canton, Birmingham, Grosse Pointe (that I know of). It is still a great job, IMHO--the schedule can't be beat, the benefits are great, and the pay is better than legal aid.

    Private and charter schools are not unionized and that is why they offer way less. I can tell you that a charter school teacher in Detroit probably makes about $15-20K less than me...and I am not at the top of the pay scale by any means. Also, they don't get the MPERS pension fund. They are getting certified and qualified teachers because of the huge teacher surplus. Every area, including special ed, is saturated, with elementary ed, Secondary English, History and Social Studies positions often getting over 1000 applicants.

    The problem is that teacher education programs keep churning out teachers year after year. There are literally thousands of teachers with no job opportunities and no prospects. Almost every district is laying off and few are hiring.

    I'm sorry if I sound discouraging "the great sleep"...I don't want to be negative, but teacher ed programs lie and tell students that there is a shortage. There isn't. Not in Florida, not in most union states (IL, NY, CA) and certainly not in MI. I've heard that Las Vegas is hiring, but I've also heard horrible things about the district. is a great resource...see the regional chat boards.

    Again, I'm sorry to sound negative and discouraging, but it's hard out there for a teacher!

  8. The Great Sleep10/12/08, 9:47 PM

    Okay. Again, thank you. I dont think we actually have charter schools here in northern New England; at least not at the high school level. We have plenty of private schools, and from what I hear their pay is just as good as the public schools, but I believe their hiring criteria are a lot more stringent than the public schools and they have a very low turnover rate. (I know that it's usually said to be the other way around, but like I said, I think in this corner of the country the public schools are underfunded and the private schools are quite well off.)

    I didnt major in Computer Science because I had a friend who did and he hadnt gotten a job even remotely related in the 10 years after he got out of college. I still wouldnt be willing to take that risk. Another friend I had just got a job teaching English to immigrants in Texas, and she was the one who told me the teaching field was "hot" and I should look into it.

    I imagine there must be some sort of employment opportunity available for graduating Education majors or the government wouldnt be so eager to promote it. But perhaps they're really looking for more people to be long-term substitutes, tutors, etc. That would be okay with me as long as it was a steady paycheck and I could work some other job during the summer.

    I am going to talk to my university curriculum advisor as soon as possible and also try to talk some more to the public school teachers who've been telling me not to keep my expectations up, particularly the newer ones. Thank you again for answering my questions, I really didnt expect this blog post to turn into a career advice session but I'm grateful to find help wherever I can.

  9. The Great Sleep10/12/08, 11:08 PM

    So basically, teacher's unions are a very bad thing for someone who wants to be a teacher, because they keep wages high and therefore the schools are not able to afford to hire more teachers. It reminds me of the auto industry, where wages are often $80000 or higher for a factory worker, because of the unions, which makes those jobs hard to get. So a normal public school might have a bunch of lucky teachers making an average of $30000 a year whereas a nearby charter school might offer $15000 for basically the same work. The analogy would be a car factory versus some other similar job which pays $10 an hour.

    Given that, I'm not surprised that it's said that teachers at charter schools arent as good: they're probably the ones who werent able to get accepted into the higher-paying public school jobs. $15000 a year is better than working temp jobs, so I'm up for it, but like I said, I dont think charter schools even exist around here and I dont think I'd handle living in a major city very well so I probably would not want to go down that road.

    Again, thanks for the info. I'll keep in touch.

  10. We got into this discussion because of a perception that teacher salaries are not high enough to attract enough qualified people into the field. This is a discussion that, within the context of Rhee's plan, anti-union folk like to have both ways - "Teachers unions cause teachers to get paid too much," and "If it weren't for the union, teachers would get paid even more". Obviously, it can't be both.

    Teaching in a public school is not a highly paid profession. Teaching in a private school that pays less? That can turn teaching into a poorly paid profession. I can tell you this - halve teacher salaries and new teachers won't have problems finding jobs. But very few people would bother becoming teachers.

  11. The Great Sleep10/13/08, 11:39 AM

    Well, some people say that teachers get paid so low that there are problems hiring enough of them, and other people say that teachers are paid so well that the supply of teachers is far ahead of the demand. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between: some schools are so dangerous that nobody really wants to teach in them; while others are so nice that nobody ever leaves unless they die. As I've said several times already, I would not be willing to live in a major city and have to constantly worry about being robbed. You couldnt pay me enough. But on the other hand, I would be perfectly happy making $1500 a month in a nice neighborhood around here. That's more than I could make in a manual labor job and I think it's worth striving for. And if even that kind of salary is out of reach, I know that there are private companies doing things such as tutoring that will hire people who have teaching certifications but can't find a full time job as a teacher. I suspect that's where most of my classmates will start out.

  12. That's one way of saying it..that unions inflate salaries. But who is to say what teachers should make? Who says surgeons or CPAs or Wall Street dudes should make so much? Part of the problem is that education tended to be women's work back in the day (still is to some extent) and so the salary was often viewed as "pin money", in that the husband earned enough and this was just funny money for the woman.
    I was totally anti-teachers unions before I got my job, now I'm happier with them, because I have some protection. I like having set hours of 8-3, as I am not a "face time" person (reason number 324234324 that law didn't work for me) and I like knowing that I have a duty free lunch.
    There is a huge difference between private/charter/public...I'll throw out some numbers here. Public school teachers in my district max out close to $80k with a doctorate (I'm not there yet!). I've been teaching a few years and I will say that I make over $50K/year, which is awesome considering that my year is only 10 months. Charter school teachers start and stay in the 30K range, usually. Private school is just abysmal...we're talking $20K, shitty benefits, etc.
    So the real issue is what SHOULD a teacher make? If we addressed that issue, and paid what we should earn (I don't have a number for that...I really don't know...$50K? $60K? $40K???), then the union issue wouldn't be so big.

  13. The Great Sleep10/13/08, 5:31 PM

    I remember that the Catholic school I attended for a while in 9th grade only paid about $14000 a year, but on the other hand it gave free living space to the teachers (because they were all Brothers who were affiliated with the church.) I think, though, that in general, private schools hire lay people and the salaries are not that bad, and googling information on them seems to indicate that they're about on level with the public schools around here. But then, like I said, our public schools seem to be a bit below what they pay in most of the country.

    I don't know why I kept saying $1500 per month above. I meant $2500 a month, thus about $25000 a year, although after taxes I imagine it would be somewhat less.

    I'm in a good place for now. I am not going to drop out of this college program unless my grades are too low or an emergency happens. I'm basically getting free tuition and even some basic living expenses paid. If I graduate and I cant find a job, I'll be no worse off than I am now. Still, I thank you for setting my mind straight about how difficult the job market is so that I won't be dreaming of an easy success and have no plan for what to do if I don't get it.

    And I'm still going to find some more people to talk to in person. Now's a holiday, so no one's in school, but I will be back there in a few days.

    Thank you both for helping me.

  14. "Private school is just abysmal...we're talking $20K, shitty benefits, etc.
    So the real issue is what SHOULD a teacher make?"

    . . . and the short answer is "as much as they can" just like everyone else. But you raise a more interesting issue.

    There is a reason that a private school can pay less than a public one and still attract quality teachers . . . and it isn't the current/recent "over abundance" of teachers. The private schools have been paying lower salaries for years and still getting good quality teachers.

    The difference, especially in urban areas, is the quality of the students and the level of discipline maintained. By definition, if a parent places a child in the private school, they are paying for the privelege. They have a greater stake in the outcome, and for the most part they tend to be people who care more (on the average) than the average parent of public school students.

    What does that have to do with the teacher's salary? It creates a situation where people are willing to take a pay cut to get better working conditions.



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