Monday, January 8, 2007

$1600 Per Pupil that doesn't lead to student achievement?

Jay Mathews, the highly-respected education reporter for the Washington Post, covered a new report called "Frozen Assets: Rethinking Teacher Contracts Could Free Billions for School Reform" from the Education Sector.

The Washington Post: Cutting Provisions In Union Contracts Could Free Funds (01/08/07)

(You may need to register -- for free -- in order to read the article. I would encourage you to sign up; you should be reading Jay's "Class Struggle" column every week anyway!)

Just so everyone is clear, the report is not advocating a reduction in education spending. They specifically say, "This is not excess money that could be withdrawn from the public education system with no impact on student learning, but rather money that might be spent differently and with greater effect. "

The report considers 8 common provisions of teacher contracts:

  • Increases in teacher salaries based on years of experience;
  • Increases in teacher salaries based on educational credentials and experiences;
  • Professional development days;
  • Number of paid sick and personal days;
  • Class-size limitations;
  • Use of teachers’ aides;
  • Generous health and insurance benefits; and
  • Generous retirement benefits.
The point of the report is that these particular provisions don't necessarily do anything to improve student achievement, and that their inclusion in teacher contracts effectively locks up $77 billion that could be devoted to programs that demonstrably improve student performance. If there are roughly 48.4 million K-12 students nationwide (per the NCES), that $77 billion figure could represent nearly $1600 per pupil.

Of course, the union leaders quoted in Jay's article attempt to defend the contract provisions cited, and then promptly ask for more money.

The report really addresses an ongoing battle in school districts around the country, where district officials are trying to strike a balance between what is best for students vs. what is best for teachers. While those choices are frequently in sync, they are not always in sync. Union contracts are perhaps the best example.

Unions tend to approach the subject from an emotional standpoint, and paint any discussions as "an attack" on teachers. Until that changes, it's going to be tough to have reasonable discussions that lead to fair agreements for teachers, that also help to improve our education system.

An important point from this report that is likely to get missed by many is:

"Teachers also pay a price for the rigidity of the provisions, at least indirectly. Restricting resources that could be better used elsewhere diminishes the quality of schools and, as such, the professional lives of teachers. Conversely, teachers as well as students would benefit if resources were used more effectively."

==> Mike.

1 comment:

The Rain said...

I think, though, that one of the draws of the profession to many is that it is a family friendly job. If you have young children you can be with them when they are sick, you can be with your kids over the summer, you'll have the health benefits that makes it possible to have a family. Anything that makes it harder for people to be both parents and teachers is going to drive folks from the profession, and I suggest that going after sick days, personal days, and insurance benefits would do just that.

Consider Google, recently chosen as the best place to work in America. On-site doctors and massage therapists, free lunches, thousands of dollars of other perks a year. Sure, they're private sector, but contrast that to what Roza suggests: less health benefits, less time off, more work vis-a-vis higher class sizes.