Few people doubt that good teachers are in short supply and that upping pay may be one way to boost the quality and quantity of the labor pool. Indeed, in most industries, when there's a shortage of good workers, firms increase wages both to retain the best people they've got and to attract new employees. But public education is not like most industries.
Indeed, it is dedicated to confounding basic economic principles, such as the notions that pay should be linked to performance and that increased competition can improve quality. So it isn't all that surprising that, as education researcher Mike Antonucci notes in The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué, teacher unions in three cities recently opposed raising educators' pay.
In Washington, D.C., where schools are among the worst in the industrialized world, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman wanted to give new teachers an 11 percent boost in pay. That would have made the entry salary $30,000–not bad in a city where similarly educated twenty-somethings head to Capitol Hill to work in jobs in the low $20,000s. But the Washington Teachers' Union killed the proposal on the grounds that the raise was unfair to existing teachers, who started for less.
A similar front-end boost in pay was nixed in Richmond, Virginia, where a plan would have given new teachers a $5,000 signing bonus. No good, said union boss Robert Gray, who complained to The Richmond Times Dispatch that such a policy "sends a signal that inexperienced teachers are more valuable than [experienced] teachers."
And then there's San Francisco, where the Edison Charter Academy started paying its teachers $2,800 to $3,600 a year more than their public school counterparts. The United Educators of San Francisco, the union representing most of the city's teachers, filed a grievance with the school district, which oversees the charter school. Beyond the raw dollar amounts, the union was disturbed by another disparity: Edison's teachers put in eight hours a day and work a 190-day school year. That compares to a seven-hour day and 181-day year for San Francisco's other public school teachers.
More pay for more work. Where might that sort of precedent lead?