Home > Uncategorized > Teachers can’t be bought, but can they be rented?

Teachers can’t be bought, but can they be rented?

October 25, 2014

Thursday at the State Board of Education meeting, Janet Barresi delivered her final budget proposal as Oklahoma’s state superintendent. Overall, Barresi’s budget request for 2015-16 is about $298 million higher than what PK-12 education received for 2014-15. The highlight is a $213.4 million line item increase for teacher salaries – about $2,500 per certified teacher (excluding superintendents). In other words, most of the budget is for teacher pay raises. That’s the part she got right.

(Read OSSBA’s live tweets from the SBE meeting for more detail.)

The raise comes with a catch – lengthen the school year by five days. Truthfully, I’m not opposed to this idea either. However, if we’re going to have a discussion about how much more instructional time we need, we should also probably discuss how we use the instructional time we have. With $11 million in the budget for testing, $12.7 million for Reading Sufficiency, and $8 million for ACE Remediation, I’m not sure I want five more school days – not if it’s just more test prep time.

Over the last 13 years – ever since No Child Left Behind became law – we’ve been all about those tests (with apologies to Meghan Trainor). School should be a place where children can figure out who they are and get the skills they need to get there. Instead, school has become a place where children are data points. Student artwork in the teacher workroom has been replaced with data walls. Author visits have been replaced with testing pep rallies.

Teaching, always a noble but underappreciated profession, has become less attractive than ever. Yes, a salary increase will help with that, but not if the school culture remains all about testing. Later in the meeting, Barresi proved she still doesn’t get that. The following tweet probably best illustrates this.

Apparently our future former state superintendent doesn’t get the role that extracurriculars (such as band, choir, athletics, student council) play in the overall education of our students. In spite of this, I have to give her credit for one thing: this is several steps ahead of last year’s 2K4T gimmick. Barresi admits it’s only a start. In my mind, it’s step one of four. What I’d like to see is the legislature fund such a pay increase every other year until each step on the minimum salary scale is $10,000 higher than it is now. Funding that is another issue.

For each of the past four years, Barresi has proposed large funding increases, only to see Governor Fallin propose quite modest increases – so small that most schools (because of growth) would actually see a loss in per pupil funding. The Legislature has then come through with funding somewhere in the middle.

Back in February, this is what I said we should ask for in terms of funding:

  1. Refill the funding formula.Last year, the Legislature had more money to appropriate than at any other time in state history. Even so, state support for public education had not been restored to the level of FY 2008. At a minimum, schools need support at that level, plus consideration for growth in enrollment and a cost of living adjustment.
  2. Fully fund reforms.Three years ago, Superintendent Barresi told superintendents that the reforms she was pushing could be implemented with no new funding. Now she is asking for more than $26 million in new money to fund them. Common Core, TLE, RSA, and ACE all take money to implement well. They also take time. School districts can get students where they need to be with both of these resources. Most critical is Reading Sufficiency. At current funding levels, many schools have to decide between tutoring during the school year or having summer programs. The supports they do provide span less time and may not include all the grades principals would like to serve. Also consider that we keep increasing what we spend on testing. If the Legislature would reduce the amount of required testing, this expense could be lessened.
  3. Plan long-term for raises.Supporting a teacher raise of $2,000 by adjusting the state minimum salary and dedicating funding to the formula would be a start. Don’t stop there. Be bold. Think five years down the road and ask yourself where you want to see public education in the future. While state voters rejected a plan to trigger automatic teacher salary increases a few years back, they would probably support raises for teachers if the Legislature phased them in over time. We don’t know what Texas, Kansas, and Arkansas will be paying their teachers in five years. There’s a lot we don’t know. We can be certain, however, that we will continue to see shortages in the profession without taking strong action. A one-time $2,000 stipend that only a few districts would be able to afford is not a game-changer.

I’m still where I was eight months ago with this. If the state has more money to spend, why hasn’t education funding been restored to pre-recession levels? Until legislators do this, we’re going to doubt the motives of all the politicians. For example, fellow blogger Brett Dickerson thinks this is a transparent attempt to buy teachers’ loyalty:

Reformists still stubbornly believe that teachers can be bought. It’s amazing. And it is the same contempt for education and educators that we have seen before. It caused right-wing elites to spend big money to push in a dentist for superintendent. It’s the idea that you can throw a few dollars at teachers and they will settle down.

People who have not dreamed of teaching and then taught for years just don’t get it. They think that more money can make us do things differently or change our motivations.

We only ask for more money sometimes so that we don’t have to work a second job mowing lawns, or at a clothing store, or delivering pizzas late into school nights to make ends meet. I actually did all of those things, by the way. It was when I had one of those lucrative “union” contracts that others are supposed to resent us for having.

We want more pay so that we can afford to spend all Summer going to conferences that help us get better at teaching our students. We want more pay because we want to spend our evenings and weekends reading the latest books on teaching so that we can get better at teaching our students.

Committed, long-term teachers don’t teach for money. If we did, then we could be bought.

We teach because we love it. We teach because we can’t imagine much else. We rally, write, speak, and vote to make sure that our students get the education that they deserve.

I disagree slightly. I only think they’re trying to rent us. Actually, at this price point, it’s more like a lease. They’re flashing money in the short-term, but they really don’t want to put many miles on the vehicle. Whether the SBE is sincere about this gesture or not is irrelevant. Teacher raises don’t come from the Hodge building. They come from the Capitol.

Ultimately, reformers want their reform agenda implemented. That can’t be done without teachers. I also believe that teachers can still swing the upcoming election – the governor’s race, the state superintendent race, and several key legislative races.

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  1. Tiff P.
    October 25, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    What, precisely, is “the education that kids deserve?” Could it ever be as excellent, or rigorous, as Finland’s, or even Canada’s? Can we ever expect that for Oklahoma’s kids? As a school teacher, one who’s taught in public and private schools, I am flummoxed by so much group-think. I believe intentions are good, but we all know about good intentions… Educators I meet everywhere are so sincere. I see that daily. I have come to the conclusion, though, that we are a distracted populace. What are we shooting for?

    I enjoy reading your blog, though I disagree with the premise of what seems to me to be the purpose of Oklahoma education as you seem to see it. Love is fierce, not so soft as we think. Kids are so much tougher than we think. I want my own five kids to leave school not soft and squishy, but tough – in mind. I want the kids in my classes, and I tell them this, to have well-developed, well-trained minds. It stars here, in my class, in their “nows.”

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  2. Bec
    October 25, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    Here is a sad fact: they could multiply that proposed raise by 3 and Oklahoma teachers would still not make as much as I did when I took a teaching job in another state. I could not agree more about spending less on testing and more for resources in our classrooms, including teacher salaries. Why can we not use the Plan, Explore, and ACT for grades 8-12? No one has ever given me an adequate reason.

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  3. Teacher's Husband
    October 26, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    Talk about students being data points. In my wife’s elementary school, there are so many more data requirements and lost instruction time related to or because of the data, the teachers are going nuts. I figured it out as I watched this first quarter go by. I estimate that it is the equivalent of about 30 more instruction days being lost (actual instruction time). The sad part is that the administration seems to be blissfully unaware of what they are doing in the trenches as they micromanage the district. It has been incredible to observe. It is simply beyond the imagination of what anyone would have ever expected.

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