Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Compensating Teachers

Several weeks ago I posed the question about a looming teacher shortage. I rhetorically suggested that a time may be coming where this is reality not only in the far reaches of our state, but right here in Hudson. Today though, we have been able to attract high quality faculty to our ranks by offering a competitive compensation package. Nonetheless, a large number of retirements over the last several years have dramatically altered the demographic makeup of our professional teaching ranks. We currently have a faculty of 62 educators. Of those, 11 (18%) are initial license holders. An initial license is issued to educators who are in the first two years of their career. They can't qualify for a standard license until the building principal signs off they have met a series of requirements related to the Iowa Teaching Standards. In addition to these 11 new teachers, we currently have an opening for a special education teacher that will likely be filled by another brand new teacher. This will push the number of initial license holders to 12 or 19%. Let that sink in for a minute: almost one-fifth of our teaching force is in the first two years of their career. And over the last two years we have hired a total of 21 teachers, which means that one-third (34%) of our teaching force wasn't here three years ago. In five years? Roughly 42%.

Certainly there are a lot of valid reasons for this. A few that come to mind include retirements, growth in enrollment that requires additional faculty, and the new positions that were added when we implemented our teacher leadership system. During the 2013-2014 school year, we had a faculty of 55, which has grown to a faculty of 62 in the intervening years. We have also had a few teachers that decided they wanted to continue their careers out of state, so at least at this point we haven't lost any to our main competitors for talent. All that being said, the numbers do seem to be a bit startling! So back to that November 8th article about a potential looming teacher shortage. Multiple hypotheses were discussed, including a decrease in young people entering teacher preparation programs, mobility in the teaching force (moving to a different school district), and a high overall turnover rate (leaving the profession altogether). The one factor we didn't discuss was the idea of teacher wages. Now then, it is reasonable for one's opinions and perspectives on employee compensation to be shaped by the work they do, the wages they earn, and their overall job satisfaction. Indeed some of these variables and opinions were what led to sweeping changes in the collective bargaining law last legislative session. To understand teacher compensation though, let's first unpack what it takes to be a teacher from a purely clinical standpoint.

To become a teacher in Iowa, an individual must earn a Bachelor's degree in education. To stand out in the field, most candidates for teaching positions will earn an extra endorsement in a specific content area to further specialize their skill set. In Hudson, a candidate for a lower elementary position without a Reading endorsement is unlikely to get a second look (at least today). Upon earning the BA in teaching, the candidate is required to pass what are known as the Praxis Exams. The number of exams a teaching candidate must sit for is dependent on the number of credentials they will ultimately have on their license. Not only are the tests stressful, but can cost candidates hundreds of dollars to take. If they pass these exams, they can apply for and receive a license to practice in Iowa, which as we have already discussed is a two year probationary license. After that two year period, if the principal verifies and signs off the teacher has met all the requirements outlined in the Iowa Teaching Standards, they can apply for and receive a standard license which is good for five years. In those intervening years, the teacher will need to take and accumulate continuing education credits in order to renew that license.

A brand new teacher will earn a salary of $37,491, have a decent health plan, and become enrolled in the IPERS pension system. Then each subsequent year, the teachers salary will increase based on the adopted salary schedule. If they decide to earn an advanced degree, that will further bolster their wages. In case you are wondering, the average teacher at Hudson earned a salary of $54,410 during the 2016-2017 school year. When considering this, understand that 24% of all faculty hold advanced degrees beyond BA, and 11% have earned education beyond a Master's Degree. Also worth mentioning, the average teacher at Hudson is 41 years old. With the level of education required for these jobs and the responsibility placed on teachers, are these reasonable wages for educators? Again, this very much depends on your perspective.

But let's weave the collective bargaining changes into the mix and couple that with the idea of a looming teacher shortage. Outside of setting the base wage, districts are free to compensate employees how they wish. As I mentioned above, we are currently looking for a special education teacher. So are a lot of other school districts. In fact in a school district not too far away from here, since the passage of the new collective bargaining law they have decided to pay a $6,000 premium for special education teachers. I can assure you of this, we don't have the ability or desire to get into a bidding war for teachers! I do also wonder if this will create a labor market of dis-proportionality within the ranks of teachers. Will high school teachers earn more than elementary teachers because of the complexity of the content they teach? Or will elementary teachers earn more because of the importance that has been placed on early reading literacy? Will this create a market where the teacher will go to the highest bidder, with smaller schools left on the outside looking in? I suppose time will tell.

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