Are teachers underpaid and under resourced? Going by all the recent and ongoing strikes, the answer would seem to be a resounding yes. These professionals have a lot of responsibility: If our children are the future, then the fate of our futures rests on their broad shoulders. They must wear many hats while instructing, disciplining, and advising our kids. But should all teachers be paid the same, or could there be a better system for determining earnings? Texas might just have the solution. According to the Houston Courant, “Texas’ teachers and students would be better served by a merit-based system that attracts quality people and incentivizes teachers to achieve more.”
Currently, teachers in Texas are paid based on their level of education, varying Independent School District (ISD) policies, and years of experience. In other words, they are paid on the same scale as pretty much every other job – seniority, formal education, qualifications, and experience. A minimum salary schedule is set by the Texas Education Agency that shows how much each ISD is allowed to pay a teacher. With this model, the wage is based on years of service. The Houston Courant used the example of a teacher in his or her third year for Abilene Independent School District. This person would earn $45,900 annually and could expect increases with experience. The argument is that teachers who go above and beyond but don’t have the added experience are not compensated financially on par with their counterparts who have more years under their rulers.
Another issue is the high turn around rate of teachers in the Lone Star State. “According to the Texas Education Agency, roughly a third of all Texas teachers leave their jobs as public school teachers before reaching their sixth year, and almost half of the teachers who move from out of state to teach in Texas will leave their jobs as public school teachers within the same time frame.” Those in favor of the merit system seem to think it will help keep teachers working and attract better instructors.
Merit System: A+ or F-?
It’s kind of ironic that when schools across the country are doing away with letter grades for their students, Texas wants to introduce a merit-based pay schedule so that “good teachers” will get kudos. The problem is, who will decide which teachers are deserving of a pay raise, and how? Do they get salary cuts if suddenly their grade drops, or do they get put on academic probation? What qualifies as going above and beyond?
Different teachers will experience varying situations. Also, different school districts have unique challenges all their own. As the Courant said, “the average day in an El Paso ISD teacher’s classroom may look very different from that of a Texarkana ISD classroom.” Will there be special circumstances depending on the district?
A merit system may sound ideal, but there are a lot of ways it could be abused or simply fail. Politics can end up playing a big role in determining good teachers. A super-star instructor could suddenly lose that status if accused of a bad deed, whether the allegation is true or false. Will there be a cap on how many can be promoted? If so, what happens to those who still went out of their way to help their students but perhaps just not quite as much as another teacher? Will they have to worry about losing their rank, and therefore their pay, each year if they don’t make the top teacher of the semester list?
Perhaps a better solution might be to add bonuses each year to those who have shown their school spirit in the best ways. A reward system is great for incentive, but how do you plan for things like buying a house when your income could change each year depending on how well someone else thinks you taught? At least with a bonus system in place, teachers would know their base pay and be able to budget accurately, considering any reward earnings a welcome extra.