San Jose Mercury News Editorial
04/21/2008 — California faces a shortage of math and science teachers, but it's not evenly spread. In low-performing districts, the proportion of teachers lacking sufficient knowledge of these subjects is far greater, and it presents one more obstacle to preparing students for college.
The state has the legal and moral obligation to erase this inequity. Last week, the Senate Education Committee took a small but monumental step when it passed a bill providing districts with a way to pay higher salaries to math and science teachers in troubled schools.
The full Legislature should approve it.
Paying these teachers more makes sense under the law of supply and demand. College graduates with math and science majors can choose from many lines of work - accountant, researcher, financial analyst - more lucrative than teaching. And if they do want to teach, they gravitate toward higher-performing schools.
But what would seem an obvious solution in the private sector is prohibited in K-12 schools in California. Under a standard union contract, teachers in all subjects must be paid on the same salary scale.
SB 1660, sponsored by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, would remove that barrier for the lowest-performing schools in districts. As an incentive for local teachers unions to negotiate changes in pay scales, the bill would free up to 20 percent of some special purpose money, known as categorical grants, for higher math and science pay.
Statewide, the pot is $112 million. But it's not clear how much would be available at the bargaining table for individual districts, or if local teachers would take advantage of it. Our bet is that district unions led by younger, farsighted teachers might.
Studies have shown a link between teachers with appropriate credentials and student performance. But across high-minority, low-income districts, one out of seven science teachers lack a credential to teach the subject, compared with only one out of 25 in low-minority districts. The bill would give districts facing a critical shortage of qualified teachers in these subjects another option.
SB 1660 is a priority of the Sacramento-based citizen advocacy group EdVoice. But it's opposed, not surprisingly, by the statewide teachers unions: the California Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
The CTA believes that all teachers, like assembly-line workers, should be paid the same wage. It argues that a "two-tier pay structure" will "corrode the morale and overall effectiveness of all the teachers at the site." That view ignores the needs of struggling children and the competition in the job market for math and science majors.
The unions also argue that working conditions affecting all teachers, not just better pay for a few, must first be addressed. We agree in principle, but pushing for reforms on many fronts must not stand in the way of improvements that are immediately achievable.
Romero's bill is not about unions. It's about the civil rights of children in struggling schools to have well-qualified teachers. That's why its passage is so important.
This issue is an interesting one, fraught with pitfalls and blessed with the best of intent.
1. EdVoice is not EdSource, a frequent misunderstanding. EdVoice is an advocacy/lobbying organization frequently aligned with the charter school community and their agenda, EdSource in an information sharing one.
EdVoice's webpage says:
There are 261 groups registered to lobby education issues in Sacramento.
Teachers, administrators, school districts, textbook publishers, librarians, custodians, school nurses, cafeteria workers and testing services - you name it -- hire advocates to speak for them in the state Capitol.
Schoolchildren and their parents have EdVoice!
Lovely on the face of it but, but EdVoice claims 37,000 members and the California State PTA with it's 110 year history of advocacy for schollchildren and their parents claims about 1 million - PTA is probably a more authentic voice. Further, the real strength of any advocacy organization comes from where its funding comes from. Again, from the EdVoice website:
EdVoice was established by our state's leading educational philanthropists who understand that the future of California will be shaped by the quality of education our public schools deliver.
Follow the money: EdVoice's founders and chief sponsors are Reed Hastings and Steve Poizner. EdVoice' voice is their voice.
2. Public service is a noble calling, but full disclosure is a good thing too. Senator Romero is about to be termed out and is a declared candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction.
3a. If Math and Science teachers are to be rewarded with more pay maybe they should be rewarded with more pay wherever the teach math and science.
3b: If we are to make teaching in lower performing schools more attractive maybe we should make it more attractive to all teachers: new, experienced, English, Social Studies, Math, Science, Art, etc.
And what about General Ed teachers in elementary school? And preschool for that matter.
4. And when this initiative proves successful and these schools test out of the low-performing range do we reward success by cutting teacher's salaries?