Salary Reform, Teacher Union Style

Is NEA President Dennis van Roekel, really Calling for Teacher Salary Reforms?

Union observer and expert Mike Antonucci doesn’t think so, using the NEA Representative Assembly’s own words, comparing his modus operandi to that of the late Al Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers.   It will be interesting to see if NEA Resolution F-10 survives at the NEA 2014 conference.

Before you get too excited about his stance, Van Roekel believes that it is school administrators and state policy-makers who insist on the current salary scale because it is the cheapest way to pay a large group of workers. He wants to get rid of it because it forces teachers to “work for peanuts.” Van Roekel said performance pay systems usually fail because they run out of money. This is a fascinating view of the world, considering how protective union negotiators are of the current salary schedule, and how NEA itself always meets with fierce resistance from its own activists whenever it floats any changes to its current policy. NEA Resolution F-10 still states, “The National Education Association believes that the single salary schedule is the most transparent and equitable system for compensating education employees.” And Resolution F-9 still states, “salary schedules should… be based on preparation, academic degrees, experience, professional growth, responsibilities, and full length of service.” Perhaps Van Roekel is entering full Shanker mode, calling for revolutionary changes he knows will never happen, in part because of his own organization.

Kaitlin Pennington quotes Van Roekel in American Progress.

“Teachers unions didn’t create the step-and-lane,” Van Roekel said. He cited the fact that 95 percent of school districts use them “because it’s the cheapest way to pay a large group of people there is. … There’s a reason they did it.” Van Roekel expressed openness to differentiated compensation systems, but explained the complexity involved in trying to design them:

“Let’s get rid of step-and-lane. I don’t like it. It forces people to work for peanuts when they start, and if you stay there 30 years, you get all the way to, depending on the state, $40,000, $70,000, or $80,000 … The first thing you have to decide on is what you differentiate the pay on? Is it skills and knowledge? Is it responsibility? And as soon as you decide that answer, you have to say: How will I measure it? If you can do those two things, then you can implement that system. … I am more than willing to look at alternative compensation systems. I don’t think we pay [teachers] enough when they start; we don’t pay them enough when they end.

While step-and-lane pay scales are the most frequently used compensation system, the NEA has developed a Professional Growth Salary Framework. The framework’s goal is to examine effective practices, student outcomes, and other factors for its local affiliates to consider before advancing in collaboration with districts.

Currently, teacher salaries in most districts are disconnected from effectiveness. As the Center for American Progress has written, while school districts spend more on teachers’ salaries and benefits than any other expenditure, research shows that the way these funds are spent does not improve the performance, quality, or distribution of the teacher workforce.

Moreover, step-and-lane pay scales aren’t helping to attract or Moreover, step-and-lane pay scales aren’t helping to attract or retain the best teacher candidates. Today, teacher-workforce demographics show that 52 percent of practicing teachers have 10 or fewer years of experience. In fact, there are more first-year teachers in U.S. classrooms than teachers at any other experience level. These data reinforce the need to design a compensation system that recognizes teachers’ accomplishments sooner and links those accomplishments to tangible rewards.