Better teacher careers yield better student outcomes

Published: Sunday, Jan. 6 2013 9:41 p.m. MST

Though cities like Chicago and San Diego had previously proposed raising teacher salaries up to 16 percent, Iowa aims to increase the minimum starting salary by 25 percent, from $28,000 to $35,000. Additionally, the governor recommends adding at least $5,000 to salaries for teachers in high-need schools and locally defined hard-to-staff specialties like math and special education.

Currently, top-performing graduates can make twice as much money or more by choosing a career in law or engineering. Iowa's proposed increase would narrow that gap, but to truly compete for great candidates, Arne Duncan suggests raising starting salaries to at least $60,000.

Better teacher pay has broad bipartisan support. In a recent Texas survey, three out of four voters said they would support raising taxes in order to increase teacher salaries. Statewide tax increases are rare, but not unheard of. In November, citizens of California passed a state-level measure to raise income taxes on millionaires and sales taxes for all, with all of that money going toward public schools.

Voters in Oklahoma, Alabama, Ohio, Colorado and California passed laws last year to increase local taxes to fund schools and other public services. In Utah, most education funding comes from state property and income taxes, but 5 percent to 7 percent of funding for local districts comes from local sources.

Even when budgets are tight, improving teacher quality is possible. The consulting firm Public Impact says schools have options beyond raising revenue through taxes. After three years of research, it has come up with more than 20 suggestions on how to restructure U.S. schools for an "opportunity culture" of higher teacher pay, better career paths and solid mentoring for new teachers. Public Impact says these measures, all proven to improve student achievement, can be undertaken without raising overall costs.

Better mentoring

To make sure top grads get professional support and guidance to succeed in teaching, the Iowa task force recommends a one-year "residency." New teachers would have a lighter teaching schedule that affords them opportunities to "observe and learn from model teachers." Additionally, they would receive "intensive supervision (and) mentoring" from mentor and lead teachers.

From her experience as a teacher and a mom, Randall feels it's vital for teachers to have good examples to follow and mentors who help them establish effective teaching habits "from the get go." Her oldest son's teacher is new this year. "She was jumping in a couple weeks in," says Randall, "freshly graduated, and you can just feel that difference."

'Working so hard'

In California and San Diego, similar policy proposals for better mentoring and new career paths were not fully implemented because they met major resistance from teachers who had been excluded from the policy process. In Iowa, Branstad has been actively working with teachers, principals and education leaders — including the members of this task force — to develop policies educators can support.

According to The Des Moines Register, Mary Jane Cobb, executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, says many educators favor the policy ideas in general, but most are waiting to see the governor's final proposal before offering support.

"Raising the status of teachers in society and encouraging people to go into teaching: I think that's fantastic," says Randall, but she doesn't want the state to pay for reforms that don't work. After reading the task force's proposal, she was optimistic. "It looks like this team in Iowa is trying to do (what we) really know works," she says, "It'll be hard to know for sure until it's tried."

Kunkel also welcomes the positive attitude toward teachers. "The community's attitude is that the students' achievement is going down," she laments, "but the teachers are working so hard."

Email: gkrebs@deseretnews.com

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