Category Archives: School Leadership

Anything But Equal Pay: How American Teachers Get a Raw Deal

Want a positive financial return on your degree? Try electrical engineering or computer programming. Maybe advertising, or even drama. But don’t become a teacher.

Michigan State University’s annual report on starting salaries by college major show the average middle school math and science education major can expect to earn around $38,706 upon graduation. Pre-k and kindergarten teachers take the bottom spot, at $35,626. While it isn’t terribly surprising to see a chemical engineering major starting around $61,125, even music/drama/visual arts majors beat out teachers, averaging $40,681.

Michigan State University Recruiting Trends 2016-17

But it gets worse: When compared to similarly educated workers in other developed nations, American teachers are exceptionally underpaid.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Education at a Glance 2016

In developed countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that the average middle school teacher makes around 85 percent of what other college-educated workers earn. But in the United States, teachers fare even worse. In 2014, the average American middle school teacher earned just 69 percent of what her similarly educated peers made. This gap is disheartening, to say the least, and doesn’t speak particularly well of national priorities.

These gaps are even worse for the 76 percent of American teachers who are female. Most strikingly, we know that when women enter male-dominated fields, average salaries drop. We know that despite making up the majority of the teacher workforce, and thus often the principal and superintendent hiring pool, women are less likely to become school administrators. We know that it is especially bad out here for women of color. We’ve debunked argument after argument used to explain away low educator wages, arguments which cite everything from summer vacations and pension benefits to innate altruism and family flexibility.

We need to pay teachers more, because we need to pay women more.  We know that high-quality teachers have lasting, positive effects on their students’ future earnings.

All that said, this discussion is nuanced. Teacher accountability and professional development matter while we must reexamine abysmal starting salaries, I’m not suggesting we simply raise wages and then stand back and wait for greatness. But I am suggesting that we consistently devalue the work women do, and when considering Equal Pay Day, we should start with teachers.

Read my colleague Marnie’s Equal Pay Day post here.

The Day I Was Reminded LGBTQ Students Still Don’t Feel Safe in Schools

Recently, I co-facilitated a session with Lora Cover at a conference for school leaders of color, where we focused on creating more diverse, equitable, and inclusive education institutions. In the session, we conducted an activity (one which our Talent Advising team created in partnership with Erin Trent Johnson and Xiomara Padamsee) where we asked participants to name times in their lives when parts of their identities were either on the mainstream — seen as “normal” — or in the margins — seen as “other” — and to explore when and where certain identities potentially shifted between the two.

Then we listed some demographic identifiers that could describe a member of their school community — a teacher, parent, student, or even a school leader — and asked participants to physically place themselves on a spectrum from “IN” on one side of the room to “OUT” on the opposite side of the room depending on how that person might feel in the context of their school and work environment.

Most prompts yielded relatively balanced spreads across the “IN” or “OUT” spectrum, indicating a fairly evenly split between those that were struggling and succeeding in creating inclusive environments for different types of students, family members, and staff. However, when we came to “a student who identifies as LGBTQ,” every individual in the room with the exception of two non-school based leaders went to the “OUT” side of the room. The striking implication: not one school leader in that room felt as though their school was inclusive for LGBTQ youth.

I was heartbroken. As both a person who identifies as LGBTQ and a former teacher, to see a room full of school leaders all express that their school environments were non-inclusive for students who identify as LGBTQ was horrifying. However, it painted what I believe to be an accurate picture of the majority of schools in America. Despite the fact that gay marriage is legal across the country and that there is increased visibility and representation for LGBTQ people in the public sphere, individuals who identify as LGBTQ — particularly our children — do not feel protected, safe, or like they belong. They are not able to live as their full selves.

I have distinct memories of not feeling safe in high school as a closeted teenager. I never felt I could act as my “full” self. I pretended to like all the things the other boys liked, including girls. For a while, I was incredibly unhappy. When I finally came out in my early twenties, I felt as though a burden had been lifted. Even still, as a teacher, I never came out to my students for fear of causing some kids discomfort, backlash from parents, and even potentially losing my job. This is the greatest regret of my professional career thus far. I frequently think to myself: “When is the next time my black and brown students are going to have a gay man of color in front of them to show them that that we do exist, that we do have value, and that we can be proud of who we are?”

Unfortunately, recent data underscore that things have not gotten better in our schools for young people who identify as LGBTQ.

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Where Are All The Female Superintendents?

From Randi Weingarten to Betsy DeVos, to Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson, some of the biggest names in education policy on both sides of the aisle are women. The majority of teachers (76 percent), too, identify as female. But new survey results from the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) show that about 77 percent of school superintendents identify as male. So while women make up the majority of the teacher workforce, they are vastly underrepresented in higher-paying leadership roles.

Today is International Women’s Day, and while these survey results show progress from previous years, there’s significant room to grow in closing the school leadership gender gap. This disparity reinforces gender wage gaps, and, as we’ve covered previously, this inequity of earnings follows female teachers into retirement.

It’s important to note that, while we can dig into these findings broadly, the AASA survey’s 15 percent response rate suggests it may not be fully representative. Additionally, while the federal government collects representative stats on teachers and principals, it does not do so on school district superintendents. Still, state-based work, like this October Houston Chronicle piece as well as a November Education Week article delve into these trends further, with similar findings.

Here are three takeaways on the state of female superintendents we can glean from the AASA’s 2016 survey: Continue reading

Hiring Teachers After the School Year Starts Harms Students

Somewhere between 10 and 30 percent of all new teachers are hired after the school year begins. These late hires come in with lower college GPAs, are less likely to have prior teaching experience, and are less likely to be licensed in the area they’ll be asked to teach. Late hires tend to be concentrated in certain low-performing schools. And, since they tend to have higher turnover rates, late hires also contribute to higher churn in those schools.

TNTP began documenting these trends more than a decade ago, but the process through which teachers are hired largely remains a blind spot for education reform. Over the last few years, we’ve devoted far more attention and resources on the ways districts evaluate existing teachers and principals, while doing comparatively little to help districts improve the quality of educators coming into their schools. As part of Bellwether’s recent publication outlining 16 education policy ideas for the next president, I propose a new federal investment to help districts in transforming their hiring and on-boarding processes.

The problem is clear: District hiring processes are notoriously sluggish and bureaucratic, and schools often don’t even know how many openings they’ll have to fill in the coming school year until well into summer. This causes districts to scramble to find teachers right before the school year starts. A recent paper from John Papay and Matthew Kraft found that teachers who were hired after the school year started had a significant negative impact on student achievement. The results were equivalent to the loss of approximately two months of instruction for a typical middle school student.

Moreover, districts tend to outsource the role of screening, training, and recruiting new hires. Many teachers are hired without even demonstrating so much as a sample lesson plan. Even after selecting candidates, schools are unlikely to offer hiring bonuses or other incentives to land their top choices. Less than one in 10 school districts offers recruiting incentives for teachers or principals, and only one in six offers extra financial compensation for educators to work in shortage areas. Despite current cries of a national “teacher shortage,” districts act like the laws of supply and demand don’t apply to teachers, and they treat teachers as if they’re immune to financial incentives.

Teacher pay incentives remain uncommon

Graphic via Bellwether’s 2014 report, Teacher Evaluations in an Era of Rapid Change

Finally, districts have much to learn about how to successfully on-board new hires. Not enough districts offer mentoring or formal induction programs, and most districts throw teachers into the fire on the first day of school and expect them to sink or swim, rather than giving them lower-stakes practice time first. (Late hires make this effectively impossible.)

Some school districts, like Boston, MA; Spokane, WA; and Washington, DC, have been able to improve their teacher hiring processes, and their efforts could be spread to the rest of the country. There’s a clear model for how the federal government could help. For the last 10 years, it has offered competitive grants for districts to revamp their teacher evaluation and compensation systems. That theory of action has proved challenging for a number of political and methodological reasons, but the investment helped spur dramatic changes across schools and states.

There has been no similar effort to improve front-end hiring practices, even though it may be a more promising approach. Revamping school district hiring practices would give districts opportunities to plan more effectively, hire earlier in the year, and get teachers in low-stakes teaching opportunities before the school year begins. All this would, in turn, lead to more effectively run school systems, a more sane hiring process for teachers, and better outcomes for kids.

For more on this topic, or other ideas in the series, please read the full 16 for 2016: 16 Education Policy Ideas for the Next President

Progress Not Perfection: Overcoming Your Hesitation to Talk about Race and Equity at Work

The Shaman by Pedro Paricio via Halcyon Gallery

Is it a prerequisite that you feel fluent in the language of race, inclusion, and equity before tackling such issues in your organization?

This is a question I’ve been working through myself. Acting to resolve a sensitive issue we may be met with silence, confusion, denial, or resistance. If not communicated tactfully, we might unintentionally offend colleagues. In the worst case scenario, we might encounter marginalization, reprimand, or even termination. Scary stuff. So, initially, my intuition said that we should get good at talking about sensitive topics before launching into action to avoid complicating an already complex situation. Reaching a level of conversational proficiency where we feel confident to handle any situation before intervening in an equity issue seemed like a logical pursuit.

More recently, I’ve come to think that this is a recipe for delay, paralysis, and, ultimately, the perpetuation of the status quo. Waiting for everyone to reach proficiency won’t work because everyone’s starting from a different place. More importantly, as a sector and as leaders, we’re late to the game on this and it’s time to report for duty.

As an education leader, you have two roles: lead and provide space and support for others to grow. The same is true when making equity part of your daily dialogue. It’s important to acknowledge that people all have different levels of comfort and sophistication with discussions about race and equity. For instance, when we talk about race, there are often stark differences between people of color and whites. Continue reading