Worthless ‘step’ teacher pay raises scrapped in San Jose

May 27, 2013

By Chris Reed

For decades, it’s been common in K-12 public education to award raises to teachers for accumulating graduate school credits — even if the coursework has nothing to do with the subject that the teacher teaches. There has never been any evidence that this practice helps teacher performance in any way, but the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have always fought to keep it, especially as a way for veteran teachers to boost their pay after their 20th year, when they normally are no longer eligible for the step raises they get most of their first 20 years just for showing up. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is among many reformers who thinks this is a nutty way to determine teacher pay.

Now a big California school district agrees. This is from the San Jose Mercury-News:

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“SAN JOSE — In a groundbreaking contract, the San Jose Unified School District and its teachers union have agreed to peg pay increases to teaching skill rather than college credits, create a career ladder for outstanding teachers and slow the advancement of ineffective teachers — or ultimately fire them.

“The school board last week approved a three-year contract, effective July 1, after 72 percent of teachers ratified the contract in an election with a 76 percent turnout.

“‘I’m definitely excited about the direction and the opportunity that this contract presents,’ said Superintendent Vincent Matthews.”

A smart reform — but does contract violate spirit of state law?

But there’s a peculiar twist to this story. Thanks to a 2012 Los Angeles Superior Court ruling, school districts in California are on notice that the 1971 Stull Act is still a binding state law. And among the law’s many provisions is a specific requirement that student performance be part of teacher evaluations.

Yet the way the Merc-News story reads, student performance can only be considered if it is positive — not if it is poor. Huh?

“But though dubbed revolutionary by some, the new contract omits some elements once discussed but deemed too controversial, such as paying teachers to teach at high-poverty, low-achieving schools, and pegging teacher evaluations to student test scores.

“‘There is no reliable study showing that increase so-called accountability by making student test scores a significant part of evaluation improves outcomes for students or teacher performance,’ [Jennifer Thomas, president of the San Jose Teachers Association] said.

“While student performance will be part of the discussion on evaluations, teachers won’t be penalized if students don’t meet expectations.”

A strange Silicon Valley version of Lake Woebegon

In Lake Woebegon, all the students are famously above average. In San Jose, strangely enough, all the students who are below average don’t exist — at least when it’s time to consider how good a job teachers are doing.


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