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:

sjusd (1)

“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.



Write a comment
  1. Bob Smith
    Bob Smith 27 May, 2013, 13:42

    Not weird. Expected. CTA and CFT have always fought to keep teacher incompetence out of the pay equation. Success!

    Reply this comment
    • scott
      scott 15 December, 2014, 14:48

      So I actually teach high school US History, and Econ/Gov. in a public school in a large urban school district. You think what? You think we are well paid? You think we have an easy job? You think we have a fat pension? Get a grip.Our job has among the lowest pay to education ROI . I am a Cal Berkeley Grad, many of my colleges are Stanford , Santa Clara etc. They are no dummies. They are fathers and mothers and single people living alone. Our work load is unbelievable.
      You try individualizing education to every learner and having a class with RSP and 504 kids (legal requirements for individualized educational plans), and, having AP ‘sandbaggers’ in the same class. Include then your own cynical children that are taught to chide education and antagonize all while texting senselessly and involved in sports( and allowed to leave early). Oh include all the kids that come and go due to poor attendance, passes to specialists on campus (required by law), or any number of other academic supports, including parents pulling their kids out to leave early on vacations. Add kid on prescription and illegal drugs, and every distraction of adolescence. You think we are what? Overpaid? Compared to what? My pension will be small and most of it was my own contributions. I am not eligible to may full social security earnings (20 years in private sector) because of a social security offset law that f’s over people that came from industry to the school district defined benefit program. I’m sorry, you sound most uninformed.
      I can only recommend that instead of jumping to your opinion, gather good data first. As I tell my students, good data is the salt, and should be in more abundance, the opinion is the pepper and should be used most sparingly.

      Reply this comment
  2. Skippingdog
    Skippingdog 28 May, 2013, 21:10

    Other than standardized test scores, what other metrics would you suggest we use to evaluate teacher performance? If test scores are the only thing that matters, why would any teacher do anything other than teach to the test?

    Reply this comment
  3. HChambers
    HChambers 28 May, 2013, 23:40

    I believe student scores should be a large part of teacher evaluations. Each state and district in California has standards that are required with some marked as essential. Thus, teachers should be evaluated on how well the students have learned those standards. It is not fair for subsequent grade level teachers to have to reteach due to incompetence or lack of effort, or, lack of focus on the educational standards, or worse, lower the expectations for the students because too many have not yet learned the basics.

    While I strongly believe teachers should be evaluated using student achievement, the present student standardized tests have several major problems in terms of teacher accountability.

    First. High scores for students that tested even higher the prior year is NOT the mark of an effective teacher. Their scores should have improved, even if already high. Proficient scores for students that tested in prior years as below and far below basic IS the mark of an effective teacher, even though her average class score might be lower than the first example.

    Second. Teachers are taught to do pre-tests and post-tests in units to check on growth and mastery. With the high stakes testing, at least in my area, teachers are evaluated on ALL the students in their class(es) in April/May. It does not matter if it is the first time a child has been tested, so it is not always a measure of growth. If a district is stable with few students moving in, this roughly works, but, if there is a large percentage of transients, then it matters. Our area has farm workers and a military population, both of which are transient. I believe that teachers should only be evaluated on children who have had a baseline established in the same standardized testing system the prior year, and NOT on students in the class for less than 4 or so months (since Christmas break basically)or who do not have a baseline established.

    Third. Another overlooked problem is that the material tested is close to grade level. There is little incentive to have a true gifted program because the schools get more credit for bringing up failing kids than educating bright kids who come into a grade already knowing 92% of the curriculum.

    Regarding ‘teaching to the test’.. teachers who only teach to the test will not have students perform particularly well. Effective teachers use projects, drill, massive encouragement to achieve through hard work. They are role models themselves and they drive their kids hard. Each moment of the day is spent reinforcing and building foundations while continuing to introduce more concepts. Exceptional teachers do not merely teach to the test. They are also much more likely to arrive early, stay late, spending 10+ hours at work, then grading at home. Those teachers will have higher scores compared to baseline scores.

    Reply this comment

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