When it comes to paying teachers, school districts play Robin Hood in reverse. The money they save on inexperienced teachers in low-performing schools ends up in the pockets of experienced teachers in high-performing schools. And the districts disguise this budgetary practice by reporting only district-wide salary averages.
This is the major conclusion of a new report from the estimable Advocates for Children and Youth, a Baltimore-based organization that looks out for some of Maryland's youngest and most vulnerable citizens.
No, the districts aren't exactly robbing Peter, the brand-new teacher who's fresh out of college, to pay Paul, the veteran rounding out his career in a desirable school where all the kids are above average. But that's the effect of the teacher salary practices of Baltimore city and county, according to the ACY report.
It took the organization a year to dislodge the school-by-school figures from the two districts, but here are the results: In Baltimore City last year, the average teacher salary in high-poverty schools was $45,152, about $4,000 less than the average pay in low-poverty schools.
In the county, the disparity was more than $5,000. Teachers in schools of high poverty earned an average of $47,538, while their colleagues in wealthier schools earned $53,135.
These statistics are important because they're reflected in student performance, especially in Baltimore County, where there's a wider performance gap between rich and poor schools. The Thornton Commission, for example, found that children from high-poverty backgrounds need about twice as many dollars as other children to reach Maryland assessment standards. Yet in Baltimore County, the average teacher salary in historically low-performing schools is $5,400 less than the average in high-performing schools.
But don't high-poverty schools receive extra funds from Title I, the federal government's major compensatory program, and from the state Education Department? That's just the point, says Christopher Maher, the ACY education director. Schools do get extra compensation, he says, and the state offers incentives of up to $2,000 to teachers willing to work in tougher schools, "but all of it put together doesn't close the gap. Besides, Title I is supposed to be supplementary," not a replacement for state and local operating funds.
Maher argues that the districts mask the inequalities by reporting only district-wide salary averages, which make it appear there are no major disparities. "I don't think they do it as part of a grand plot," he says. "What they're really doing is lying to themselves."
In so doing, Maher says, districts are overstating the resources going to poor schools, and they're giving ammunition to those who say money doesn't make a difference.
The hiring procedure forces principals to "play a constant catch-up game," says Jeffery N. Grotsky, who heads a group of Baltimore City's lowest-performing schools. "The problem is that the rich get richer while the poor struggle to keep up. The schools in my district often get very good teachers, but many of them aren't certified, and the turnover is high."
The ACY findings are important because the new federal No Child Left Behind Act requires "highly qualified" teachers in every classroom by the 2005-2006 school year. Maryland's first report on the quality of the state's teaching force is due in Washington in August. It's based on a snapshot of every Maryland school on a typical day, last Dec. 2, and districts are scrambling to make sure their staffs have full credentials. That's a major challenge in the inner-city schools.
The ACY report also exposes one of education's major defects: In the teacher labor market, salaries aren't based on the demands of the job, but rather on seniority and years of graduate study.
Teacher unions have been defending lock-step pay scales for decades, but if teachers were paid significantly more for significantly tougher work, the inequalities exposed in the advocates' report would begin to disappear.
In Ohio's take on slots, some money is for students
One of the first governors Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. approached for advice after his November election victory was Ohio's Bob Taft. Taft, a fellow Republican, faces problems similar to Ehrlich's, including a major state budget shortfall.
But Ehrlich and Taft differ on one topic: racetrack slots. In Ohio, the governor has announced he'll oppose a slots plan if it goes on the ballot.
But some lawmakers would sweeten the pot to get the slots. If voters approve slots, they would use $120 million of the annual proceeds for college scholarships. Any Ohio student who earns a 3.0 grade-point average and passes a test would be eligible for a $5,000 scholarship.
If the "Ohio Scholars Program" proves as popular as Georgia's lottery-financed HOPE Scholarship program, slots should have an easy time of it in November in Ohio. There might be a lesson there.