Professor Marguerite Roza wrote an interesting piece last week on the Brown Center Chalkboard at Brookings on how most districts steer a disproportionate amount of funding for teacher salaries to a very small part of the teacher workforce. Given that teacher compensation is a big issue across the country (with most folks agreeing that teachers should be paid more), Roza’s observations are highly relevant. The problem, as she explains, isn’t that some teachers are necessarily paid too much, but rather that allocating limited resources in such a disproportionate way negatively impacts newer teachers, who demonstrate the greatest turnover, and has ripple effects across the workforce and the district.
These practices not only result in lower salaries for most teachers, they also channel funds in ways that jeopardize equity across schools and create havoc for district financial stability. High-poverty, high-minority schools tend to have more early-career teachers and fewer late-career teachers, which means fewer salary dollars reach the schools with the highest needs. For districts where enrollment declines mean fewer new hires, the costs of a mostly senior teacher pool can cause chaos (as has been the case in Newark and Detroit). Further, because states tie pension obligations to salary during the last few years of teaching, higher end-of-career pay triggers more pension debt.