The National Education Association — the largest union in the country and parent to the Michigan Education Association — announced a plan recently to offer $500,000 in grants for new teachers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Calling for more STEM teachers, students and workers is en vogue right now with political leaders from President Barack Obama to Gov. Rick Snyder on down. But if the union and political leaders really want more and better teachers in those areas, they could do something very simple: Stop pushing for single-salary schedules that force public schools to pay high-need teachers the same as everyone else.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the subjects in Michigan that are experiencing “teacher shortages” typically include language specialists, special education, mathematics and a variety of science subjects. Yet the NEA and its affiliates aggressively fight to ensure all subject areas are paid the same, regardless of need.
For example, the NEA writes, “Call it old-fashioned, like Mom and apple pie, but NEA still believes a short and strong salary schedule, with a minimum of $40,000 annual pay for teachers, is best.” The union goes on to say that a single salary schedule that bases pay only on degree-level and longevity is the most “fair.”
Notwithstanding the curious analogy to society’s beloved “Mom and apple pie,” this policy position has resulted in ludicrous examples of employment market distortions. Some examples from here in Michigan:
In the Troy Public School District, one-third of the 27 physical education teachers make more than $90,000 per year. Seven gym teachers make more money than Rebecca Brewer, an AP biology teacher in the district who was honored as the ING national Innovative Teacher of the Year. One of those teachers is an elementary gym teacher who makes $23,000 per year more than Terri McCormick — an employee honored as the district’s “Teacher of the Year.”
A FOIA request shows many districts with the same results.
The average gym teacher in the Farmington School District makes $8,000 more per year than the average science teacher — despite the latter being a much higher need area. Even the NEA agrees. In Woodhaven-Brownstown, the average discrepancy is more than $18,000 per year ($58,400 for science teachers vs. $76,700 for physical education). In Harrison, the gym teachers make an average of $13,000 more.
It’s good that the nation’s largest teachers union sees that areas of study are valued differently. But ensuring flexibility in hiring and compensation would do far more to solve the issue of putting better STEM teachers in the classroom than the grant money.
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