Bad Bill, Bad Teachers
There are several bills in the General Assembly this session concerning teacher pay. Generally, I find these bills fairly annoying because they have few qualifying requirements (such as merit pay, etc.).
A new proposal by Rep. Denis Holsman (D-Kansas City) appears, at first glance, to address teacher pay — particularly in rural districts — without providing across-the-board pay increases. Upon further reflection, though, it fails to fundamentally address the root incentive problems.
Among the bill’s merit provisions (from the Post-Dispatch’s coverage):
- A voluntary grant given to school districts based on test scores and teacher performance. A majority of teachers in each district would have to vote to accept the grant.
- One-time $5,000 stipends for teachers in small schools who have reached 10 and 20 years of service.
- Recruitment bonuses of $5,000 for new teachers in small or unaccredited school districts. Math and science teachers would receive $7,500.
- Retention bonuses ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 for teachers who stay at a small school district for 5, 10 and 20 years.
- A $2,500 stipend for teachers in a district that moves from being unaccredited to accredited by the state Board of Education.
- Monthly bonuses for retired teachers older than 75 whose cost-of-living adjustments are capped.
The first point is a throwaway provision to satisfy the merit-pay advocates. Individual teachers should be able to decide whether their compensation is based on their individual performance; it should not be left to the discretion of a monopolistic cartel. The majority of teachers will not vote to accept merit pay, because without merit pay, bad teachers will receive the same pay as good teachers — a tragedy of any state-run enterprise. Worse, this provision provides perverse incentives for good teachers because it discourages them from remaining in a profession where their performance quality is under-recognized. And if Missouri’s aggregate public school performance is any indication of teacher quality, there are far more bad teachers in the state than good.
The retention bonuses are also a mistake. Research indicates (as evidenced by Dr. Hanushek, the nation’s foremost education scholar) that there is little improvement in teacher performance past the two- or three-year mark (in fact, the relationship may actually be negative). So there’s little reason to reward teachers’ tenure without a corresponding performance metric. This is really the critical juncture in the teacher compensation problem. Good teachers should be rewarded for their efforts, and bad teachers should not. The teacher unions have spent years hypothesizing that tenure is a measure of teacher success, when in fact there is little evidence to suggest that this is true.
The math/science recruitment bonuses are a step in the "market" direction. If these skill areas are the ones that need the most improvement, it makes sense that these should be the areas where more money is spent. But, again, basic math and science skills should be a fundamental part of Missouri education — not something achieved only at a premium.
The worst provision, in my opinion, is the monthly bonuses for retired teachers. How will increasing retirees’ pensions improve the quality of education in Missouri?
There are some good elements of this bill (it does, nominally at least, address the merit issue), but on the whole it does nothing but increase costs without linking them to improvement in quality. Missourians — and Missouri teachers — deserve better.