Capitol Idea: 2020 is coming soon. Sean McCabe

Local News

This Week, We See Whether Texas Lawmakers Care About Kids

The test: Do they give $5,000 raises to ineffective teachers?

Three months ago, I told you that state lawmakers would use a school finance bill to, among other things, incentivize school districts to emulate Dallas ISD’s successful reform programs. This week, it’s likely we find out if those legislators have the guts to stand up to status-quo teacher unions and do just that. At stake is our ability to best help poor kids across Texas graduate with the skills to earn a living wage.

It’s all very complicated, as most school finance discussions are. If you need some background on this week’s meetings between the 10-person House and Senate conference committee, which will draft the final bill, take a minute to read this solid Dallas Morning News wrap-up. But you don’t need to understand nuance to get the central battle that will determine the bill’s success: Should we, as included in the Senate version of the education bill, give all Texas teachers a $5,000 raise?

The answer is no. Here’s why:

First, let’s all agree that our goal is to improve outcomes for Texas schoolkids. That means we are working toward ensuring they all graduate high school with the skills to earn a livable wage. The concerns of every other interest group – teachers, administrators, unions, politicians, etc. – are secondary at best. With that in mind, here are the reasons you should take the counter-intuitive view that we need to give all public-school teachers a $5,000 raise.

Reason No. 1: We can’t afford it. It’s a $9 billion spending bill. That mandated raise would eat up $4 billion, just to make teacher unions happy.

But, Eric, you have said before that research does show a correlation between better pay and student achievement. Yes. For effective teachers. That’s why Dallas ISD’s TEI program evaluates teachers to find the most effective ones and, through a program known as Accelerating Campus Excellence, or ACE, offers them substantial pay incentives to teach the kids at the worst schools – i.e., the kids who need them most. Which leads us to …

Reason No. 2: You don’t help kids by paying ineffective teachers more money. Full stop.

Reason No. 3: Even if we could afford it and it’s better politically to pay ineffective teachers just so we can pass a bill that also pays effective teachers, history suggests the state will just pull a bait-and-switch on your kids’ district. In other words, come next session, Austin will pull its support of that raise in salary and tell districts to fund it themselves – which means, through your property taxes.

Why do I think state lawmakers would do this? Because they’ve already done it! Twice!

This is best explained by Micah Taylor:

The Texas Legislature has a history of making this exact promise—teacher/educator raises—and then letting that promise fall to the districts by the next legislative session.

  • 1999. 76th Legislative Session. Senate Bill 4. $3,000 raise for every classroom teacher, librarian, counselor, and nurse.
  • 2009. 81st Legislative Session. House Bill 3646. $800 raise for every classroom teacher, librarian, counselor, nurse, and full-time speech pathologist.

Two bills — one 10 years ago, the other 20 – both promising raises for various full-time educators. Both provided the funding until the end of the biennium and then the responsibility for covering the raises was pushed to the school districts. And for some reason we’re supposed to think this would be any different?

As Taylor points out, the $4 billion in raises would not go toward the issues good teachers often talk about as hindering their ability to effectively do their job. Things like overcrowded classrooms, infrequent professional development options, too few program options for students, too few instructional coaches, too few counselors, and so on.

What’s the solution, then? It’s combining the best elements of the House and Senate versions of this bill. Keep the $1,850 per educator raise from the House version – which not only goes to teachers but also to counselors, nurses, etc. – and keep the $127 million program (or one like it) in the Senate version that allows districts to reward its best teachers. To find its best teachers, districts measure a teacher’s success in several ways, including student achievement in state testing and schoolwork. This small, reasonable, DISD-tested element is a deal-killer for status-quo teachers unions, because they think the only way to properly evaluate and reward a teacher is with a calendar and not to try to measure success, unlike every other job in the real world.

One of the most important voices on this issue has been DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa. I don’t think I can do a better job than he did during a Texas Tribune conference, in which he explained why the $5,000 raise will hurt districts and therefore kids. And why you have to reward the best teachers and put them in front of poor kids who need them most. The quote below is long but important. I hope you – and Texas lawmakers – take Hinojosa’s words to heart:

I don’t want to pay an ineffective teacher $5,000 more. We happen to know who the ineffective teachers are, and I do not want to pay them that kind of salary if they’re producing results that are not helping students. And I was very skeptical of the system that I inherited, very skeptical. But what convinced me in the end, and it was a grand epiphany, because my staff was getting beat down by my board and the community and the teacher organizations, they were afraid to present data to the board until they came to me and presented this piece of data and they showed me that, of our Progressing II and higher, our most effective teachers, we’re keeping 95 percent of our most effective teachers, and we’re keeping less than 40 percent of our ineffective teachers. That one slide said that you have to have some kind of turnover. And if I give every teacher that, then I can’t give a counselor money. I can’t give a custodian money. I can’t give other people money. So you have to look at what the data says and what it speaks to you and differentiate. …

I also want to be clear, a lot of my superintendent colleagues like to beat up on teachers. I don’t. I love teachers so much, I married two of them, so I have to live with them when I go home. But the irony is that this money was voluntary. If you didn’t want to do this, you didn’t have to do this. And yet we got a letter signed off by 24 superintendents who served over a million students that they would be willing to look at this voluntary program so they could pay their best teachers, and people conflate two things, strategic compensation with ACE. Those are two different things. We couldn’t do ACE if we didn’t have strategic compensation, cause there are a lot of superintendents that come up to the capitol and they’re bobbleheads. The chairman asked, do you know what your best teachers are, and they’re doing this [nodding]. And if the question was, I want the list of your 20 percent highest-performing teachers, could they provide that list? I don’t think they could. So I think the issue gets conflated. But this is not a deficit thing. This is reward your best. And the results have been phenomenal. …

Let me tell you, we’ve had turnaround models before that did not work, because we just took a few great teachers and took them to a school that was in trouble. … So what’s beautiful about ACE, they get to pick all the teachers and they pay the teachers $10,000 or more to go and now they go into these communities that have been underserved. We had one school, Titche [Elementary], that was either AU [Academically Unacceptable] or IR [Improvement Required] 13 of the last 14 years. … This past year, great principal with 95 percent new staff members, in one year they go from 13 out of 14 years IR to an 88. Same kids, same neighborhood, same parents. What’s different? We have a great principal, great AP, great team, great teachers. And if you start tinkering with the model, and I’m almost regretting that I let them use ACE now because people are going to start tinkering with the model, and they’re going to go around the edges and the brand is going to be hurt. If you just give them a stipend to go to this school, but yet you see all the other culture of low expectations at that school, nothing’s going to change.

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