EDITORIAL: Schoolteachers need more upside

August 4, 2012

Picture an ambitious, talented 18-year-old consumed with setting life goals and choosing a college major. Then ask yourself why he or she would want to teach for a living.

Reasons to avoid a teaching career have mushroomed in recent years. The profession has taken deserved fire for stagnant test scores and its stubborn unions, and too many teachers run afoul of the law over inappropriate relations with students or other misconduct, further eroding confidence. Through it all, the welcome zeal within the state Department of Education to rid schools of bad teachers at times comes across as bashing.

What rising star needs the static when so many options beckon?

Education reform in Indiana has come to a point where lawmakers need to find ways to attract more of the best and brightest into one of the most important of occupations, particularly as baby boomers retire.

Reform has necessarily focused on clearing deadwood from underperforming schools and sending a message that mediocrity is unacceptable. School administrators—who, like teachers, complain about the changes—have mostly themselves to blame for not doing their jobs. And the Republican domination of the General Assembly likely assures that performance expectations passed in recent years are here to stay.

So the necessary stick to enforce accountability is well-formed. What’s missing, and what would attract good people to the profession, is the carrot.

It’s no secret that most people teach to make a difference in the lives of children, not for the modest salaries. However, those modest salaries are a big reason that too many good people avoid the profession. And the state can help take that hesitation off the table.

In most professions, compensation rises or falls based on competence and how hard one works. Physicians have this opportunity. So do lawyers, CPAs and other professionals. But not teachers.

Even though the state now grades teachers based on their performance, it’s all about downside with little to no chance for upside. No reasonable business owner would go for this.

School districts are in no mood to offer bonuses, let alone increases in base pay, because they’re struggling to keep their doors open. The state chipped in $6 million this year and $9 million for next year to help schools pay bonuses, but it’s a drop in the bucket.

Prospective teachers need to know they can increase their base pay over time by doing a stellar job—and collect bonuses along the way, too.

Taxpayers don’t, and shouldn’t, expect government to pay teachers like investment bankers. Government can help them live better, though.

More performance pay would be a good way to spend some of the state’s surplus and sow seeds of better-educated Hoosiers in the future.

That promise just might persuade more youthful dynamos to reconsider.•

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