Ritz should advocate higher teacher salaries

November 17, 2012

“Teachers have the most difficult job in the world. They aren’t paid what they’re worth.” Across Indiana, these words have become cliché. In their guts, Hoosiers know what data has proven—better pay for teachers translates, in the long run, to better outcomes for students.

With her election, Glenda Ritz has opportunity to push hard for this issue—but not at the expense of reforms already in place.

Increased teacher pay is one of those rare policy proposals where research and instinct overlap. A 2011 report by the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development showed that nations that pay their teachers better got better results from students on international standardized tests.

Want to be a job creator and strengthen the economy? Be a teacher. A 20-year study by Harvard and Columbia economists found that by having just an average teacher, the lifetime earnings of a classroom increased $266,000.

While the reasons behind Ritz’s win are still coming out, I believe her greatest strength was that every single Hoosier knows a public school teacher. Tony Bennett’s tenure will be remembered as one of great change. He broke with his passive predecessor and placed a heavy focus on teacher accountability, championing of public charter schools and aggressive action toward turning around chronically failing public schools.

Change is by definition disruptive, and teachers of all sorts of political persuasions were not supportive of the changes.

Ritz has an opportunity to be the model for how teachers’ unions and their allies can fight for teachers in this new world of education policy. Ritz ought to cultivate her strong relationship with teachers and use it to push legislators into finding ways to pay teachers more.

Ritz should do this because it is her best way to keep her campaign promise of helping educators. The political reality is that every other entity that has a hand in Indiana education policy supports the reforms of her predecessor. The Republicans have a super-majority in both the state House and Senate. The governor appoints the State Board of Education; the incoming governor is also a Republican and an avowed supporter of Bennett’s reforms. Even if she campaigned on getting rid of the reform policies, the fact is that she simply can’t.

Ritz can stonewall policies. That type of intransigence is especially unhelpful, however, because it will hurt educational outcomes for kids.

Ritz’s chance to have a meaningful impact on state education policy (and give her a shot at re-election in nominally red Indiana) would be to champion an increase in teacher pay. It is something she believes in, something policy wonks have found to be helpful, something average Hoosiers understand to be true and, most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

Patrick McAlister
Patrick McAlister is an English teacher at Indiana Math and Science Academy-North, and a member of Democrats for Education Reform.

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