December 4, 2008

Individuals in a Package Deal

Justin Katz

In the midst of a very edifying conversation in the comments section of my "Powers and Victims" post, Tiverton teacher Ed Davis offers the following significant perspective:

You're right, no one is forcing us to work here. Unfortunately, I saw this philosophy take hold in the school system my son attended. Many of the good young teachers, in the critical areas of math and science, left for better paying jobs. This is beginning to happen in Tiverton.

Doesn't that just highlight the spectacularly inappropriate setting that unions create within the public school system? In order to keep well qualified and fresh teachers covering central subjects, the school must hand out raises across the board. The cost of giving a young science whiz a 5% raise (beyond steps) can turn out to be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

That is plainly insane, and plainly indicative of the detriment that unions present to our children.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Why can't we just have base scales (lower than they are now, by the way) and then add in incentives for (1) target areas such as math and science, and (2) performance bonuses based on agreed upon goals, and (3) discretionary bonuses by supervisors.

Is this one of those ideas that could never work given the contract?

Wouldn't that solve many problems?

Posted by: thinkaboutit at December 4, 2008 2:22 PM

Would you want your surgeon selected based upon seniority rather than skill and specialization?

Of course not.

Another example of why unionized teachers claims of being a "professional" ring so hollow.

But hey, like building the "self esteem" of the illiterates that they produce, calling themselves "professionals" helps avoid having to confront the fraud.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at December 4, 2008 4:46 PM

Regarding Ed Davis’s comment.

The high performing moniker that the RI Dept of Ed created is very misleading. Every district with both feet out of the “urban core” is high performing according to this top notch assessment system. The assessment itself isn’t even a test of high performance, it is a pass/fail test.

Where are the facts on the lowest or highest paid teachers our in the state (ignoring for the moment the relevancy of which district has the highest paid teachers)? I would like to see them. Are there average teacher salaries for each district? Are these the facts he speaks of? Why did he not produce these facts?

Posted by: Frank at December 4, 2008 5:04 PM


A conversation started around me! Do I get one of those cool Photoshop pictures?

No system is perfect! I am not going to insult your visitor’s intelligence, by denying this fact that we could improve our schools. However, I speak with a voice of experience having attended private schools until the age of 14, and being in this profession for 3 decades. You are comparing two types of learning institutions that do not follow the same rules. You constantly refer to the superiority of private schools with regards to achievement. Do these private schools have the same percentage of “at risk” students, the same number of students with special needs, or the same number with behavioral problems? I think not. If you want to boast of their superiority you should at least give mention to this critical difference. In many private schools, if you don’t shape up, you are gone. We, as public school educators, do not have that luxury.

As far as test scores, not only do our students not take them seriously, but I have had many parents, tell me, “Why does my kid have to take that stupid state test, it is a waste of time.” Justin,I might not agree with your views but I know you are a consciences parent who cares about the education of your children. Not all of the parents I have encountered are like you.

Thanks for making the point about urban schools. During the debate at the state level it was brought to the governor’s attention that the rural schools in our state all tested at or above the state average. It was the performance of the urban schools, that are under funded, that dragged the state average down. Maybe the DOE ranks these non urban schools as high performing because they are!

With regards to the statistics, a large percentage of our teachers are on top step. I do not know the exact percentage. A step 10 teacher in Tiverton with a Bachelor’s Degree makes $64,205. The state average is $70,506. The highest paid community comes in at $77,679.

I worked in an urban setting for 20 years. I It’s no walk in the park. But it is as rewarding as it is challenging. I do not take the summer off. I run an 8 week jobsite for Durfee Alternative that provides the students with 4 hours of school and 4 hours of productive, paid work. If any of you bloggers have any suggestions on how we can improve the achievement in our city’s schools I’d love to hear them.

I’ll leave you folks to fire your shots at me with one last story…….

Ten years ago, during the infusion of MCAS and Ed Reform in Massachusetts I was invited to a meeting with a high ranking official from the Massachusetts Department of Education. When talking about the test, she said, “It is your job as an educator to convince the student that the MCAS exam is one of the most important factors in their lives.” To this statement I replied, “In my school we have a brother and a sister whose mom is a prostitute and whose father is a drug dealer. They are not allowed in their house until 11pm while mom and dad conduct their business. How do I accomplish this task with a young person who does not know if they will have food or shelter on any given night?” Needless to say, I did not get any concrete advice on how to accomplish the DOE’s assigned task. Granted this example is an extreme. But there are a lot of people, trying to fix education, that have little idea of what goes on in a public school building on a day to day basis.

I know I am not going to win many arguments in this forum. But I hope some of you at least get some insight from the facts and stories I share with you.

Ed Davis

Posted by: Ed Davis at December 4, 2008 6:51 PM


You miss my point regarding private schools. I'm not parading them as the superior system so much as pointing out that RI public education is driving more, and less innately wealthy, parents toward that option. I'm also advocating that we leverage the existence of a private school system to introduce competition and accountability to public education writ large. In the meantime (and as part of that effort), I'm suggesting that parents who believe that a particular private school would be a superior option for their children to be enabled to some degree with the funds allocated for the education of those children.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 4, 2008 10:21 PM

Funny, I thought conservatives liked capitalism.
There's nothing Marxist about leaving for a better-paying job. If you're gonna get slammed on blogs and talk radio, you might as well get top dollar for it, right?

Posted by: rhody at December 4, 2008 11:58 PM


I'm becoming concerned about you; your comments are increasingly head-shakers. I've got no problem with people leaving for better jobs. I've got a problem with a system that prevents school districts from competing to keep them because they have to give every teacher in the district a raise in order to do so.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 5, 2008 5:20 AM

Ed - If you could please respond to my idea about the base scales plus incentives based on target subjects, agreed goals, supervisory discretion, etc., I would appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

Posted by: thinkaboutit at December 5, 2008 7:47 AM

Justin, what's there to be concerned about? You and I, with families and mortgages to worry about, both would leave our current jobs in a flash if someone down the street offered us more money.
I just don't think we should get our self-righteous on when someone else does the same thing (unless you want science teachers removed from collective bargaining and put under contract by individual schools, in which case these people could end up getting much more than union scale).
Just think about the consequences of that happening.

Posted by: rhody at December 5, 2008 11:25 AM


I'm beginning to think you're being deliberately obtuse. I have no problems with the teachers' actions, in that regard. I have a problem with a system that binds the hands of school districts that would like to take steps to counter any other offers on an individual basis.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 5, 2008 12:19 PM


    Just some thoughts, not trying to debate you! I have not thought about a lot of those ideas, but I’ll give it a try…………….. My comments are based more around the influencing factors, questions that need to be answered, not solutions.

    I think as we get more models to look at, you will see methods such as those, tried at in alternative/non-traditional settings.

  • Base scales lower than they are now, with incentives:
    Our pay is a hotly discussed issue. I do not know all the facts regarding the future of recruitment, and what the trends are. There are a lot of conflicting opinions on this matter. As teachers become more and more under fire, will young people still choose this career? Pay effects recruitment, in any field. Some college students leave education programs because they look at the 10 year advancing scale as too long a time to reach max.

    A lot of people promote a state wide teacher scale. According to one of the governor’s former advisor’s, who is an acquaintance of mine, this legislation has made little progress. In his words, “Once it is considered for legislation, the more affluent communities quickly squelch it because they do not want to fund the poorer communities, and they don’t want to loose their monopoly on the teaching talent pool.” Plus, this lower pay scale would make it difficult for communities in the Western part of the state who have to compete with Connecticut’s pay scale, #1 in the country. Probably not what you want to hear, but a perspective worth consideration, when looking at this subject from all angles.

  • Discretionary bonuses by supervisors:
    My perspective is biased, I admit it, but I taught in an era where supervisors pretty much called the shots, and promotions were easy to figure out; they were political. Just go to the list of contributions, to the mayoral re-election fund, and you would find out who was going to be promoted to an administrator. Now, I know your stance on unions, and I know I am not going to make much headway convincing you about the value of unions, but this system, promotions via politics, was not any better. Many of the union’s checks and balances, in existence now, were placed there to counter this flawed methodology.

    The pay scale that presently exists also has one critical factor, that is often not discussed, the education lanes. If teacher A has the same level of training (let's say a Masters) and experience as Teacher B, but Teacher B gets more pay…..who decides? How do you keep the process objective? Will the state colleges, who have a great influence in the DOE, Board of Regents etc. agree to a system that will cut off their cash flow? In the system that exists, promotions are tied to taking courses, getting advanced degrees and certifications. All these teachers taking courses over their 30-40 year career is a lot of income for the colleges and universities. If the promotions are not tied to continuing professional development, will the colleges loose substantial funding? Will the “powers to be” that exist in Higher Ed. resist such change?

  • Target areas such as math and science:
    You usually have a lot of young women who want to be elementary teachers. Many of them are excellent. If we base a pay scale on supply/demand, do we pay a mediocre math teacher more than an excellent elementary teacher because one type is harder to find?

Hope this helps, thinkaboutit……
Just a few different perspectives to stimulate thought.

Enjoy the weekend,


Posted by: Ed Davis at December 5, 2008 3:03 PM

Ed - Good stuff - thank you. I will digest this. Also, just fyi, I happen to think unions are a particularly good thing for fighting arbitrary supervisory actions. I think all workers deserve such protection.

Posted by: thinkaboutit at December 5, 2008 4:33 PM

You're welcome!

Posted by: Ed Davis at December 5, 2008 5:57 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.