Utterly Meaningless » Blog Archive » CURING WHAT AILS US

    Filed at 6:27 am under by dcobranchi

    “Fixing” NCLB and paying teachers a lot more ought to do the trick, according to this insipid NYT Op/Ed. It’s amazing how so many supposedly learned folks don’t understand the simple concept of supply and demand:

    A few years ago, the residents of Helena, Mont., decided that their schools needed improvement. So they started with teacher salaries. They increased average pay some $8,000; pushed starting salaries to $30,000 from $23,000; and built incentives for improving performance, working on professional development and taking on responsibilities outside the classroom.

    In years past, a vacancy in the Helena school system would attract perhaps a dozen, mostly underqualified applicants. Last summer, Randy Carlson, principal of Capital High School, needed three new social studies teachers. He got to choose from a pool of more than a hundred candidates.

    Of course he did. That was perfectly predictable. But if all of the other local school districts follow the same course, Randy Carlson would be right back where he was, and the taxpayers of the Capital School District would be a bit poorer. Not to worry, though. All we have to do is borrow the money for the salary increases:

    But where will local districts get the money to increase salaries? One idea: every day, bonds are approved to build stadiums, even schools. The presumption is that the new buildings will increase the profile of a given city, thus attracting more visitors, more businesses, more families and more tax revenue, all of which will pay down the bond. By the same token, then, wouldn’t it make sense to create a bond to pay for better educators?

    The district would get the best teachers, families would get better schools, businesses would settle in the city with the great public schools, property values would go up, and everyone would be happy. Especially the students, who would get the best educators, gain respect for the profession and might even consider becoming teachers themselves. The talent pool would then grow ever stronger, and in 20 years we could have created the best corps of teachers the country has ever known.

    First, there’s a huge difference between borrowing for a one-time expense (like for building a bridge) that will pay dividends in future economic growth and borrowing every year to pay your teachers more. And, second, this argument is just some twisted form of the Laffer curve.

    Here’s the problem– the Laffer curve predicts that up to a point a marginal tax rate decrease will lead to an increase in tax revenues by stimulating the economy. But only up to a point. It depends upon which side of the parabola you are on. The teacher’s Laffer is even more questionable. Is there a causal link between teacher salaries and community prosperity? Who knows? And assuming that there really does exist some type of Laffer curve for teacher salaries, what side of the curve are we on? After all, raising the taxes on the people who live in the Capital School District immediately makes them poorer (or more in debt if bonds are issued). Raise the salaries high enough and you can bankrupt the town.

    Back to the drawing board.

    4 Responses to “CURING WHAT AILS US”

    Comment by
    Chad Boudreau
    June 27th, 2005
    at 1:16 pm

    Thank you for pointing me on a new topic for study (I had never heard of the Laffer curve before today.)
    One thing that is true: a lot of people say they would go into teacher, or stay in teaching, if the pay were better…
    BUT, a lot of people also say they would go into teaching/stay in teaching if the work environment were better.
    So, I think the starting point should be the cheapest option: making the work environment better.
    Teachers have to wade through so much beaurocracy, usually with a machette, just to get things done. Further, often teachers need to do their own cleaning when getting a new room. How many of you business people have to clean out your own offices when you move into one?

    Fix the paperwork jam, fix the communication problems, and fix some of the janitor problems (in select cities, most places, as I understand, have a bit of sanity when it comes to that.)

    Fixing these things is relatively cheap. Also, the administrators need to be working to FACILITATE the work of the teachers, and rarely otherwise. If they aren’t, fire them. I believe that if these changes were made, then you would have better teachers staying. Cheaply, too. A teacher would LIKE a 100,000 dollar a year pay check, but it’s unreasonable. If we are looking for solutions to keep good teachers, I think the first thing we need to do is try to improve the working environment of those teachers.

    Also, you will never have a teacher who cannot get a competitive salary willing leave a school, but you will definitely have teachers who can make a decent buck willingly leave a school. Therefore, I believe that the high quality people who choose to go into teaching would stay despite the pay, but not when you factor in the bad conditions.

    And hey, the work conditions may not be easier to fix, but it sure is cheaper.

    Comment by
    Cardinal Fang
    June 28th, 2005
    at 7:22 pm

    Somebody doesn’t understand basic supply and demand here, but I don’t think it’s the New York Times. You say “He got to choose from a pool of more than a hundred candidates. Of course he did. That was perfectly predictable. But if all of the other local school districts follow the same course, Randy Carlson would be right back where he was, and the taxpayers of the Capital School District would be a bit poorer.”

    That would only be true if the supply of schoolteachers was fixed. But clearly it isn’t. If the school district offers higher salaries, people who would otherwise be doing something else will be drawn by the higher salaries into applying for the jobs, and the school districts (presuming they can distinguish bad candidates from good ones) will be able to hire better teachers. This works even if every single district in the country raises teacher salaries: people who were formerly at home raising kids, or retired, or working in industry, will decide instead to try to grab those higher, more attractive salaries.

    I’m agnostic about whether school districts should offer higher salaries to teachers, but it is indisputable that if they do, they will get more applicants for teaching positions. This is indeed basic supply and demand: supply curves slope up.

    Comment by
    June 28th, 2005
    at 7:34 pm

    Perhaps but only in the long run. Since teachers ed programs are typically 4 years, it’d take approximately that long to shift the supply curve. It certainly didn’t happen over one summer. And if all of the districts raised their salaries over the same summer, Capital School District would be no better off in September than they were in May.

    Besides, the supply/demand curve is the smaller part of the problem with the Op/Ed. The handwaving Laffer curve borrow-money-to-pay-teachers-more is just plain dumb (as well as probably illegal). But other than that…

    Comment by
    Cardinal Fang
    July 1st, 2005
    at 2:33 pm

    The school district wouldn’t have to wait to train new teachers. There are plenty of people out there right now who have teaching credentials but are not teaching.