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Study could trigger meaningful talk on teacher pay

Peter Schrag, Sacramento Bee, February 16, 2005

Scrap Teacher Salary Scale

Teacher Retirement Number by County in California

Alternative Teacher Compernsation Conference March 2009

Presentation by Susanna Loeb on Alternative Teacher Compensation March 2009

The real surprise in this week's pioneering EdTrust-West study of teacher salaries in California schools isn't that there are gaps in experience and pay between schools serving affluent whites and Asians and those with high percentages of poor and minority students.

The stunner is how large the average gap is, especially between schools with high percentages of black and Latino students and those that are predominantly non-Hispanic white. We're not talking about differences between districts, but within the same districts. In Sacramento, the annual difference is $5,660 per teacher. In Fresno, it's $3,120. In the high schools it's a lot more.

The reasons are obvious. Teachers in the higher socio-economic schools have more seniority and formal training and are thus higher on the salary scale. Teachers in high-poverty schools - and even more disproportionately in high-minority schools - where the turnover is higher and the jobs less attractive, are less experienced and often not even fully credentialed.

That means not only that the kids who most need the best teachers generally get the weakest - at least in the official salary score-keeping of the system - but they get nothing to compensate for it. In effect, the system spends tens of thousands dollars less on each of their schools than on the schools in rich neighborhoods.

Studies conducted in a few districts -none in this state - have shown how districts' accounting practices conceal the differences. But until EdTrust released its report on the state's largest districts yesterday, there'd never been a systematic study in California.

A few of the state's big districts have managed to equalize salaries or even reverse the gaps to spend more in high poverty schools. Under new recruiting policies, average salaries in Los Angeles' high-poverty schools are now higher than in its low-poverty schools, although the negative gaps between minority and non-minority schools are still significant.

Oakland under state administrator Randy Ward is now providing equal per-pupil funding, including the real cost of each teacher's compensation. In effect, schools with beginning teachers get additional money, either to hire more help or for other expenses. The choices are made at the school site.

The EdTrust-West findings reinforce the case for differential pay and conditions to attract and keep better teachers in needy schools. That doesn't mean merit pay, as the governor seems to want, but it does mean creating incentives for good teachers in high-minority/high-poverty schools: smaller classes, maybe; better materials; more counselors; reading specialists and other resources.

Most immediately, it means honest budgeting that doesn't just use the district's average salary for every teacher. It requires, as EdTrust-West urges, disclosure of each school's budget, including the real cost of teacher salaries in that school. There's likely to be a bill in the Legislature before the end of the month requiring all districts to provide that information.

The disclosure requirement is obviously only a first step. It will create pressure - as it should - for district budgeting practices that provide compensating funds for schools with low-paid inexperienced or undertrained teachers and for contracting provisions that revise rigid union seniority rules to give district administrators more authority in assigning teachers.

The last is hardly a panacea: Assigning teachers to schools in which they don't want to work is not likely to induce the best effort or the most dedicated work. The key is to create the incentive for good teachers and administrators to work in those schools. Unless districts or the state are willing to snatch funds from the have-schools and face the resulting political uproar, that means more money for the system.

Here again, the needy kids are stuck between extremes: on the one hand, unions institutionally averse to differential pay and conditions; on the other a state administration that's shown little understanding of schools. Its grandest policy vision is to survive the current budget deficit without raising taxes or closing tax loopholes.

If both sides were willing to compromise, there might be room for negotiation, even for one of those deals that the governor used to be so proud of. Additional resources for low-performing, low-pay schools might buy some flexibility on differential pay, what the governor still (infelicitously) calls "combat pay." It's a truism that the existing teacher pay structure is only crudely related to competence or productivity, and often not at all. But unless the state has a sure way of tracking students and fairly evaluating teachers, "merit pay," however attractive it sounds, is almost meaningless other than as a political bargaining chip.

But creating incentives for good teachers in disadvantaged schools and giving schools more options in budgeting and recruiting teachers they regard as desirable is a promising compromise. It's also a big step toward equity for the kids who need it most.

Among the EdTrust recommendations is an urgent set of questions about teacher contracts, pay schedules and budget practices. It would a good primer under the Capitol dome, if anybody still cares.

Source: California's Hidden Teacher Spending Gap Report

California’s Hidden Teacher Spending Gap:

How State and District Budgeting Practices Shortchange Poor and Minority Students and Their Schools


Federal and state policies increasingly stress the need to educate all students to high academic standards. These policies assume, and indeed require, that additional resources and supports be directed to those schools that face the biggest challenges in meeting that goal. As a fair-minded people, most Americans support these policies and believe that kids who arrive behind should be given extra help to catch up.

But the majority of states do exactly the opposite. Instead of providing more resources to the schools and districts that serve concentrations of low-income and minority students, they provide less.

Certainly, a few states—including Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey—stand out for acting on what both common sense and simple morality dictate: They provide more dollars to students in the most need. Unfortunately, California cannot be counted among their ranks. In our state, districts serving the most low-income students and students of color have fewer state and local dollars to spend than districts serving the least.

These funding gaps between school districts—inter-district funding discrepancies—have been the subject of much debate and numerous lawsuits. Less attention, however, has been paid to the funding gaps separating schools within the same school district. These hidden gaps compound the injustices facing low-income and minority students. First, we spend less in the districts in which poor and minority students are concentrated. Then, we make matters worse by spending significantly less on the schools within those districts that serve the most such students.

In this report we expose the pervasiveness of these hidden gaps: large funding gaps within districts in money spent on teacher salaries. We find that the concentration of more experienced and more highly credentialed teachers (along with their corresponding high salaries) in whiter and more affluent schools drives huge funding gaps between schools—even between schools within the very same school district.

If California is serious about enabling all students to meet our high academic standards, we must also be serious about changing the policies and practices that permit such an unequal distribution of the thing that matters most to a child’s education: good teaching. How do we start? By making sure that we are spending at least as much on teaching low-income and minority kids as we spend on teaching more affluent and White kids.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Recommendation I: Lift the Veil on Teacher Salary Expenditures

The way school expenditures are reported today—averaging teacher salaries across the district in per-pupil calculations rather than reporting actual salaries per school—masks huge inequities in dollars spent on teaching in California’s poorest and highest-minority schools.

California should make school-level teacher salary data publicly available. While maintaining privacy for individual teachers, districts should reveal what they are actually paying the teaching staff in each of their schools. This level of transparency is critical if we are to analyze and develop sound education policy and budgetary decisions that will help level the playing field for all students.

In this report, we produced the best estimates of intra-district funding gaps given the publicly available data on 2003-2004 salary schedules and teacher qualifications. We had the opportunity to “test” our estimates with actual teacher salary expenditures in two urban school districts. Our results were strikingly similar. However, actual figures would give Californians the most accurate portrait of spending in each district with the least amount of guess work and estimates. The methodology required to produce this report only underscores the need for districts to produce the real school-level teacher salary data to help policy-makers, district leaders, parents and advocates accurately assess the budget realities, and discrepancies in school districts.

Recommendation II: Analyze the Factors that Contribute to the Teacher Spending Gap

Once we have access to the actual teaching budgets at individual schools within districts, the next step is to understand what factors contribute to—and perpetuate—inequities between high- and low-poverty and high- and low-minority schools. What role does the single salary schedule play? How do teacher contract provisions affect low-income students and students of color? What other personnel and budgeting practices contribute to the gaps that separate low-income students and students of color from their peers? What do we need to change? When we have a clear analysis of these factors, we will have the foundation on which to develop the policies and practices necessary to close the spending gap.

Recommendation III: Close the Teacher Spending and Quality Gap

Once we know and can monitor the size of the teacher salary expenditure gap within California’s school districts based on a thorough analysis of the problem, we must act to close it. The No Child Left Behind Act pushes states to do this. The law requires states to ensure that poor and minority children are no longershort changed in the distribution of teacher talent and to report publicly their progress toward meeting that goal.

California is a long way from a fair distribution of teacher talent. It’s not even clear whether the state has developed a comprehensive plan to do something about it. We need to get a planning process going—now.

There are, of course, a range of strategies that might be useful in achieving a fair distribution of teacher talent. Some can help increase the buying power of low-income schools and break up the monopoly of schools that have historically had access to the best teachers. Among these are providing all schools with teacher salary budgets proportionate to their size and using ‘weighted student formulas’, whereby schools are budgeted teacher salary dollars based on the individual needs of students at a given school.

Other strategies might call for a systematic departure from the single salary schedule. This would involve paying teachers more for taking on more challenges, or reducing the level of challenge in high-poverty schools by reducing student-teacher ratios and providing additional supports for teachers and students. By introducing value-added systems to measure actual teacher impact, California could start down the path to actually paying good teachers what they are truly worth, especially if these teachers willingly take on the state’s most critical challenges. Developing stronger leaders for high-poverty schools is also important because even the most selfless teachers are reluctant to work for ineffective leaders.

There is no single recipe. What’s important is that we try a range of strategies until something works. California’s children—all of them—deserve no less.


Despite consensus that California needs to do more to close student achievement gaps, the reality does not match the rhetoric when it comes to teacher quality, the single largest contributor to student success. Even within the very same school district, we spend significantly less on teachers in the highest-poverty and highest-minority schools than we do in the wealthiest and whitest schools.

When we know that quality teaching is the most critical means by which to close achievement gaps, it flies in the face of reason to spend more money teaching affluent students than poor and minority students. If we are truly committed to providing equitable access to quality education for all students, then these funding gaps are not only illogical, but morally wrong. Yet our investigation shows that this is exactly what California’s school districts are doing.

It is time to lift the veil on disparities in spending on teaching within districts, and affirm that all California school children have an equal claim on quality teaching. Acknowledging funding gaps within districts driven by teacher salary dollars is a good start. The next step is to understand why those gaps exist and then act to close them.

What we don’t know can hurt us. Let’s lift the veil, and reveal the stark realities facing California’s neediest students. Then maybe we will actually do something about it.

For more information, visit www.HiddenGap.org

2006 Teacher Pay Reform Policy Study

2002 Teacher Pay Overivew

2007 Teacher Pay Study


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Last modified: February 16, 2005

Disclaimer: This website is the sole responsibility of Mike McMahon. It does not represent any official opinions, statement of facts or positions of the Alameda Unified School District. Its sole purpose is to disseminate information to interested individuals in the Alameda community.