Back in the early 1960’s, American Federation of Teachers (AFT/AFL-CIO) union pioneers Dave Selden and Al Shanker crafted a teacher pay system that is now dominant in school districts across America. In unionized school systems, AFT-affiliated and other teacher union bosses routinely resist changes to this system with ferocity.
Under the Selden-Shanker “single salary schedule,” pay for teachers is determined solely by years of experience and the amount of graduate coursework completed. This system does not permit differentiation in teacher pay based on the grade level or the subject matter they teacher or the rigor of the graduate courses they have completed. Nor does it permit differentiation among teachers based on performance.
Even if school districts have an easy time filling elementary school teaching jobs and middle and high school teaching jobs in subjects like English, social studies, and physical education at a particular salary level, but can’t find qualified individuals to teach high school math or science at the same salary level, the Selden-Shanker system won’t allow higher pay for math or science teachers.
The teacher union hierarchy’s obstruction of differential pay scales often constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to hiring high school calculus teachers who have university degrees in mathematics, and hiring high school chemistry teachers who have a B.S. in chemistry. And even school officials in states where teacher union bosses have no statutory monopoly-bargaining privileges typically acquiesce to Selden-Shanker to avoid an unpleasant confrontation with Big Labor.
Fortunately, in K-12 education across America there is a mounting, albeit incredibly belated, recognition that Selden-Shanker is disastrously bad policy from the perspective of schoolchildren, taxpayers, and large numbers of teachers. And in Wisconsin, where legislation sharply curtailing most government union bosses’ monopoly-bargaining privileges was adopted in 2011, the “single salary schedule” is facing multiple challenges.
In establishment media reports, Wisconsin’s 2011 budget and labor-policy reform, known as Act 10, is typically said to limit teacher pay raises to the rate of CPI-measured inflation, with rare exceptions. In reality, however, as a story appearing late last month in the Wausau Daily Herald (see the link above) recognizes:
[D]istricts have gained a great deal of latitude when it comes to individual teacher salaries, and schools already have entered into mini bidding wars over individual teachers.
Reporter Keith Uhlig goes on to quote Jeff Gress, the director of human resources and employee relations for the school district in Wausau, Wisc. While pay raises will of course depend largely on the amount of funding available, Gress believes
[T]he new rules likely will mean there will be many sought after educators acting as “free agents, and they’ll go out to try to find the highest bidder. … To a small degree, that is happening now with hard-to-fill positions.”
Those positions now include special education teachers and, especially, speech and language pathologists, said Jack Stoskopf Jr., the assistant superintendent of business and personnel for the D.C. Everest Area School District. His district already has upped its starting pay for speech pathologists, he said.
Teacher union bosses who are desperate to prevent other states from emulating Wisconsin by adopting Act 10-style reforms, or, worse yet (from union bigwigs’ perspective) by revoking Big Labor monopoly privileges completely, don’t want the word to get out around the country about what’s going on in the Badger State.
An important part of that reality, according to Barry Forbes, the associated executive director for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, is (according to Uhlig’s indirect quote), “bidding wars for sought-after teachers.” Another important development is the ability of school districts to refuse to grant automatic pay raises to teachers who acquire advanced degrees in subject areas that are irrelevant to what they teach.
Both kinds of developments are highly beneficial to K-12 education and taxpayers in Wisconsin. Policymakers across the country should pay heed to well-informed, on-the-ground reporting like Uhlig’s April 27 story. And then they should do everything they can to throw Selden-Shanker into the dustbin of history, where it belongs.