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Brookings Papers on Education Policy 2004 (2004) 219-226

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[Article by Marguerite Roza and Paul T. Hill]

Comment by Susan Sclafani

Marguerite Roza and Paul T. Hill raise an issue that should be on the front page of newspapers across the country. Those of us serving with Rod Paige, when he was superintendent of schools of the Houston Independent School District, had considered the issue of the implications of teacher salary cost averaging. (I was his chief of staff.) We started the planning for actual teacher salary costs, not just weighting for pupil funding, which we had already done. We recognized that great differences existed in actual teacher salaries when we looked carefully at high school budgets. We compared teacher salaries at a premier high school that produced fifty-five to sixty National Merit scholars every year and an inner-city high school that was 98 percent Hispanic and had a much lower rate of college-bound students. The difference in actual teacher salaries was $1 million a year.

Having seen that, and having seen the differential outcomes of those two institutions, we recognized that the lower-funded school could have done many things with that money to attract the kinds of teachers who would be able to help those students improve their skills and knowledge and prepare for college.

We made the argument to the board of education. The board accepted it. We agreed to phase in the move to actual teacher salary costs over time, because clearly such movement is an issue of staff management. Principals had to start using the natural attrition within their schools, if they had a highly experienced, high-salaried faculty, to begin evening out the disparity with other schools. We expected that when one of the high-priced teachers left, the school would bring in a new, less-experienced person.

What better way to mentor new people coming into the profession, we argued, than to put them in schools with high expectations for students, with high achievement levels, and with highly skilled teachers? Doing this, we suggested, would offer opportunities at the school level to bring in new ideas, to get people to think differently about what they were doing—so as to change the status quo thinking that kept a high-powered high school from being a high-powered high school for all kids.

And the board agreed. The plan stipulated 10 percent the first year, 30 percent the second year, and so on, for a total of seven years to full use of actual salaries. Each year, the school would be responsible for paying a progressively larger percent of the actual cost of the salaries of the teachers [End Page 219] at that school. Over time, the school would pay the full salary costs of the teachers. This would have happened. We knew the retirement rates in the district would enable the plan to work, without having to have principals cast off great teachers because suddenly they were too expensive.

We heard all of the arguments on the other side—that principals were going to have to hire people by what they cost, that principals would no longer be able to consider quality. We countered that principals could find high-quality young people to bring into the profession and into their schools.

Paige left Houston in 2001 to become U.S. secretary of education. In the spring of 2003, the board of education voted to table the proposal and to come back to it at a later time. It was not that the board did not want to follow through on it, but the time was not right. And I can tell you what happened in between.

Principals of the high-powered schools said: "How are we going to explain this to our parents? How are we going to tell them that we can't hire the best any more? " They talked to their school board members and said: "We're going to see white flight. We're going to see a decline in the achievement levels of our schools. And all of this...


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pp. 219-226
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Archived 2007
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