Could raising salaries be the best way to attract and keep better teachers?

Educators kicked off the New York Times Schools For Tomorrow Conference on Thursday morning by addressing a recurring question among teachers: how can the status and perception of the teaching profession be elevated?

The talk soon turned to teacher salaries, and through the day, that topic came up, over and over again.

Research has shown that teachers are the single most important in-school factor for affecting student performance, so attracting and keeping good teachers has become a priority across the country. But educators at the conference stressed that the strongest teachers may be leaving the field because of concerns over salary or the belief that teaching is not a respectable profession. And, they say, the field may not be attracting the strongest potential teachers for those same reasons.

“I want teachers to be treated like brain surgeons, and assume that every single day that they go into work is a challenging day,” said Ninive Calegari, panelist and president of the nonprofit advocacy group The Teacher Salary Project. “What offends me is that they then go home to financial stress, and that’s unfair and as Americans, we should be offended by that.”

As it stands now, the National Education Association reports that beginning public school teachers can be paid anywhere from around $24,000, which is the average in Montana (and the lowest in the country), to nearly $45,000, the average beginning salary in New Jersey.

Salaries also vary within states, depending on district pay-scales, experience and the teacher’s education level. In districts that have introduced merit pay, teacher bonuses are typically based on how students perform on standardized tests.

Linda Darling-Hammond, a panelist and professor at Stanford University who is outspoken on education issues, highlighted the disparity between U.S. teacher salaries and those in high-performing countries like Finland and Singapore. In those countries, teachers and doctors have comparable salaries, and teacher education programs are extremely selective.

In Finland, where only one in 10 applicants is accepted by teacher education programsthe teaching profession is highly respected and attracts the nation’s top college graduates.

“People respond to you depending upon how much money you make as far as the authority you have, the prestige,” said Brian Crosby, a panelist and co-chair of the English Department at Hoover High School in Glendale, Calif.  “Teachers do not have the amount of salary they need to have the level of respect they deserve.”

The comparison to Finland and the issue of teacher salary kept coming up through the day.

“We are not Singapore, we are not Finland, we have a different set of circumstances,” said Kaya Henderson, chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. “At the same time, we have to continue to hold these children to high standards.”

Some districts have seen salary levels directly affect their ability to attract and retain teachers. In Tennessee, Metro Nashville Public Schools this summer raised beginning teacher salaries by more than $5,000 a year, to $40,000. As a result, school officials said they had a flood of applications—over 1,000 for about 540 positions.

Meanwhile, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, in North Carolina, which has experimented in the past with bonuses based on test scores, was recently identified in a study as a district that has failed to keep enough good teachers. This year, Charlotte-Mecklenburg teachers, who start at $34,000, received their first pay raise in four years. New Superintendent Heath Morrison is also investigating how to raise morale and provide more support to teachers as a retention strategy.

But the teacher strike in Chicago, where the average teacher salary is $71,236, demonstrates that for many teachers, salary is only one critical issue.  Chicago teachers are some of the most highly paid in the nation, but even the offer of a 16 percent pay raise over the next four years has not deterred them from striking over other issues, like teacher evaluations and job security.

While raising salaries may not be a main focus of education reform, several members of the panel suggested that it might be the best starting point when it comes to making teaching a more respected position and attracting quality teachers. “In order for our country to be successful in the future, we need to have college students want to teach the same way they want to get into medical school,” said Calegari. “I think that that standard would really protect the future of our country.”

Published by The Hechinger Report:


Poll: Parents and teachers support spending for classroom technology

Parents and teachers are generally united in the belief that the United States should spend more money on technology in classrooms, according to the results of an August poll conducted by the LEAD Commission.

The group, which is studying the way technology can be used in classrooms, surveyed 883 parents and 812 public school teachers to determine if there is grassroots support for major investments in classroom technology. The poll did not ask parents and teachers what kind of technology is currently being used in classrooms, or what the nation’s next steps should be to utilize technology in schools.

Over 60 percent of the parents and teachers polled said that the United States is behind the curve when it comes to using technology in the classroom, and over 90 percent of those polled said that technology is, “important to the education of American students today.”

And at a time when many districts are looking for ways to save money and cut costs, the majority of those polled said that classroom funding should be spent on Internet-connected devices rather than on traditional methods of learning, such as textbooks. However, only 18 percent of teachers polled said they are receiving the necessary training to use technology to its fullest potential in their own classrooms

In a press conference on Monday, LEAD Commissioner and Founder Jim Steyer said the results show him that parents and teachers are invested in improving education by utilizing technology. “They know this is critical. They know their kids need it,” Steyer said.

Despite a general consensus, the poll results varied when other factors, such as income and political affiliation, came into play. Teachers at low-income schools and parents who made less than $30,000 were more likely to say that in the next 10 years, the role of technology will become “much more important” in preparing young people for their future. The same subgroups, as well as Democrats and Independents, were also more likely to support additional investments in technology on the local and federal level.

“With less affluence, there is a greater emphasis on doing more,” said Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates. “Parents and teachers recognize what the opportunities are and are making a pretty clear call for school systems and others who affect education policy to make sure those points of potential are realized as we move forward.”

Since taking office, President Obama has prioritized science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. The President’s 2012 budget included a proposal for a $90 million investment in the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Education (ARPA-ED) that wouldhelp develop digital tutors, online classes, and “compelling” educational software that would rival video games.

In July, the Obama administration announced a plan to spend $1 billion to create a national corps of STEM teachers over the next four years. This announcement followed a goal set by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julias Genachowski in February: to have all students in the nation using digital textbooks by 2017.

The LEAD Commission plans to release a blueprint in November that will use data from this poll, as well as other research, to recommend ways schools can better utilize technology.

Originally published by The Hechinger Report:

The Second Chance

Dec. 20 – When Kenneth Edwards borrowed 25 dollars from his childhood friend, Jason Ford, he had no idea what it would cost him.

The two boys had grown up only two blocks away from each other. They rode their bicycles together and played on the same baseball team. A resident of Bedford Stuyvesant, and later Crown Heights in Brooklyn, Edwards grew up in a sheltered home. His parents made sure that Edwards was kept away from the lifestyle that existed on the streets– one that often introduced kids to drugs and guns.

But it all changed by the time he was 14, when he got the chance to see what the “guys on the corner” were really about. “The cars, the jewelry, the girls,” Edwards remembers. “Once I got a taste of it, once I found out about it, it wrapped me up.”

Edwards quickly fell in with the “in crowd,” a group of older boys who were selling drugs, shoplifting, and carrying weapons. He was making more money than ­his father, who worked as a mechanic. The more money he made, he says, the meaner he became. His childhood friend, Ford, was also drawn to the streets. At first, they were working as partners selling drugs. “But the drug game will turn you into enemies.” Edwards said.

It was August of 1990 when Edwards borrowed the 25 dollars from Ford. But when he hadn’t paid Ford back after two months, Ford came to find him and threatened to kill him if it wasn’t returned. “It was either I get him first, or he get me first,” Edwards recalled.

On October 28th, Edwards told Ford that he would take him to a house to get drugs and money. As his friend Pepe drove, Edwards climbed into the backseat of a van next to Ford. “We got into an argument,” Edwards remembers. “I pulled my gun and he pulled his gun, and my gun went off first.” He fired the first shot at Ford’s left temple. The sound of the gun startled him, and he fired twice more. His friend fell on the ground, but was still moving, so Edwards pulled the trigger for the fourth and final time. Then he and Pepe drove until they could see water. They stopped on Gold Street near the East River, and left Ford’s body on the street near an underpass.

The police did not have any witnesses when they found a John Doe at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. But Edwards knew he ultimately had to pay for his crime. “That wasn’t the life I wanted to live anymore,” he said. Two days later, he turned himself in. He took a plea deal, and was sentenced to 15 years to life.

In 1990, murders were occurring at an alarming rate. Forty-nine murders were reported in the local 79th police precinct. An increasing number of youth were participating in these murders. The same year, almost 8 percent of murders reported nationwide resulted in juvenile arrests, according to the FBI. Some of these youth ended up on Rikers Island with Edwards, whose life took a sharp turn in jail.

Edwards was placed in Sheila Richard’s GED class at the on-site educational facility. Richards was a new teacher and was hesitant to teach in a jail. But after visiting the men’s ward and seeing the number of youth that were behind bars, she says she felt she had to do something about it.

Kenneth Edwards was placed in Sheila Richard’s GED class at the on-site educational facility on Rikers Island.
At first, Kenneth Edwards seemed like every other student in her class. But one thing stood out to Richards. “He was very quiet, and he was one of the kids that didn’t really participate in the madness going on there.” Just three months before Edwards arrived, a bloody uprising on Riker’s Island had left more than 130 guards and inmates injured. Edwards says that what he saw in jail when he arrived was no different than the streets of Brooklyn. “You have your drugs, you have your homemade, jail made weapons, you have gambling.” Edwards says he had to make a choice- whether he was going to be a part of that crowd, or not.

Edwards chose the latter. With the help of his teacher, he earned his GED and worked several jobs inside of jail. By the time he was released in August of 2007, Edwards had spent almost as much of his life inside of prison, as he had outside. He says he was disappointed to find that the same things were happening. “The only thing that changed was certain language they [were] using,” he said. “Still [you] have people selling drugs and people with guns and using the gun.”

Today, Edwards is back on the streets where he grew up, but in a different role. He works as a violence interrupter for an anti-gun violence program called Save Our Streets (S.O.S.) in Crown Heights. Edwards goes out into the community to hand out educational materials about gun violence, forms relationships with community leaders, including the clergy, and mediates potentially violent situations.

Kenneth Edwards works for an anti-gun violence program called Save Our Streets in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Edwards was hired by Sharon Ife-Charles, the Deputy Director of the Crown Heights Mediation Center, which runs the S.O.S. program. Ife-Charles says that Edwards was searching for redemption when he applied for the job. “It was as though he and God had this agreement that what he did, he knew was wrong,” said Ife-Charles. “He’s gonna pay the time for it. He paid a time for it.”

Although crime rate in Crown Heights has gone down significantly over the past 18 years, residents still complain about disturbances in the community. Brower Park, located between Kingston and Brooklyn Avenues, has become a safe haven for a notorious gang called the Brower Park Gang, also known as Brower Park Boys. The gang has sparked fear in the neighborhood since they started calling the park home during the summer.

Edwards says that he will always feel guilt for what he did. Although he has a full time job at a window manufacturing company, he says his work with the S.O.S. program is his priority. He says that he hopes that through his work, he can keep others from making the same mistake that he made 21 years ago. “I get people to understand, the kids, that when you commit a crime, regardless of what that crime is, you are hurting someone else, not just yourself.”

Interrupting Violence

Nov. 5– As a child growing up on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, Marlon Peterson was familiar with crime and violence. By the time he was a teenager, he had been shot once and “jumped” several times. During high school, Peterson gravitated toward drugs and weapons. At 19, he was one of five men arrested for participating in an armed robbery and double-murder in a Soho bakery. At the age of 20, Peterson was sent to jail for 12 years.

After serving ten years of his sentence, Peterson came back to Crown Heights where he began working for Save Our Streets as a “violence interrupter.” The SOS program is a replication ofCease Fire, a successful program in Chicago that focuses on educating the community and mediating conflict to change mindsets about gun violence.

Marlon Peterson holds an after-school workshop for a new youth development program called YO-SOS.
For nearly 30 years, murder has been the leading cause of death among African-American men between the ages of 14 and 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The part of Crown Heights that SOS works with is about 72% African American, according to 2010 Census data. In Precinct 77, which serves Crown Heights, murder is up compared to 1998, the year the Crown Heights Mediation Center opened its doors. That year, there were 9 murders. Last year, there were 20 murders in Precinct 77.

Peterson, now 32 years old, is the program coordinator of Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets, a program that encourages teens to fight gun violence. It operates out of the Crown Heights Mediation Center on Kingston Avenue, part of the Save Our Streets violence mediation program.

The SOS Violence Interrupters canvas the streets to diffuse escalating conflicts before they become deadly. On most nights, VI’s head out around dark – armed with picture postcards of young children that read, “Don’t shoot, I want to grow up.” The VI’s use the cards as conversation starters with those who live in the program’s area of focus: between Atlantic Avenue, Eastern Parkway, Kingston Avenue and Utica Avenue. Their work often starts with a tip from a friend, a phone call from a former gang member, or a few words overheard on the street that hint at a potentially violent situation. Once they arrive at the scene, the VI’s act quickly. They have been trained to separate the groups that are involved, not to step in front of bullets, but rather calm people down and talk them out of using weapons. Some of the most successful mediation attempts have ended with rival gangs shaking hands and walking away.

SOS messengers patrol the streets at night and talk to people about the dangers of gun violence.
Peterson says that SOS works because they use credible messengers – individuals like himself who have “been there, done that, been through some things, and are in a position now where they are willing and able to kind of draw people out from the same rut that they were once in.”

The Cease Fire model treats gun violence the same way an organization would treat a spreading disease. The model began in Chicago after Gary Slutkin, a physician and professor of Epidemiology and International Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, returned from working on cholera and tuberculosis epidemics in refugees in Somalia. According to the Director of the Mediation Center, Amy Ellenbogen, Slutkin realized that gun violence operates in the same way that many diseases operate. He applied a three pronged approach of disease prevention to identify the presence of gun violence, interrupt and intervene, and change norms and behaviors. According to a U.S. Department of Justice evaluation, this approach has worked in Chicago. They found that 5 out of 8 areas served by Cease Fire, have had a 100% reduction in retaliation murders since they were introduced to the program.

Although major crimes, such as rape and robbery, have decreased in Precinct 77, some community members say that they still don’t feel safe. Phyllis McDuffie has been in the neighborhood for over thirty years. “It’s a really beautiful place, but lately we had shootings, all kind, rape, different things. I just think the community as a whole- Jews, Blacks, all of us- have to come together as one,” she said. Resident Dana Davenport, 26, agrees. She lives in Crown Heights and thinks that the problem lies in the youth. She says that the area needs cops at every corner.

SOS held its second annual Peace March on Oct. 20, 2011.
Peterson says that gun violence is so normalized in neighborhoods like Crown Heights that it has become a public health issue. “You don’t necessarily have to be the person that grew up in a broken household to get involved with violence, whether it be the person that’s a victim of it, the person behind it, or the person who witnesses it first hand,” he said. However, in the area where SOS focuses their efforts, the number of shootings have dropped 60%, according to Ellenbogen. She says they can’t say for sure if their efforts have contributed to this decrease because they have not been evaluated. “But whatever it is, we are happy to be a part of it,” she said.

Peterson says that the community is taking notice of their efforts. The center has distributed signs that now hang in the windows of nearby stores, recording the number of shooting-free days in the SOS catchment area. They hired a clergy liaison, Reverend Kevin Jones, whose own son used to be involved in gangs but now works for SOS. A recent “Week of Peace” featured community-wide anti-violence sermons, a Peace March, and a youth flash mob. Peterson says that compared to when he was a child, people talk about violence more as an unacceptable part of life. And to him, that alone is a “step in the right direction.”

In Brooklyn- A New Way of Teaching Brings Success

Oct. 26- Classroom 233 at Granville T. Woods Elementary School has much to be proud of. Polished writing samples are sprinkled across the room, hanging on cabinet doors and bulletin boards. The 10 and 11-year-old students sit under their essays that describe personal goals or science concepts – work that has already been completed less than a month into the school year. In this class, every student reads books at or above grade level. Last June, all of these fifth graders passed their language arts and math tests. And one student from Room 233 boasted the highest score in the school.

While success is apparent in this class, there is also unmistakable evidence of poverty. The fifth-grade classroom sits on the second floor of the school, also known as Public School 335, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It belongs to teacher Meghan Dunn, and is across the street from the Kingsborough Houses, a New York City public housing development. Last year, the school reported a 99% poverty rate, meaning that nearly every student qualified for free or reduced lunch. In a corner of Dunn’s classroom, water drips down from an old air conditioning unit, held together with three strips of duct tape. A bucket has been placed underneath to collect the water that accumulates during the day. The front wall holds an old chalkboard that remains unused by Dunn. It is partially covered by a colorful calendar, as well as posters that assign classroom jobs and groups for using the class computers.

Dunn began teaching at P.S. 335 in 2005 as a Teach For America corps member. She says her first year was a disaster. “I wasn’t prepared for what I was getting into and I didn’t understand the community or how to connect to children,” she recalled. She slowly became more involved. She helped start a Girl Scout troop, she started overseeing chess club, and she has mentored students through a P.S. 335 mentorship program.

After teaching for three years, Dunn decided to move with her students to the next grade level – a strategy called “looping” in the education world. Three years later, Dunn is still teaching the same group of students.

Looping has been studied for years and has been implemented in schools across the United States. In 2009, The Southeast Asian Community Alliance and The University of California Graduate School of Education recommended that the Los Angeles Unified School District use looping to create more equitable schools. Their study showed that looping builds meaningful relationships with students, an idea that the principal of P.S. 335, Dr. Laverne Nimmons, embraces. When Dr. Nimmons came to the school eight years ago, she found unruly children, frustrated teachers, and low test scores. She utilized research from her doctoral dissertation to determine how to turn the school around. Dr. Nimmons says that many students at the school are dealing with difficult situations at home. They may be in foster care or are being reintroduced to parents who were incarcerated. She has found looping to be extremely successful in low-income communities where many children lack stability.

“The teacher doesn’t have to spend six weeks getting to know the child, getting to know the family” Nimmons said. “She knows immediately where they’re from, where they left off in the spring, and knows where to go in September.”

Dunn agrees that forming strong relationships has been a significant benefit. “I know everything about all of my kids,” she said. “I rarely have problems with them but if there is a problem I know one hundred percent that if I call a parent, they are on my side. They know too that whatever I’m doing in class is for their kid and that I’m totally here for their kid.”

It is obvious that the kids in Room 233 are accustomed to Dunn. Her class runs seamlessly. Students are focused and raise their hands eagerly. They transition to new activities quickly and quietly because they mastered Dunn’s classroom procedures years ago. Dunn says that she has time to elaborate upon the curriculum during the year, and estimates that she gains six weeks of instruction time over other classes.

Meghan Dunn prepares her morning literacy lesson before her students arrive at school for the day.
“She teaches us different things that other classes don’t learn,” says one ten-year-old boy, quietly reading on a red cushion in the back of the room. “She teaches us about wars and, like, about our presidents and different important people.” Another student says that both she and her mother have loved having Dunn for the past four years. “She knows what’s going on in my life,” the student said, quietly filling out her reading chart at her desk. “She knows how I’m doing.”

However, experts familiar with looping warn of disadvantages. If a teacher is ineffective, then students risk falling behind in the years they spend with that teacher.

Less than a mile away, Principal Berthe G. Faustin has successfully implemented looping at her school, P.S. 189. She says that there can be resistance from teachers who have spent years teaching the same grade level and must now learn a new curriculum. There are times when the dynamic of the student group doesn’t match the teacher, or occasions when teacher turnover is an issue.

“When you invest in people, you really want to keep them there,” says Faustin. “Especially if it’s working.”

Dunn has experienced another potential drawback of looping: difficult parent relationships that don’t end with the school year in June. Over the years, some of her students have moved to other classes because the parent-teacher relationship just wasn’t working out.

Despite challenges, Dunn is overwhelmingly positive about looping. In June, her students will graduate to one of several local middle schools. Dunn has plans to move on too. She is in the running to open a new school through the New York Department of Education. Her idea, a school where every teacher loops with his or her students, was proposed to the DOE in September. Dunn will find out on November 10th if her proposal has made it into the fourth, and final phase of the process.