A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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Union Pay Scale Ignores Exceptional Teachers

Oakland County middle school teacher of the year salary ranks her 147th out of 198 teachers in her district

Hadeel Azzo is a middle school math and language arts teacher who works with students from Iraq who sometimes have emotional and behavioral issues due to the war, according to the Lamphere School District in Madison Heights.

Azzo is able to communicate with her Page Middle School students in English and Arabic.

This year, Azzo was named Oakland County Outstanding Middle School Teacher of the Year, and for that she got a $2,000 award. However, Azzo's union, a division of the American Federation of Teachers, ensures that she made nearly $34,000 a year less than the top of the scale teachers in her own district.

Azzo’s salary of $52,661 in 2012-13 makes her the district’s 147th highest-paid teacher out of 198 teachers.

That’s because teachers' unions and school administrators have resisted efforts to tie teacher compensation to performance. Instead, compensation in almost all districts is based on years of service and level of education.

A 2010 state law enacted under then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, mandates that districts consider performance first when determining compensation. However, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy found in an October 2012 survey of 104 new teacher contracts that 81 did not address merit pay

Other districts paid their top teachers just one extra dollar

Union leaders and school administrators have fought against reforms to make teachers like Azzo be paid for performance.

Oakland County School District Spokeswoman Danelle Gittus said Superintendent Diane Markavitch would not comment on individual teacher’s salaries. Gittus said Markavitch’s view on merit pay are in a video on the district’s website.

In the video, Markavitch said studies show that merit pay for teachers has not been shown to raise student achievement and does harm.

Markavitch spoke about merit pay through the eyes of a fourth-grade student. In that video, Markavitch argued that a fourth-grader thinks a playground supervisor who stops bullying, the lunchroom aid who smiles, the school secretary who dries students’ tears, the nurse who treats a skinned knee and the librarian that gives the students a great book all deserve merit pay.

"If we are going to give merit pay to people who help me learn, it has to go to everyone I see during my school day, not just my teachers," Markavitch said in the video. "Because all of those people make a big difference.

"The people who deserve the most merit pay are my family. They make sure I know school is important," she said in the video.

But a fourth-grader is not responsible for the district's success, said Audrey Spalding, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

"It's not enough to say, 'It's a team effort so we can't reward successful individuals,' " Spalding said.

Spalding pointed to a 2010 Harvard study that found that teachers become more effective with a few years of experience, but there are some declines later on. The study also found that teachers who had majored in education or had a master’s degree were not more effective, all else equal.

"Studies on merit pay are mixed," Spalding said. "Bottom line: It matters how teachers are motivated and rewarded."

Rewarding teachers based on degrees attained and years of experience doesn't reward for performance, she said.

"The teacher salary schedule is an expensive, ineffective and outdated way to pay teachers," Spalding said. "It unfairly penalizes young and successful teachers. It's true that school boards and administrators will have to think carefully about how best to use merit pay to motivate and reward teachers. But any program that recognizes and rewards successful teachers would be better than what most school districts have in place today."

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