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Pay Teachers More? Prof's Plan to Improve Education

November 23, 2010

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - It's an idea that, in this economy, is bound to raise some eyebrows. A new book from a University of Washington economist is suggesting the way to get education out of its slump is to pay teachers more - a lot more.

Dick Startz, U.W. Castor Professor of Economics and author of "Profit of Education," says his national research found that if teachers were paid like other types of highly educated professionals, they'd be making about 40 percent more than they do now. He says Americans think of teaching as a calling, like the ministry or charitable work, and schools often pay accordingly, so it's hard to keep the best and the brightest in the classroom.

"If you look at who goes into teaching and then leaves - actually, one of the best indicators of somebody who's going to quit teaching relatively early in their career is a really high score on teacher tests - because those people have alternatives. The fact is, we're just not paying them enough."

Prof. Startz points to the Hillsborough County School system as an example of a step in the right direction. They won a $100 million grant from the Gates Foundation to improve teacher quality through increased training and pay, and he says the support of the Florida Education Association is key to the plan's success.

"Tampa, Florida, has signed a new contract that is going to have teacher evaluation and differential pay. Teachers' union is completely on board. They say, we're going to be tough about it, we're not going to let the teachers get pushed around, but we find some ways to get our teachers paid a lot more, seems like a good idea. "

The union fought the teacher merit pay bill, SB6, because of the methods for evaluating teachers, but supports increases in teacher pay, saying it is hard to attract teachers when Florida pay is nearly $7 thousand less than the national average.

Long-term, Professor Startz calculates that paying teachers more would be a winning proposition for the economy. He says better teachers turn out better educated students, who will then earn more, and pay more taxes.

"If we raise teachers' salaries, we invest in education in that way, we really do improve education - then we can get about a nine-fold return. My best calculation is that the money that you would put into the program would repay itself, in terms of tax dollars, by about a factor of two or three."

Professor Startz says he realizes he's making a difficult case when he suggests throwing $90 billion a year at raising teachers' pay, but he'd like to see individual states like Florida test his theory in a few districts.

Startz also has a blog on this topic at www.profitofeducation.org

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL