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Constance Bond: Teacher Salaries Affect Student Outcomes

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Constance Bond: Teacher Salaries Affect Student Outcomes

Constance Bond

Constance K. Bond who received her Ph.D. in Politics and Education in May 2001, has written a controversial dissertation, "Do Teacher Salaries Matter?" which says, in effect, money does matter and one way to spend educational dollars effectively is to significantly increase teacher salaries.

"I started doing this research," Bond said, "because I didn't want my dissertation to sit on a shelf. It was important for me that it actually have an impact on systemic reform."

"It became very clear to me then that the teacher/student relationship is salient," added Bond, who was a middle school teacher at the Frank D. Parent Elementary School in Inglewood, California in the early 1990s. "If you could get the best and brightest teacher in every classroom in every school, you would be amazed what could be achieved. So I wanted my research to actually contribute to that issue."

After looking through teacher quality studies and teacher recruitment studies, she discovered that there was very little about teacher salaries.

"Yet my instincts said that teacher salaries obviously have some kind of impact," she said.

"So, I went back to the research that was done in the 1970s stemming from the 1966 Coleman Report, Equality of Educational Opportunity," she said. "Teacher salaries were a variable in most of the equations but did not prove to be significant, positive or negative, in most of them."

Her theory about why it was missed is twofold. The first part is that per pupil expenditure and teacher salaries are interrelated, she said. It is difficult to include both in the equation because per pupil expenditure includes teacher salaries.

"So it may have been missed there because per pupil expenditure came out as significant in a number of studies," she said.

Secondly, researchers were probably not using the correct salary variable.

"Just using average salaries masks important differences," she explained. "That is what led to my research in terms of which variables I used. I ended up using nine separate salary variables ranging from beginning salaries to the highest salary on the schedule to the change in average salaries over a decade."

For Bond the variable that came out to be the most interesting and significant in a number of relationships was the gap between teacher salaries and those of similarly educated professionals at the Bachelor's level. According to Bond, when students graduate from college and are out job hunting, it matters how much teachers are getting paid in relation to their friends and other professionals. This, Bond maintains, is important because average salary and the gap at the Bachelor's level are not necessarily the same thing.

"You can have a state with a very high average salary," Bond said, "but also have a very significant gap. You can have states with low gaps and low salaries. The range of the salary gap between teachers and others with a Bachelor's degree is almost $22,000 a year nationwide. The average national gap exceeds $13,000 a year."

How one looks at earnings over a lifetime is also significant for Bond.

"When you earn $13,000 a year less than your counterparts in other professions, it really adds up over a lifetime. It contributes to one of the greatest myths in our society-that teachers don't care about how much they get paid," she said.

"The differential must be considered if we plan to recruit and retain nearly three million educators in the coming decade," she added. "This number is larger than the number of lawyers, doctors, and judges combined."

Bond sees the myth dating back to the fact that teaching was always thought to be a predominately female profession. Bond said, "It's just not the case anymore. Other research corroborates that we are losing the best and brightest women and minorities who used to be the key components of our teaching force. They are leaving, or never choosing to enter the profession, because they know they can do better elsewhere."

Bond added that the highest teacher attrition figures are during the first five years of teaching. "If we can get teachers to stay for ten years they don't tend to leave," said Bond, "but we are losing people in the early years at a very rapid rate. A large number of them never make it through their first year. They get a better opportunity and move on."

During her statistical analysis of state-level teacher salary, teacher attrition, and student outcome variables, Bond found that states with significantly higher teacher salaries, particularly as compared to other workers with a Bachelor's degree, had higher fourth and eighth grade math scores, lower student drop-out rates, and lower new teacher attrition rates. All of these results remained even when considering state poverty rates, parent education levels, and percent minority.

"This is powerful stuff," Bond said. "Paying teachers more improves student outcomes."

Bond proffers policy recommendations. She said, "A salary increase is necessary, but it is the scope of this increase that is most important. State boards of education and school boards consistently talk in very small increases-a typical cost of living increase of only $1,000 or $2,000. They debate these minor increases for months."

"If we really want to make a change," she continued, "we are talking about a 40 percent increase in teaching salaries. I would say anything less than $15,000 per year isn't going to make the difference. It is just going to be another Band-aid."

Another recommendation concerns how to facilitate the actual change in salaries. Bond used two case studies, one in Connecticut and the other in the New Haven Unified School District in Northern California. She said, "Connecticut is one of the only states that has substantially increased teacher salaries, and they did so in 1988 with the Education Enhancement Act."

As a result, test scores, especially their reading test scores, have gone through the roof, despite the fact that median income in the state fell over the period and the percent of minorities increased. Given these changing demographics, test scores should have fallen, not risen. In addition, teacher attrition figures in the state dropped.

"Now the New Haven Unified School District is a completely different example," she added. "This district serves working class communities. It had abysmal test scores. It couldn't get kids to come to the school district. Early in the 1990s it decided to focus on teacher salaries, with profound results. Student outcomes improved dramatically and now there is a waiting list to get into the district. What's astounding is that New Haven managed to significantly improve teacher salaries without increasing per-pupil expenditure. They accomplished this by flattening the hierarchical bureaucracy and placing middle managers back in the classroom."

However, Bond said, when dealing on the state level it becomes more complicated. "One of the things that Connecticut did to ensure that urban districts could compete for teachers was that it mandated that teacher salaries in urban districts be on par with suburban districts. This gave Connecticut one of the smallest state-level gaps between teacher salaries and salaries of similarly-educated professionals. However, even Connecticut has a substantial gap."

Bond is convinced that the federal government is an important player in promoting teacher salary increases. "If anything," she said, "it is agenda setting. Whatever is discussed in the halls of Congress is discussed across the country. The federal government has a large role to play, especially concerning the issue of equality of opportunity. This includes equal access to an excellent education for all American children."

Bond said her research shows that teachers are not asking for extraordinary amounts of money.

"Teachers like what they are doing and want to educate children," she said. "They just are looking to be paid what other professionals receive. It's not about greed. Money does, however, clearly matter."

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