Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s budget for public schools includes $57.8 million to implement the next component of the new teacher career ladder. But state lawmakers should view the request with caution, and they’d do well to say no, for now, to this funding.
The career ladder is the teacher pay funding mechanism that determines how much money the state will allocate to school districts for teacher salaries. The career ladder was intended to improve teacher pay commensurate with performance and added responsibilities without implementing a more optimal merit pay system used by the private sector.
But the program really isn’t working so well. Idaho Education News has done a good job tracking the problems with the system, noting “widespread errors in teacher evaluation reports” and even some superintendents who “deliberately and falsely reported to the state that every single one of their district’s teachers earned identical evaluation scores.” Add to the fact that only 37 teachers out of 19,388 had “unsatisfactory” performance reviews. It makes the whole thing suspect.
Last week, the State Board of Education voted to pass a temporary rule calling for new data points to be collected from districts so that the state could do a better job making sure the bigger paychecks are being properly awarded. Meanwhile, Ybarra opposes the State Board of Education new data collection requirements, saying it’s a burden on school districts and that the new data won’t be so helpful.
It seems there are good reasons to hit the pause button on additional money going to a system that clearly isn’t functioning as advertised. Adding more money to the system likely isn’t going to make it better, either.
Like any other profession, it is necessary to accurately report performance. Without a functional, reliable mechanism that can adequately measure teacher performance, defending salary increases becomes impossible. It makes taxpayers suspicious about where their money is going and why. And it becomes demoralizing for teachers who outperform their peers to once again be earning the same or less than their underperforming peers. This is the central problem that the problem the career ladder was meant to solve.
In order to allow an additional $57.8 million to flow into the career ladder, lawmakers need to provide their constituents with assurances that taxpayer money is actually reaching Idaho’s best educators. The only way to do that is to fix the accountability issues before new money is allocated.