In 2005, the Los Angeles schools reached an agreement with its teachers’ union providing extra pay to teachers who take courses beyond the standard training requirements. The investment has proved substantial. The extra pay can amount to thousands of dollars more a year for experienced teachers who rack up coursework, and it is embedded into their salary so that the boost grows over time through cost-of-living raises. It also hikes their pension benefits, which will ultimately be calculated on the increased sum.
According to a recent report on the district’s rocky finances, the extra pay amounts to an average 28% of salary for teachers with 10 years of experience. That’s a much bigger bump than teachers in similar districts nationwide receive, the report said -- as much as five or six times more.
Is the investment worth it? That’s impossible to say, and it shouldn’t be.
L.A. Unified is unable to give a figure for how much it spends on the extra pay that results from teacher education. It has never assessed the program. It doesn’t know which courses appear to be more useful or whether any of them improve student performance.
In fact, the district doesn’t even stipulate that teachers must take courses that are directly connected to the work they do. They can pick freely from a wide variety of pre-approved online and in-person courses, with no supervisor’s go-ahead needed.
Common sense indicates that teachers might be receiving rewards for the wrong things.
Many of the courses would be helpful for almost any instructor, such as classroom discipline or how to work with students who have problems paying attention. But the program also rewards an algebra teacher for taking “Opera for Educators” or an English teacher who completes “Ukelele for Beginners.” A physical education teacher would receive extra pay for “Exploring Iron Forging Through Film,” as would a band director or physics instructor who took the “Agriculture Tour and Seminar.”
“The opportunity to take a variety of courses creates a well-rounded educator,” a district spokeswoman said.
Teachers should be paid well — and paid more for extra education for outside activity that helps them do their jobs more effectively. The problem with this program is that it appears to be unmonitored and untested. Common sense indicates that teachers might be receiving rewards for the wrong things. That’s unacceptable in a district that has many needs, and so must spend every penny it gets in the most productive way possible.
This is yet another example of the district starting a new initiative, then failing to follow up to see if it works. Changing the pay incentive for education would be hard because it’s in the contract and would require union approval. And who knows? The courses might be worth the money. The problem is that, right now, no one knows.
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