wow. when you factor in vaction time some teachers get paid as much as computer programmers.

Federal statistics show Arizona high school teachers average $1,041 a week, about the same weekly wage for computer programmers and registered nurses.

Undervalued or faring well? Teacher pay ignites debate

Pat Kossan The Arizona Republic Jan. 20, 2006 12:00 AM

Valley teacher Sharon Karpen pulls down about $45,000 a year.

She has 10 years' experience teaching third grade at Sonoran Sky Elementary in Scottsdale. She had to earn a master's degree to boost her salary. And a 10th of her pay comes from special projects during and after school.

She often grades papers at night and on weekends, and she worked on curriculum last summer. Karpen believes she is underpaid.

But take a closer look.

She gets eight to 10 weeks off every summer, plus three midyear breaks. She has job security, health benefits, paid sick and personal days, and a retirement package with health coverage. If she had a 52-week contract, her pay would be about $54,000.

Some experts say teachers such as Karpen are not getting shortchanged.

Teacher pay is up for debate this year after Gov. Janet Napolitano proposed giving all public-school teachers a raise. The $91 million she wants to spend over two years also would pay every starting teacher at least $30,000 a year and defray retirement contributions.

"We cannot expect the best from teachers as long as we pay them a paltry sum," Napolitano said.

But critics don't see the value of giving all teachers a raise. State Sen. Ron Gould, for example, who is vice chairman of the Senate K-12 Committee, said he favors boosting starting pay but would offer incentive pay to reward the best teachers.

"We should give principals (as opposed to school boards) lump-sum budgets for teachers and hold the principal accountable for the outcome," said Gould, R-Lake Havasu City.

The arguments for and against raising teacher pay encompass a range of issues, from teacher shortages to student performance. Here is a look at key points on both sides.

All schoolteachers should get a pay raise

Teachers fill one of the most important roles in society.

Don't get Principal Dale Cox talking about his teachers. You won't stop him.

He heads Mesa's Taylor Junior High School, where 60 percent of his students live in poverty.

But what he wants to talk about is his math teacher, who sought out 22 eighth-grade students who were getting Cs and Ds. These students were about to be sent to a general math class. Instead, she threw them into her algebra class and pushed them into advanced work. Twenty survived. They are doing the homework, learning and passing.

"They have a certain sense of mission," Cox said about teachers who don't just have a job, they change lives. "Teachers help build an economy. They must inspire thirty 10-year-olds or 35 teenagers every hour of the day to learn math, care about history, create science.

And in Arizona, the challenges are huge, with many students who speak and write little English or live in low-income or rural areas.

Cox points to the young English teacher who wanted to start a chess club when he hired him four years ago. The principal let him but said that it was not exactly what middle-school kids were craving. Now, more than 30 students stay after school to practice chess. They cannot play unless their grades and attendance are solid. A couple of years ago, student with a learning disability was elected the club's president. This year, the club won a national invitational tournament, and Cox has a 4-foot chess trophy in his office.

There is a teacher shortage.

Every morning, as he drives to his school in Avondale, Principal Randy Watkins has the same worry running through his mind: Will there be enough competent adults to take charge of all the classes?

"It's a crisis," Watkins said of the shortage. He needs 50 teachers each day at Michael Anderson Elementary School.

Substitute teachers are rare, and it could be three minutes before the starting bell when Watkins finds out that one or two classes will not be covered. There are never enough substitutes because there are never enough teachers.

"It stems from a teacher shortage. It's a trickle-down," Watkins said. "It's also because of the massive growth in the state."

In a free market, the need would force pay to go up to attract more teachers to the field, as has happened with pharmacists and nurses. But increasing teacher pay requires an act of political will driven by the state's business leaders and politicians.

In Arizona, there are about 1.2 qualified candidates applying for each available teaching job. Many principals are forced to fill classrooms with emergency teachers, especially in math and science and special education. In some schools, history majors are teaching algebra, and kindergarten teachers are heading special-ed classes.

Each summer, Watkins vows to find a qualified teacher for every class. "Then all of a sudden, it's the beginning of the year and you still have five openings to fill and you're just looking for a competent body."

Last week, one class had a substitute on Monday, a different substitute on Tuesday and Wednesday, and a third on Thursday.

Teachers do not just work 180 days in the classroom.

It's true that many people work more than 40 hours a week without extra pay, but their salaries are often higher than teachers' salaries.

Barvetta Palmore doesn't just teach, she nurtures and befriends. At Dysart Elementary School, she tells her fourth-graders to find a spot in their El Mirage homes where they will go every night to do their homework. Draw her a picture of it, she says. Then she visits each child's house.

"I'm just like the Avon lady. Ding-dong, I'm here to see the spot," Palmore said. "Your picture was kind of fuzzy. I'm just here to see exactly what it looks like so when I'm driving home, I can imagine you in your spot doing your homework."

She knows all her kids' parents. If they can't come to her for a meeting, she makes an appointment to visit them. Palmore is a 51-year-old former banker from Illinois who has been teaching at Dysart for six years. Every child has her home phone number. This year, Palmore received a call from a former student's father looking for ways to help his son with long-division homework. She spoke with the son and helped solve the problem.

"Once you have Mrs. Palmore as a teacher, you always have her," she tells her kids. Palmer makes $35,000 a year.

All schoolteachers should not get a pay raise

Many teachers have good pay and benefits.

Shirley Filliater-Torres, who teaches math at South Mountain High School, has been teaching for 33 years and makes $65,000 a year. She has 10 weeks off during the summer, and when she retires, she will receive 75 percent of her pay. Phoenix Union High School District will pay for most of her health insurance.

Filliater-Torres, 53, says she works hard but loves her job and calls her pay fair. In an age when many companies are eliminating health insurance for retirees and jacking up premiums, she thinks her outlook is pretty secure.

Michael Podgursky is an economics professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia who compared national teacher pay with the pay of other professionals. He assumed that all teachers worked 38 or so weeks a year, excluding their spring, fall and holiday breaks, plus eight to 10 weeks off each summer. His conclusion: Many teachers fare well.

He pointed to 2004 federal statistics showing Arizona high school teachers average $1,041 a week for 38 weeks, about the same weekly wage for computer programmers and registered nurses. Arizona teacher pay lags behind the national average, but so does the pay of many Arizona professionals, Podgursky said.

Only the best teachers should get pay raises.

This idea is popular with business leaders and politicians.

They want to give bigger paychecks only to teachers able to increase student skills at least one grade level each year.

Matthew Ladner, project director of the Phoenix-based Alliance for School Choice, said ambitious, intelligent people are attracted to careers in which outstanding performance is rewarded with money. They are not attracted to a job in which everyone gets the same pay no matter how they perform.

Forget spending money on smaller class sizes, Ladner said. Research shows that the biggest factor in how much kids learn isn't in the size of the class, it's in the quality of the teacher.

"Rock-star teachers should get rock-star pay," said Ladner, also a senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute, a think tank. Increasing teacher pay may not increase student performance.

As teacher pay rises, student scores do not. Arizona elementary teachers averaged $37,490 a year in 2004, up from $33,880 in 2000.

But although teachers got a $3,600 pay raise, fourth-grade reading results on a national exam remained at the same dismal mark.

Since 1998, nearly half of Arizona's fourth-graders couldn't score at grade level. That doesn't give some politicians and business leaders much faith that another general pay raise will make much difference.

Jay Greene, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said across-the-board pay increases fail to give teachers incentives to do a better job at making sure students are learning.

"Across-the-board pay raises simply change the level of the river," Greene said. "We need to change the course of the river, not raise its level."

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