Generational Warfare

Out in Denver Michael Bennet, the best school superintendent you may not have heard of, is locked in a debate with his teachers’ union about his proposal to shift the pay curve for teachers there a bit more toward younger teachers. Right now the big earning years for teachers (all-in, so salary and pension) is the later years and Bennet wants to change that some. It would mean that some veteran teachers who are not teaching in high-need schools or hard to staff subjects might ultimately earn less than they would under the current system, but no one faces an actual reduction in pay today. There is a lot of misinformation floating around that he’s trying to cut pay, gut the pension, etc…and the local press has thus far done an un-admirable job cutting through it and giving citizens there the facts so they can make an informed judgment. There is some talk of a protest or strike in the air with the Democratic Convention coming up but I cannot believe the Denver union, the state union, or the national NEA is that suicidal so it seems unlikely. But, there is an unmistakable generational component to the fight.

fig2-3In Washington D.C. generational considerations will also probably play a big role in whether Michelle Rhee succeeds with her pay for tenure swap proposal there.  In our recent survey of teachers at ES (pdf) we looked at this issue in general but not the specifics of the Rhee proposal.  As the figure shows, there is some skepticism although if you add up teachers that would take the trade and those that say they would if it were more money, you can see the way through for Rhee.   And, we did find younger teachers slightly more open than older ones (for instance, 35 percent of those ages 20-34 said they’d take the trade compared to just 23 percent of those over 55 while 29 percent of teachers between those age brackets said they would, and 27 or 28 percent of all age groups said they’d take it if it were a lot more money) 

So, in practice in D.C., where this is going to be controversial and have national implications and consequently national involvement, the proposal’s adoption is likely to hinge on whether younger teachers in the city, many of whom came into teaching through Teach For America or The New Teacher Project stand up for the idea.  Important to remember that under Rhee’s proposal no one loses tenure, it’s a two-track system and optional.  The opt-in option has proven popular on compensation reforms elsewhere, like, say, Denver with the Pro-Comp differential pay scheme there.   See also Wash. Post. ed board on all this here.

8 Replies to “Generational Warfare”

  1. There’s a big difference between serious proposals as in Denver and the “bait and switch” in D.C. Does anyone believe that some sugar daddy is going to pick up the tab to make $100,000 per year a possibility through the nation’s schools? Rhee is just trying to recruit some high-dollar scabs.

    Yesterday’s Washington Post explained the same dynamic in a slightly different way. She attempted a national search for principals who would be true-believers in a “data-driven culture.” Few took up her challenge. (Would you?) Now principals have less than two months to get ready and start to mobilize their buildings.

    But hopefully there will never be enough young educators who will sacrifice to meet HER goals. Put out a calll for dedicated educators committed to building a learning culture, and we will respond.

    Rhee’s approach can’t work for the same reason why we can’t improve schools without strong unions. Human nature is still back in the Aesop’s Fables days, where a dog can’t resist dropping his bone for an image of a bigger one.

  2. I concur that there is a generational issue at play in education reform, but would caution the “reform hawks” that now is not the time to try and exploit it. The sagging economy will be your undoing. Even the most reform-minded young teacher softens her passion when she starts realizing many of her peers in the private sector are losing their jobs or living in fear that they might soon lose their jobs. The traditional salary schedule looks even more favorable to younger teachers when they sit down with a mortgage lender who tells them the only reason they qualify for a loan is because of the certainty of the pay increases on the salary schedule.

    Then we are left with a well-qualified, respectable teacher who can concentrate more on her trade and less on financial instability—which is good thing unless you are somebody like Joe Williams.

  3. “What on earth does Joe Williams have to do with this?

    When I think about individuals who would be willing to destabilize the nation’s middle class in favor of urban centric, market driven reforms, your name comes right to mind.

  4. Hey Lou, that other Joe Williams??? is yanking your chain. I am the real Joe Williams. And some of my best friends are in the middle class – not that there’s anything wrong with that!

  5. Andy, we’ve tried to shed some light on the Denver ProComp debate,on our blog, in news stories and in our electronic newsletter. It’s three-dimensional chess-like in its complexity, but this is an important fight, and one Bennet can’t afford to lose or the entire ProComp experiment effectively dies. Read all about it at

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