Friday, February 10, 2017

Should we lower teachers wages?

I read an interesting report on Teachers salary and the impact on student learning. The report was written by David R. Johnson for the CD Howe Institute. As a BC Teacher, I was not surprised to see that we were the lowest paid. I am proud of the fact we in BC are students have consistently received high academic results. 

After reading the commentary I am drawn to the conclusion that the CD Howe Institute is laying the groundwork which will allow provincial governments to slow the growth of teachers salary and benefits as stated here:

Across these six provinces, the reality is that paying teachers relatively more is not associated with better results.
This Commentary comes to two clear conclusions. Public teacher compensation, when measured using relative earnings, shows significant variation across the six largest Canadian provinces. However, comparable student achievement assessment results are not lower in provinces where teachers are paid relatively less. Factors other than teacher compensation that are unexplored here may better explain the interprovincial variation in student achievement results.

The policy implications are fairly clear. There appears to be room to reduce the growth of teacher compensation relative to other occupations so that teachers in other provinces end up in similar salary percentiles to teachers in BC. It would also seem that other provinces could implement much less generous pension rules, emulating those in British Columbia. The BC PISA results suggest that, despite considerably lower levels of overall relative compensation, BC attracts persons to be teachers who produce high-quality outcomes.
It is unrealistic to expect that such a compensation change could occur quickly in provinces where teacher salaries fall into higher percentiles. Still, relative salaries could be reduced gradually by having a series of wage settlements where increases are less than the rate of inflation. Pension factors could also be adjusted very gradually so that the 85 (or 80 in the case of Manitoba) factor could rise by six months each year for a decade. This would allow an orderly change in retirement plans by teachers.

In the report Mr. Johnson also makes some other interesting points, which are summarized below:

In this Commentary, I look at teacher compensation in elementary and secondary publicly funded schools across Canada’s six most populous provinces and ask, “Do provinces that pay their teachers more achieve better results?”

There is significant variation in teacher salaries in these provinces – Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Manitoba and Ontario pay the most relative to other employees in their own province, while BC teacher wages are usually the lowest in relative terms.

In examining comparable academic assessments of teacher salaries and student achievement in these six Canadian provinces, I have come to this conclusion: there is no clear relationship between province-wide student results and relative teacher pay. For example, BC students, whose public school teachers have among the lowest relative salaries, generally achieve the same or better academic results as students in other provinces.

These findings suggest that factors other than high salaries and attracting stronger candidates into teaching play an important role in achieving better results. Indeed, the slightly better student achievement results (they are only slightly better and often not statistically different) in British Columbia and Alberta might lead policymakers to ask what other factors play a role in those provinces.

The menu of possibilities is quite large. Richards et al. (2008) and Richards (2014) show that British Columbia handles its Aboriginal students differently than other provinces and gets more positive outcomes. Friesen et al. (2015) make the argument that open enrolments at schools and the ensuing competition for students in British Columbia could be an important factor in attaining these better results.

Among the many policies and unique characteristics that may explain the differences in student assessment results across the provinces, this Commentary eliminates only the argument that paying teachers more is associated with better student performance.

One substantial difference among the six (provincial) plans is the time to qualify for a full pension without a reduction in benefits. BC teachers have the least generous formula to qualify – age plus years of service must total 90. Manitoba teachers have the most generous formula – age plus years of service must add up only to 80. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario all use 85 as the qualifying factor. Quebec applies a more complicated formula in which the eligibility rule seems to fall between the 85 and 90 factors. 

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