Sunday, April 26, 2015


Last week we published "The Career Ladder Explained" a paper designed to describe the basic principles of the new law. In this post, we'll examine the possible effect of implementation of the Ladder in local districts.

Every Idaho district has a salary schedule which is designed to:
  • allow teachers to understand what they will be paid, based on their levels of experience and education.
  • provide teachers the opportunity to establish a professional development plan based on educational advancement compensation in the district.
  • establish a predictable career salary path for teachers.
Districts receive salary funds annually in Salary-Based Apportionment distributions made by the state. Historically, districts have reported information about the experience and education of their staffs, and received funding based on that information, For 2014-15, the minimum apportionment amount was $31,750. Districts were required to pay no less than that amount to first-year teachers. Other allocations were based on teacher placement on the state's salary apportionment grid, but no requirement existed to pay teachers the amount allocated.

For instance, the top allocation, for teachers with 15 or more years experience, and an MA degree plus 30 credits, was $47,002.

Most districts in Idaho paid those experienced teachers more than $47,002 in 2014-15. For example, Moscow's highest salary base salary was $60,773, American Falls $58.776, Meridian $57,677, Lakeland $57,490, Blaine County $75,623, and Boise $64,242.

So, why do districts pay more than the top state salary allocation to their most experienced teachers, and how do they acquire the funding to do so?

The answer to the first question is that the amount of the allocation is considered by most districts to be insufficient for a career teacher, and that they want to be competitive with other districts. The second question is more complicated, but to put it succinctly, districts use local resources to supplement the allocation and pay teachers a higher salary.

The new Career Ladder legislation has the same requirements. The base salary for a first-year teacher in 2015-16 will be $32,700. Other allocation amounts will be based on the same process as in prior years. The Career Ladder is not a salary schedule, even though some districts in the state may treat it as such.

However, there are key differences in the structure of the Career Ladder:
  • Many of the "cells" in the old distribution grid had been frozen - the 2014-15 allocation for a new teacher in the old grid was the same ($31.750) as for a teacher with 8 years of experience and an MA degree. The Career Ladder changes that - allocations for newer teachers rapidly increase as the teachers move forward on the new grid. The allocation for a 2015-16 new teacher will increase from $32,700 to $44,375 in just five years, a 35.7% increase.
  • Allocations for teachers with more than 13 years experience do not accelerate in the same fashion. The career teacher allocation increases from $47,600 to $50,000, an increase of just 5% in 5 years.
  • Though there are payments made to districts for education in the Career Ladder, there are only 2 levels - BA+24 and MA, and they are separate from the reimbursement grid. On the old grid, there were 7 levels of educational allocation: BA, BA+12, BA+24, BA+36/MA, BA+48.MA+12, BA+60/MA+24, and MA+36/EdSp/PhD, . The only lane that required teachers to earn an MA degree was the last one. This represents a philosophical shift from acquisition of credits beyond the BA to earning a Master's degree in a specific area of focus.
District and local teachers' association negotiations teams will have to check their assumptions about salaries in order to make good decisions. Here are some of the questions they may want to ask themselves:

  • When we look at the long term effect of how we will pay newer teachers, does it make sense to switch totally to the Career Ladder, knowing that the top salary for a teacher with an MA degree will be $53,500 (with flow through of the Master's degree premium)? 
  • Does the district currently use local and/or operational/discretionary moneys to fund salaries? Will we continue to do so?
  • Do we want to flow-through the education stipend moneys to teachers, remembering that we have compensated teachers for education on our current salary schedule? Or will the district create a plan to distribute those funds through the bargaining process?
  • Do we want to create two salary schedules, one for veteran teachers and one for newer teachers, understanding the problems that will create  (e.g, a higher top-end salary for veteran than for new teachers)?
  • In whatever agreement we make, do we want to encourage teachers to acquire a Master's degree by placing a Master's requirement on our schedule or on the Career Ladder?
These are all important questions. Teams may want to plot the reimbursement increases on their current salary schedule against those on the Career Ladder, and then extend the amounts they would pay teachers on each to 20 or 30 years. This will give an estimate of career earnings for new teachers. Teams should also consider the impact on retirement earnings of paying a lower top salary over a long career. 

In any event, it makes sense to take the process slowly and consider options before making a salary agreement. It's complicated, and, even though districts and teachers' associations can only agree for one year at a time, the implications of the first agreement under the new law are critical for the future of teacher salaries.

As we noted in the Career Ladder explanation, the new law provides for reimbursement increases for newer teachers, and does much less for career teachers. Teacher recruitment is critically important to Idaho districts; so too is retention of veteran teachers, and consideration of those who wish to make make teaching in Idaho a career.


Here are a few interesting tidbits for April, 2015.


The Boise District's four comprehensive high schools made the Washington Post's list of the Most Challenging High Schools in America. It's the sixth year in a row that all four schools have made the list. For Boise High, it's 17 straight appearances on the list, and for Timberline, it's 13. Borah has made the Post list seven years in a row, and Capital six. 

About 10% of America's high schools make the Washington Post list. The criteria are simple - schools must give more Advanced Placement or International baccalaureate exams than they have graduating seniors in a given year. The Post list was the brainchild of Jay Mathews, the Washington Post education columnist.

Only nine Idaho high schools made the Washington Post list in 2015. The four Boise high schools were joined by Century High School (Pocatello), Wood River (Blaine County), and fast-rising Vallivue High School (Caldwell). Two charters made the list as well - North Star Charter (Eagle) and Coeur d'Alene Charter.


In case you have not noticed, SBAC testing is underway across the state of Idaho and the nation. It's been interesting to watch the progress (or lack thereof in some cases) across the country. From statewide computer crashes in seven states to massive opt outs in New York and students not showing up for the tests in Seattle, it's been an interesting few weeks. We have had 35 opt-outs from SBAC testing in Boise.

Here are Boise teacher and student reports about the SBAC testing from Week 2, Week 3, and Week 4 of the testing. In general, teachers and students are voicing the concerns we thought might emerge: the tests are too long, directions and questions are confusing, Special Ed and LEP students are struggling mightily, and computer glitches are popping up now and then, especially with audio on the test. However, students are trying their best, according to teachers, and feel like many of the questions, especially in math, are realistic and match what they have been taught.


Recently, Idaho Ed News featured an interesting op-ed by Vallivue teacher Levi Cavener, who writes a blog called Idaho's Promise. In his op-ed, Cavener described conclusions he has made in reviewing demographic data from charters across the state provided by the Idaho department of Education. Cavener indicated that the demographics of charters differ significantly from those of non-charters in the same area.

A representative of the Idaho Charter Network responded to Cavener, claiming that he had "cherry-picked" the data he used in his op-ed. The representative then used an example of what she noted as similar populations at two charters in Nampa (Victory and Liberty) and Reagan Elementary in the Nampa District, and claimed that achievement at the charters was higher.

Well, here's the data for the schools cited by the Charter Network representative, straight from the State Department of Education data file. Judge for yourself - are the schools demographically comparable?