The current public school system in Maine rewards teachers and administrators for working in schools with students from advantaged families. These professionals are paid more than their counterparts working in poorer districts. This is a result of our outdated funding system, which relies on local property taxes and sometimes philanthropy to cover much of the cost of educating public school students.
Teachers and administrators who are willing to work in schools with majority disadvantaged populations should be paid at least as much, and also be given as much opportunity for professional growth, as those who work with advantaged populations. Furthermore, teachers and administrators who are selected to work in the more challenging schools should be the best of the best.
Some highly qualified educators do end up working in districts with disadvantaged populations for any of a number of reasons – proximity to home, job opening in subject area at the right time, desire to be of service, pure chance. However the reality is that many of the most accomplished educators go for the districts with higher pay scales and with conditions that allow for better professional growth.
Wealthier districts seem to be more successful at recognizing the connection between satisfying the educator’s need for continual professional growth and delivering a first-rate education to students. Professional growth is something the best educators cannot do without. They need it to feed their intellect and passion. The career of a teacher or administrator spans decades, and good educators want to learn and grow throughout their working life. Conditions in school districts can support or stymie growth. Supporting growth includes: making sure teachers have lots of time to think; making sure those who serve the same students have lots of time to talk together about such topics as curriculum, students, data, scheduling, and new important books and articles in the field.
In my experience as a teacher the districts that support the professional development of teachers best are those with more advantaged populations. Why is this so? I think the educational level of taxpayers makes the difference. Educated taxpayers are more likely to have experienced first-hand the benefits of a quality education. They know that a top education depends on top teachers who enjoy job satisfaction. They elect school board members with strong educational backgrounds. These school board members then recognize when a superintendent is qualified to understand and create the conditions necessary for hiring and keeping the best teachers and administrators.
All children deserve a top quality education, not just those who happen to reside in an elite neighborhood. We need to be sure our school boards are all qualified to select a superintendent who is able to attract more of the best educators to the districts that need them most. Higher pay and better opportunities for professional development in these districts would be incentives that would help equalize the playing field. A nation that calls itself a democracy should not have one education system for the affluent and another for the poor.