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Accountability should be next step for teachers

By Staff
July 25, 2001
Now that the 5 percent trigger has been removed as an impediment to fully funding the 6-year phased teacher pay bill passed in 2000, the next priority for public education in Mississippi should be a substantive teacher accountability program in Mississippi's public schools.
If we can evaluate our students in terms of their ability and performance in the classrooms, we can and should also evaluate the ability and performance of their teachers as well.
The notion of across-the-board raises for Mississippi teachers is politically-correct and the result of the strong influence of the teacher unions on the state's political process but it doesn't speak to the fact that there are some Mississippi teachers out there who aren't performing and who don't deserve a pay raise of any kind.
The majority of Mississippi teachers deserved every dime of the 2000 teacher pay plan designed to take them to the Southeastern average and more. Teaching is a difficult, challenging job that goes far beyond the stereotype that frequently manifests itself in letters-to-the-editor from those who think teaching only involves working from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. 5 days a week, nine months a year with the summers off with pay.
Merit, not mediocrity
As the son of two career educators and the brother of another, I can put the lie to that characterization of Mississippi educators. But around the family table, it was clear that even those professional educators knew that across-the-board raises ignored merit and rewarded mediocrity.
Make no mistake the raises included in the 2000 teacher pay plan were necessary. Mississippi was too far behind the teacher pay curve. But now that the raise has been solidified and depoliticized during Monday's highly-political special session, it's time now to focus back on the most important people involved in this transaction the school children of Mississippi.
Data from the American Federation of Teachers and the U.S. Department of Education shows that Mississippi ranked 48th nationally in teacher pay in 1999-2000 with an average salary of $31, 897 some $10,000 a year less than the national average. At the same time, U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics show that Mississippi ranked 47th in annual average pay to all workers with an average pay of $22,778.
More telling is that fact that according to the U.S. Census, Mississippi ranked 49th in high school educational attainment with only 78 percent of our state's over age 25 population holding high school diplomas or equivalences.
Bottom line, 1 in 4 Mississippians haven't finished high school.
Taxpayers deserve it
Clearly, Mississippi can't begin to conquer our economic and educational demons without a well-paid, motivated group of teachers. Now that Mississippi has finally made a serious commitment to improving teacher pay, the state Department of Education should make an equally serious commitment to weeding out ineffective, poorly-performing teachers from the system.
From 1997-99, Mississippi improved teacher pay at exactly the national average of 3 percent. But from 1997-2000, Mississippi has improved teacher pay at 11.2 percent the fourth highest percentage in the nation.
Mississippi taxpayers deserve teacher accountability. They deserve to see improved student performance on standardized testing and stronger school district performance on accreditation standards.
With higher pay, teachers can expect to face more scrutiny from the taxpayers. That scrutiny is long overdue.
Sid Salter is Perspective Editor/Columnist at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson and a syndicated Mississippi political columnist. He can be reached at 601-961-7084, P.O. Box 40, Jackson, MS 39206, or at ssalter@jackson.gannett.com.