Study of Texas’ 10 largest school districts reveals large spending gaps in teacher salaries

Publication date: Jun 20, 2007

WASHINGTON (June 20, 2007) – Texas teachers working in schools with high numbers of poor and minority students earn significantly less than their counterparts at more affluent schools in the same district, according to two reports released today by The Education Trust.

Their Fair Share: How Teacher Salary Gaps Shortchange Poor and Minority Children in Texas document funding patterns in the state’s 10 largest school systems, showing how average teacher salaries vary dramatically between schools within the same district. The reports describe gaps in per-teacher spending, and how those gaps stack the deck against the academic success of low-income, Hispanic and African American children.

“The problem is pretty straightforward,” said Kati Haycock, President of The Education Trust.  “As teachers gain in experience and education, they often transfer to more affluent schools, taking their expertise – and their higher salaries – along with them. Districts can change those patterns by paying them more, assigning strong principals and significantly reducing class sizes.  But most Texas school districts clearly aren’t doing enough of that.”

The Education Trust examined total teacher compensation in the elementary, middle and high schools located in Arlington, Austin, Cypress-Fairbanks, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Bend, Fort Worth, Houston, Northside and San Antonio Independent School Districts, comparing how much each district pays its teachers in the schools serving the highest and lowest number of African American and Hispanic students, as well as the highest and lowest number of students from low-income families.

The study found that in Austin, for example, teachers working in the city’s highest-poverty elementary schools earn an average of $2,668 less per year than those teaching at schools with the fewest low-income students. If the Austin Independent School District spent the same amount per-teacher at these schools, that would amount to an additional $2 million every year in the district’s high-poverty schools.

District leaders typically argue that, while poor children may indeed have more inexperienced or undereducated teachers, the districts are actually spending more money in total on teachers in high-poverty and high-minority schools because they are assigning extra teachers to those schools.

“Unfortunately, a reduction of one to three students per class doesn’t make much difference,” said Paul Ruiz, Senior Advisor at EdTrust-Southwest in San Antonio. “Instead of giving these students the more experienced teachers they need to catch up academically, their schools simply end up with more of the same inexperienced ones – and that isn’t a reasonable trade-off for these kids.”

Similar gaps were documented in schools serving more African American and Hispanic students. The largest discrepancies among the 10 districts were found in Arlington, where salary gaps in high-minority schools exceeded $3,000 per teacher at the elementary and high school levels, and rose to $4,750 in the district’s middle schools.

“Districts have traditionally thought in terms of the number of teachers they assign to each school, not how much each one of those teachers costs,” said Marguerite Roza, Senior Fellow at the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education. “Given the unequal resources found not only in these districts, but in school systems throughout the country, how could we possibly expect that we wouldn’t have an achievement gap?”

In response to these inequities, The Education Trust is calling on school districts to restructure teacher compensation programs so that schools serving low-income students and students of color can compete for more experienced and more effective teachers. Those recommendations include:

  • Capping the ability of low-minority and low-poverty schools to “buy up” top teaching talent;
  • Protecting schools serving poor students and students of color from being forced to hire teachers who do not meet their standards;
  • Requiring school districts to report annually to the community about teacher distribution and  actual teacher salaries for each school; and
  • Requiring districts that submit applications under the new state-authorized teacher compensation fund to show how those funds will be used to address inequities in teacher distribution and ensure that more high-performing teachers will work with the students who need them the most.

 

“District leaders need to be encouraged to resolve these inequities between their schools,” said Haycock. “We will never be able to give our low-income and minority students their fair shot at success until we give them their fair share of strong teachers.”

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