Texas Education Commissioner Blasts Teacher Salary, Retention Systems

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath didn't spare any words when he reported to the Senate Finance Committee on his concerns over the failure of the Legislature to make retention of quality teachers a top priority, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

"The most likely teacher you will run into is in his or her first year of teaching, the second most likely you will run into in the classroom is in the second year of teaching, and the third most likely person you will run into is in the third year of teaching," Morath said.  "By year 7, 70% of people who have chosen this profession are no longer in it."

Morath compared that to teachers who entered the profession in the 1980s and are currently retiring.  He says for them, the vast majority entered teaching out of college and stayed in the profession their entire careers.

Morath blamed low pay, insignificant raises, and increasingly depressing working conditions for the status of Texas teaching today.

"Of all the people who enter the teaching profession today, only 23% came from the top third of their graduating classes, and that number for high poverty schools is only 14%," Morath said.  "So if you look to a civilization which claims to be committed to giving its children the best, that is not the way the system is currently functioning."

Morath says the starting salary of Texas teachers isn't bad, generally in the upper $40k range for a teacher right out of college.  But he says the problem is that teachers don't see their salaries increase at the rate of their counterparts in the private sector, especially booming industries like tech, which are becoming more attractive to the very same young people who thirty years ago would have chosen teaching.

And he says teachers then look at superintendents and other top administrators making salaries of $300,000 or more, with plenty of perks, and one message is clear.

"We have designed a compensation system in Texas that sends one very specific signal to all of our employees: that is, if you want to get ahead professionally, get as far away from children as possible, and that's the way you get raises."

Morath says other countries 'recruit' the teachers of the future much the way professional athletes are recruited in the United States.

He cited Singapore, which is regularly recognized as having among the best public education outcomes in the world.

"They are very serious about who they recruit, starting in the ninth grade, they are serious about setting them up in the university system, they are serious about giving them clear pathways inside their school system so they can continue to grow in their career."

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