Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sunshine predicted, sunshine seen

Not sure how many picked up on this across the province as they localized the annual release of the public sector salary disclosure on Wednesday, March 31. I would suspect, based on my own reporting and local area, that school boards led the way when it comes to the number of individuals added to the $100K club in 2009. Locally, school board lists in my district went from about 100 people to almost 400 as every elementary school principal was added to the list, along with virtually all secondary vice-principals. Some elementary school vice-principals made it onto the list, depending on their seniority and when they were posted to the position. High school principals all made the list in 2009 (for 2008 salaries and benefits).
This shouldn't be shocking, or a surprise. The moment provincial discussion tables were settled and the boards started finalizing agreements with their principals, you could have pinpointed March 31, 2010 as the date all those positions would crack the six-figure disclosure list for the first time. It was predictable and has come into play exactly as expected. Last year, I posted here noting that (though I'm sure we'll all forget) by the end of the current contract terms, those teachers at the top of the grid when the contract was ratified will all crack the $100K sunshine list club.
No doubt, these new additions will make it over to Sunshine on Schools, allowing us all to make a correlation where one doesn't or shouldn't necessarily exist. Not a dig against SQE-- it is the only group doing that kind of disclosure work.
This won't quell those who simply get angry at the numbers of people making six figures on the public dime, but I would suggest a few thoughts.
First, these were duly negotiated and settled contracts. My local MPP suggests the disclosure act was supposed to keep pressure on public sector employers to keep the lists from growing (that obviously hasn't happened). Other than the fact of having an ever-growing list, there doesn't seem to be much public interest in slashing into these salaries and benefits-- if there was, then the list wouldn't still be growing after 14 years.
Second, I look at the qualifications of a principal. Yes, I know, there are still plenty of them out there who didn't have these prerequisites in place when they were hired to these positions, but let's look at what's needed today to even qualify for the interview.
First, the principals' qualification program. To even be accepted, the candidate needs at least five years' experience and to be qualified to teach in three of the four K-12 divisions -- a step that required additional qualification training beyond teachers' college. A masters in education must be complete or underway (there's some equivalent experience equivalency there, but it's likely most do the M.Ed). Boards have been known to hire principals or vice-principals on an acting basis while they complete these requirements. My district board requires an M.Ed within five years of posting to a vice-principal or principal position. A reminder for many, this M.Ed is the third degree they've achieved, after an initial honours degree and B.Ed. While there is no shortage of available teachers to fill available teaching positions, there have at times been shortages of teachers qualified and able to be posted to vice-principal or principal positions.
Then I look at their responsibilities. Student and teacher management, scheduling, discipline, being effective instructional leaders, managing school effectiveness and improvement planning, all the items relating to school safety and managing a school site.
Then I ask: is that worth $100K? Is it reasonable to expect someone with that educational background and skillset could or should earn an equivalent wage in the private sector?
Depending on where you fall on those two questions, you'll then have your answer on how to look upon this year's sunshine list.


RetDir said...

What I've been trying to figure out, as best I can, is how the percentage of taxpayers on the sunshine list compares to the percentage of all taxpayers who have a gross income of over $100,000. According to the Sun media it is just under 5% of public servants who make this amount. According to 2007 Stats Can data about 5% of individual taxpayers in Canada claim a gross income of $89,000 or more. There are a couple of differences to be noted. Gross income in the public sector does not include benefits, or pension contributions from the government - add approx 25%. However, a surprisingly high percentage of the individual taxpayers who are not salaried use deductions to pay significantly less tax than salaried taxpayers - something like 8% pay no tax at all (including people whose nominal gross income is over $300,000) because of tax deductible business expenses and losses. A very confusing playing field. That may help with ER's question - if the percentage of people in the public sector who make high salaries is equivalent to the percentage in the private sector who do (without anyone in the public sector making the extreme amounts of money that some in the private sector do)then the issue is moot. I would appreciate some better analysis of this, but it's the best I could do from easily available public sources.

Anonymous said...

How would a taxpayer know if they're getting value for their education dollar?

How many students when asked to say who influenced them most in their school experience would pick a Principal or Vice-Principal?

I think there's a public disconnect in a misery loves company kind of way that makes the Sunshine stuff newsworthy if it's supposed to make sense.

Anonymous said...

The Toronto Catholic board has some elementary school teachers on the list in addition to several secondary school teachers. It has already started.

Education Reporter said...

Anon 4 April 22:19
Value for dollar? Are we making widgets? Trying to find the most cost-effective way to whizz kids down a learning assembly line? Fiscal accountability is one thing, but I don't know we should be pushing for or encouraging links between student achievement and salaries.

If it wasn't obvious from the post itself, I believe $100K is a fair wage to pay a principal given the qualifications and experience required as well as the responsibilities of the position. If principals aren't doing a good job, superintendents and school boards need to be accountable for any appropriate job action.

Anon 5 April 09:38
There have been some teachers sporadically on the list every now and then. One-time payments, sabbatical lump sums for 4-in-one, 5-in-one, summertime contract work (summer school), etc. can push a teacher at the top of the grid to six figures in a single calendar year. These are not systemic but more often one-offs.

To my knowledge, there is no teacher grid in the province (YET) where the grid tops out at over $100K. There will be, soon.


Anonymous said...

The widget retort's getting old.
The question is a fair one if we seem to get our shorts in knots and the media keep hanging on this stuff like a cast-off bone or something.

How does the public know it's getting value for its education dollar? Educated kids maybe?

Actually, maybe given your definition of whizzing kids through the system applies given the no-fail policy these days?

Too bad that the line isn't fitted with a quality control department that might be able to tell taxpayers how to determine that their money's going to the right place and not paying for bunny suits?

When money follows the student the natural question is what's the end product we're getting and how effective is it?

Anonymous said...


All of the shock and awe over the Sunshine List blows over quickly it's never raised again...until the next year when the media makes its money publishing the lists and radio shows and blogs discuss it. We hear the same arguments year in and year out.

I'm not sure what the anon. poster is getting at but maybe for people outside of ed. reporting or education it really IS hard to tell how their tax dollar is working(or not)?

Maybe they see it from that same widget standpoint and have come to the conclusion that even as widget-makers there's room for more accounting for where the money goes, and doesn't go?

Just a guess but....?


Education Reporter said...

Anon 5 April 17:48
Value for dollar? Without getting into widget-speak?


Your comments seem to allow the possibility we're not educating kids. Show me the proof. As a society, we're educating kids as much as we always have been, if not better. Are there kids falling through the gaps? Absolutely, and I would never pretend to excuse anyone who might be responsible-- teachers, support staff, principals, superintendents, directors of education, ministry staff and the minister, parents, etc. The "no-fail" policy? I haven't seen one on paper. Teachers and administrators and their federations squawking about interpretations and making assumptions? That, I've read and heard.

So I do follow the dollars. Anyone can, as journalists have no more right to any information than any member of the public.

The teacher remains the most important person within a school when it comes to a child's education. Nothing is better than that teacher who's a caring adult and can encourage learning and a thirst for more. Around that teacher, the supports of other staff members are needed. The leadership and mentorship of other teachers and a good principal, superintendent, etc. With 80-85% of most school boards' expenses coming as salaries and benefits, I consider that (in many, many cases) to be money well-spent.

Making correlations between salaries and student achievement is too close to merit pay in education. Given all the factors and variables at play in comparing two different cohorts of students, I'm not prepared without reading much, much more to accept an equation where a six-figure answer comes only with an A.


Anonymous said...

Then what besides salaries does the education dollar guarantee?


At some point some measurement has to take place.

If it's ok for the province to insist during an accommodation review for an ARC to determine the value of bricks and mortar certainly teachers who can churn out A students or at least students who can work to better their achievement from one year to the next and prove it isn't too much to ask.

Doretta Wilson said...

Since education isn't about making widgets, it's about providing a service, the value-for-money argument is valid.

If kids were widgets, then productivity could be measured by the numbers of kids we "churn out" at graduation time rather than measuring whether they've actually learned anything. Oh gee. That's just what we do.

Education Reporter said...

OK, fair enough.
Here's what I don't get-- there's many out there that want the cake, the icing and the candles, and want to eat them all when it comes to this.

It's fair to demand measurement. Comparison. Testing of achievement. As stated above, it's a means of ensuring the dollars invested are having an impact. We do that. EQAO. DRA. Etc. Etc. Etc.

When kids show improvement, there's always a voice out there going, "the test was dumbed down, that's the only possible way these results could be improving." When they plateau, for heaven's sake, it's because we're wasting too much money on methods that don't work.

When more of them graduate, out trot the "no-fail policy" crowd.

Any teacher can churn out an A student. I could probably churn out an A student. Frankly, that doesn't excite me since in some cases, the student was probably already an "A-level" student to begin with. Tell me about the Level 0 student who now reads at grade level, but still isn't an "A" (Level 4) student.

I'm just as happy to support that investment with a good wage and benefit package as the teacher who hits a good crop of kids combined with his or her own teaching methodology and nets a bumper crop of A-level students.

As to bricks and mortar, I'm glad our conversation here is on vacant space and aging buildings with an eye to modernizing the learning environment, as opposed to making these decisions based on how well variable cohorts of students do on assessments.

As mentioned above, still have a lot of reading and learning to do before I could accept merit pay for the education sector.


Anonymous said...

"any teacher can turn out an A student"

A nice thought ER but the reality says something different.

In this current gov't's case things were dumbed down and it was the drafter of the no-fail policy that's even being rejected by educators.

The bottom line for me is that teachers are different. The good ones are worth a fortune the not-so-good ones simply aren't.

That the expectations of parents and maybe even new teachers coming into the system is that students will learn the basics and turn out literate and numerate with a sound lust for learning, is burst quickly once the rubber hits the road and reality sets in that it's just not the case.

Education Reporter said...

I don't believe things have been "dumbed down." And as mentioned above, I've not yet seen any written document referring to anything like a "no-fail" policy.

Now two sequential ministers of education in this province have denied it (no-fail policy) exists.

And yes, in a career, I'm sure every teacher no matter how competent they are can get an A student and have that student still earning A's in subsequent years. Just like every swimming instructor I've ever worked with -- no matter how good or bad -- will get that one kid that just learns how to float by themselves.

Show me the comparative exemplars of tests with the pedagogical breakdown of how any EQ test is getting "easier" and I might accept that statement. Ditto on the no-fail policy. Send me the link, e-mail me the document. Show me where.

I tire of these sweeping generalizations, and do my best to stay away from stating such broad statements of opinion as fact when I can't possibly support them.

Meanwhile, we've gotten WAY off track the initial post.


Anonymous said...

"no-fail" policy
Written - no
Exists - YES

Hugo, pick a school in Thames Valley. I bet you $10 not a single student failed last year. Better yet, just call every SO and ask how many kids he/she retained over the past ten years. Ultimately the SO retains a student, not a principal or a teacher.

Education Reporter said...

Uh, I can pick several high schools where I personally know students who've failed credits and gone into remediation.

I'll note you didn't specify elementary or secondary. And it it's elementary, "no-fail" practices (note I didn't say policy) have been around since shortly after I left elementary school in the late 1980s. I was among the last generation where a student could "fail" a grade in elementary school.

But then I guess now we're into minutiae on the definition of "fail."

Or maybe we could just hold all the little buggers back, bring back the strap and whip the kids who we think are stupid. Oh, and dock the pay of the teacher trying his or her hardest (or not) to teach the kid something.

There I go, being facetious again.

And here I go, onto other topics as I tire of typing in circles on this point.

Hugo :)