Pay gap among teachers hurting schools, students?

Despite apparent link, district says it’s not that simple

Average teacher salaries by school in School District 51 vary by nearly $10,000 between some schools, which sparks the question: Does such a disparity equate to an unequal distribution in teacher quality in schools?

Colleen Martin, executive director of human resources for District 51, said it would be easy to link teacher salaries to student performance.

“But once you delve in, it becomes much more complex than that,” Martin said.

Colorado is grappling with a teacher gap that is widening, according to a state of Colorado education report released in 2006. The report linked higher student achievement on the Colorado Student Assessment Program to schools with fewer inexperienced teachers and said high teacher attrition negatively affects student achievement.

The average salary for a teacher in District 51 is $46,600, and the average tenure for a teacher is 12 years.

Average salaries vary from school to school based mostly on how many senior teachers are teaching at the institution and what level of education they have attained.

At Rocky Mountain Elementary, for example, the average salary is $41,470, according to 2007-08 school accountability reports, and the average experience is eight years.

Teachers at Orchard Avenue Elementary, on the other hand, average $50,589 annual salary and have an average 13 years under their belts.

Between those two schools, the Colorado Department of Education classified Rocky Mountain as a low achiever on 2007-08 Colorado Student Assessment Program scores while Orchard Avenue was a high achiever.

While average teacher salary is an indicator of experience and education level of teachers in a school, many other factors affect student performance, Martin said.

The percentage of free and reduced lunch is a commonly used indicator of socioeconomic status, and Martin said it is a better indicator of student performance.

The 2006 report found that teacher qualifications decrease as the percentage of free and reduced lunch and minority students increases.

At Rocky Mountain Elementary, for example, about 75 percent of students are on free and reduced lunch. At Orchard Avenue, about 40 percent of students are on free and reduced lunch.

The district analyzed its average teacher salaries and student performance by school, and the results it found were all over the map, Martin said.

“We’ve crunched those numbers and haven’t found a connection between pay and student performance,” she said.

For example, the average salary at the high school level isn’t higher than $47,294 at Fruita Monument High School, which is also the highest performing high school, except for R-5, where the average salary is more than $55,000.

R-5 is the lowest performing high school, but the school is for students who were not successful in a traditional high school setting and require intensive instruction from teachers.


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