Studies find salary gap at Austin schools
Austin among Texas school district with largest differential among teachers of high and low minority and income schools.
By Laura Heinauer
Thursday, June 21, 2007
The Austin school district pays teachers at schools with high degrees of poverty and large percentages of minority students less than what teachers earn at the district's wealthier, more diverse schools. And according to a pair of recent reports, the wage gap is wider in Austin than in most other large Texas school districts.
The reports are based on a salary study of the state's 10 largest school districts by University of Texas education researcher Ed Fuller and were paid for by Washington-based think-tank Education Trust. Across the nation, issues related to teacher quality have gotten increased attention as schools struggle to meet the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act.
The national report released Wednesday singled out Austin as having some of the largest gaps in pay between schools in a single district.
Fuller said the wage gap in Austin exists because less experienced teachers tend to be concentrated at schools with higher numbers of minority and low-income students. Austin district officials criticized the reports, saying they don't acknowledge that Austin is doing more than many districts in Texas to recruit and retain teachers, particularly at low-performing schools.
Mandating assignments would spur teacher flight to nearby districts that offer higher salaries and lower-cost housing, Austin officials have said.
Austin is unusual among the state's large urban districts. With relatively more schools at both ends of the spectrum — both high- and low-income — the reported wage gap is more dramatic, Fuller said.
The average annual teacher salary at Casis Elementary School, which serves a predominately white population, was $2,402 more than that of the average teacher at Winn Elementary, where 97 percent of students are black or Hispanic, the report said. A $3,819 gap was found between Summitt Elementary, where less than 35 percent of students are considered low-income, and Wooten Elementary, where 97 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch.
Although salary isn't necessarily an indicator of overall teacher quality, it is an indicator of teacher experience, Education Trust President Kati Haycock said. And she said research shows that "no matter how good new teachers will eventually become, they are not as good in their first year of practice."
"When you look at the data this way, it helps people see how the current patterns of teacher assignment and transfer actually result in a draining off of resources," Haycock said. She said that her organization is recommending changes to the No Child Left Behind Act, which is up for reauthorization this year, that would ensure local funding is more evenly distributed among schools.
"What you're seeing in these numbers is that (federal dollars are) coming on top of a very uneven base," she said.
Fuller said that although supplemental programs such as tutoring can be beneficial, studies have shown that money spent on teachers is the most effective way to improve student performance.
"If you look at the East Austin schools, you'll see they just constantly churn teachers year after year," Fuller said. "Hopefully with the strategic compensation plan that's being piloted, we'll actually see that those pay and experience gaps reverse."
Starting this fall, Austin will provide stipends and professional support to teachers who agree to work at the district's highest-need schools.
District officials also criticized the report for focusing on salaries without mentioning that per-pupil spending is actually higher at lower-income and minority schools.
For instance, $7,340 in local money was spent per student at Johnston High School, compared with $4,932 at Bowie High School in 2004-05, the most recent year for which such data are available.
District officials also acknowledged, however, that the per-pupil information has its drawbacks. Smaller schools, for instance, appear to spend more per pupil because they are less efficient to run. "Any of the numbers, you can look at them a different way," said Julie Lyons, the district's director of state and federal accountability.
Negative figures mean the average teacher salary at schools with more minority students was lower than that at schools with fewer minority students. Positive figures mean the salary was higher.
Negative figures indicate the average teacher salary at high-poverty schools was that much less than those at low-poverty schools.
Salary gap comparison
Researchers compared average teacher salaries in two categories. They looked at the number of students from low-income households and at the number of minority students at schools in Texas' 10 largest districts. Researchers said Austin is unusual among the state's urban districts. With relatively more schools at both ends of the income spectrum, the wage gap is more dramatic. In Dallas, for example, 83 percent of students come from low-income households, compared with 60 percent in the Austin school district.
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