Those who keep an eye on unionized public education often observe the peculiarity that their contracts apply the same pay rates to every teacher at every level, no matter what they teach or the ages of the children. This makes it difficult to pay teachers with more-rare skills dealing with more-difficult children what would be required to attract enough candidates while sending signals to the market that draw too many candidates into easier roles.
Recently, I came across language in the Narragansett teacher contract that implicitly recognizes this difference:
There are occasions when registrations exceed the above recommended limits [for number of students per class] and adding a classroom is not reasonable. The Committee will compensate teachers for each student over the above listed maximums. At the elementary level this compensation will be at $3 per student, per class, per day; at the middle school level the compensation will be $8 per student, per class, per day; and at the high school level the compensation will be at $13 per student, per class, per day.
If each student at the high school level adds more than four times the work or challenge that each student at the elementary level adds, how do districts justify paying teachers across the board the same base rate? Of course, there is a level of preparation and plain work that is the same across the board (getting up every day, meetings, preparing the classroom, etc.), so it would go too far to say that elementary school teachers should be paid one-fourth the amount that high school teachers are paid.
Still, failing to allow the market to differentiate between teachers, who even the union recognizes have very different jobs, serves nobody except those who manage to secure jobs that pay much better than they otherwise would — not the teachers who implicitly must accept less pay for this reason, not the taxpayers who have to make up some of the difference, and certainly not the students whose schools can’t apply their budgets according to fairness and need.