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The San Andreas Fault

Public school pay policies are on shaky ground

Illinois Times

August 31, 1979

My sermon this week was on the topic, “Are experience and education mostly irrelevant to good teaching?” I concluded that Illinoisans tend to pay teachers most for exactly those things that matter least to classroom performance.


The teachers of the Springfield Education Association are negotiating with School District 186 for a new contract. As of this writing, things are not going well. Negotiators reportedly have cleared the table of such items as life insurance. sick leave, and the school calendar and have turned their attention to meatier issues, including the salary schedule. binding arbitration, and dental insurance. (Presumably this is what is meant when unions talk about getting a contract with teeth in it.) Salaries is the issue neither side seems able to swallow; as usual. the teachers want more money than the school board says it has, and another teachers' strike appears likely.


These late-summer negotiating marathons have become almost traditional in the years since school systems ran out of money to give teachers automatic pay raises and the voters in turn ran out of patience with teachers. Inflation has made the money issue even tougher. The last reported difference between the two sides on the cost-of-living increase ranged from eight percent to 10.5 percent, the amount varying with individual teachers according to seniority, education, and so on. (In moments of pique I have argued that unless the SEA is run out of town on a rail, the teachers will be getting more than they deserve. Such a happy event would be preceded. I'm sure, by six months' hard bargaining over the shape and size of the rail. and the precise order on which teachers would be seated on it.)


But the particulars do not interest me as much as the principles from which they derive. The salary schedule is a most instructive artifact, embodying several of the defining assumptions now current about the business of teaching. According to the 1978–79 contract, the basic salary schedule is ”based upon the principle or equal pay for equal professional training and experience." One may advance into higher pay ranges one or both of two ways. Vertical movement on the schedule (the schedule is arranged rather like a highway mileage chart) is based on years of teaching experience, with automatic raises (subject to some conditions) granted every year for each year in the classroom up through the fourteenth year. A beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree earns $10,080 base salary; the same teacher with the same schooling would earn $14,805 after ten years.


Teachers also are paid more the more they know. A teacher earns incremental credit for advanced academic work past the bachelor's degree which entitles him or her to advance horizontally across the schedule—an eleven-step journey that ends with a master's degree plus an additional forty-eight credit hours. As noted. a rookie teacher with an unadorned B.A. earns a $10,080 base salary; a teacher who,however improbably, were to begin his career with the maximum allowable education credits would earn $22,155.


There are other provisions of the contract as it affects salary. including professional growth credits and longevity pay. But basically the salary schedule defines a teacher's worth to the district according to the premise that experience and post-graduate education make one a better teacher in proportion to the extent that one acquires each. It provides equal pay for equal training and experience, as the contract avers. The problem is that, beyond certain minimums, experience and education—and through the linkage of the salary schedule, the district pay policy—are mostly irrelevant to good teaching.


Indeed, so shaky is this premise as a foundation for schools that it may be described as the San Andreas Fault of modern pedagogy. Consider the matter of experience. It seems beyond argument that actual classroom experience one a better teacher. The question is how much. The SEA/186 schedule tacitly defines the limit of efficaciousness at fourteen years; after that time, the schedule awards no additional pay increments for experience.


The question of exactly when experience gives way to habit is probably impossible to answer to everyone's satisfaction. But it seems clear that fourteen years is too long and that most teachers probably hit their stride after four or five. It is significant that it is not necessary for a teacher to demonstrate improved teaching skills in order to qualify for his annual raise, merely that he demonstrate doggedness and durability in the face of the job's variegated trials.


Of course, it is naive to pretend that salary schedules serve only the broader ends of educational policy. They serve pretty narrow ones too, chief among them making district staff better-paid teachers as opposed to merely better ones. There is nothing wrong in this. It is only the pretense otherwise that is irritating. Educators, more even than senators, have grown adept at masking private greed with the rhetoric of public service. The fact is that teachers' salary schedules were designed to guarantee teachers opportunities for advancement. This is so teachers, once hired. will not abandon teaching for life insurance or evangelism or some other, more profitable calling and school districts will not have to turn their staffs over more often than a garden plot. Whether one thinks this is good or bad depends on whether one thinks youth or complacencyfort is the greater threat to good teaching.


If teaching experience is an uncertain predictor of classroom competence, teacher training is even less so. I haven't space to review the case against teacher training in the U.S., except to remind my readers that the educational attainments of our children have steadily dropped as the levels of formal education among our teachers have gone up. Indeed, I think we can reasonably trace most of the failures of public education to colleges of education, which have made mediocrity a busy servant to irrelevance. Additional study beyond the B.A. is occasionally useful, provided it is focused in one's area of study. But most of the extra classroom work which teachers so assiduously accumulate in response to school systems' bribes bear much the same relationship to learning that Readers Digest condensed books do to literature. It is bad policy to reduce to a matter of incentive what should be expected of every teacher anyway.


The fact is that we pay teachers most for exactly those things that matter least. Those qualities that make a good teacher a good teacher—imagination, energy, commitment, mastery of the subject matter, respect for ideas, and an abomination of the second-rate—find no material reward at all.


How then may we contrive to link money with what really goes on in the classroom? The problem is that and education are mostly irrelevant to teaching. Or how (in what really is a preliminary question) do we reliably distinguish teachers from time-servers? I have opinions. but no answers. Answering questions like this is partly why we invented school boards. These questions. rather than dental insurance and whether a cost-of-living raise may be said to be properly adjusted at eight, ten, or thirteen percent, ought to be on the agenda the next time the board sits down to talk about teachers' salaries. ●




John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

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Journal of the Illinois

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Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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