Hazard pay for teachers?

In the U.S. military, there’s something called “hostile fire pay,” and it can earn you an extra $225 a month. Qualify for “imminent danger pay” and you’ll get a similar bonus.

If you’re in the Navy, and you’re willing to spend considerable time in a cramped, airtight space under the surface of the ocean, congratulations: You qualify for “submarine duty pay” — and $12,000 added to your salary.

What’s this got to do with public schools? Maybe the military — and the civil service and medical professions — have some thing to say when it comes to attracting teachers to hard-to-staff schools.

These comparisons are found in a report called “Financial Incentives for Hard-to-Staff Positions: Cross- Sector Lessons for Public Education.” The title may sound complicated, but the idea is simple. As co-author Julie Kowal explained last week, it’s no longer a question of whether schools should offer financial incentives to attract talented teachers to high-poverty schools, it’s how they should do it.

“How much should we be offering?” Kowal asked at a forum at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. “Who should get this? What form should it take? When should they get it?”

It might seem unseemly to equate the teaching of low-income children with hardship pay. And indeed, at the forum, Segun Eubanks of the National Education Association bristled a bit in declaring that education reform must involve entire schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods, not just focus on bringing in a few outstanding teachers.

But Eubanks conceded that financial incentives could help staff low-income schools, at least in the short term. Moreover, the comparison with military hardship pay is not made to suggest any equivalency with teaching in poor areas, but to address a basic point of economics that school systems have long ignored: Harder jobs, tougher working conditions, increased stress, etc., must be compensated accordingly if districts want to attract talented people to these schools.

With the economy in turmoil, it’s a tough time to be talking about offering bonuses. But schools will need to step up at some point if they want to reverse the trend whereby the least certified, least experienced teachers end up in schools that desperately need the best.

Concluded Kowal: “We need to get in the game.”

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