The leader of a bipartisan effort to boost teacher quality and teacher pay says the state teachers’ union bears much of the responsibility for Iowa’s lagging teacher salaries.
Marvin Pomerantz, a Des Moines businessman, serves as co-chair of the “Institute for Tomorrow’s Workforce” which has been calling for a dramatic increase in teacher pay.
“The teachers have been, if they’ll forgive me and many of them won’t, their own worst enemy. Iowa went from 26th in the nation 10 years ago in teacher pay relative to other states in the nation to 41st now, and that’s after being represented by a very strong union,” Pomerantz says. “It’s so strong, it has taken them right downhill.”
Pomerantz, a long-time contributor to Republican politicians, says the teachers union has to “wake up” because it hasn’t backed a Republican candidate for governor since 1990. “These are smart people and they ought to hear the message,” Pomerantz says. “Performance-based (pay) is the message.” “A lot of ’em don’t want it, so it’s a huge political problem and the voter’s going to, ultimately, have to decide.”
Jan Reinicke, executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, heard Pomerantz make the comments, and is defending her union. “Mr. Pomerantz has always been an advocate, a very sincere advocate, for education, but I would like to believe that legislators put the interests of Iowa students above partisan politics,” Reinicke says.
Republican legislators are insisting on merit-based teacher pay raises and Democrats say it won’t work because schools are different than factories because teachers don’t control their inputs — meaning the students. The head of the teachers’ union also rejects the idea Republican lawmakers have been reluctant to raise teacher salaries because of her union’s endorsement of Democratic candidates.
“As Marvin says, teacher quality is the number one determinant of student performance in the classroom and I think that Iowa legislators would not have willingly allowed those salaries to go down based on the endorsements that the Iowa State Education Association makes,” Reinicke says.
Pomerantz aimed his fire at teacher training programs, too. “In Iowa, we have 30-some teacher training programs, some of which are marginal and some of which have low standards,” Pomerantz said. “So if you don’t go for the best and the brightest, and you don’t have a strong curriculum on top of that, guess what the end product’s going to be? It’s going to be very mediocre.” Pomerantz says if the state expects to enlist better teachers, the courses that would-be teachers take in college must improve.