Why pay good and bad teachers the same?

Shelly Potter teaches preschool students at Natomas Park Elementary School in Sacramento in October 2016.
Shelly Potter teaches preschool students at Natomas Park Elementary School in Sacramento in October 2016. Sacramento Bee file

Can children learn excellence from a school system that doesn’t value excellence?

The recent labor spat in Sacramento Unified School District reveals a fundamental problem that prevents our public schools from creating a culture of excellence: Teachers are paid based on their time on the job instead of the value they bring to the classroom.


True, all teachers aren’t paid enough. But paying our best teachers more isn’t possible because of laws and workplace rules negotiated by unions. Teacher salaries and classroom assignments are based on seniority, not need, specialized skills or performance.

Our system has been set up by special interests to avoid true accountability. Even laws such as the Stull Act – which requires test scores to be a part of teacher evaluations – aren’t enforced without the threat of litigation.

While we all remember our favorite teacher who had an incredible impact, we also remember the teacher who mentally checked out long ago. Why should they get the same pay?

Imagine what it must be like for dedicated, involved teachers who get paid thousands less every year than the disengaged teacher down the hall simply because of seniority? Is it any wonder why so many young, energetic teachers burn out and leave the profession after only a few years on the job?

Conversely, is it any wonder why bad teachers stay on the job knowing their pay will increase whether or not they improve?

What lessons do teachers learn when there’s no material reward for excellence? Can we honestly expect teachers to teach students the necessary life lesson that excellence brings rewards if they’ve never received those rewards?

Our students and our teachers deserve a public school system that provides bonuses and merit pay based on fair and transparent assessments of classroom performance. This is the only way we can keep the best and brightest teaching in our classrooms and truly prepare our kids to take on the challenges they’ll face in the real world.

Micah Grant is an elected Natomas Unified School Board trustee. He can be contacted at