About those Henrico School Disparities, Part Deux

Average salary at Henrico County schools correlated with percentage of pupils on free or reduced lunch. (Click for more legible image.)
Average salary at Henrico County schools correlated with percentage of pupils on free or reduced lunch. (Click for more legible image.)

by James A. Bacon

In my never-ending quest to bring to you, the readers of Bacon’s Rebellion, a keener insight into the dynamics of Virginia’s educational system, I present the chart above, which shows the correlation between average teacher salaries at Henrico County schools and the percentage of children on free or reduced lunch.

Why would anyone possibly be interested in such a chart? Because there is a widespread concern about the “disparities” in resources made available to schools in Henrico’s poor East End and its affluent West End. That concern surfaced politically most recently during the debate over the meals tax but it had been bubbling for a year or more before then.

Last month I showed that staff-to-pupil ratios at Henrico County schools favored schools in poorer neighborhoods (as measured by the percentage of pupils enrolled in free/reduced lunch programs). Schools in poor neighborhoods had fewer students per teacher/staff/administrator than schools in affluent neighborhoods. That seemed strong evidence that claims of disparities were exaggerated — if anything, poor schools got more resources — but there was one significant data point missing. People argued that East End schools couldn’t hang on to more experienced teachers who used their seniority to snag jobs in schools with easier students to work with. In effect, by this line of logic, affluent schools got the better teachers — a qualitative factor that would not be captured by raw staff-to-pupil ratios. 

Accordingly, I went in search of data to address that point. Andrew Jenks, director of communications for Henrico County Public Schools, supplied me the 2013-2014 Fall Financial Verification Report, which contains average teacher salaries at each Henrico County school (on pages 18 to 21). From that data I charted teacher salaries against free lunches. (To see the data underlying the chart, click here.)

First the facts…. Average teacher salaries in Henrico vary within a fairly narrow band — $44,482 for Sandston Elementary being the lowest and $51,371 at Godwin High School being the highest.

While some “poor” schools have higher average salaries than some “rich” schools, overall, there is a correlation between average pay and poverty level. Roughly speaking, teachers at schools with the fewest poor kids have annual salaries about $2,000 higher than teacher at schools with the most poor kids — a pay differential between 4% and 5% higher.

However, those numbers do not include incentive pay. In 2010 Henrico County won a five-year, $16 million federal grant to pay bonuses to teachers and administrators at schools with among the poorest student bodies in the county. That program, open only to teachers in core subjects at eight schools, pays teachers up to $8,000 annually and administrators up to $10,000 when students show superior academic performance.

Now the interpretation… Yes, a pay gap exists, so the people who focus on “disparities” can feel partially vindicated. But how significant is that pay gap? Does a differential of 4% to 5% really make a difference in the quality of teachers? Who’s to say that teachers with more seniority do a better job? One could argue that they’re more seasoned at running a classroom. But one also could argue they’re more likely to be burned out and marking time until retirement. Who knows? I don’t think we can presume anything. We need to see the research on the impact of seniority on teaching outcomes.

Thus, the argument about disparities in Henrico County cannot yet be settled conclusively. However, my sense is that a pay differential of 4% to 5% is not such a yawning gap that it can account for starkly different educational outcomes. If you want to address disparities in educational outcomes (higher test scores, higher graduation rates), there probably are more important things to worry about.

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13 responses to “About those Henrico School Disparities, Part Deux”

  1. well.. it’s not pay per se – it’s experience especially with harder-to-teach demographics.

    you can even have teachers with many years of seniority but they may not be teachers that are good at teaching the harder-to-teach demographics.

    but I would not be presumptuous enough to say how to do business but I would be presumptuous enough to say that test scores of an entire demographic that has nominal comparable IQs indicates SOMETHING is going on with teaching the harder-to-teach.

    I speculate about how such a thing could occur but it’s not like administrators are unaware of the testing disparities… and I won’t accept that entire demographics cannot be effectively addressed.

    It’s like the school system is saying that it’s not their responsibility to deal with the harder-to-each demographics. I totally reject that idea whether they verbalize it openly or imply it …

    it is the job of the school system to allocate resources in a way such that kids who need more to get on credit level – get more.

    you can play data games til the cows come home.. but it don’t change the reality that some kinds of kids are just harder-to-teach and as unfair as that might sound to the school system – it has huge consequences downstream if it is not addressed.

    and it’s not like we don’t know how to address it, we do. It just takes more skilled teachers , teaching in a way that is different from how you’d teach to kids that are not at risk.

    and no.. we cannot save them all.. in fact, we may lose quite a few of them but it’s unacceptable to say on the front end that we will lose all of them.

    1. Larry, given the data that I’ve presented, do you believe that Henrico is failing to live up to its commitments to teach the kids in East End Richmond?

      1. the results speak for themselves. It’s NOT that you say you are trying. It’s the results that say what you have achieved.

        but this bothers me also: ” While some “poor” schools have higher average salaries than some “rich” schools, overall, there is a correlation between average pay and poverty level. Roughly speaking, teachers at schools with the fewest poor kids have annual salaries about $2,000 higher than teacher at schools with the most poor kids — a pay differential between 4% and 5% higher.”

  2. re: ” While some “poor” schools have higher average salaries than some “rich” schools, overall, there is a correlation between average pay and poverty level. Roughly speaking, teachers at schools with the fewest poor kids have annual salaries about $2,000 higher than teacher at schools with the most poor kids — a pay differential between 4% and 5% higher”

    isn’t that bass ackwards?

    it’s actually pretty damming…

    your most skilled teachers, regardless of seniority should be offered additional salary to teach the at-risk kids – with support from the school system when scores are magically improved right away.

    the school has to make this a priority. they have to demonstrate – as an administration that they are committed to this effort and it’s not just about teachers and salaries although it would be nice to not have salary disparities in the opposite direction.

    when you see the disparities between the schools – it’s not about teachers or salaries.. it’s about the administration.

    and it’s even more ironic that the issue affected the meals tax.

    One could assert that if the school system had been doing their duty – it would have had no effect what-so-ever on the meals tax issue.

  3. Breckinridge Avatar

    Call the VEA and ask them what they would think about differential salaries based on the school’s challenges, a form of (brace yourself) MERIT PAY. Because if the VEA stands up in a legislative committee to whine about the idea, it’s gone. And I don’t even have to ask what there position would be on giving administrators more control over transfers to keep the best teachers in the challenged schools against their will.

    It ain’t the teachers and it ain’t the buildings and it ain’t spending in any way — there are too many places and homes where education is not valued, educational achievement is not celebrated, and where too few families include adults who have demonstrated the value of education. In fact, kids who seek to succeed in school are targeted, belittled, teased and pressured to get back in line with the rest of the herd. An earlier post noted the international disparity, the US vs. the world and I can tell the difference is (drum roll) the parents! The parental attitudes toward the value of education and whose job it is to make it happen. Too many parents in this country take zero responsibility for the success of their own children and blame the school if the kids aren’t succeeding. It can’t be them, it can’t be the parents who are failing…

  4. I say let Henrico do it – show results and then defend against the VEA rather than complain that they “might” upset the VEA.

    kids from poor backgrounds are harder to teach – that’s the truth.

    but the truth is also than they can be taught if effort is put into it. We have real results that show that.

    you cannot blame the parents. The kids are innocent but worse than they they WILL grow up and YOUR KIDs will pay their entitlements.

    what is the response to that? That we can’t do anything about it and we are doomed to higher and higher rates of entitlements and crime/incarceration?

    It’s not fair but most of all it’s not fair to the kids who are not served as well as the kids who are and end up with the tasb.

    Kids from poor circumstance are harder to teach but they can be successfully taught. In fact some charter/choice schools claim success also.

    We pay “stipends” for sports coaches.. and the VEA does not complain. Do you really think the VEA would complain of “stipends” for teacher at-risk kids?

    we’re looking for excuses.. … we are failing these kids ..and we want to blame someone…besides ourselves.

  5. When I see actual data that Henrico HAS actually made concrete attempts to do something rather than making excuses why they could not…

    For instance, the Feds do fund Title 1 – for at risk kids – and you know what – the schools cannot spend it somewhere else.. it has to be spent only for that purpose and it has to be shown in the budget.

    Let’s see which schools get title 1 teachers and lets see that those teachers are IN ADDITION to normally allocated teachers so that we actually do see additional resources in those schools per the intention of the Feds.

    but what keeps the State or Henrico from attempting to do the same thing.

    the best, most experienced teachers should be directed to the areas where there are known needs and if the county wants to pay them a supplemental stipend – let the VEA sue them.. then Henrico will be on the right side and VEA on the wrong side.

    this is a classif ” we can’t do anything” response..to walk away from kids whose only crime is to be born to the wrong parents and we have an educational institution giving the impression that they’ve done all they can do about it.

    you know.. if there were no consequences of this irresponsible attitude.. other than the morality of it – it would be one thing – but there are real consequences to this. We are continuing the cycle of graduating people that are functionally illiterate and who will depend on entitlements the rest of their lives.. and we will pay those entitlements.

    that’s dumb.

  6. here’s a follow on to the NYT story about US schools dismal performance compared to OECD countries:

    ” “Americans do not support an egalitarian society.”

    That was the response of one reader, Jay David of New Mexico, to the final editorial in our series on science and math education, and in many ways it summed up the bitterness that many others expressed when the American school system was compared to those of other countries.

    The editorial looked at some of the reasons students in Finland, Canada and Shanghai do much better in science and math than American students, and concluded that those places care more about preparing teachers and elevating the cultural position of education, while ensuring that more resources go to the neediest schools. In this country, teachers are poorly paid, poorly prepared and generally disdained, while the richest schools and students get by far the most money.

    Scores of readers blamed that disparity on this country’s more libertarian culture, and on an outlook toward learning that if not overtly anti-intellectual is at least non-intellectual.

    “Canadians’ acceptance and indeed pride in their more egalitarian society contrast with Americans’ acceptance of having an underclass,” wrote Blair P., of Palm Desert, Calif. “It’s an Ayn Rand philosophy.”


    As Paul Karrer, of Monterey, Calif., put it: “Canada has the gentle hand of government guiding it. The citizens accept and want government. They have a general view of ‘we.’ Not so in the USA.”

    The Finnish tradition of strong preparation and respect for teachers was similarly admired by many commenters, who nonetheless remain convinced it cannot be duplicated here.

    “Show me a profession that has been vilified more than teaching in the US,” wrote Peter S. of Portland, Ore.


    David Meyerholz of Virginia Beach, who has taught in a public high school for 33 years, blamed a culture that doesn’t encourage students to strive for knowledge. “We have never been a nation of highly educated people,” he said. “Just because the modern world dictates that we now have to be, doesn’t mean it will happen unless we swim upstream against a current of dumb popular culture.”

    the entire article is at:


  7. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    What, exactly, is your chart supposed to show?

    1. While some “poor” schools have higher average salaries than some “rich” schools, overall, there is a correlation between average pay and poverty level. Roughly speaking, teachers at schools with the fewest poor kids have annual salaries about $2,000 higher than teacher at schools with the most poor kids — a pay differential between 4% and 5% higher.

  8. you need to ask why that is. Is it because those teachers have Masters degrees? In the local school system if you have a Masters Degree you get more money.

    If that’s true then it indicates that those with the higher degrees are not teaching in the tougher schools and that’s not uncommon. The newest, least experienced, with basic degrees often get sent to the tougher classrooms because teachers with seniority and Master degrees can and do seek better positions. Few teachers want to teach the tougher kids because they don’t want the hassle and they fear that if they do not have success they will be penalized for “bad performance”.

    In other words, we not only do not reward teachers who take on tougher kids, we put them at risk for being fingered as the reason why the school comes up with bad numbers for at-risk kids.

    teachers cannot fix this. they are guided by how the administration handles this and there are horror stories of how a bad principle in a school with bad numbers will push the blame onto teacher and attempt to remove them for performance reasons. Teachers are well aware of this and act accordingly.

    we pay stipends right now for coaching, grade-level leaders, etc without complaints from the VEA and to pay stipends for tougher assignments should not be impossible to do and if administrations do that – AND implement a FAIR performance regime that effectively prevents scapegoating, teachers will respond.

    the bigger point is that this is not something that teachers can do as individuals. when you see disparities in demographic groups – it’s not a teacher problem, it’s an administration problem.

    and by the way – there ARE schools in Va that do successfully teach the at-risk demographic… it can be done.

  9. DJRippert Avatar

    I am sure the situation is exactly what was described – more experienced teachers moving to schools with wealthier students. Student behavior may be one reason. However, people become more financially comfortable as they get older. Salaries generally increase. A spouse with another salary is often added to the family equation. Disposable income increases – a toaster bought once does not have to be bought next year. I am guessing that the more experienced teachers are more likely to live in more upscale neighborhoods. Therefore, the schools in those neighborhoods are closer to home. Teachers also have children themselves. Where do you want your kids to go to school – a strong school or a weak school?

    The military has the concepts of combat pay and hazardous duty pay. While teaching isn’t combat I wonder about the idea of “challenge pay”. Make it worthwhile for teachers to work in the weaker schools and that’s where they’ll want to work. Or, at least, it will take away some of the “gravity” that seems to attract teachers to the stronger schools.

    I don’t buy the “burn out” theory at any level of scale. Yes, I am sure there are Edna Krabappels in every school district. However, I suspect that is the exception. I’d guess the bigger challenge is new teachers who are finding that they don’t really want to be teachers. It isn’t turning out to be as much fun as they imagined back at UVA’s Ed School. They would be the more worrisome in my opinion.

  10. I like DJ’s thinking. Make the distinction that some kinds of teaching require heavier credentials and skills and reward it in the same way you might reward a teacher getting a Masters.

    I like it because it’s also the administration making a statement about it’s commitment to deal with the issue. They’d be acknowledging the higher/tougher job and they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is and I cannot imagine the VEA complaining because this only benefits teachers…and actually promotes professionalism…

    WRT new teachers… one of the things the OECD/Finland study found was that American teachers as a whole, especially at the entry level are far less skilled and prepared for the full range of duties and even in Finland with stricter standards for entry – they still wash the weaker ones out.

    It’s almost an elite profession in Finland that garners high respect.

    I like the idea of competition.. someone has to challenge the current herd-mentality of public schools mediocrity and if it is a charter/choice/or some MOOC hybrid – do it – but don’t say you are going to do it but then refuse to be tested or have performance measured.

    keep the standards – every school / school system regardless whether public or private competes – but they compete for the same academic standards.

    and for instance, in Henrico.. if they want to put out an RFP to teach at-risk kids.. let’s do it.. the status quo is not working.

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