jump to navigation

Are Teachers Overpaid? By Some Standards, Yes November 13, 2011

Posted by Dindy in Schools, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

A new study by conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, has concluded that public school teachers are overpaid compared to their counterparts with similar qualifications in the private sector. This is not a popular stance to take, of course, especially during this particular year when so many states have decided that one way to lower their expenses is to cut teaching jobs.

This happens to be a question that I can speak to somewhat knowledgeably since not only did I used to be a teacher, but I am a Human Resource wonk, with expertise in Compensation. In addition, I have spent most of my professional life working either in the public sector or the non-profit sector, both of which tend to have lower pay than the private sector.

So let’s look at the question of whether teachers are overpaid compared to comparable workers. When looking to see if different jobs are paid on an equitable basis, one of the things we so-called experts do is look at the level of education and experience required for the job. It is possible to walk into a teaching job with no experience, straight out of college. As long as one has a Bachelor’s Degree, one can teach.

Starting teachers in Texas make $40,000 to $50,000 a year, or even more, which isn’t bad for someone fresh out of college with no experience. It’s even better if you consider that this is for ten months of work. If you converted this to a full year salary for 12 months of work, you get $48,000, which, again, is pretty good for someone fresh out of college.

Teachers, quite rightly point to the fact that their job is not an 8 to 5  job, that they spend countless hours after school and on weekends grading papers and preparing lessons, that the importance of their job should be considered when making decisions about pay, and that theirs is one of the hardest jobs in the world (well, I might actually quibble with that last one because I have been a teacher and I can tell you that there are jobs that are MUCH more difficult). They will also tell you that they spend their summers working on their Masters degree so they can move into a higher level of pay and improve their level of knowledge, so it’s not as though they are lounging around the pool all summer sipping mint juleps. (Actually, when I was a teacher, I did spend my summers lounging around the pool and playing with my kids. I did not sip mint juleps, however.)

Nevertheless, let’s stipulate that teachers have  hard jobs and important jobs, so we can look at some other public sector employees. For instance, child protective workers. Child Protective workers are a lot like teachers in some ways. You can walk into a Child Protective Services job with a 4-year degree and no experience. The jobs are certainly important, and are difficult and often dangerous. Social workers often go into some of the worst neighborhoods at all hours of the day and night and talk to hostile, possibly violent people, to determine whether the conditions are severe enough to warrant removing a child from the home. Child Protective Service workers work 12 months of the year and frequently have shifts in the evenings or weekends. They are often on call 24 hours a day. If they want to get a Master’s Degree, they do so during their off hours, and once they attain that degree, it won’t necessarily improve their pay, unless they move to a higher level position.

For their trouble, entry-level Child Protective Services workers in Texas are paid about $26,000 to $30,000 a year. It takes them about ten years to get up to $40,000. If you compare hourly rates, beginning teachers in Texas make about $23.08 per hour, compared to $12.50 an hour for Child Protective Service workers.

Librarians are another public sector employee. The average starting salary for an entry-level Librarian in Texas is $40,000, which is comparable to our starting salary for teachers. However, librarians are required to have Masters level degrees. They work 12 months of the year and often work evenings and weekends. Many of them are not able to have two days off in a row on a regular basis because of scheduling issues at their work place. As someone who practically lived in my hometown library when I was growing up, I can attest to the importance of what they do.

So if we compare the hourly rate of a librarian to that of a teacher, the librarian makes $19.23 per hour, compared to $23.08 for teachers. Ironically, many librarians pick up their teaching certificates along the way so they can work as a  school librarian and make more money than their counterparts in the public libraries, while at the same time enjoying better hours and vacation benefits.

I’m not going to compare the salaries of teachers with those of private sector jobs because I think it is apples and oranges. It’s like comparing the pay rate of a police officer to a security guard. It just isn’t a valid comparison. However, it seems pretty clear that when it comes to public sector salaries, at least, teachers don’t do too badly when compared to other pubic sector jobs.

But that is just entry-level salaries. There is a problem with teacher salaries, but it’s not what people think it is. The starting salary for a teacher is actually pretty good, but if you take a look at teachers with ten or more years of experience in the classroom, their salary is not much higher than the starting salary. In Texas, teacher pay caps out at about $60,000 a year. Whereas most people who start a job after college and stay in the same career field can expect to see their pay rate climb as they move into higher level positions, teachers see their pay rate flatten.

The problem is that their job remains pretty much the same no matter how many years of experience they have. After the first three or four years, a teacher with five years of experience is doing pretty much the same job as a teacher with ten years of experience, who, in turn, is doing the same job as a teacher with 20 years of experience. If anything, their job has become a little easier because they can recycle their lesson plans each year instead of having to create them from scratch, and the more familiar they become with the material–  by virtue of teaching it over and over again–  the easier it is to teach it.

Sure, after a few years they might become a “Master Teacher” or they might pick up some additional certifications which they can use to boost their pay a little, but they are still teachers. If they want to make more money, they need to change their jobs: move into administration, for instance, or go into another profession.

Librarians are in a similar situation, but they do have some upward mobility in their jobs– they can become head of a section of the library, or specialize in a particular subject area. Child Protective Service workers rarely stay around for more than a few years, but the ones who manage to stick it out will generally move up into higher levels of administration and will see their pay increase accordingly.

Most teachers say that they want to stay in the classroom, that they went into the field because they wanted to teach and that there are rewards beyond money to what they do.  Having been a teacher, I can agree with that– not only did I love working with the kids and imparting knowledge to them, but I enjoyed being home when my kids were home, having summers off and two weeks off at Christmas. I never expected to make a lot of money as a teacher, and I didn’t.

Yes, in an ideal world we would pay teachers a salary that is representative of the intrinsic value of what they do. In the real world, however, their salaries are paid with taxpayer dollars and in this particular day and age especially, taxpayers are loath to part with those precious dollars to increase wages for those who work for them.

So back to the original question– are teachers overpaid? Well, looking at it using standard compensation practices, yes they are when compared against similarly situated public sector employees. However, I would prefer to say that the problem is not that teachers are overpaid, but that social workers and librarians are underpaid.

Despite what those of the American Enterprise Institute would have us believe, there is an intrinsic value to the services provided by teachers that is seldom matched in the private sector. They may not be underpaid, but most of them deserve every penny they get. To paraphrase the song, “They work hard for the money so you’d better treat them right.”

Advertisements

Oh Those Teachers! February 16, 2011

Posted by frrobins in Books, Memories, Personal, Schools.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

I’ve been reading the infamous Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. For those not familiar with the book, Chua caused quite a stir when an excerpt from her book was published maintaining that Chinese parenting methods are superior. To many readers, Chua’s methods didn’t seem superior, they seemed authoritarian and abusive. Later another article was published saying that Chua’s words were taken out of context to be far worse than it actually was. So I decided to read it for myself and see. I’m almost done and will have more thoughts on that later. One thing that really jumped at me in her book, though, is her criticism of “Western” parents for siding with their children rather than teachers.

According to her, if a Western child gets poor grades, parents blame the teacher. If a “Chinese” child does, then the parents work that much harder with the child. You never criticize the teacher. Ever.

I do know of parents who seemed unable to believe that their child was anything less than perfect and did, as Chua maintained, unfairly blame the teacher. Yet they were in the minority. If anything my experience has been that sometimes parents aren’t complaining enough.

There are a lot of good teachers out there. And there are some teachers that shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a classroom. When I was in junior high, there were several teachers who fit the bill. Perhaps the worst was the one I was fortunate only to hear about as I was not in his class. Though I knew to stay far away from his classroom. You were liable to be hit by a flying book traveling out of the classroom through the door and into the hall. I wish I were joking.

Yes, he threw books. He threw pens, pencils, chalk, erasers, papers, anything on his desk, anything he could find. He was known for manhandling students in a fit of anger. Anger management was apparently something he was quite unfamiliar with. What’s amazing is that for two of the three years I was at that school, he was there. During my last year in junior high, either the school wised up to the fact that he was a law suit waiting to happen or a parent did finally complain, because he was gone and good riddance. Last I checked, students don’t learn well in an environment where the teacher could physically harm them at any minute.

Another teacher, Coach H., was one I was not so lucky to miss out on. Supposedly, the class I was taking from him was Texas history. I say supposedly because I learned very little about Texas history in his class. On the first day of class he talked about actors, actresses and athletes who were from Texas (half of whom he just happened to know and be friends with, of course). And we had to memorize trivia about these famous people because there would be a quiz on them. Yup, Texas history of the modern rich and famous.

Then there were the movies. He showed us The Birds. No, this was not a nature documentary about the native birds of Texas, but the Alfred Hitchcock movie. It’s a good movie. I have no idea what it has to do with Texas history. May be one of the actors was from Texas. Another movie we watched was The Bad Seed. Once again, no idea about how this movie relates to Texas history.

He showed us Dallas Cowboy football games. While I see the connection, I somehow doubt that the school board this in mind when drafting the curriculum.

When he wasn’t showing us movies and sports games, he was using the classroom as a pulpit to expose his views on just about everything. He talked about how school prayer should be allowed and how the horrible liberals would take the pledge away. He maintained that a woman could be as ugly as hell, but if she was a good cook she would be able to bag herself a man. After flaunting that bit of sexism, he then asked “How many of you GIRLS can cook?” and went around the classroom interrogating each girl on what she could cook and giving disapproving looks to the ones who couldn’t cook much. He then asked the ones who could cook to demonstrate their knowledge by taking everyone step by step on how to make spaghetti with homemade sauce. If someone can see the connection to Texas history, please let me know because I can’t.

Now while I think it’s important for children to be exposed to other points of view, the teacher should not act as the arbiter of the “correct” view vs “incorrect” view. There’s a difference between facilitating a discussion between students and spouting off your own views while disparaging other points of view. Let’s just say I was often very uncomfortable in his class.

The closest he came to talking about Texas history was when he talked about the hard life of a cattle rancher. And his idea of teaching was, after the whole class had failed a test, having us spend a class period reading and re-reading the same chapter over and over.

For another assignment he wanted us to draw a map of the United States. Why, I don’t know, but he gave a long speech on how he didn’t want a rush job (though he only gave us a few days to complete it). Well, I can’t draw. It’s something I REALLY wanted to be able to do. I took classes when I was in elementary school and practiced a lot. However, I have a spectrum of learning disabilities, several of which affect my fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. I never got good at it. I spent hours drawing the map. I worked really hard on it. I thought it turned out well all things considered.

I guess he didn’t. He turned it back into me with “Rush job!” written across it. Which smacked. He had no way of really knowing how long I spent on it. And it still didn’t have anything to do with Texas history.

My grades suffered. Usually history was one of my best subjects. And my grades in other courses remained good. From what I related to them, it wasn’t too hard for my parents to believe that I had a dud teacher. They complained and asked for me to be placed in a different class.

I remember the skepticism directed at me by my new history teacher. She believed I was the problem, not Coach H. I actively participated in her class. I got good grades. Half way through the sixth week grading period when progress reports were sent out, I had an A in her class. She wrote on the report that my grades were based on daily work only, no tests. When I was finally tested it didn’t matter. I still had an A. And for the rest of the year I made an A in her class. I don’t know what she eventually made of me, but I do know I was lucky to be out of his class. One of my friends wasn’t so lucky.

Her mother complained, but for whatever reason she had a harder time getting her daughter out of Couch H.’s class. And Coach H. started to target her in class, playing himself as a victim of her persecution. What is ironic is that while he was targeting my friend for having a parent who complained about him, he spent quite a lot of his class time talking about how his childrens’ teachers were so unfair to them and how he had to constantly go up there and correct those errant teachers!

Yes, Coach H. was a piece of work. Eventually we learned that he got transferred to another school…one where the parents would be less likely to complain.

As I mentioned above, I’ve seen teachers unfairly singled out by the irate parent who thinks that his/her precious darling couldn’t have possibly gotten a failing grade. And I’ve seen parents stay quiet when they should complain. Me and every other student in Coach H.’s were not learning about history. And without our input, nothing would have changed.

I find myself wondering what Tiger Mom would have done if Coach H. had taught one of her daughters. I doubt that she would have been thrilled with her girls watching football games when they should be learning about Stephen F. Austin. I wonder if she would have asked for them to be moved to a different class or if she would have told them to suck it up and memorize which cities Phylicia Rashād and Nolan Ryan are from. And if the latter, I wonder what would have been gained.

Talking the Plane Down March 16, 2010

Posted by Dindy in Current Events, Schools, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

You all have seen the movies. The jet airliner full of passengers and the pilot and co-pilot suddenly stricken with food poisoning and unable to fly the plane. The hapless passenger who gets plucked from his seat and handed the controls of the airplane while on the ground a grizzled old war pilot with a hundred years of experience– usually one who is undergoing a “what use am I to anybody now that I am 150 years old and no longer able to fly?” type of crisis– talks reassuringly to the erstwhile pilot and guides him step by step through landing the plane.  As the relieved passengers leave the plane, the beautiful flight attendant kisses the hero and tells him that he saved everybody’s lives and he replies, “No, I couldn’t have done it without the help of Old Jake,” while the grizzled old veteran blinks a tear out of his eye and rides off into the sunset.

The passengers of that plane were lucky that they don’t live in Texas because if the Texas State Board of Education had been in charge, instead of getting Old Jake to talk the plane down, they would have pulled a minister in to pray with the passengers of the plane after a banker made sure they understood the benefits of the free enterprise system.

Far fetched? Not to anyone who has been following the escapades of the Texas State Board of Education in adopting the standards for Social Studies textbooks in the State of Texas, a process that will have ripple effects throughout the rest of the United States because of the clout Texas wields over all the textbook publishers because of its size.

In a process that was so acrimonious that one member walked out of the meeting in protest, the right wing faction of the BOE succeeded in passing such measures as requiring students to describe how “describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.” (I suppose twenty years from now a similarly situated panel will be directing students to learn how the search for WMD in Iraq provided justification for the Iraq War.)

Plenty of other columnists have lambasted the individual measures of the proposals– and there is plenty of fodder to lambast– but I have to ask, why are we letting a group of politicians make decisions concerning what will be taught in public schools to begin with? If your car is broken down are you going to call up your local school board member and ask him how to fix it or are you going to take it to a mechanic? If you need to have a tooth pulled are you going to go wait for a member of the Board of Education to have a chance to yank it for you or are you going to go to a dentist? Oh- wait a minute! One of the members of the Texas  BOE IS a dentist, so lucky you can actually get someone there who is qualified to pull your tooth!

But my point is, why aren’t experts in the subject area making determinations about what should be taught? Among the members of the Texas State BOE we have 4 teachers, 1 school administrator, 1 substitute teacher/instructor/test monitor, 2 attorneys, 2 realtors, 1 investment banker, 1 businessman, 1 dentist and a couple of professional volunteers. Very few of these members would be qualified to be hired as a teacher in a Social Studies classroom, yet they are making decisions about what will be taught in those classrooms?

We cannot hold teachers accountable for poor outcomes if the standards are stupid to begin with. If we want to improve education in the United States, we need to look at the top and evaluate the processes whereby curriculum decisions are made– and I do not believe that allowing a group of people who have little to no specialized education or expertise in the field of
Social Studies is the best way to determine what should be taught in such classes.

If It Takes a Village, Why Fire Only the Teachers? March 11, 2010

Posted by Dindy in Current Events, Schools, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

In Central Falls, RI, seventy-four teachers and nineteen staff members at the high school are being fired because of chronic low performance by the students.  I have to wonder why it is only the teachers and front line staff who are being fired. Why not fire the administrators who make up the rules under which the teachers perform? Why not fire the parents for not making sure their children come to school prepared to learn? Why not fire the members of the legislature for putting politics over substance by implementing Teach to the Test policies that don’t actually improve education? Why not fire the local government for failing to turn the town economically so that forty-one percent of the town’s children live in poverty?

To say that the teachers at Central Falls High School are by themselves responsible for the failure of the students to learn is ignoring all the other elements that go into educating students. Teachers don’t teach in a vacuum– they use textbooks that are approved by the state and teach to curriculum guidelines set by the state. They work in conjunction with special ed services provided by the district, oversight from the district, supplies provided by the student, the parents, the school district, the state or private donors. The students themselves come to teachers through the courtesy of previous teachers who were responsible for ensuring that the kids finish the school year ready to tackle next year’s material. The teachers operate under discipline policies set by the district under the auspices of the School Board. They teach students that come to them each day with hungry bellies because their parents can’t afford to put dinner on the table and who seldom see their parents because of the long hours they put in at work. Yet, the teachers at this school are expected to be held accountable for the failures of an entire community.

Firing teachers is the kind of thing politicians like because it makes it look as though they are holding educators accountable, but in reality all they are doing is making the teachers scapegoats for failures that are endemic to the system. If students at Central Falls High School are failing to learn, it is because the entire system has failed them, not just the teachers.