The Teacher Salary Myth -- Are Teacher Underpaid?

My new column in Forbes addresses a topic I wrote about over 6 years ago, and got a ton of feedback on.

The problem with salaries for government workers like teachers is that, in a monopoly (particularly one enforced by law), the usual checks and balances on compensation simply don’t exist.  Let’s say a private school gives its teachers a big raise, and has to raise its tuitions to pay for those higher salaries.  Parents are then left with a choice as to whether to accept the higher tuitions, or to look elsewhere.  If they accept the higher fees, then great — the teachers make more money which is justified by the fact that their customers percieve them to be offering higher value.  If they do not accept the higher tuition, the school withers and either changes its practices or goes out of business.

But what happens when the state overpays for teachers (or any government employee)?  Generally, the govenrment simply demands more taxes.  Sure, voters can push back, but seldom do they win in a game dominated by concentrated benefits but dispersed costs.  On a per capita basis, teachers always have more to fight for than taxpayers, and are so well-organized they often are one of the dominant powers in electing officials in states like California.  This leads to the financially unhealthy situation of a teachers’ union negotiating across the table from officials who owe their office to the teachers’ union.

We might expect this actually to lead to inflated rather than parsimonious wages.  To see if this is true, we have a couple of different sources of data within the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to help us.

Click through to see the numbers, which tell the story pretty clearly

  • CTD

    WHY DO YOU HATE CHILDREN?????

  • http://www.joshourisman.com Josh

    One factor that I don't think you took into account: in many cases teachers are not provided with adequate supplies for their classes and end up having to pay for a lot out of their own pocket. This can add up to a fairly large amount, even (especially?) for the younger grades.

    My experience with this is very limited and completely anecdotal, but a friend of mine is a teacher in the DC public school system. Every year she ends up having to solicit donations from friends in order to be able to afford to buy the necessary supplies for her class (things like pencils and paper, the absolute basics) because she doesn't make enough to be able to afford to buy them herself.

    One could argue that she's choosing to spend this money unnecessarily, and that if the school or district isn't allocating enough funds for classroom supplies she should just do without. I think this is technically true, but it's an awful lot to ask from people, especially the kind of person who tends to become a public school teacher.

  • Anon

    There is only one way to answer the question -- is there a waiting list for open jobs, or a waiting list for qualified teachers?

    In other words, so long as you have a line of qualified people waiting for an opening, you overpay. So long as you can't fill positions, you underpay.

    We know Josh's friend in DC's school system is adequately (or over- ) paid, because she doesn't quit and do something else.

  • jhc

    I usually avoid mentioning grammatical errors here, Coyote, since I know your policy about proof reading.

    But you might want to fix title to this post since it deals with teachers & education. Someone, somewhere is sure to mock you for it.

    Cheers -

  • Mark

    @Josh, they took care of that. The typical parent has to supply about 50 bucks worth of tissue, glue sticks, paper, etc for the classroom.

    All through the year there are calls for donations for copy paper and paper cups,etc. Parties in the class room are now completely funded by parents.

    Yes teachers do have to come up with some of their own supplies for DECORATING the classroom, just as I would have to for decorating my cube at work. And even there there is a 200 dollar a year tax credit for teachers to do that.

    Interestingly when I went to school in the 1970's all supplies were provided by the school until 5th grade and teachers got an allowance for their classrooms.

    What happened? Well all the money in the school districts went to pay salaries and bennies over the years, including massive retirement - to the point where the districts no longer can afford to pay for supplies, or even maintenance. They let the schools fall apart now, and then cry for a bond measure to build a new school every 10 years.

    This is a direct result of Unions negotiating for the teachers and against the best interests of our kids.

  • caseyboy

    @josh, they can recover a percentage of their cost as an un-reimbursed employment expense. Besides a few out of pocket expenses do not change the employee-employer dynamic relative to wage/benefit negotiations which after all is the point of Coyote's post.

    @jhc, right on, everyone should know how to spell mithe.

  • Tony Hansen

    jhc,
    Did you consider the possibility that it was done on purpose?

  • Mesa Econoguy

    Why do public employee unions hate children?!?!?!?!?!?!?

  • Not Sure

    If teachers feel they are underpaid, they're welcome to persue another line of employment that affords them the renumeration they feel is their due, are they not?

  • me

    I'd take a job that offers teacher pay at 25% of the year off with absolute job security any day. Open up the market for teachers (remove certification, just have local schools test applicants; remove barriers and make firing teachers easy (principals decision)). Make salaries individually and freely negotiable. See where they are in a year.

  • Russ R.

    The title contains a typo. It should read "... Are Teachers Underpaid?"

  • Ted Rado

    To have a fair wage, there must be an open, competitve system where supply and demand come into balance. Students enroll in a particular curriculum because they perceive it to be interesting and/or financially attractive. If the wages are low, supply will deminish. If the courses are difficult, fewer will be able to master the subject matter. Whenever something interferes with the free market, there is chaos.

    In private schools and universities,students go where the combination of quality and cost are perceived to be optimum. If a school gets a bad rep or cost is too high, students go elsewhere. This could easily be done in K-12 as well.

    In many ares of study, external forces interfere with the balance. Many medical schools limit their enrollment, for example. Teachers unions impair the improvement of the teaching staff.

    Another form of balancing supply and demand is culling out the incompetent. If the employer cannot give merit raises or fire incompetents, the system fails (our education system). Poor performers stay and bright ones move on.

    The competitive system, with hiring and firing and merit raises, works fine in the engineering field. Why not make this approach universal? If someone is not cut out to be an engineer, he can find other employment. His superiors are not forced to keep him on the payroll and give him raises. Yes, it is unfortunate if some one with a family loses his job, but it is better than driving over a poorly designed bridge. Keeping poor teachers robs the pupils of their future, which is even worse.

    I don't want to knock teachers, but the classwork is fairly easy and one does not need to be an Einstein to get a degree. The result is that teaching is not viewed as a top-drawer profession. If it were, and teachers were seen to be high quality people, the situation would take care of itself. The public sees teaching as a combination of poor teachers and piles of admin staff. Thus we get poor education at high cost.

  • Gil

    Heck, from a purely free market point of view no one is "underpaid" or "overpaid".

  • Mark

    I have said it on this forum before, there are three main myths that critically damage primary and secondary education in this country. Warren only partially mentions the first one:

    1. Teachers are overworked and underpaid.
    2. Teachers teach because they are compassionate and giving, most often passing up more lucrative opportunities to "help the children".
    3. Whatever the National Education Association stands for is good for "education".

    The facts are just the opposite.

    Teachers are not underpaid, as Coyote rightly points out. And, they are far from overworked. Most school days are 7 hours long and teachers only teach for, at most, five of those hours. The other hours are for "meals" and "prep".

    But, "prep" for what? Anyone with children (I have four children ranging in age from 19 to 7) who pays attention understands that almost all of the cirriculum in the schools today is pre-packaged. The reading material, test material, and answer keys are all provided by the textbook company and today's teachers do very little original teaching, that is outside of their political agendas.

    But, outside of teachers, the biggest problem with today's schools is that we have an egalitarian system that tries to maximize self esteem rather than teach learning skills and a primary focus that pretends that every child is going to be going to college even if they can not and should not.

    What we need instead, particularly at the financial costs of our current system, is an education system that teaches every child what they need in life to be successful for themselves. Many kids are going to drop out. We need to recognize this and prepare them as best as we possibly can (remedial reading and math, real world).

    Many kids are going to be blue collar, vocational careers. Instead of requiring our kids who want to be plumbers, electricians, welders, etc, etc, to then spend two more years of education (all very expensive), our public school system should be performing this function, and then once these individuals graduate they should enter into world class apprentice programs. But we do not have this because we pretend that these kids need to be "preparing for college".

    The fact is, most states spend more than $10,000/year on each student. We need to get more value from this, from top to bottom. Why the parents and the voters put up with the expense and the results, it is a mystery to me, except for the fact that most people believe the three myths I list at the beginning.

  • a_random_guy

    Please don't overlook the other - very important - fact that can be found in these statistics: school administrators are paid substantially more than the teachers, and there are far, far too many administrators. In many school districts, there are more administrative personnel than there are teachers, which makes no sense at all.

    Why are there so many? Aside from plain bureaucratic bloat, this is a result of federal involvement in education. Someone has to keep track of the regulations and requirements, in order to get the federal money - which is then spent on administrative personnel to keep track of federal regulations and requirements.

    Fire 3/4 of the administrative personnel, tell the feds to take a hike, and you will likely have plenty of money left over for school supplies even without federal funding.

  • Rick

    My wife is an experienced 2nd grade teacher in Florida and for her these numbers are fantasy land. I might add that she is not and never has been a union member.

    At the end of every fiscal year she gets a letter from the school board with her total annual compensation for the previous year broken down by category. Last year her TOTAL compensation was just over $46K. That number includes health care, retirement, etc. Her official work week is 40 hours and her work year is 43 weeks. That works out to $1069.00 a week or $26.75 an hour. I have carpenters and tile layers who work for me that make more than that in base pay, not including benefits.

    Most days she leaves the house at 6:30 for the fifteen minute drive to school and usually gets home about 5 or 5:30. Her lunch break is 20 minutes but that includes the time it takes to walk her kids downstairs to the lunchroom and then return to walk them back. She gets no other breaks during the day. If she needs copies she has to print them on her own time after class hours.

    Every night she brings home a large rolling cart full of papers to be graded, scores to be added, and evaluations to be completed. Most nights I have to make her stop to go to bed at 10:00.

    She is, in short, an outstanding teacher as are most of the people she works with. The kids in her class do very well on state and Federal test yet she is being driven out by the lack of support from the administrators and parents. She started teaching late in life after our kids were all in school. She started because she wanted to teach, not just work. She could do other things but she stills wants to teach.

    She has always taught the Exceeds classes where the kids are smart and well behaved. This year she chose on the lower classes because she felt like she could help them more. She has 2 medicated kids who sleep 2 to 4 hours a day. She has one girl who sleeps at home in her clothes in a bed with a little sister who pees the bed. This little girl smells so bad that many days my wife sends her to the clinic to be wiped down and redressed in donated clothes. She has 4 kids who can't read and can't recognize their own names. She has one boy who is taken to the office every day for behavioral problems and who has had 3, 3 day suspensions in the last 6 weeks. In her opinion only 4 of the 18 kids in her room should be in 2nd grade at all.

    Does anyone here seriously think this is an easy job?

  • Mark

    Laughing at Rick. I don't believe a word you say. As I stated, I have FOUR kids in school and there is not a teacher to be found in their building 15 minutes after school is over (unless they are being paid to be there). If you run into a teacher after 4:00PM that is an exception, not the rule.

    And the claim that your wife is staying up to 10PM to "grade papers", again, I don't believe it. By your admission she teaches SECOND F-N GRADE. There isn't any 10 page essay on Locke that is being written or complicated calculus homeworks to be reviewed. I have seen what 2nd graders do for "homework" and most of it is artsy craft work (make a model of the solar system was our latest) that requires minimal work to "grade".

    Please spare us the fairy tales!

  • Jon

    I am reposting my reply to your post on Forbes to your website as a portion on my response to your commentator` "Mark"

    Mr. Meyers,

    I have a problem with the assumption that the 8% differential between public and private teaching salaries is an indication that public teachers are over paid. In a private school, the customer are only the parents, for them education is a private good and as such their choices will differ from a public school. A customer at a private school will pay for an educational environment that maximizes their individual child’s welfare. A public schools’ customer is society (as represented by government) the purpose of education for a public school is focused (this would be vehemently denied by many public school advocates) on the benefit to the group more than the individual (everyone is served, no one turned away). The perceived social benefits to the group will often make the working environment at a public school significantly worse than at a private school. I have numerous colleagues who have quit to work in private schools for lower pay simply for the better, safer environment.

    Likewise, we know there are Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics and the use of averages in your article is a clear example of this. The taxation power of Public School districts make them, effectively a monopoly purchaser educational services. As a monopoly they have excessive power to dictate the price of the services they purchase. To counter this unions form a monopoly seller to negotiate. To be effective, a union must benefit a significant majority of their clients. Historically, they’ve used a content neutral seniority based pay system. The problem with such a system is that it benefits some members at the expense of others. By averaging the hours worked and pay, you effectively hide this effect.
    I went to an elite college, have a masters degree, and am certified to teach high school mathematics and physics. I teach at in an urban high school in a very difficult environment. During the school year, I arrive at school at 6:30 and leave between 5:00-6:00 pm. I work through lunch hour every day. I usually dedicate 6-8 hours on Sunday to lesson planning and grading. During the summer, I had professional development responsibilities which this year amounted to about 120 hours. I also limit myself to spending about $2000-$2500 out of pocket on supplies and materials. I’ve been robbed, beaten and physically threatened. I have been in the district long enough to be at the top of the scale (except my pay has been frozen below the top level and then cut back 5%). I make about $72000.
    A friend of mine teaches middle school gym in our district. She makes almost $80,000 per year. She works 7:45-3:15. My 2800 hours and her 1400 average to 2100 (Gee, just average!!)

    The reality is that I am significantly underpaid to subsidize her compensation. I have to accept this for union protection. Saying “teachers” are over or under compensated hides this underlying truth.

    I think part of the issue is perspective. Many of the people who believe teachers are overpaid and overprotected are political conservatives or market libertarians. I believe they are drawing on their experiences which are generally middle class and were segregated from the most difficult classroom environments by private schooling, high achievement tracking, or economic segregation.

    The reality is most policies that are directed at lowering teacher compensation will drive out the skilled and hardworking teachers who are already under-compensated and leave those whose skill levels are still over compensated. A high school filled with minimum wage gym teachers will save tax money, but fail to provide the social good that are the schools mission.

    NEW COMMENT : The comments by Mark are a clear indication of the pathology of narrow visioned people not being able to think beyond their personal experience. This attitude infects the debate about public education. Assuming his claim that his school district gives grade schools TWO HOURS!!!!!! per day of prep time is true, is he really incapable of realizing that that is an AMAZING luxury and is NOT the norm for all schools? Our district allows grade school teachers 1/2 hour of prep time BEFORE the students arrive in the morning. A grade school teacher generally has to teach all subjects and submit lesson plans for each of them. Even if you believe much of grade school work is busy work, don't your realize how much time it takes to prepare 10-15 different activities in 5 or 6 different subjects on a daily basis? As for grading, even if you are simply checking simple work for completion and accuracy, 5 assignments per day for 30 students is 150 papers. Spending 1 minute on each means 2 1/2 hours.

    Do some teachers do the minimum they can get away with? Absolutely. Do many teachers work long hours and very hard. Absolutely. Do they get paid the same? Yes. Why? They feel they need to stick together to be protected from people like Mark who don't understand what the job really entails.

    I've taught AP physics in a wealthy suburban district where all my students went on to college. I usually left before 4pm. Frankly it was 1000 times easier than teaching in an urban environment. I could grade papers during class! I didn't have to make 4-5 different versions of tests to avoid copying. I didn't have to worry about making 10-15 different suspension lessons and homework packets every week. I could go to the bathroom without needing call security to watch my room while I was out. Students came to class every day! They did homework!
    I'd like to ask Mark how many of the students in his kids classes are on tethers? How many of the students have had sibling, friends or family murdered this year? How many are supporting their families on their part time McDonald's Job? How many have at least one parent at home? How many have a parent or sibling in prison? How many deal drugs for gangs? How many of their classmates have brought guns to school? How does his kids teacher deal with these issues?

    It used to be conservative wisdom that the federal system worked best when governmental responsibility devolved to the political unit closest to those being served. It was considered insane that we'd try and run educational policy from Washington or the State House. It is because educational policy was being made by Ivy League Washington Lawyers that we've adopted the absurd policy of preparing all students for college regardless of ability or aptitude. These Ivy League lawyers are trying to legislate their own educational experience into law. Now, the conservatives are falling into the same centralization trap. "Why do we need school buses? My mom always drove me to school and when she couldn't she had the maid do it!" Think of all the money we'll save!

    This country is undergoing an urban cultural apocalypse and the public educational system is being charged with stemming this disaster. The educational system was not designed and is not equipped to deal with a social problem of this magnitude. Characterizing these problems as a failure of "public education", we are being told that "charter" schools or vouchers are the solution. I used to be an advocate of charters, until I actually saw them in practice, not simply in theory. I am afraid we are being convinced to replace our Rutgers and UofM's with DeVry's and ITT Techs.

  • Rick

    Well Mark, what can I say except that you don't know what you're talking about. Would you like a couple of time dated photos of the school parking lot, say at 6:30 AM and 6:00 PM? My wife is never the first teacher there nor the last to leave. How about a photo of my wife at the DR table with hundreds of papers spread out to grade?

    Apparently your kids have the misfortune to attend school in a terrible school district and the double whammy of parents who let them go there. Pity.

  • http://alanye.com Dai Alanye

    I have three sons with degrees, each of whom graduated at the top of his class. Each immediately obtained work after graduation, but in each case started for less than the basic contract rate for teachers in our low-income district. And each, of course, had to put in twelve months of eight+-hour work. When the Obama recession bit deep each lost his job.

    This is the real world of private employment as opposed to the secure, well-paid public-employment field. Teaching is one of the academically weakest disciplines, and while we all know many teachers who do fine, dedicated work, I imagine we also all know, as I do, many who are unfit for responsible work in the private sector. In later years the picture changes somewhat, of course, as private positions often advance at a more rapid rate.

    My sons are now re-employed, fortunately, due to their high skill levels - two of them better off than before in consulting work and one with a higher-ranked job than previously.

  • Ted Rado

    The argument over salaries for collage graduates has been going on for decades. Some have even argued that all college grads should get the same wage. After all, they have the same degree (BS or BA). If one could get the same salary by taking snap courses as by studying engineering, nobody would study engineering. Even with starting salaries of $65K for a new BS, many engineering positions must be filled with foreigners. We have convinced our young people that there is an easy way to success. This is a cruel hoax. I personally know of piles of recent grads working in stores or other non-professinal positions because their diplomas are economically worthless.

    Difficult subject matter requires that one is smarter and/or studies harder. Why would anyone do this if there was no financial benefit? There have been numerous articles stating that there are 3 million unfilled jobs because there are not enough engineers and computer science majors. We need to buckle down and work harder instead of complaining. If a teacher feels underpaid compared to engineers, go back to school and study engineering. If an engineer feels underpaid compared to doctors, go back to medical school. There is NO FREE LUNCH!!

  • Mark

    "How about a photo of my wife at the DR table with hundreds of papers spread out to grade? "

    SHE TEACHES THE SECOND GRADE. THE "PAPERS" for second grade are simple. If she is really spending hours at home "grading" 2nd grade material then she is simply SLOW!!! Seriously, no one believes you.

  • Thunderchief68

    While a bit late to this conversation, noticeably absent in the comments are any actual figures on teacher compensation. Since I've done some research for the district (K-8) I live in here in the Northwest Chicago Metro area, let me provide the readers here with some actual data. I'll just put the facts out there and the readers can make a judgment whether or not these teachers are fairly compensated.

    Cash compensation: Instead of quoting average salary for all teachers, let's take a look at what the career teacher earn. Using info available from the Illinois State Board of Education, a review at the teachers who were in the district 10 years ago and are still here today (350 out of 800 positions in the district), we find that their average cash compensation was a little north of $89,000 per year while average compensation for the entire population of teachers is $75,000. 73.6% of the career cadre earn in excess of $80,000 per year and received an average salary increase of 6.9% per year over the 10 year period.

    Medical Insurance: Teachers who are single pay $0.00 dollars per year for their comprehensive medical insurance plan which features an annual $500 dollar deductible. Married teachers pay 50% of the cost for the additional family coverage and work with a $1,000 deductible. Premiums for dental insurance for an unmarried employee are fully covered by the District as well as 50% of the family coverage adder for the married employee. The estimated value of the family plan is over $8,000 dollars per year.

    Retirement Plan: Teachers contribute 7.5% of annual salary to their retirement plan plus an additional .5% which guarantees them an annual 3% increase in their annuity payout, meaning that the career teachers in our district contributed on average $7,120. The taxpayers in the district last year contributed $21,182 to the retirement plan for the average career teacher. Teachers may retire as early as age 55 and with 35 years of service receive with an annuity calculated at a maximum of 74.5% of the average of their highest paid 4 years out of their last 10. The District CFO recently released a 5 year financial forecast that estimates over the next 5 years the average salary used for calculating retirement annuities will be $107,000 or higher.
    Sick Days: Teachers receive 12 sick days per year which can be accumulated with no restriction. Once a teacher has 89 accumulated sick days, they are granted 15 sick days per year. At the end their career, they can use accumulated sick days as credit for toward their retirement annuity calculation up to a maximum of 2 years. For example, a teacher with 33 years of service could have their retirement annuity calculated based on 35 years of service. That means a 4.4% bump, or on average $4,700 dollars per year additional retirement pay.

    Days Worked: Teachers are scheduled to work 183 days of which 176 are student attendance days. They also work 4.5 Institute Days and 2.5 Teacher plan days. The current school began on Monday August 22 and will end no later than June 13, 2012, ending earlier if there are no emergency days off. There are also two additional extended periods of non-attendance, a Winter Break (10 days), a Spring Break (5 days), and three other holidays in the schedule.

    Other working conditions such as Tenure (employment security), 6.5 hour day, (yeah I know many teachers put in additional time each day, but certainly no more than any other professional and I'll stack my hours worked, as well as any of my colleagues and millions of others, against any teacher if you want to go down that road) are all part and parcel to the evaluating the total compensation package.

    I should add that we are not one of the more affluent districts in the Northwest Suburbs, but very average. In fact, in terms of tax collected as a ratio of real estate values we are in the bottom 25% for the Northwest area.

    Ok, now it's your turn, fire away. You make the call. Teachers salary, fair, unfair, too much, too little? How does total comp compare to the average private sector professional?

  • Randomizer

    I am a public school teacher in a nice suburban district. I have a Master's Degree in engineering and lots of education after that, so I am nearly at the top of the scale for a teacher half-way through my career. I teach upper-level and AP science classes and probably put in two hours per day beyond the contractual school day. I think I'm paid too much. Its a great job. My students are pleasant, the administration is supportive and nobody ever yells at me. And as mentioned by other commenters , I've got reasonable job security and my students appreciate the effort I put in. There aren't many teachers that are qualified to teach my subject at this level.

    If I think I'm paid too much, wanna guess my views on home ec. or phys. ed. teachers? Can somebody explain why a gym teacher is getting paid $80,000 per year to watch kids play basketball?

    If you want to start chipping away at teacher salaries, start with the low hanging fruit.

  • commieBob

    YMMV

    Pretty much everything everyone here says is true somewhere at some time. When I was a student back in the sixties, everyone else called teachers college 'Mickey Mouse College'. It seemed like anyone could get in and there were lots of teaching jobs.

    These days in my local jurisdiction, Ontario Canada, you have to be a minor god to get into teachers college. I am gobsmacked by the quality of the people I have seen coming out of Ontario's teachers colleges. It seems that almost none of the young teachers I know have been able to get a full time job on graduation. They can spend years on the spare list. I assume that any not-very-good ones will never get a full time job.

    The quality of education my kids got was quite variable. Oh well, I guess it built character. In my darker moments I would cheerfully lynch one teacher who caused damage that it took many years to sort out. On the other hand, one of my children's teachers did such an amazing job that her students had an almost unfair advantage when they got to university.

    Are teachers overpaid? Some are. Some aren't. It is hard to sort out. Who do you think is worth more: 1 - The teacher with a strong class, all of whom enter university. 2 - The teacher with the rough class, none of whom end up in jail the year he has them. IMHO, it's the teacher who keeps all his guys out of jail but no set of numbers will show that he is the superior teacher.

  • Mark

    "Assuming his claim that his school district gives grade schools TWO HOURS!!!!!!"

    Of course they do. The standard school day is 7 hours long, and usually divided into 7 periods. The teachers in most school districts teach 5 of those periods. The other two periods are for lunch and "prep" hour. If you claim otherwise, then you are clearly a liar.

    "I’d like to ask Mark how many of the students in his kids classes are on tethers?"

    LOL at your assumptions. Unlike your claims, I have a PhD in economics from a top five ranked school. My 4 kids go to the finest schools in the area in the absolute most affluent suburb (the term "cake eaters" is the usual reference to them). There ain't too many kids in this district that work at McDonalds!!! And, the cars in the student parking lot are spectaclular.

    The statistical data about the compensation of school teachers is unarguable.

    My anecdotal evidence is just that, except I have seen it over the course of 4 different students. From my own perspective, 30 years ago, I stayed after school virtually everyday of my academic career involved in some school sport or activity. I can guarantee you that less than 5% of the teachers ever stayed a minute after the bell rang unless they were a coach or advisor (and hence being paid extra).

    WIth my own children, I have picked them one or the others up from school virtually everyday for the past decade or so, and if you actually run into a teacher at that time it is an extremely isolated even. So isolated I would consider it almost miraculous if you actually saw a teacher in the building at 5PM. Again, this is just a personal observation, but it is literally based on thousands of data points, and over that course of observations, I have run into my own child's teachers "after hours" twice. IF teachers were so hard working, diligent, and working all of the hours claimed by some of these commentators, it should have been a common experience to see teachers at 5PM (considering the school day starts at 9AM).

  • ruralcounsel

    I also have 4 children in the public school system, and I have to say that my (and their) experiences mirror Mark's more so than I'd like. They are currently in 8th -12th grades, so I've seen the spectrum. We pulled them out of the local grade school to attend Catholic school for 4th-6th grades since the local grade school was so dysfunctional - and I did some substitute teaching in the district so observed quite a bit.

    At the beginning of every school year lists come home of supplies that students must bring in, and it always makes me angry. This never happened when I was a student, nearly 45 years ago...at least until I hit some classes in high school (I recall having to buy a slide rule for 10th grade.) I think school districts currently do this in order to push costs off their own budgets...not that it seems like it would amount to much.

    I've had teachers fail to show up for parent-teacher conferences. Imagine a school setting aside special time for parents to discuss performance with their children's teachers, and the teacher not having the sense of responsibility to show up?

    In my locale, the middle school and high school do a pretty decent job - what really underperforms are the grade schools. Too much pre-packaged curricula and teachers who don't really understand how real world works and so think math is no more important than art class. They could tell kids how to apply the math if they wanted to, and they don't seem to want to.

    That said, there are gems among the gravel. The unionized system makes it virtually impossible to reward those people properly.

  • Mark

    "since the local grade school was so dysfunctional "

    I have never claimed that the school is "dysfunctional" at all. My children's school is more than adequate. At an average cost of over $10,000/student per year it should be. My only claim is that teachers really do not put in as much time as they claim or as the public believes.

    I have nothing against teachers as individuals. However, I do have problems with their claims that they are equal to engineers, etc, etc and should be paid the same. Even if they are of equal skills (this is not substantiated with any data), the basic structure of their job and compensation means that they should be paid less. Tenure, for example, is a job feature that should mean significant "costs" to the employee. If an employer is forced to offer you such an employement arrangement, the risks to teh employer means you shoudl be paid much less.

    Here is the basic problem with the education profession from an economic standpoint. THERE IS NO REASON TO TREAT THEM ANY DIFFERNTLY FROM OTHER WHITE COLLAR PROFESSIONALS. Yet, to the detriment of education, we do. There is no reason for tenure in the public schools (a public school teacher does not do controversial research or should be teaching radical subjects that should be protected). There is no reason why public school teachers should have such luctrative and easily reached pensions. There is no reason why public school teachers should have collective bargaining.

    Instead, we should pay the best teachers more and be able to remove the bad teachers much more readily, particularly for cause. When budget cuts occur, collective bargaining should not protect the mediocre while better teachers are let go because they were the last hired. This does nto help children, does not improve education, and clearly this is a contributing factor to why the quality of our schools have remained the same while real spending has multiplied.

  • Jon

    Mark Writes"There is no reason for tenure in the public schools (a public school teacher does not do controversial research or should be teaching radical subjects that should be protected). There is no reason why public school teachers should have such luctrative and easily reached pensions."

    Public schools are a POLITICAL Institution. Tenure protects the teachers from political influence. School Boards and Administrators answer to parents and voters. They wan't "happy voters and parents". If you think it is teachers that want disruptive students left in class and lower academic standards, then you have no idea of the reality of interal school politics. Every student expelled or dropping out costs our district $8000. The pressure to dumb down curriculum and ignore deliquent behavior, change grades, etc. comes for ABOVE!!!! Without tenure protection, do you think I'd dare fail a school board member's daughter? Refuse to change a grade? Report an atheltic violation? Testify at an expulsion hearing against the wishes of the administration? Getting rid of last hired first fired, in a non market, political institution is simply a licence for cronynism. In our last contract, the union negotiated a LIMIT on the MAXIMUM amount that the school district could pay new hires. Why? Because they were hiring new teachers with no experience(friends and family, etc.) at the very top of the salary scale at they same time they were imposing cuts and rollbacks on the rest of us who were paid less. Remember, the administrators and politicians "judgement" on who is an effective teacher is a subjective, political judgement. Don't be suprised when the most "effective teachers" are those that donate the most to the school board members reelection campaigns, or invest their retirement funds with the principals wife.

    Now pensions differ depending on the state. In my state, unlike virtually ALL private pension, my pension is contributory. We earn a pension equal to 1.5 percent of pay per year of service. I have to contribute about $2700 per year. Teachers contributions have historically covered about 50 percent of the pension cost. Unfortunately, due to bad investments the state LOST a great deal of MY pension money and has to reimburse that fund which is raising the states portion of the cost. I also pay another $2000 per year to cover retiree medical event though the state refuses to put my contribution into a trust or guarantee the I will get retiree medical when I retire. When I retire at age 60, I will have contributed between $60,000 and $70,000 (not including the retiree medical contribution) towards my pension. My pension will be about $2300 per month. Thats, not bad, but far from the windfall you imply.

  • Ted Rado

    If left alone, the supply/demand situation will take care of itself. If there are insufficient people in a given line of work, the wages go up and more people are attracted to the field. The reverse also happens. Thus supply and demand are brought into equilibrium. When outside forces, such as the government intervention or unobstructed union activity, interfere, the situation gets all screwed up.

    The validity of this argument is confirmed by he fact that salaries go up in proportion to the difficulty of the subject matter and the length of time to earn the degree. Thus, starting salaries for PhD's are considerably higher than BS or BA degrees. Salaries in difficult fields, such as science and engineering, are much higher as well. This situation is necessary or else nobody would study difficult subjects or go to grad school. Nobody would study medicine, etc.

    After graduation, salary increase depends on performance. Thus a BS engineer who continues to study and improve his skills and is dilligent gets ahead of the PhD who rests on his oars. This encourages everyone to do their best. Not so in education where seniority rules. Many inept teachers would lose their jobs in a truly competitive environment. I don't understand why teachers rebel at the notion of a merit based system. It works great everywhere else. Yes, the dumkopfen would lose their jobs, but that is a good outcome. It happens everywhere else.

  • Jon

    Ted Redo writes: " Many inept teachers would lose their jobs in a truly competitive environment. I don’t understand why teachers rebel at the notion of a merit based system. It works great everywhere else. Yes, the dumkopfen would lose their jobs, but that is a good outcome. It happens everywhere else."

    Ted Redo explains the problem with his prior comment: "When outside forces, such as the government intervention or unobstructed union activity, interfere, the situation gets all screwed up."

    Society provides public education for the good of Society. Society wants to produce Law abiding highly productive TAXPAYERS,workers, soldiers and citizens. Parents may just be looking for a safe babysitter. A student may just want a winning basketball coach. They may want schools which exclude, gays, jews, or muslums. They may not want evolution taught. While this is their right as individuals, it is not the goal we as a society have historically chosen for public education. Their goals and society's may or may not intersect. A free market would require a consumer to freely trade their money for a service Public education is not a free market. It cannot be. It is a social good. Paying into the system is involuntary. Those utilizing the services differ from those for whom the system is designed to benefit. Vouchers would not create a market system because the costs would not be directly paid by the consumer of the service.
    A market system has a rational consumer judging the value of the service. In the case of a voucher system the consumer (society) deligates that responsiblity to a third party. For a market system the person spending the money has to be the person who is recieving the benefit. That means government NO funding of education at all. In a fully private unsubsidized educational system, the market would indeed reward and punish educational providers and an efficient educational system for providing education to the few who could afford it would occur. However, without abandoning the concept of universal education as a societal goal, implementing such a system is impossible. If education is a public good, all we can be left with is a system which is driven by political forces not simply economic ones. As I pointed out in my previous post political forces are driven by politics not economic efficiency. What is merit? If my political definition of merit punishes or rewards those teachers of a particular political persuasion, how does that help society? Remember, for PUBLIC education, the customer is society, not individuals.

  • Ted Rado

    Jon:

    I have a question for you. Universities follow the supply/demand thing. A poor school loses students and shuts down. A good school gains students. Thus, the system works.

    I disagree with your assertion that society, not individuals is the customer. A child is supposed to be taught "reading, writing, and arithmatic" so as to be able to function in our modern society. The days when common labor could get a job are long gone. One must have basic skills. Peripherally, teaching kids civics, history, etc is good for society. But the basic skills needed to make a living are paramount. A bunch of unemployable "good cirizens" does no good.

    I don't know what should be done with our education system. When I was a boy in the 30's, kids flunked, were severly discipline, etc. Teachers tell me they are under pressure to pass everyone to avoid "self esteem" problems, problems with parents, etc. However, a voucher system where all parents are allowed to choose their kid's school sounds promising. Poor schools would disappear and good schools would prosper. There must also be a mechanism to screen incoming students. Disruptive or impossible-to-teach students should not be allowed to ruin school for others.

    The student loan system for colleges seems to work well. Loan a kid money to enroll in the school of his choice. Substitute "give" for "loan" and make it k-12 and you might have a workable plan.

    I can't believe that with all of our experience in education, we cannot find a reasonable solution. This insistence on maintaining the status quo (poor teachers, piles of admin) and kowtowing to the unions on seniority, tenure, etc. is ruining our kids.

  • Jon

    Ted says,
    "I have a question for you. Universities follow the supply/demand thing. A poor school loses students and shuts down. A good school gains students. Thus, the system works."

    Answer: First,Universities are generally significantly funded by tuition. Secondly, they are not universal. Thirdly, they use a proxy for money to purchase participation- PRIOR ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT. As university funding has become more and more decoupled from direct payment by student and parents and more dependent on indirect funding (government subsidized loan vouchers) we see excessive tuition costs and schools multiplying worthless degrees. This is happening with the government simply delaying the cost to most students making college feel "free". But college is not universal and college has other costs to students. Going to college involves a opportunity cost to the student in high school doing work, studying and getting A's. A's in high school are a currency to purchase admission to a good college. Likewise, four years of lost earnings also represents a high opportunity cost. These factors give college students tremendous incentive to choose an appropriate college. This opportunity cost does not exist at the high school level, especially in urban disaster zones. My high school is a school of choice. Most of the students who go to it come from OUTSIDE the district. It you ask the parent or grandparent why they send the student there, the overwhelming answer is NOT academics, it is safety! We have more security guards than science teachers and are directly across the street from the police station. To those making the decision, we represent a place where their kids are kept away from the gangs more that an investment i n future economic success.

    Todd Writes:I disagree with your assertion that society, not individuals is the customer.

    Answer: You say this in one sentence then contradict yourself with the rest of the paragraph " A child is supposed to be taught “reading, writing, and arithmatic” SO AS TO BE ABLE TO FUNCTION IN MODERN SOCIETY." Society is paying for the education because society wants the student to function in society. Society is paying for society's benefit. Society is the customer.

    Ted Writes: ". The days when common labor could get a job are long gone. One must have basic skills. Peripherally, teaching kids civics, history, etc is good for society. But the basic skills needed to make a living are paramount. A bunch of unemployable “good cirizens” does no good."

    Answer: Let me rephrase the point. I pay for YOUR childs education because I want them to pay taxes not live on the dole, vote responsibly, nor rape murder and go wilding. But I do not actually pay as an individual, I pay as a member of society and as a member of society the decisions on how to best accomplish the goals is political. I believe the problem with education is not simply about the educational delivery mechanics but with fundamental philosophical assumptions.

    Todd Writes: There must also be a mechanism to screen incoming students. Disruptive or impossible-to-teach students should not be allowed to ruin school for others.

    Our public education system is free and universal. These are political decisions that dictate the limits of the system.
    My high school has 1000 students. If you made the parents pay the cost of high school, I doubt more than 50 of those students would be in school. Those 50 would work, do their assignments and be successful. We as a society, however, have created a dilemma where we make the schools try and educate the other 950 as well. This is whole crux of the issue. However, tying funding to bodies doesn't solve this problems, it makes them worse. Our state changed funding mechanisms so that funding is no longer guaranteed by property taxes but now is "market driven" Schools receive funding based on the number of live bodies they have. In the old days, if schools had disruptive students they had tremendous incentive to remove them. It made the job of teachers and administration easier and left more money and resources for the remaining students. Now, removing disruptive students costs the district $8000 each. They have incentive to keep these students in school in spite of problems.

    Ted writes: However, a voucher system where all parents are allowed to choose their kid’s school sounds promising. Poor schools would disappear and good schools would prosper

    Answer: Bernie Madoff's rates of return were also promising! Do the promises live up to reality. In our area, charters have no better results than regular public schools. To keeps cost down they tend to be K-8 dumping higher cost high school students back into the system. They make tremendously high salaries for the entrepreneurs who run them, but they save costs by overworking and churning teachers at an amazing rate. They offer free laptops, parties, etc. as an incentive to sign up, but for some reason, this hasn't resulted in improved academic performance.

    Ted Writes: I can’t believe that with all of our experience in education, we cannot find a reasonable solution. This insistence on maintaining the status quo (poor teachers, piles of admin) and kowtowing to the unions on seniority, tenure, etc. is ruining our kids.

    Answer: Its not that we don't know how to address the problem, we refuse to recognize or deal with it. Oncologists patients die of cancer at a much higher rate than those of allergists. Oncologists must be "bad" doctors. You can't solve a problem unless you properly define it.

    The primary problem with education is that we are unwilling to face the hard political truths underneath the problem and instead play smoke and mirror games involving blaming funding, teachers, etc. Our system is a little ossified, but for the most part, excluding the urban underclass, the difference in performance between us and other western societies are small. Many of the suggestions, such as vouchers would probably not harm public education or help it much in suburban or rural environments. They are not helpful in the least in the urban academic apocalypse. In our city the entire educational system is a squirt gun fighting a 5 alarm fire. You can argue about how to aim it all you want, but you aren't going to put out the fire. If you want to reform education certain philosophical assumptions need to be changes first, otherwise the reform movement is simply a proxy for partisan bickering.

    Reform must
    Accept that Universal education does not mean "one size fits all"
    Accept that College is NOT an appropriate career path for more than 20 percent of students
    Accept that the rest of the population needs to be prepared for other career paths.
    Accept that the main stream culture and value system has completely broken down in the Urban educational apocalypse and can only be revived by extraordinary means.

    It will require tremendous resources and political will to fix these problems. We expect the schools to act as parents to our students. Schools as presently structured cannot be parents to their students. Frankly, if we want schools to civilize feral students we have to be willing to provide the schools with the resources to do so.
    Does anyone really have the will to advocate removing urban students in mass from their households and putting them in boarding schools? This involves making moral judgments on the proper way to live (liberals scream). This involves massive spending and tax increases in our cities (conservatives scream).

  • Ted Rado

    Jon:

    I guess I don't understand your position. You seem to be saying "stick with the present system". In DC, there was a big flap over the very successful program allowing kids to go to a special school. The teachers union put the kibosh on it. It seems like every idea to improve the system is shot down by the status quo bunch.

    I had a teacher living across the street from me with whom I got into a discussion about merit raises for teachers. She vehemently argued that it would breed favoritism and that the seniority system should be perpetuated. My protestations that it sure works fine in industry (I am an engineer) were met with hostility. Conclusion: she is an incompetent that depends on seniority to hold her job.

    When I was young, I had teachers that were great with kids and marvelous teachers. There were others who had horrible dispositions, hated kids, and were lousy teachers. In private industry, the former would prosper and the others would find alternative employment.

    I had a math teacher and a chemistry teacher in high school who were excellent and inspired me to study chemical engineering in college. Lousy math and science techers would have done the opposite. I can't believe you are telling me that nothing can be done about this situation except to blindly carry on with poor teachers under the current union system.

  • Ted Rado

    Jon:

    One other point. Every line of work is paid for by either taxes, fees, or insurance. It doesn't matter which. People go where the product is good. If I don't like my doctor, I change doctors. If I don't like my plumber, I get a new plumber. If I don't like my kid's teacher, I am stuck unless I am wealthy enough to send him to a private school. If the private school has poor teachers, they go out of business. Why should k-12 be the only area where we have no control over the quality of service we receive? Why do you think private schools are so esteemed if the public school system is so wonderful?

    If you were running an engineering company and based your personnel system on seniority rather than performance, you would be out of business in a week. You better stick with your education job.

    The competitive economy keeps engineering firms on their toes. They are trying to provide the best quality service for the lowest possible cost. Poor engineers are fired, and good ones get raises. This idea applies to every business, such as stores, restaurants, services, etc. Educators fight tooth and nail (except at the university level) to avoid anything that looks like competition on the job. Why, except to preserve the jobs of the incompetent and keep money flowing to the union?

    Again, I am mystified why you think what works everywhere else is NG for education. By the way, this is the trouble with government enterprises in general: no competition. If I don't like the USG's performance, I can't switch to the Canadian government. We are a trapped constituancy in anything involving government. If every child was given a voucher and permitted to pick their school, the situation would sort itself out. Trying to reform the present system seems a lost cause. The status quo types are too well entrenched.

    The US is near the bottom among western countries in math and science education. All we are training our k-12 students to do is take snap courses in college. It is reported that there are 3 million unfilled jobs in computer science and engineering because of a lack of qualified applicants. Many engineering positions are being filled by foreigners. You can dance around the subject all day, but our public education system is a failure. Something must be done or we will not be able to compete in the world economy.

  • Jon

    Ted writes: I guess I don’t understand your position. You seem to be saying “stick with the present system”.

    Answer: NO, obviously you didn't read my responses. I simply said the "solutions" being advocated do not address the underlying problems and will in many cases make the situation worse. I then suggested an outline as to the nature of effective reform.

    If some politician notes that they can plant and harvest two crops per year in Hawaii, am I opposing improvements in agriculture by noting the stupidity of trying to legislate two pineapple crops per year in Michigan?

    Ted Writes: Again, I am mystified why you think what works everywhere else is NG for education. By the way, this is the trouble with government enterprises in general: no competition

    Answer: Duh!!! Again, as I said, competition would work fine in a private system with private outcomes. Eliminate all public financing of schools and in the long run, you'd have an economically "efficient" educational system. The point is that most people would think that it might be economically efficient but morally corrupt and socially inadequate. Public school is Government. The financing is alway involuntary and government is inherently insulated from market pressures. Grafting a pseudomarket system like charters or vouchers onto the system would probably not cause too much problems in middle class or wealthy areas. Indeed, in places where charters can freely form, they fail to penetrate the market in wealthier areas. Why? Because in those places, the schools aren't failing in the first place. So if you want vouchers in rich suburbs, go ahead. However, thinking this will help the real educational crisis, our urban crisis, is simply a case of suggesting planting pineapples in Michigan. Remember,when talking about the "failure" of schools, they are never showcasing wealthy suburban districts, they showcase poor urban ones. The nature of the problems and the solutions being suggested by our politicians are based on experiences in middle class schools. Scratch beneath the surface and virtually every example of urban success is based of exclusionary or self selection principles.

    Frankly, most of the legislation we are seeing is nothing more than cost cutting disguised as reform. Talk to those involved with the process who know what is going on in the schools and they will tell you that the urban schools aren't being reformed, they are being written off. As one consultant told me "If we can't fix the _____ schools, and we know we can't, at least we can save a lot of money."

    Ted writes " The US is near the bottom among western countries in math and science education. All we are training our k-12 students to do is take snap courses in college. It is reported that there are 3 million unfilled jobs in computer science and engineering because of a lack of qualified applicants. Many engineering positions are being filled by foreigners. You can dance around the subject all day, but our public education system is a failure. Something must be done or we will not be able to compete in the world economy."

    Answer: Excluding our urban underclass, the real difference between academic achievent among the western industralized nations, first to last, is tiny. There are MORE, better prepared students entering college than ever before. The real problem is there are many many more students in college than ever before and the colleges are dumbing their offerings down to sell seats to those getting loan vouchers. Colleges are selling fun and the "experience" more than they are the education. I advocate a market solution at the college level. College is not a universal right. Our attempts to make college accessable to everyone has morphed into a belief that everyone should go to college. College isn't and shouldn't be universal. We have three times as many students in college as we need. If you want to have adequate numbers of engineers, the solution is simple. STOP government guaranteed student loans. As of now, there is ONE TRILLION dollars in federally guaranteed student loans. These loans, allow students to go on a four year party with no reasonable prospects of being able to pay back the loans from additional income earned from their education. Without federal loans, students would have to finance college the old fashioned way. They'd have to borrow money from someone who believed it was a good investment and would pay off. There wouldn't be many loans for philosophy majors, but if you took engineering, well.... This wouldn't completely solve the problem because a large portion of the problem is cultural, not educational but it would help.

    Ted Writes:If you were running an engineering company and based your personnel system on seniority rather than performance, you would be out of business in a week. You better stick with your education job.

    Answer: Well, if we are going to get snarky, I already successfully owned and operated my own business.
    After I decided to sell it, I went back to school got a teaching certificiate and became a teacher. I am an example of the second career teacher who choose the field to give back to society. My opinions are based on my experience in both industry and the worst educational trenches. How many years have you taught in the ghetto? To tell the truth, before I actually taught in the schools, when I was inexperience and naive, I held many of the same opinions about education that you profess. I am not the type of person to stubbornly stick to a position in conflict with reality and experience. I was a traditional chamber of commerce type conservative and never prounion, but once I saw how corrupt the political institution was, I understood why teachers needed protection.

  • Ted Rado

    Jon:

    You still have not answered the question: Why can't the same methods that work in engineering and industry not be used in education? The mere assertion that it is a government enterprise and must be done differently is not an answer. The universities operate in a similar competitive environment. Why can't schools? You seem fixated on the societal needs (?) rather than the individual student. He is the one that will need to make a living. Also, how do "societal" needs mandate a government run school system? A voucher system (for example) would provide everyone with a publicly funded education, so noone would be left out.

    Virtually all the schemes put forward by the education people are "give us more money". We tried that here in Oklahoma with no success. Well paid ineffective teachers are no improvement over low paid ineffective teachers. More and more administrators get us nowhere, except to waste money. What is your position on merit raises rather than seniority, and firing poor teachers rather that giving them tenure?

    Finally, how is private schooling (paid with gov vouchers or otherwise) corrupt and socially inadequate? Is all competitive enterprise corrupt? Have I been employed by the Mafia all my life? You seem to have a mindset that the present system is the only way to go, which is demonstably nonsense.

    Congrats on selling your business and going into teaching. Starting fresh, I would think you would be in a position to make inmprovements rather than just parrot the establishment and union line.

    Your comments on the colleges doing a poor job has nothing to do with the k-12 problem. There are a whole bunch of problems with higher education, which is an entirely different subject.

  • Ted Rado

    Jon:

    By the way, your comment re how corrupt the political system is is in itself a wonderful argument in favor of private rather than politically (government) run schools. You are making my point for me.

  • Mark

    "Public schools are a POLITICAL Institution"

    EXACTLY. But I still do not buy the value of tenure for public school teachers. I understand that "without tenure" you would not flunk the daughter of a school board member, but then again, even with tenure I doubt you would do that.

    All of the problems you mention are beuacratic problems associated with a government run entity.

    I agree with privitizing schools, as other commenters do. A private entity would be profit maximizers. That means, in a competitive market, they will provide the maximum qulaity for the cost. When a private entity makes a "budget" decision, it chooses the least effective spending to cut. When a public entity makes these same decisions, it chooses for political reasons, often making budget cuts based on trying to push the "hurt" to the taxpayers who will then vote to increase the schools funding.

  • Jon

    Ted Rado writes: You still have not answered the question: Why can’t the same methods that work in engineering and industry not be used in education?

    Answer: Actually I have done so. You simply disagree with the answer. Let me repeat. In a free market individuals acting in their own self interest, trade. This system will be economically efficient provided a slew of conditions are met. PUBLIC schools by definition, fail to meet the conditions for a free market. If the goal is market efficiency, then NO government intervention is necessary. Simply require everyone to buy their own education. Then it is exactly like engineering and industry. HOWEVER, society has decided economic efficiency is not the ONLY value and acts to coerce people into supporting and being educated. Government is a monopoly purchaser of "Free" public education and as such, there is no free market to create economic efficiency. The suggested solution, allowing 3rd party proxies to make the purchase decision, fail market efficiency because the proxy buyers do not have identical preferences to society. In so far as there is overlap between society preferences and those of students and parents, such a system would be efficient. As I said, such a system wouldn't cause much damage in middle class suburbia. However it is not in middle class suburbia where the true problem lies. There is a massive cultural disconnect between the middle class values and the economic conditions related to them which justify public educational spending, and the reality of our urban apocalpse. Think of medicaid fraud (health care voucher) magnified 1000 times.

    Ted writes:Virtually all the schemes put forward by the education people are “give us more money”.
    We tried that here in Oklahoma with no success. Well paid ineffective teachers are no improvement over low paid ineffective teachers. More and more administrators get us nowhere, except to waste money.

    Answer: What you say is true, but only in so far as the argument is spending more for the same services. I believe to really fix the system, we'd have to spend radically more money, but in a radically different way. Boarding schools for example.

    Ted Writes: You seem to have a mindset that the present system is the only way to go, which is demonstably nonsense.

    Answer, Again you haven't been reading what I've been writing. I believe we need radical reform, but what is being advocated as reform is simply nonsense because it fails to address the real problem. It is a "easy fix simple solution" to a very deep complicated social problem good politics, bad policy.The titanic hits an iceberg. The "liberals" don't understand and decide to paint the deck chairs. But the "conservatives" are smarter, they recognize that you've hit an iceberg,they decide to paint the life rafts! Actually, both positions are stupid. Taking the life rafts down to paint them would make the problem worse. We need to man the life rafts.

    Ted asks: What is your position on merit raises rather than seniority

    Answer: I have no problem with merit pay provided it is not based on a formula related to "student achievement". Student placement in classes as well as curriculum is beyond the teachers control and imho, one of the largest factors in "student achievement." Pay based only on seniority is stupid.

    Ted asks:"firing poor teachers rather that giving them tenure?"

    Answer: Who advocates giving tenure to poor teachers? That makes no sense.

    Ted writes:"You seem fixated on the societal needs (?) rather than the individual student. He is the one that will need to make a living. Also, how do “societal” needs mandate a government run school system?"

    Answer: It is not that I am advocating anything in those statements, I am simply recognizing how markets work and explaining that reality. Does our society HAVE to advocate universal education? NO. Does our society HAVE to prepare everybody to be informed productive citizens? NO. Does our society HAVE to provide resources for these things? NO. HAS our society chosen to have universal education, prepare everybody to be informed productive citizen and provide resources to do so. YES. Our society has created mechanisms for attempting to achieve those goals. The system is inefficient, bureaucratic and in some cases failing. However, as I have stated previously, I believe the particular reform mechanisms being advocated will actually make the problem worse.

    If you want a market based educational system, Fine. Advocate eliminating public education, convince society to agree with you and go private. Don't mislead us that grafting pseudomarket mechanisms onto a public system will accomplish the same goals.

    Ted Writes: "Your comments on the colleges doing a poor job has nothing to do with the k-12 problem."

    Answer: I wholeheartedly disagree based on the reasoning given in my prior post.

    Ted Writes "Starting fresh, I would think you would be in a position to make improvements rather than just parrot the establishment and union line"

    Answer; LMFAO, Do you really think the positions and policies I've suggested and advocated represent either an administration or union line?

  • Jon

    Make writes: All of the problems you mention are beuacratic problems associated with a government run entity.

    Answer: Any system paid for directly by the government is a government run entity. He who pays the piper calls the tunes. The specific mechanisms just little details.

    Mark writes:I agree with privitizing schools, as other commenters do.

    Answer: Good for you. Just don't be a hypocrite and pretend to support social aims like universal education.

    Mark writes: in a competitive market, they will provide the maximum qulaity for the cost.

    Answer: Well, it is all about the definition of "quality". In a truly private system quality is defined by the consumer, I have no problem with that. My problem is that in a publicly financed system with third party payers, the third party defines quality. For example I hate grapefruit. You believe I should eat grapefruit so you give me a voucher worth $2.00 for grapefruit. Who is the highest quality provider, the store that gives me 4 grapefruits for my voucher or the one that gives me two twinkees and a $1. back? The free market says the second one. You, however feel cheated.

  • Ted Rado

    This discussion demonstrates the education problem. There are those in the education field who insist on perpetuating the politicized state run system with no serious study of possible alternatives allowed.

    The college student loan system seems to work well. Students are given (loaned) money to attend the school of their choice. The third party does not define quality. The student (or parents) decides that himself. I never heard of a student loan recipient being told he must eat grapefruit (or anything equivalent). What nonsense. The idea that only the present education establishment can determine what is best for the kids is absurd. I would be delighted to see other ideas presented rather than just pushing the present system. In every other human endeavor, competitive free enterprise gives us the best products at the lowest cost. Why not education? One can dance all around the subject, but government run stuff usually turns into crap. Look at the DOE. Almost none of their sponsored programs would survive in an industrial environment. There will be piles of Solyndras.

    The US spends much more per pupil than anyone else and gets a very poor result. We have piles of administrators, poor tenured teachers, and no prospect of improvement. I have read that NYC has more school administrators than all of Germany.

    The first thing that is required to fix a problem is to accept and recognize that their IS a problem. If teachers and administrators were hired and fired as in private business, and schools had to compete with other schools, the problems would go away.

    Jon has not responded to my question about merit raises. Also, getting rid of poor teachers is like pulling teeth. Why did the establishment and union fight tooth and nail against the voucher school in DC that was so successful? They kicked out the superintendent that was trying to improve things. Anyone who argues in favor of the present system is either in the pocket of the union and establishment or is a total self serving incompetent.

    One last comment. How does supporting private schools, paid for by government vouchers, NOT support universal education?

  • Ted Rado

    One other point re merit raises. I got into a debate with a teacher many years ago who claimed that merit raises bred favoritism. In my field (engineering), the Chief Engineer and other supervisors determine one's status in the organization. It is based on one's performance on several projects over time. Several people have input to one's standing. If you do well on several assignments, you will be recognized as one of the top engineers and treated accordingly. If you are not treated fairly, you find another job. Is the system perfect? Of course not. But the bosses have a strong incentive to promote the best: their own job security. The Chief Engineer that surrounds himself with his incompetent buddies soon goes out the door himself due to poor performance of the department. In my experience, the best engineers are the highest paid engineers. Sure, there are exceptions, but they are rare. To nit pick at the system for rating teachers as an excuse to avoid a merit system is a dodge to avoid the issue. Every line of work has tha same problem: how to fairly rate people. It is not a thing unique to teachers. I could tell you who the good and bad elementary teachers were when I was in grade school, so it is not rocket science. For example, classes could be monitored with TV and studied by a rating board. Parents could be consulted. Their kids will quickly tell them which teachers can teach and are good with kids. Then there is the students' performance that can be used as an input. Any number of rating methods come to mind.

  • Jon

    Ted Writes:This discussion demonstrates the education problem. There are those in the education field who insist on perpetuating the politicized state run system with no serious study of possible alternatives allowed.

    Answer: That is my frustration. They discuss whether to paint the deck chairs while you argue to paint the life rafts, While some of us in the trenches keep screaming we need to man the life boats.

    Ted Writes: The college student loan system seems to work well. Students are given (loaned) money to attend the school of their choice. The third party does not define quality.

    Answer: I have already covered this in detail. I believe the college system is being corrupted by government intervention, that excessively easy money is creating a college price bubble and is encouraging students to get worthless degrees.

    Ted Writes: I never heard of a student loan recipient being told he must eat grapefruit (or anything equivalent).What nonsense.

    Answer: Its called an analogy. But it is a multibillion dollar problem. Ever hear of food stamps?

    Ted Writes: I would be delighted to see other ideas presented rather than just pushing the present system.

    Answer: To find solutions, you must properly define the problem. There are people who properly define the problem. To find the solution to our educational problems, start with Charles Murray instead of Milton Friedman.

    Ted Writes: Jon has not responded to my question about merit raises.

    Jon Quotes himself: " I have no problem with merit pay provided it is not based on a formula related to “student achievement”. Student placement in classes as well as curriculum is beyond the teachers control and imho, one of the largest factors in “student achievement.” Pay based only on seniority is stupid." Gee, that looks like a response to me. I am putting forth a lot of effort writing these responses, are you actually reading them?

    Ted Writes:Anyone who argues in favor of the present system is either in the pocket of the union and establishment or is a total self serving incompetent.

    Answer: Don't mistake arguments against a particular change as an argument in favor of the status quo. If you have asthma and your medication has not completely controlled it, If I argue that you shouldn't go to a witch doctor, it doesn't mean I don't believe you need to change your medication.

    Ted writes: "How does supporting private schools, paid for by government vouchers, NOT support universal education?

    Jon Repeats his answer again: Any system paid for directly by the government is a government run entity. He who pays the piper calls the tunes. A private school is one whose exchanges are between individuals. With vouchers you are talking about turning private schools into public utilities.

    Ted Writes: To nit pick at the system for rating teachers as an excuse to avoid a merit system is a dodge to avoid the issue. Every line of work has tha same problem: how to fairly rate people. It is not a thing unique to teachers. I could tell you who the good and bad elementary teachers were when I was in grade school, so it is not rocket science. For example, classes could be monitored with TV and studied by a rating board. Parents could be consulted. Their kids will quickly tell them which teachers can teach and are good with kids. Then there is the students’ performance that can be used as an input. Any number of rating methods come to mind.

    Answer: You think having a board professionals monitor each teachers daily lessons is a cost effective way of rating teachers? LOL Again, my point is that the merit systems being advocated IN THE REAL WORLD amount to little more than paying and rating teachers according to their students ACT performances. This is unfair and would be detremental to the function and mission of the school.

  • Ted Rado

    Jon:

    YOU pick a system for rating teachers. If you don't like anyone's suggestions, make a proposal yourself.

    So far, everything you have posted smacks of support for the status quo and the teachers union with no proposals to deal with the problem. Maintaining a competent staff, dealing with cost issues, and producing a high quality product is done routinely inother areas of human endeavor. Are you saying that you folks in education are incompetent to do likewise?

  • Jon

    Ted Writes: YOU pick a system for rating teachers. If you don’t like anyone’s suggestions, make a proposal yourself.

    Answer: I have no inherent problem with a merit based pay system. Do I know how to design one that can be fairly implemented that won't cause more harm than good? I conceed, the answer is no, I don't. This is an extremely difficult and complex proposition. Is it possible that one can be designed? I'm sure it is. Do I see any proposals out there which I think are anything but nonsense yet? NO. Will the unions oppose a bad plan? Yes. Will the unions oppose a good plan? Yes. But that is not an excuse to impose a bad plan. There have been legal changes among the states which are requiring merit based evaluation and pay. This means plans are being developed, but in our state every school district has asked for a waiver and delay, because they can't figure out how to design and implement one. I can be in favor of a new skyscraper in town, but I don't know how to design one, and I can believe building a faulty skyscraper is worse than building none at all.

    So far, everything you have posted smacks of support for the status quo and the teachers union with no proposals to deal with the problem.

    Answer: LOL. Yes, supporting the educational reform principles of the most radical libertarian educational reformer on the planet is "pro union status quo". This response by you sounds like thoughtless boilerplate rejoinder which absolutely ignores the content my writing. As I said earlier, my belief is educational reform is based on the ideas of Charles Murray. DO you even know who Charles Murray is? Have you every read the "Bell Curve" or "Real Education"? I am used to debating people who are professionals in the field and are knowledgable about different modalities of reform. Perhaps, I am wrong to assume you are knowledgable about various educational reform movements and my staking a position in the Charles Murray camp means nothing to you. Its kind of like you, as a Christian, are arguing against the Muslum belief that Jesus was a prophet, not the son of God. I say " It doesn't matter to me, I am an atheist." I then have to keep listening to you claim that I believe that "Jesus was a prophet, not the son of God" because you have no idea what an atheist is. There is more than one modality of reform. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreampt of in your philosophy.

  • Ted Rado

    Jon:

    This is my last post re your "stuck in the mud" attitude. Every other field of endeavor (mine is engineering) has learned how to rate employees, run a merit system, control costs, and produce a quality product. You seem to argue that this is impossible in the education field. Further, only professional educators are competent to judge how to run an education system.

    You can go on and on with the same tired stuff, but the facts are irrefutable: the US has one of the worst education results in the Western world at the highest cost. If you are an expert, FIX IT!!! A sensible person, faced with this catastrophic situation, would at least be willing to listen and discuss the issue. You seem to be barricading the halls against all suggestions for betterment. It is as though an engineer, all of whose structures collapse, insists that only he is capable of running the engineering system, and his idea is to keep doing the same thing. What nonsense.

    I'm done. I hope you enjoy perpetuating the education disaster.

  • Goober

    Hmmm. i don't know that it needs to be that hard. The average teacher in my state makes 45,000 per year. They work 1,556 hours per year. That is $29 per hour.

    Teachers can earn up to 85,000 per year in my state. That is about $55 per hour.

    Add in the fact that they have guranteed benefit pension plans, excellent health care, and a bunch of other benefits, and you'll have to forgive me if I don't feel all that badly for them.

    As for results, teaching is the only profession that i know where if your result is poor, you can blame it on the customer. An engineer designs a bad bridge, he is a bad engineer. A salesman gets poor sales, he is a bad salesman. A teacher gets poor results from her students, and she has bad students, and the best way to fix that is to give her more money... ??? wait, what?

  • Goober

    One factor that I don’t think you took into account: in many cases teachers are not provided with adequate supplies for their classes and end up having to pay for a lot out of their own pocket. This can add up to a fairly large amount, even (especially?) for the younger grades.

    I've been hearing this sob story for 15 years now and it just doesn't hold water. The teacher is ChOOSING to do this. She is not required. If parents can't provide for the kids, why is it her job or the district's job to provide for them?

    In addition, i've looked at what my Mom has had to buy for her classes over the course of a year, and it adds up to a couple hundred bucks, at best. This isn't spending any teacher on a teacher's salary into penury. Yeah, it sucks that they feel like they have to do it, but it isn't a valid point to make when we are talking about overall compensation. To make it go away, I'll concede that teachers should be able to deduct those expenses from their taxes and treat them like a per diem expense - oh, wait, THEY ALREADY CAN???

  • Jon

    Ted writes :This is my last post re your “stuck in the mud” attitude. Every other field of endeavor (mine is engineering) has learned how to rate employees, run a merit system, control costs, and produce a quality product. You seem to argue that this is impossible in the education field. Further, only professional educators are competent to judge how to run an education system.

    Answer: LOL. Yeah, you want to "tweak" the educational system by delivering the same misconceived, inappropriate, irrational, and impossible curriculum in a slightly different way. I propose a complete tear down and restructuring of societal assumptions, expectation, goals, means and delivery of education from preschool through college and I'm stuck in the mud? You're happy with the fact that government is mandating we plant pineapples in Michigan you're just unhappy because you'd prefer to get your pineapples from a voucher instead of from a government employee. I still want to eliminate planting pineapples altogether! The problem is your entire knowledge of educational reform seems to come from an applause line from a voucher advocate. Being ignorant of the various educational reform movements, you are incapable of understanding, or afraid to admit ignorance, that their are other, much more radical reforms to education being proposed than vouchers. So you fall into the desperate debate tactic of repeating your debate bullet points. I'd be glad to discuss the nature of necessary reform as I see it, but I'm not sure you are interest in learning, only trying to "win" a debate.