If you listen to the mainstream media and Governors like Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and– yes– Andrew Cuomo you’d think that US teachers need to work harder and be less greedy if we ever expect to become competitive in the global marketplace. But, alas, the reporting in the mainstream media and the exhortations of “reform minded” Governors are all too often NOT based on facts. If FACTS were the basis for the debates about education, it would quickly become evident that we can’t expect our teachers to work harder because they already work more hours than those in any developed nation and we can’t expect them to work for less because they are already relatively underpaid compared to other developed nations. And the source of this information is not the NEA, AFT, or the “liberal media”, it is the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development or OECD.
Here’s my frustration as one who wants to have an informed dialogue about how to improve schools: when the OECD issues test results demonstrating that US do poorly compared to students in other developed countries the “reformers” use this data to excoriate teachers. When the same organization reports that US teachers work longer hours, receive less compensation, and have middling pay increases compared to other developed countries the data is ignored. It is possible— indeed LIKELY— that these two pieces of information are linked, especially given the Center For American Progress’ findings that “…mid- and late-career teachers are not earning what they deserve, nor are they able to gain the salaries that support a middle-class existence”.
Here are some highlights from the report, drawn from a Huffington Post article from earlier this week:
- American middle school and high school teachers spend more time educating students than peers in every OECD country except Chile
- U.S. teachers are required to be at school for more hours than most of their international peers.
- While U.S. raw teacher salaries are high compared with the rest of the world, the pay lags behind that of similarly educated American workers.
The charts that accompany the story give graphic details on this and the 500+ page report provides more information than I have time to glean… but I’m certain that some cherry-picking will occur on the “reform” side of the aisle. When hear a reformer use data from the OECD, keep this bullet point in mind:
“Teacher pay relative to other countries, in absolute terms, is quite competitive in the United States,” said Schleicher. “But when you look at this relative to the earnings of other people with college degrees, actually the United States is pretty much at the end of the scale.”
Timothy Egan’s NYTimes column today describes how our culture today is motivated by video images more than it is motivated by logic, reasoning, and facts. In “Video Nation” he describes how the videos of beheadings and Ray Rice punching his wife moved our country to call for action by the President and NFL respectively. The essay also describes how comparable offenses NOT captured on video did not result in comparable action. His conclusion: we need to SEE something to take action… but…
The body of a young black man lying on a hot pavement for four hours outside of Saint Louis has not had the impact of the videos Egan described in this essay. Nor did pictures of thousands of Syrian refugees lining up to receive animal feed for sustenance. It seems we are still able to filter out uncomfortable truths and take in what we want to believe.
We want to believe that racism has disappeared and that our country helps those who are afflicted by war. Any news to the contrary, be it written word or video, is unwelcome and not processed. In a sense, Egan’s column and Krugman’s (see previous post) are related… and they both prove Adlai Stevenson’s adage that Americans to accept agreeable fantasies but cannot accept disagreeable truths. Stevenson made that statement sixty years ago and nothing has changed since then.. .except we now have videos of disagreeable truths.
Mark Walsh wrote a straight-faced report for Education Week on the creation of a new group seeking to dial down the “toxic debate” going on in public education policy. Funded by— you guessed it— the Waltons, the Broads, and the Bloombergs, Education Post intends to “…bring in voices of a lot of people who are turned off by the toxic nature of the conversation to see if we can facilitate a more productive and respectful conversation,” according to Peter Cunningham, the executive director of the new group. And what is Mr. Cunningham’s background? Why he was assistant secretary for communications and outreach at the U.S. Department of Education for most of President Barack Obama’s first term. Here’s the comment I left on the Education Week, which violates my resolution to avoid sarcasm and stay positive:
I LOVE the idea that this group wants to debate “…what works in education” and wants to challenge “…people repeating things that are not true”. Let’s start the debate by looking at the repeated “fact” that high-stakes testing will improve academic performance of all children.
I DO think the level of civility has diminished in public policy debate, but the tone of the debate was set by political leaders like Chris Christie and Scott Walker who’ve characterized teachers as “greedy Government employees” and the education reformers who’ve used test scores to prove that TEACHERS and especially teacher’s unions are the problem in public education. They do this while ignoring the fact that test scores correlate with parent wealth and education and do not correlate with union membership. Indeed, since affluent districts pay higher salaries than non-union districts there is likely a positive correlation between teacher pay and test scores!
Bottom line: an increase civility in public discourse will occur when we stop bashing the classroom teachers who work tirelessly to help all children learn.