Home > Uncategorized > Teaching is Not the Job I Took on in 1970… It’s Far More Demanding and Far Less Rewarding Intellectually and Financially, and Far

Teaching is Not the Job I Took on in 1970… It’s Far More Demanding and Far Less Rewarding Intellectually and Financially, and Far

December 13, 2018

At the end of last school year, teachers in at least six states rose up to protest their wages and working conditions. Why? A story at the beginning of the school year identified the cause in a from page article:

….The country’s roughly 3.2 million full-time public-school teachers (kindergarten through high school) are experiencing some of the worst wage stagnation of any profession, earning less on average, in inflation-­adjusted dollars, than they did in 1990, according to Department of Education (DOE) data.

Meanwhile, the pay gap between teachers and other comparably educated professionals is now the largest on record.In 1994, public-school teachers in the U.S. earned 1.8% less per week than comparable workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a left-leaning think tank. By last year, they made 18.7% less. The situation is particularly grim in states such as Oklahoma, where teachers’ inflation-adjusted salaries actually decreased by about $8,000 in the last decade, to an average of $45,245 in 2016, according to DOE data. In Arizona, teachers’ average inflation-adjusted annual wages are down $5,000.

Whether EPI is left leaning is immaterial since numbers do not lean to the left or the right: they only go up and down and, in the case of relative wage comparisons, cannot be skewed. And anyone who argues that a decline in salaries has been offset by higher spending on supplies or improvements in working conditions would be wrong: spending has declined absolutely in a majority of states and the consequences are obvious in all school districts except those that serve the most affluent children:

The decline in education funding is not limited to salaries. Twenty-nine states were still spending less per student in 2015, adjusted for inflation, than they did before the Great Recession, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, leaving many public schools dilapidated, overcrowded and reliant on outdated textbooks and threadbare supplies.

To many teachers, these trends are a result of a decades-long and bipartisan war on public education, born of frustration with teachers’ unions, a desire to standardize curricula and a professed commitment to fiscal austerity. This has led to a widespread expansion of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, and actions such as a move in the Wisconsin legislature in 2011 to strip teachers’ pensions and roll back collective bargaining rights. This year, Colorado lawmakers voted to raise teachers’ retirement age and cut benefits.

But what Time Magazine fails to mention is its complicity in this “…decades-long and bipartisan war on public education” that “…led to a widespread expansion of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated“. These covers from a decade ago illustrates how Time and Newsweek, then even more widely read than they are today, covered public schools:

Contrast that with the three covers Time used to at long last recognize how teachers have been short-changed over the past 25 years:

Teaching is much harder now than ever, and yet we continue to celebrate billionaires who fund charter schools and lionize tyrants like Michelle Rhee who promise to sweep “dead wood” out of schools…. and we then wonder why it is increasingly difficult to find college graduates who want to enter teaching.

As one who sat across from the NEA and AFT for decades, it might be surprising to see MY thinking on this issue: the best hope for public education is an expansion of unions. I can recall discussing the stagnation of unions in the late 1990s with the union president in an upstate New York school district. She was lamenting how difficult it was to find younger teachers who were willing to put in the extra hours necessary to take on leadership roles in the school and especially saddened to find the more and more of the new teachers we were hiring were not enthusiastic about paying their dues. She recalled the strikes that unions led in the late 1960s and early 1970s in NYS that led to the (then) decent wages, benefits, and working conditions. MAYBE data like that gathered by EPI and stories about teachers like those featured on the September 2018 Time magazine covers will restore the teachers’ collective understanding of how unions helped them achieve the levels of compensation and begrudging respect of the communities they served. There was no agency shop when unions first formed… there was only mis-treatment by heavy-handed boards and legislators that compelled teachers to band together. MAYBE 2019 will be the year that teachers re-form unions to push back against school “reform”.

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  1. December 14, 2018 at 8:35 pm
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