Sunday, February 20, 2011

Our Kids Are Not "Products" - Why Public School Teachers in WI (& Everywhere) Deserve Decent Wages


You've all heard me say it before: an educated populace is the cornerstone of our democracy. When I received a comment on my last post with the idea that education should be treated like a business, well, my comment became more than a comment, as you can well imagine. Blame it on Limbaugh, already getting me worked up by calling teachers "whiners" and "freeloaders." My thanks to the commenter, as we are always open to discussion here at Momma Politico. And here, I submit my comment here for your perusal, my fellow Politico, with a little spit-polish and some links to support my position:

...You make some good points. Public education, however, is a very different market than that of the business sector. I don't know of any business in the private sector that has to take whatever customers it is given, or make a perfect product with whatever "raw materials" they are given. A steel plant would seek out quality ore, and Apple would not, for example, accept an order of processing chips that were not up to the industry standard. Education is a different beast than business, and not able to go "door to door," as you suggest, to gain our customers. Parents send us the best kids they have, all deserving a free and public education. And in some neighborhoods, those best kids have not had the advantages that kids in other neighborhoods may have had. If merit pay was the law of the land, there would be no one of quality who could afford to stay behind and teach the students in those underprivileged neighborhoods. And very few would be able to afford to stay and teach the ever-growing special ed populations, whose scores are now compounded into our federal growth measures. No Child Left Behind has left behind an inordinate number of students. And the so-called Race to The Top is leaving far too many schools financially at the bottom by attempting to link test scores to teacher pay.

Teaching is a thankless job, with long hours. I don't know a teacher that leaves when the kids do or arrives when they arrive. And it involves much work brought home each night - that's why you see teachers pulling those little crates on wheels behind them all the time. The planning, the grading and all the rest does not end when they close the classroom door for the day. If pro-rated, including summer vacations, the wage teachers earn would be unacceptable to anyone who has an equal amount of postgraduate education.
A National Association of Colleges and Employers study found that teachers start at a national average salary of $30,377. By contrast, computer programmers start at an average of $43,635, public accounting professionals start at $44,668 and registered nurses start at $45,570. The study also found that the more years teachers put into teaching, the bigger the gap became. Using U.S. Census data, the study found that teachers’ annual pay has fallen dramatically over the past 60 years in comparison to that of other workers with college degrees. Nationally, the average earnings of workers with at least four years of college are over 50 percent higher than the average earnings of teachers. (from edvoters.org)
Thankfully, most of us do it for the satisfaction of seeing our kids grow, knowing (as cliche as it sounds) that every day we make a difference in kids' lives, and not for the paycheck. That's for certain.

Wisconsin was set for a surplus under their Democratic governor, until such time as their new Republican governor gave huge tax cuts to business and the wealthy. Now, they are facing a deficit of nearly the same amount as was their surplus. I don't buy the "tax cuts to corporations create jobs" line. Besides all the evidence that shows that tax cuts are the least stimulative measure, it serves to reason that if it were true, we'd have come out of the eight years of the Bush Administration with a surplus greater than that under Bill Clinton...and we all know how that turned out.

There seems to be a myth out there that the WI teachers union is not willing to negotiate pay. The teachers in question are willing to sit at the table an discuss pay and benefits. It's been stated over and over. What's at question here is the basic right of unions to collectively bargain. While the union system may have its flaws, (as if the private sector is without sin?), the protections it offers provide us with teachers willing to teach the poorest of the poor, the disabled, they child who has never held a book before going to school (yes, there are many) and the child who needs to learn English, right along with all the rest. The right to collectively bargain gives those teachers an opportunity to protect what little they have in the way of salary, benefits and working conditions. These are not the Cadillac benefits of yesteryear, and the salaries are certainly not commensurate to their counterparts in the general workforce.

Despite all this, teachers teach, every day. Despite the punitive measures of the federal government, teachers continue to teach their kids. No matter what child walks in the door, they are assured a free and public education. No matter the budget cuts, the teacher layoffs, the higher class sizes, the lack of supplies, those children are still given their teachers' best efforts and skills. And I can tell you first-hand, teachers are working harder than ever before to make sure their kids realize the American dream of a good education. No matter the obstacles, teachers continue to have high expectations for their students. Without raises, taking more and more out of their own pockets for supplies each year (an average of $1.3 billion a year nationwide), teachers continue to look for better and better ways to deliver curriculum to their kids. And teach them values. And feed them breakfast and lunch. And tutor them after school. And motivate even the least of our kids to succeed. And counsel them about their family situations (divorce, homelessness). And have parent conferences at 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. because that's when parents can meet. And watch them at recess, because there's no money for a recess supervisor. And actually, literally, deeply care for every one of the little ones in their classes. And, yes, still be willing to negotiate regarding benefits and pay. Collective bargaining is the least we can provide for these everyday heroes. For all the heroes who are firefighters and nurses, police officers and custodians and oh-so-many more.
To quote a favorite character of mine, Sam Seaborn:
(Okay, so it's also a great excuse to post a pic of this cutie. But I do love the quote...)

Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don't need little changes. We need gigantic monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be getting six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That's my position. I just haven't figured out how to do it yet.
 And that's my position, too. Figuring out how to do it every day at my school, with the collaboration of my teachers and our custodians and our kids' parents and the members of the community in which we teach. Businesses that step up and join us in this effort are few and far-between, and God bless the few that do. But as a nation, our priorities are way out of whack when it comes to education. Business is the first to complain if we do not produce a product that meets their needs, and the first to want to take a knife to our budgets to provide tax cuts for themselves. I've seen it here in California and across our country.
available at allposters.com
 Educating our next generation is more than just a business proposition. If we want a positive future for our country, then by God, we'd better give our educators the respect they are due by providing enough pay and benefits to live a decent life. We owe it to our kids, our nation and our future.

Well, my fellow Politicos, thanks for allowing me to expound on a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Next time you get a spare minute, send a quick email to your kids' teachers to thank them for all that they do, every day. If you don't have kids, thank your neighborhood school's principal or one of your old teachers for doing all that she/he can for the kids in your community - I'd bet they're still at your old school, doing the amazing job that they did for you for a new generation of kids. Or better yet, go in and volunteer to read with a child for half an hour. I don't know a single school that can't use the help. If you disagree with everything I've said, it's even more important for you to volunteer - just for one day, to experience what it's like for the educators on the front lines. Maybe you'll come away able to see with different eyes how important it is to treat our teachers well.