Elites want to teach

Teach for America is recruiting the best and the brightest to teach in low-income communities, writes David Gergen.

At Yale, no fewer than 12 percent of the graduating seniors — nearly 1 out of every 8 — applied. At Dartmouth and Amherst, some 11 percent did; at Harvard and Princeton, 8 percent. Hundreds more signed up at Northwestern, Boston College, the University of Texas, and the University of California-Los Angeles. Altogether, over 17,000 seniors applied for 2,100 openings.

While they volunteer for two-year stints, nearly two-thirds of the 10,000 TFA alumni have remained in education jobs, the non-profit says.

TFA alum Jason Kamras, a math teacher in a Washington, D.C., public school, was just named national teacher of the year. Two other alumni, Mike Feinberg and David Levin, founded and now run what is probably the most successful set of charter schools in the country: the KIPP academies (Knowledge Is Power Program). Started in Houston and New York, the academies have become a network of 38 schools in low-income communities that demand extra studies by students, balance that with extracurricular activities like martial arts, music, chess, and sports, and — guess what? — have achieved the largest and quickest improvement in learning around the country. No fewer than 25 principals in KIPP schools are alumni of Teach for America.

Via Eduwonk, which also links to a great debate by two economists on whether teachers are underpaid. Jenny D adds her cogent thoughts.

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Comments

  1. Tom West says:

    Re: Are teachers overpaid?

    Teachers get the summer off? This would be news to my teacher friends. Are courses expected to appear fully formed by magic? At least in the early years, summers were when my teacher friends really started working, desperately trying to prepare a year’s worth of notes for 5-6 courses in two months.

    I know from personal experience that preparation for teaching a course took 3-4 (and often 10-12) times the time to prepare it. These courses were one-of’s, but surely preparation for teaching a year course can reasonably expected to take a month or two worth of preparation of notes, handouts, material review, etc.

    I will say that I find it odd that teacher’s contracts stipulate vastly less than is required by a school to function (as is effectively demonstrated when the teachers “work-to-rule” and the eductaion is effectively ended). Is this because if all of a teacher’s responsibilities were fully enumerated salary demands would go up? Or to allow teacher’s unions a non-strike action to pressure administration?

  2. Miller Smith says:

    Teacher Pay. Did any of these folks doing the studies check with peole who do the hiring in other professions? Obviously not!

    In my school we lose 2/3 or more of the special ed staff, half or more of the science and math staff, and we have teachers walking out the door almost everyday during the school year neve to return. This has happened every year for the last 5 years in my school. It is worse in the rest of the county.

    This coming school year we have to find teachers to fill HALF of the teacher positions in the county.

    How do you get people to stay in other professions? Pay them more and/or give benefits and working conditions.

    Here is the solution for teachers: Raise the pay until the turnover rate equals that of other professsions. THEN you will know how much a teacher should be paid.

    These people and their studies! Not a one of them ever had to meet a weekly payroll. Their methodology shows it.

  3. Glad these people devote their time creating these successful schools. The effort seem to actually be “for the children”.

    On the better pay problem:

    Other professions quickly drum out non-productive persons. Often ruthlessly (software development, for example). Some larger organizations attempt to place less apt persons in less skilled positions, but that can raises overall costs, while reducing pay for the high-performers.

    Liability and personal risk is another aspect of high pay. Educators are not held to any reasonable standard of “education”, professional educators with credentials are not being sued because a school or a group of teachers failed to teach Anuja how the spell, or because the school selected “Everyday” math as the elementary math core program. Legal, engineering and financial and medical professionals are held to specific standards of care for the profession. Educators are not.

    So, higher pay comes with strings attached. There is the competitive work environment, not always fun. Working in a competitive discipline forces difficult choices about family life. The lack of job security is always present.

    Tough nut to crack with the public education system as it is now. There is no agreement on two basic questions need to make changes: Should families be permitted to choose a school for their own children? Are appropriate credentials and timely attendance sufficient to determine pay and tenure for educators?

    To all of you fun commenters on this blog, and to Joanne the home seller, enjoy this 4th of July weekend.

  4. New York City, about 30 years ago, embarked on a bold experiment, paying its teachers well below that of the surrounding suburbs. I work in Queens, in one of the city’s best high schools, and live in a nearby suburb, having been priced out of the community in which I work.

    Don’t get me wrong–I know many good teachers, and some great teachers in the city. But you’ve never seen bad teachers like bad city teachers–Spanish teachers who can’t speak Spanish, Chinese teachers who openly profess hatred for anyone who comes from the mainland, lunatics who roam the halls wearing sunglasses, whistling, and talking to people who aren’t there…

    Bloomberg complains about bad teachers, but continues to recruit them through the very lowest standards in the state. He complains it’s tough to fire them, but doesn’t even bother firing the ones he can fire today–those who’ve failed the rather basic licensing exam.

    I’m frankly disgusted with those who make the absurd argument that teachers are overpaid. I teach weeknights, summers, and run all over the place working a weekend job just to keep my family from living in a tree.

    I like kids and I love teaching. But anyone who thinks teachers are highly paid is either insane or spending too much time watching Fox News. If Bloomberg and Klein (and Schwarzenegger) had their druthers, God forbid, they’d hire Walmart associates, hand them boxes of chalk, pay an extra buck an hour, and hope for the best.

    And why not? None of their kids have ever attended public schools.

  5. ab2828 wrote:

    But anyone who thinks teachers are highly paid is either insane or spending too much time watching Fox News.

    How about both? From the wording of the sentence it looks like insanity precludes Fox News watching as well the reverse.

    Also, I’m a little unclear on the significance of Fox News watching. Does watching Fox News mean you’re evil or stupid? Or is it possible to be both evil and stupid if one watches Fox News?

    If believing teachers aren’t underpaid is evidence of mental illness does the belief that teachers are underpaid indicate good mental health?

    Finally, Bloomberg, Klein and Schwarzenegger are the only parents who send their kids to private schools. Public school teacher send their kids to private schools at much higher rates then the general public. Got a diagnosis for them?

  6. I’m priced out of the district I teach in, too. It’s my own fault. The houses are about the same as anywhere else in the area, but we have fantastic schools. Luckily, I get to send my kids to school in the district as one of my benefits.

    I’d like to volunteer for the study in which they overpay teachers and see what happens.

    FWIW, I’m not really a competitive person, so putting me in competition with other teachers (whatever that looks like) wouldn’t really make much difference in terms of my performance except for perhaps adding some pointless stress (of which I have enough — 8 – 10 hours per day with 130+ 16-year-olds… the drama alone, let me tell ya). I

  7. Mike in Texas says:

    Allen wrote:

    Public school teacher send their kids to private schools at much higher rates then the general public

    As usual Allen you are wrong about your facts. The claim based based on very few large cities, mainly Chicago and New York. The actual figures are 12.1% of the general public vs. 10.6% of teachers (from the 2000 census)for the nation.

    http://www.america-tomorrow.com/bracey/EDDRA/rottenapples2004.pdf (page 15)

  8. Mike in Texas wrote:

    As usual Allen you are wrong about your facts.

    And, as usual, even the link you point to, despite it’s tinge of Democratic Underground fanaticism, doesn’t support your claims.

    The actual figures are 12.1% of the general public vs. 10.6% of teachers (from the 2000 census)for the nation.

    For the entire nation? Well there you go.

    The fact that 37% of Rochester, N.Y. teachers and 41% of Cincinnati teachers and 38.7% of Chicago teachers and 43% of Philidelphia teachers have so little faith in the organization they work for that they won’t subject their own children to its tender mercies is, of course, immaterial, right?

    And, the fact that private schools are not uniformly distributed across the country but concentrated in urban areas where the anti-competitive effects of the public education monompoly is mitigated by the higher population density and higher incomes of urban areas isn’t a consideration either, right?

    RCC wrote:

    I’d like to volunteer for the study in which they overpay teachers and see what happens.

    Show a little good, old American get-up-and-go. If you haven’t gotten a your EdD then write up a grant proposal as part of your thesis to fund a study in which teachers are overpaid just to see what happens. Pick the district or school you teach in.

    As long as you don’t make numbers up to suit yourself you’ll be just fine since what passes for research in ed schools isn’t noted for it’s scientific value or even coherence.

    Just out of curiosity, how do you plan to determine the pay rate at which teachers are overpaid? I’ve asked Mike in Texas but haven’t recieved a reply as yet so I was hoping you might be able to shed some light on how that number could be determined.

    Did you have some particular figure in mind or would you use some more scientific measure like, say, when the number of BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar and Lexus salesmen milling around in the teacher’s parking lot equals the number of teachers?

    Not that I’d be all that suprised if you didn’t have a particular figure in mind since the issue usually consists of angry comparisons to NBA players which, I think we can all agree, isn’t a number that can be put on a paycheck.

    So RCC, how big would your paycheck have to be before you’d consider yourself overpaid? Or is that a contradiction in terms?

  9. I think I’d be overpaid at about $100K. About $80K would be commensurate with friends who have roughly the same education I have. I realize I get a little more time off in the summer, but I work hellacious hours during the school year and I do put in about 1/2 time during the summer (just not in the building). I put in full-time hours over the breaks. I’d also like a/c in my classroom (have you ever smelled 30 teenagers in a small room in the 90’s? — WOW — actually, we routinely take temps in the 100’s in the hottest weeks). Seriously, I more than recognize the economics involved. I pay taxes, too.

    I’m not all that interested in an Ed.D., thanks. I do engage in peer reviewed research, but not for a degree — I’m bored with university beaurocracy.

    Allen, here’s a serious question: do you have any actual solutions in mind for education or do you just enjoy ranting about what’s wrong? I’m really interested in solutions, you see. I chose this profession because I enjoy it and I care about what I do and doing a good job. When you’re ready to engage in a useful and productive dialogue, I’ll be happy and excited to talk to you; until then, I’d really appreciate it you would quit insulting me. It’s beneath us both and the subject we are talking about.

  10. “From the wording of the sentence it looks like insanity precludes Fox News watching as well the reverse.”

    That’s an interesting, though baseless conclusion. Nonetheless, if that’s how you feel, perhaps you shouldn’t watch it.

    “Also, I’m a little unclear on the significance of Fox News watching. Does watching Fox News mean you’re evil or stupid? Or is it possible to be both evil and stupid if one watches Fox News?”

    Those are indeed interesting goals you’ve set for yourself. I suggest you decide what’s best for you, and make up your own mind.

    “If believing teachers aren’t underpaid is evidence of mental illness does the belief that teachers are underpaid indicate good mental health?”

    Personally, I feel it’s healthy to face reality. Feel free, though, to try to strike it rich by becoming a public school teacher if you’re so inclined.

    “Finally, Bloomberg, Klein and Schwarzenegger are the only parents who send their kids to private schools. Public school teacher send their kids to private schools at much higher rates then the general public. Got a diagnosis for them?”

    Apparently, the distinction between those who do and do not administrate entire school systems has eluded you. Also, you generally seem to confuse obfuscation and sarcasm with argument.

    As for “diagnosing” those public school teachers, if you truly feel they’re in need, I suggest you consult with them individually. My kid attends public school.

  11. ragnarok says:

    A couple of points:

    1. Can someone explain to me how public education implies public schools? That is, assuming that the state has a legitimate interest in making education available for free to every child, why should it then require attendance at a public school to get that free education? I understand, of course, that the union is concerned about preserving jobs, but that’s got nothing to do with the idea of guaranteeing a free education to every child.

    2. It used to be that the private sector paid well, but worked you very hard and gave you no job security; the public sector paid less well, but worked you much less hard and gave you great job security. Right now the contract’s much less clear; public sector people get very good salaries plus pensions, but have much less work and cannot in general be fired. As Zock pointed out in his post, engineers are quite ruthlessly cut in software if they can’t produce. I see highly qualified people everyday working for the $80K that RCC would like; Ph. D’s from Princeton, master’s degrees from CMU, etc; these people have no job security and no pension. Often, on projects, people work from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. for months at a time (weekends too). I seriously doubt teachers do this. RCC, if your specialty allows it, why not work in a small software/hardware company for a year or so?

    Why not grade teachers on a bell curve? Cut salaries for the bad teachers, give raises to the good ones?

    Good to MiT’s back, although I must say he’s never answered the questions I raised.

  12. Long hours are de rigeur during the school year (9 months at a time). How long, on average, do you think it takes to grade a 2 – 3 pp essay?

    I’m really puzzled as to why I would want to work at a software comany for a year? FWIW, been there, done that, really enjoy teaching so much more (that’s why I took the pay cut). I’m not bitter about my paycheck. It was asked what good pay would be and I answered. I know that I’m never going to get that. No teacher in this state makes that kind of money.

    Also keep in mind that my pension is *instead of* social security and a 401K plan. (I can have a 503b, of course, but there’s no matching or anything like that — it’s up to me and TIAA-CREF.) On the other hand, it’s really amazing the places that will let teachers in for free :).

  13. ragnarok says:

    RCC said:

    “Long hours are de rigeur (sic) during the school year. How long, on average, do you think it takes to grade a 2 – 3 pp essay?”

    Actually, RCC, I don’t think it takes very long. It certainly doesn’t take as long as it does to grade undergrad assignments in the hard sciences.

    “No teacher in this state makes that kind of money.” Really? Here in the Bay Area, Fremont teachers start at $42K, top out at about 82K (for 9 months). And Fremont ain’t even the best-paying district.

    “Also keep in mind that my pension is *instead of* social security and a 401K plan.”

    Right, but the state (a) kicks in a good part of the contributions (in California, the state kicks in 8%) and (b) it’s a defined-benefit plan, so if your union makes crappy investment choices the state (read: the taxpayers) will make up the difference. In my 401(k), my employer kicks in the princely sum of $1,500, while I contribute something like $14,000. This, BTW, is a defined-contribution plan. Care to swap plans with me?

    Don’t think you’ve answered my first point about Princeton Ph. D’s making 80K, or my question about paying teachers on a bell curve. Nor have you answered my question, why does the union imply that public funding implies public schools.

    If you’ve worked in software and chose to give it up to work in schools, why do you think you deserve the same pay?

    Still, it’s good that you’re willing to discuss these issues. Most public school teachers just go ballistic.

  14. Mike in Texas says:

    Allen wrote:

    I’ve asked Mike in Texas but haven’t recieved a reply as yet so I was hoping you might be able to shed some light on how that number could be determined

    Again with the lies in place of valid arguements. I have provided you (numerous times) with a link to the Judge Dietz’s ruling on school funding in Texas where the state admits it is funding a 55% passing rate. I believe you did the math and came up with the figure of about 12K Texas needs to be spending per student.

    As for myself, I have never complained about being underpaid. I will take any raises that come my way, I have children to put thru college.

    RCC wrote:

    Allen, here’s a serious question: do you have any actual solutions in mind for education or do you just enjoy ranting about what’s wrong?

    He has no solutions to offer, and refuses to believe the solutions proven to work, such as drastically reduced class sizes (15 students per class), will work.

    Ragnorak wrote:

    Why not grade teachers on a bell curve?

    If I remember correctly a bell curve works on an average sample, and the fact teachers are required to have a college degree removes them from the average category.

  15. ragnarok: of course I’m willing to discuss the issues. I’m interested in them.

    I chose to leave private industry because I didn’t like it. It was boring and full of petty crap. I love teaching. Teaching is NEVER boring and it’s a good day when all I have to deal with is petty crap :). I made the choice knowing about the pay cut. I think I should make the same pay because I think there’s some equivalency in education, demands of the job, and education. I know people will argue that point endlessly, but having been in both places, I can say that I’ve never worked harder in my life than I do as a teacher. As for the Princeton people, maybe I taught them (I have had kids go on to Princeton). I work with several colleagues with Ivy (ie. Harvard) grad degrees. They make what I do.

    You’ve done a nice job pointing out the problem with those average teacher pay statistics. Pay really varies considerably by where you live because of differences in cost of living. I’ve heard the cost of housing is atrocious in California, for example. Good heavens. I’m years away from Fremont *starting pay*. Now you know what an unattainable dream that 80K is :).

    Remember, I can’t switch jobs for higher pay. Districts will usually only credit you for five steps, and I’m past that. If I switched districts now for some reason (for example, my spouse took a different job and we moved), I’d be taking a pay cut. I could go private, but their pay is generally pretty bad. And around here they’re closing most of the parochial schools anyway.

    As for your retirement plan versus mine. Sure, I’d switch. If you throw in SS, which I don’t get, it probably works out to be about the same.

    I’m not sure what a bell curve would look like in terms of teacher pay, so I really can’t comment on it. I’ve thought a lot about merit pay, because bad teachers drive me insane, but I just can’t figure out how you would do it. I know the usual proposals, but I think they’re not all that workable. For example, would you rate me on the progress of my remedial class, which is highly transient, has lots of issues, etc. or my AP kids, who are brilliant learners? Both make progress, but the remedials don’t make very much and every inch is hard fought. The AP kids soar. Do I get versatility points for being able to do both? I know what makes a good teacher. In all honesty, every one in any building knows who the effective teachers are and who the awful teachers are. I just can’t think of a way to sort us reliably. And I will bet you that the average social studies teacher would be less well paid than the completely awful math teacher simply because of the relative numbers of ss vs. math teachers (unless the ss teacher is a football coach, then all bets are off).

    I’m also not sure what public schooling would look like without public schools. Do you mean a system of publically funded students in private schools, ie. vouchers on steroids? How would that work?

  16. ragnarok says:

    Hi there, Mike. Good to hear from you again. But…

    “If I remember correctly a bell curve works on an average sample, and the fact teachers are required to have a college degree removes them from the average category.”

    Quite, but so what? Surely you aren’t claiming that everybody with a college degree is equally competent? We’ll do a bell curve over the sample space of all public school teachers (with college degrees!). No problemo!

    (About Allen): “He has no solutions to offer, and refuses to believe the solutions proven to work, such as drastically reduced class sizes (15 students per class), will work”

    Actually, Mike, I think you’re wrong. My understanding is that Allen believes that parents should be trusted to make better choices for their kids than bureaucrats, and he thinks that vouchers and charter schools are the way to go. (Allen, if I’ve misunderstood you, feel free to correct me).

    BTW, feel free to take a crack at my questions to RCC.

  17. PS. An essay takes 10 – 12 minutes to grade well. Multiply that by about 130 (my typical student load) by every two or three weeks. Throw in homework, tests, quizzes, etc. on top of that. I’m not saying undergrad science tests are easy to grade — I’ve never graded one to know — just trying to give some sort of idea of workload.

  18. ragnarok says:

    RCC,

    Private industry can be petty and full of crap, but it can also be incredibly exciting, depends on the company. As a rule of thumb, big companies are petty, small companies *can* be really good (but they may not be!).

    Housing prices are idiotic in California, but that has nothing to do with the complaint that teachers are priced out of the areas where they teach. Some years ago I worked in Palo Alto, where the average house was over $1M. I didn’t think I had some God-given right to live there; same for teachers.

    As for the bell curve, it’s hard to rate people, but there’s usually broad agreement on who’s good and who’s not. Mistakes will be made, but to some extent the system self-corrects because good people who get screwed will find other positions. Nevertheless, it’s bound to be better than the current insane system where good teachers are treated exactly the same as bad ‘uns.

    As for public schooling without public schools, yes, I’m talking about “vouchers on steroids”. Public schools would still exist, but one of two things might happen: (1) they’d improve so much because of the competition that they’d thrive, or (2) they’d be schools of last resort, rather like the state’s assigned risk insurance pool.

  19. ag2828 wrote:

    That’s an interesting, though baseless conclusion. Nonetheless, if that’s how you feel, perhaps you shouldn’t watch it.

    Hey, I was just trying to understand whether you meant that a refusal to acknowledge that teachers are tragically underpaid is evidence of mental defect or whether it’s a result of watching Fox News or both. Your proposition. I just wanted you to iluminate this unexplored corner of psychopathology. This is what your wrote:

    But anyone who thinks teachers are highly paid is either insane or spending too much time watching Fox News.

    Now, there’re only a few possible interpretations that one could draw from that bold assertion. Either you’re making a clinical diagnosis or you’re being clumsily, pointlessly and ineffectually insulting.

    I think I’ll vote for door “B”.

    About the reference to Fox News. Was that meant to imply stupidity or evil?

    Apparently, the distinction between those who do and do not administrate entire school systems has eluded you.

    That’s me alright. Distinctions elude me all the time. For instance, I can’t tell the difference between the kind of hate-filled idealogues who have a financial stake in the outcome of the issue they’re so passionate about and the hate-filled idealogues who don’t have a financial stake in the outcome of the issues they’re so passionate about.

    Their rage, as evidenced by their inability to see disagreement as anything other then stupidity, insanity or evil, completely wipes out my powers of discrimination. It’s a problem.

    My kid attends public school.

    Which is supposed to indicate what? That you’ve got some special insight into the running of the public education system unshared by the aforementioned three because they don’t send their kids to public school? Maybe you and Mike in Texas ought to split a pitcher. He’s also like to solve the public education system’s problems with a dictatorship of the pedagoty.

    RCC wrote:

    I think I’d be overpaid at about $100K.

    Paging Mike in Texas!

    Paging Mike in Texas!

    You have a collect call from someone who isn’t entranced by their own cleverness.

    Wonders have now officially ceased.

    Seriously, I more than recognize the economics involved. I pay taxes, too.

    Good. That’s a degree of understanding which, while it seems perfectly obvious to me, I was beginning to dispair was shared by anyone else on the planet.

    Allen, here’s a serious question: do you have any actual solutions in mind for education or do you just enjoy ranting about what’s wrong? I’m really interested in solutions, you see.

    Oh sure but the answer depends on whether you’re talking short-term solutions or long-term solutions. And fasten your seat belt, it’s a bumpy ride.

    Short-term the solution is to get rid of school districts. They were originally the funding mechanism for public education but now they’re an anachronism and not a benign one.

    The district, and the inevitable district administrative bureaucracy, are responsible for most of what’s wrong with public education and it’s the emergence of thousands of independent charter schools that prove beyond any reasonable argument that any administration above the level of the individual school does nothing to enhance education.

    Longer-term though, even the charterization of the entire public education system isn’t viable or stable.

    Since political power tends to concentrate, 130,000+ independent but government-funded schools will be too valuable a political prize to be allowed to enjoy too much freedom for very long. Everyone with a political agenda will want to do what everyone with a political agenda wants to do today with public education: use it as a public indoctrication tool. If you think the state-level fights about teaching creationism are bad wait until the prize is to enforce that sort of policy on every public school in the nation.

    Of course, there’s that $500 billion budget that would be up for grabs. It’d make the fights over defense contracts look like small potatoes.

    And I haven’t even get into the wealthy constituency that the necessary egalitarianism of a charterized public education system would create.

    Finally, I don’t enjoy ranting. It’s a responsibility. A sacred trust. I rant not for myself but for generations unborn who cannot rant for themselves. I rant for those who, living under authoritarian regimes, are denied their inalienable right to rant.

    I rant because I’m an American

  20. “About $80K would be commensurate with friends who have roughly the same education I have.”

    Just what education is that, RCC? $80K is good pay for an engineer, but the average education student wouldn’t have survived the first semester of an engineering undergraduate program. Are you saying that math for dolts is “roughly the same” as Differential Equations? Maybe you’ve acquired a Masters or a PHD in Education, while most engineers don’t – but I suspect that I could have done all that and put in fewer hours total on schoolwork than four years of Electrical Engineering required. Furthermore, at least in my field (electronics), an engineer’s education is just beginning when he graduates and gets a job. I had to learn as much on the job as I did in college, and every year I’ve got to learn some new technology, so while I don’t have the formal credentials to prove it, I’ve spent more hours in study than most PHD’s.

    Or maybe you are comparing your pay to corporate managers. If so, remember that their education and other credentials merely got them in the door. They don’t reach $80,000 without showing performance far above average, and they can lose that job fast if their performance appears to sag, and quite often get fired over things that are really beyond their control.

    As for hours, quit whining. Engineers and managers usually have no choice but to work far more than 40 hours a week. Teachers may have to work unpaid overtime to do their jobs right, but there are no consequences for not doing their job. Do you have to write your own curriculum, or could you just crib one from somewhere, however poorly matched it is to your class? Do you have to stay up late grading papers, or could you just assign less? Do you even have to teach at all? One of my Jr. High English teachers did nothing but try to keep the class quiet, and yet he kept his job until he could retire. And he was paid the same as several great teachers in the same school were – at least until they moved to other jobs.

    RCC, you sound like a good teacher. and it’s quite possible that you are worth $80,000 or more. This is especially true if you took a full major in math or science rather than just education courses. However, I have to assume that, willingly or unwillingly, you belong to a union that makes sure that you are not responsible for results like a professional, that you get paid exactly the same as the worst teacher in the school if you were hired at the same time, and that the worst teacher’s job is protected like that English (non)teacher’s job was.

    Under those circumstances, consider yourself lucky to be paid a slightly better wage than the average teacher could make out on the economy. Just what is a degree from a program that mostly attracts students with low SAT scores, and that is notorious for teaching things that have been proven to work poorly in practice worth out in the business world? Just guessing, it might qualify you for assistant manager at McDonalds. If you do that well, you can work your way up from there, but I doubt that the dolts who seemed to make up most of the education majors when I was in college would get very far.

    Just be glad that your pay isn’t judged by the worst public-school teachers, because they barely merit babysitting pay.

  21. Sorry Allen,

    You’ve missed the point entirely.

    Of course, you’re certainly welcome to wallow in insults and snide sarcasm. I wish you well with that.

  22. Mike in Texas says:

    but there are no consequences for not doing their job

    Sure there is, you get eaten alive by the students. I’m wondering, do half of the engineers quit within 5 years of getting their degrees?

  23. ragnarok says:

    MiT said:

    “…you get eaten alive by the students. I’m wondering, do half of the engineers quit within 5 years of getting their degrees?”

    Although you still haven’t answered any of my questions, I’ll tackle this one. You may get eaten alive by the students, but you’ll still get your paycheck, your raises, your seniority and your pension. Apparently this is an attractive enough deal to keep many of the worst teachers in for life.

    As for the half-life of teachers, if you’re trying to argue that this is caused by the “low” salaries, that’s an extraordinarily weak argument. Maybe it’s because they’re frustrated by the union rules; maybe they’re not cut out for the politics; how do you know?

    As for the constant refrain about paying well enough to attract the “best and the brightest”, you typically don’t want rocket scientists to be schoolteachers; you want people of reasonable intelligence who are good at dealing with kids (see Aldous Huxley’s discussion of Alpha++ and Epsilon– in Brave New World). I don’t say this to slam teachers or teaching, but to make the point that this slogan is stupid and the corresponding argument ridiculous.

    Now that I’ve dealt with your question, let me repeat my invitation to you to tackle any of the questions I’ve asked. For example, how does public education imply public schools? Do you see a flaw in my bell-curve suggestion? What about my pointing out that, contrary to your assertion, the data show that charters in Texas are less expensive than Texas public schools? Or my point (with appropriate links) that here in California the state spends *more* per pupil than many private schools, and the union is still whining about needing more money?

    Here in the Bay Area, I’ve actually seen teachers walking a picket line and chanting the famous “Hey-hey, ho-ho, So-and-so has got to go”, as well as refusing to write recommendations for college-bound students until they got a contract to their liking. Quite contemptible, don’t you think? Do professional behave like this?

    There are good teachers, and they deserve respect; RCC sounds like one such, but they’re often obscured by the mob.

    Still, we shouldn’t get too carried away. Happy 4th of July to everyone.

    P.S. to ag2828:

    “Of course, you’re certainly welcome to wallow in insults and snide sarcasm.”

    Actually, ag2828, I think you meant “revel” not so?

  24. Miller Smith says:

    No No No! You don’t compare jobs to other jobs to determine the proper pay! You adjust the pay until you have a minimum number of applicants for each open job (this could be up OR down) and adjust the pay for those you hire until your turnover rate is very low (this too can be up or down).

    At my high school in Prince George’s County, Maryland, we have so many applicatants for English, Art, P.E., and Social Studies that we never see an openning go unfilled for more than a day. We have subs (general population who have passed criminal background checks) for science and math and SPED for the full year. We even take some excess applicants in other fields (Art for example) and get them to teach SPED. This is SOP for us.

    Right now the pay for English, Art, P.E. and the like is too high. The pay for Science, Math, and SPED is too low. Heck, we have high schools (Northwestern High, Bladensburg High) where there were no applicants for principal! I kid you not. Vice Principals had to be brow-beaten into taking the positions for one year and they were very unhappy to the point saying they will leave our system if any attempt is made to force them to continue.

    Science, Math, and SPED in my county are considering breaking away from the union and forming our own union to bargin with the school board for pay and conditions. Anyone want to guess what will happen to our pay? Anyone want to guess what will happen to the rest of the teacher’s pay?

  25. Ragnarok,

    I like your particualarity about language, but I did mean “wallow.” “Revel,” though a very good word, was not precisely what I was looking for.

    Thanks, though.

    AG

    PS I do agree that refusing to write recommendations for college-bound kids is disgraceful. While I don’t require rocket science either, I disagree about “reasonable” intelligence being sufficient for a teacher. I don’t know–“Reasonable” doesn’t sound very special to me, and I can’t see that sort of person inspiring kids. I can remember many “reasonable” teachers, and in retrospect, they’re not awfully fond memories.

    Maybe we mean different things with that word too.

  26. Wow, that’s a good description of how teaching is! You get started in school, but the vast majority is learned on the job. Bingo. Exactly. I have degrees in my subject area and I do more professional development (learning new skills) every year; I think it came out to over 100 hours last year (the state requires us to track it). I do recall taking calculus in college, but I stopped short of diff. equations. Since I don’t teach any sort of math at all, I figure that was probably adequate.

    I’m not whining about my hours, just describing them. I like my job. I even like grading essays (most of the time).

    I don’t belong, willingly or unwillingly, to a union. I live in a right-to-work state, and since my insurance agent throws in a liability rider on my homeowners for free, I didn’t see any point to joining. I’d say union membership in my building is less than half the teaching staff.

    I have seen tenured teachers fired for not doing their jobs — in my building and from my department. In those big urban districts, they’re happy to have warm bodies and the dead wood can hide out forever, but in a small, close-knit suburban district like mine, the parents would run me out on a rail if I pulled that type of nonsense. (One reason I agree with Allen that large schools and large districts are a problem, but instead of federalizing the entire system, I think going smaller is a better solution.)

    No, you probably don’t want the most brilliant members of society teaching high school. It does take a certain kind of intelligence, though, to be able to think on your feet and make it all work seamlessly. I remember the first time I broke up a hall fight and then had to teach. I had a lecture planned, but my hands were shaking (the adrenalin rush causes that for about 10 or 15 minutes). I’ve never thought up an independent quiet activity for a class so fast in my life.

  27. The maximum salary earned by Fremont, California teachers needs some clarification. In order to earn that $85 salary they need to have worked 29 years and have in excess of 75 graduate units.

    To someone living in Indianapolis this salary looks darn good, but when fixer uppers start at $600k even $85k won’t even get you in the door.

    Most engineers in Silicon Valley that I know make better than $85k and they get to those salary levels in a much shorter time frame. My wife as senior level admin makes over $70k and she only has a high school diploma. In this area a family of four with an income under $56k qualifies for a whole panopoly of public assistance, because of the high cost of living here.

    I’ve also worked in both the private sector, (international sales in both the Middle East and South America, construction laborer and later as an attorney) as well as a teacher. Nothing was more exhausting than a typical day as a teacher by a factor of 2. I worked fewer hours in each of those other professions than as a teacher. Most people agonize over making a two minute presentation to a small group and feel drained after the experience. Teachers are in front of an audience six hours a day. I’ve known enough tech workers to know that they waste more hours per day surfing the net, playing games and going to beer bashes than they do working. As a college student I worked at Apple. People stayed long hours, but they weren’t required to be ‘on’ as a teacher is for hours on end. I could complete most of my job in well under eight hours without any stress most of the time. Long hours don’t necessarily equate with quality. Far too much of the time I was bored silly.

    Teachers are also not finished with their educations when they walk out of their ed cert programs. They’re just beginning. Anyone in the profession can tell you that it typically takes five years before a teacher is really firing on all cylinders. Effective teaching is not learned in a college classroom, it is learned from on the job experience, just like any other profession. Unfortunately most teachers quit within five years. If the job is so easy and well compensated why do you suppose that is? Additionaly, teachers, just like lawyers and doctors, are expected to continue their educations throughout their careers.

    Here is a url to the Fremont Unified School District salary schedule:
    http://www.fremont.k12.ca.us/humanresources/TeacherSalary.PDF

    * This is a pretty typical Bay Area salary schedule.

  28. Mike in Texas says:

    Ragnarok wrote:

    What about my pointing out that, contrary to your assertion, the data show that charters in Texas are less expensive than Texas public schools?

    I must have missed that question in your earlier posts. The research I’ve seen seems to indicate that in Texas charter schools are slightly more costly than public schools. The pro-charter crowd claims this is b/c the public schools do not have to factor in building costs as the charter schools do. I don’t know if this is true or not.

    Here is a link to the Dallas Morning News story:
    http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/060305dnmetchartermoney.10cb1aba3.html

  29. Mike in Texas says:

    Also notice that in the chart on the right side of the article the state is paying $6633 average per student in charter schools vs $3199 average per student in public schools. The charters also get on average $1164 in federal money vs $746 for public schools. Balancing that off is the local property tax for each school district, which the Republican controlled state govt is trying to reduce by one-third. The school district I work for spends approximately $6300 per student.

  30. ragnarok says:

    Grr, machine swallowed my post!

    RCC, my intent was to expose the stupidity of the “best and brightest” argument, not to imply that no intelligence is required for teaching. My apologies if I gave you that impression.

    Mr. E., for a good comparision of the rigors of engineeering vs. teaching, look at markm’s post. It’s a bad joke to compare the two. Take a look at the CBEST, which is a test that all California teachers must pass to get a licence, and then look up the failure rates. Here is a typical CBEST question:

    1. During a semester, a student received scores of 76, 80, 83,71, 80, and 78 on six tests. What is the student’s average score for these six tests?
    A. 76
    B. 77
    C. 78
    D. 79
    E. 80

    Any engineer would hang his head in shame if he flunked this stuff. The teachers? Well, some sued, saying the test was discriminatory and unfair. Are we supposed to respect people who do this?

    As for the supposedly easy life of “tech workers”, try it. Many people think I have it easy because I don’t have to show up for work at a set time, but they don’t understand that it’s all about results. When engineers are on a project, it’s all about does the hardware work? does the feature work? does the ASIC have to be re-spun? No time to think about beer bashes, net-surfing and such. Tech tends to attract highly driven people, because they want to deliver something and see it in the market.

    As for the “stress” of being in front of a class 6 hours a day, many of us have taught undergraduate and graduate classes as TA’s, in addition to teaching labs and grading papers. Not 6 hours a day, but arguably more demanding. If you know your stuff there’s not much to worry about.

    Miller Smith, there was a recent study that showed that 8th-grade Maryland GATE students were performing at roughly the level of regular 5th-grade Singapore students in math. Doesn’t speak well of the Maryland math, does it? I think there was a reference to the study on this blog, or you can google for it.

  31. ragnarok says:

    MiT,

    I don’t have my original post in front of me, but I pointed you at the exact pages in the TCER study that was done for the TEA. If I remember correctly, the charter schools got about $25 more per child, and I pointed out that this was because many of the charter schools had a very high number of at-risk kids, who got an extra $300 (public or charter). I think about 44% of the charters had more than 70% at-risk kids, while the public school figure was about 14%. Right there you can see that if you compare apples to apples, charters are cheaper.

    Also capital outlays aren’t counted. I can send you the link to the TCER study, or you can google for it. Forget the newspaper story – it’s incomplete like most of its kind.

  32. You can’t really compare teaching undergraduates to teaching high school. Obviously the content is a piece of cake for me, but classroom management really adds a whole ‘nother dimension.

  33. Mike in Texas says:

    Ragnorak,

    Do you have a link to the article that says charters usually serve higher numbers of at-risk kids? I will agree with you that at-risk kids do require more funding than regular students. However, it seems to me a large majority of Texas schoolchildren are considered at-risk, at least in my corner of Texas. My school district has 56% of its students considered economically disadvantaged.

  34. ragnarok says:

    RCC said:

    “You can’t really compare teaching undergraduates to teaching high school.”

    True, but ther are pros and cons for each. The shame if some uppity undergrad asks a question which you, the grad student, can’t answer! The horror!

    School classroom management? Just order some Tasers and pepper spray (humour!). More seriously, public school discipline is supposed to be very bad, so I sympathise.

  35. Mike in Texas says:

    Ragnorak,

    According to this study done by the Progressive Policy Institute, Texas charters typically enroll smaller percentages of special education students and limited English proficiency students as well as having the right to refuse students with severe discipline problems or juevenile court adjutications. They serve about 57% economically disadvantage students vs. about 50% for public schools. I would guess from their website they are not very pro public schools.

    http://www.ppionline.org/documents/Texasreport_0215.pdf Page 7

  36. ragnarok says:

    MiT,

    I don’t have the link handy, but I can send you the title of the TCER study tomorrow (have hardcopy at work). If I find the link in the meantime, I’ll post it.

  37. ragnarok says:

    MiT,

    Here’s the link to the TCER study. Look at Table 3.2 on page 23, which shows that about half the charters had more than 70% of their students classified as at-risk.

    Also note (page 6) that some charters serve as Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs, so their students aren’t exactly choirboys.

    Finally, note that your original claim that charters are more expensive (without adjusting for the at-risk kids) came from a difference of $16 per student – not particularly significant, don’t you agree?

  38. Mike in Texas wrote:

    I would guess from their website they are not very pro public schools.

    Certianly by your definition the PPI would be considered “not very pro public schools” but from my point of view they’re trying desperately to make an educational silk purse out of the sow’s ear of public education. That makes them very pro public education by my measure.

    They make the very good point that your panacea, reducing class sizes, would probably undercut educational quality. The drive to hire all the teachers needed to reduce class size would inevitably lead to a reduction in the quality of teachers hired.

    Remember, it’s the administration that does the hiring and they’re driven not by the relatively difficult to measure “teacher quality” then by the easily defined certification as well as the need to comply with an expansion of the number of teachers.

    As long as the administration hires people with the right certs, they’re covered. But certification isn’t a proxy for quality much as that’s implied.

  39. Administrators can higher better quality teachers if they have a variety of applicants to choose from. My friend in Uniondale, NY tells me they get hundreds of applications for each opening. In New York City, even with much lower standards, they’re lucky to get one applicant per position.

    If you want a job at Burger King, the manager will speak to you, and if you are determined to be a drooling lunatic, your chances of getting the job will be poor. In NYC, if you can show that diploma, if you have the credits, you almost certainly have the job.

    If you want to see how someone teaches, you could ask for a demonstration lesson, or two or three. That’s what’s done in my friend’s district.

    Teacher certification does not necessarily indicate a good teacher. But I’d say the inability to pass required basic skills tests pretty much guarantees a bad one.

  40. ag2828 wrote:

    Administrators can higher better quality teachers if they have a variety of applicants to choose from.

    Sure, but what’s their motivation to pick only the best applicants? Pride in their district? In the performance of their job? Because it’s just the right thing to do? Or are the administrators charged with doing the hiring more interested in getting warm bodies with the right certifications into those job slots?

    If you want to see how someone teaches, you could ask for a demonstration lesson, or two or three. That’s what’s done in my friend’s district.

    I won’t represent my view on this as authoritative but from my reading and experience, your friend’s district is a rare exception.

    Teacher certification does not necessarily indicate a good teacher.

    Certainly not. People being what we are, there will always be ed schools that do a lousy job of educating teachers and teachers who aren’t very good at their job. That certification is a proxy for an acceptable level of educational attainment. The district your friend works in isn’t satisfied with that proxy for the simple reason that it is no longer a reliable indicator of teacher quality. But in most districts it is an acceptable proxy mainly because it makes the hiring decision less a matter of judgement and thus, less likely to backfire on the hiring administrator.

  41. How many teachers have you hired, Allen? How many teaching positions have you applied for? How would you know?

    (Every district in my county requires the top applicants to teach a demo lesson. My students are occasionally the sacrifical lambs in this process. At the least, all applicants are expected to have a video of themselves teaching.)

    When my department interviews for an empty position, we’re after the best applicant. Nobody wants to clean up after a disaster.

  42. 1. I can’t believe you asked this–their motivation is to get the best possible person to educate the children in their community. What else would it be?

    2. It is not a rare exception. If you have many applicants, you have to weed out most of them. Watching them work is a great way to do so.

    3. The inability to pass required basic skills tests pretty much guarantees a bad teacher, and districts, like mine, that choose to hire such individuals are doing a disservice to their kids.

  43. ragnarok says:

    Bureaucracies have a number of agendas, and their stated raison d’etre is usually not their top priority. Both RCC and ag2828 seem to think that you’re always trying to hire the best applicant, but that ain’t necessarily true.

    Try googling for Sara Boyd and the CBEST, as well as for Juliet Ellery. You might also find a reference to Bob Williams and the CBEST.

    Note that Menlo-Atherton High, where Sara Boyd was Vice-Principal, is set in a very affluent area.

  44. I don’t think you’re always looking for the best applicant. They certainly don’t in New York City.

    But they do in neighboring suburbs.

  45. I never had to take the CBEST, so I can’t comment on it. (I don’t remember why — something about doing my cert. work post-BA.) I did think the Praxis in my subject area was ridiculously easy. I took that in an hour and got a perfect score. I see these as minimal weeding out type things. We’d certainly never hire anyone who failed it. I know there are other agendas out there, and in general, I think the further from the department the hiring happens, the more other agendas play into it. WE know what makes a good teacher in our subject area with our kids. The chances of somebody in a central office somewhere having that same kind of perspective are slim. They might also view 80th on the Praxis as good — looks good, right? — when we know the test is so darn easy that a score like that indicates some problems.

  46. ragnarok says:

    Here’s the math portion of the CBEST. I think it’s even easier than the Praxis I math, don’t you?

    Yet Sara Boyd, after taking this test 4 times in 6 years and failing every time (twice getting zero in math) actually joined a suit against the state, arguing that the test was unfair and discriminatory. No wonder people don’t take teachers seriously.

  47. Good heavens. That’s easier than the math Praxis?

    Life in California is so deeply strange and on so many levels, I can’t wrap my head around it. I mean, the property values are obscene as it is, but I’ve never heard of a stager (just pack your crap away and hide your dogs before you show the place). Educational policy is bizarre, and I can’t imagine somebody like that making it into administration — even in our worst districts (such as the one the state recently dissolved).

  48. Since there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of enthusiasm about ragnarok’s suggestion, here’s a quote from the suit in which Sara Boyd testified:

    One of the suit’s star plaintiffs was Sara Boyd, an African-American former teacher and guidance counselor retired from her job as vice principal of Menlo-Atherton High School. The suit cited Boyd’s many awards and accolades as proof that she was a solid educator as well as “an extra-sensitive conduit and role model for the school’s large minority student population,” even though she flunked the test four times.

    In a videotaped deposition with Lawrence Ashe, who defended the test, Boyd mentioned that 6 out of 80 teachers at her school were black—1 or 2 percent by her estimation. Then she realized that, in fact, 8 teachers were black.

    “So, in fact, 10 percent of the faculty is African American?” Ashe responded.
    “No,” Boyd countered.
    “What percent of 80 is 8?” Ashe asked Boyd.
    For some time Boyd was silent, then: “Can you rephrase that? I’m drawing a blank here.”

    The question was rephrased and Boyd answered “That’s about 1 percent.”

    You can’t make this stuff up. No one would believe a work of fiction with this exchange in it, and no fiction author would have the temerity to write and exchange like that yet there it is, in the court record.

  49. ragnarok says:

    …and here’s the Bob Williams story:

    Williams, Ashe points out, may have been a good teacher, but his academic achievements in high school and college were unimpressive. “His combined SAT scores were something like 623, on a scale of 400 to 1600,” Ashe says. He’s looked at Williams’ transcript from Linfield College, “and there’s not a single math course on it. He got credit for things like weight lifting, intercollegiate wrestling, folk dancing, etc. There’s one English course on it; that’s the spring semester of his senior year, when he got a C in Black American Literature. What is there on that transcript that tells us that he’s got minimum cognitive skills in reading, writing, and math?”
    After college, Williams took the Graduate Record Examination, on which he scored in the 4th percentile on the verbal section and in the 2nd percentile on the quantitative section. “And then,” Ashe says, “he is admitted, for reasons that I don’t understand, to Stanford University, to a master’s program in physical education. . . . I can promise you that in a normal program in a graduate program at Stanford that you or I might have applied to, they’d have laughed if we had showed up with GREs in the 2nd and 4th percentile. It’s an elite, very selective school.”

    4th %ile verbal, 2nd %ile quant on the GRE? Wrestling, folk-dancing and similar courses for his bachelor’s degree? Not a single math course? And when people like this go into teaching and produce miserable results, the union says the solution is more money? Sheesh!