Thursday, September 23, 2010

American Teachers: World's Best PR Operation?

The following status update caused quite a discussion:

If you can't understand basic economics, can't compete against international students in math and science, and think that bigger government can solve our problems, thank a California K-14 teacher.

P.S. students in India, Israel, China, Iran, and Eastern Europe can't wait to compete with you.

EzD: That's a pretty wide brush. I used to be a teacher (not in CA, admittedly) and know that there are plenty of great, bright motivated teachers that find themselves fighting against the District offices and our awful myopic focus on standardized tests. It's not always (or even most of the time) the teacher's failure that causes our educational issues.

SlW: I've been put through the system in Poland (K-5), Germany (6-7) and Canada (9-12). The math I was taught in grade 9 in Canada I already knew in grade 5 from Poland. really sad...

JA: And that's why I attended private school most of my life.

TrB: I agree with SlW--after I returned from 3 years in Germany I got to "coast" for a couple years while the rest of the kids caught up to where I was at. Sad.

MaR: @EzD: no one said that teachers don't work hard or that there aren't any bright teachers. At the same time, it's easy to see that our public school system is failing students when it comes to basic knowledge, especially in math, economics, and science.

(By the way, I was doing a riff on the more common quote, "If you can read this sentence, thank a teacher.")

EzD: My first year of teaching, on my first day I had 36 students, 34 sets of books and 33 desks. We don't set our teachers up to succeed any more than we do our students.

DaC: Why blame everybody and the system when the fault lies with the students themselves. What with the WII and PS3 and modern day toys, does anybody really focus on school. Kids can't wait to get home and play. Parents need to enforce stricter ground rules for the kids also.

RoW: the teachers can only work with what they are given. My dear friend is a third grade teacher and often finds herself spending her own money on school supplies when she is short. She also has to buy snacks/meal substitutes because so many kids get sent to school hungry. If they can't focus because the are starving, they aren't learning.

MaR: I'm not surprised kids don't have sufficient resources. 80 to 85% of the education budget goes into the pockets of teachers and administrators. More here.

ScL: Well, you just hit the nail. It's the same thing killing the university system as well. Bureaucrats and Administrators are a metastasizing cancer that starve the rest of the system of resources but the same can be said of government and large banks. Add in a general unwillingness for an objective rating system for teachers and the whole thing's hosed.

NiP: This was a complaint about PS when I was growing up in Chicago. My parents made sure we were challenged by giving us extra homework. "Not all parents are equipped to do that," you counter. True, but there are all sorts of after school help parents can get for their children, some of it free. Some effort needs to be made to help the teachers teach the students, including imposing some home discipline and a good night's rest.

EzD: Heh, I think you have this image of teachers as being overpaid. Strangely, I (and I think a lot of other folks) have a different experience. I make more working at a small non-profit than I ever did teaching. It may very well be that administrators & union folks are rolling in dough, but I don't see anyone getting rich from teaching. Hardest job I ever had, and second isn't even close.

NiC: Teachers should be paid more, the school year should be longer, and there should be less administration.

MaR: @EzD: you mentioned you did not work in California. In California, teachers are adequately compensated. "According to the CTA's parent union, the National Education Association, California teachers were the nation's top-paid, with $64,424 average annual salary in 2007-08." See here.

Teachers also receive special benefits including pensions, lifetime medical benefits, and job security. If teachers agreed to switch to a private sector retirement plan (i.e., a 403b plan), we could pay them even more. However, as long as teachers receive millions of dollars on the back end (i.e., when they retire), we cannot afford to increase the salaries of newer teachers. I guess we care so much about children we don't mind paying newer teachers less money so we can pay millions of dollars to retired, non-working teachers.

EzD: True, I taught in New Orleans and was not so well paid. Does that job security you list in the benefits include the mass pink slips that districts up & down the State are sending out?

The real reason our system is hosed? Prop 13. If we got rid of Prop 13, our schools would almost instantly improve.

NiC: Really, more taxation is the answer??? Houses can't sell as it stands now. Higher taxes is not the answer. How about not wasting the money we already send to the schools. I agree with MaR.

MaR: @EzD: again, the reason newer teachers are receiving pink slips--which were canceled after states received $26 billion in emergency federal aid--is because we are spending millions of dollars paying retired teachers who no longer work. Until the day money grows on trees, we have to decide between paying millions of dollars to retired teachers or paying millions of dollars to newer teachers. California, much to my chagrin, has decide to focus on retired teachers at the expense of newer teachers.

Also, Prop 13 has been a boon to California's middle class (not just the rich). People who support the repeal of Prop 13 support taking money from the private sector middle class and giving it to government employees and unions. It's hard to sympathize with such an approach when the private sector middle class is experiencing major unemployment and financial difficulties.

AnL: You're tough!

MaR: you think I'm tough? Listen to Chuck Thompson:

"And, yes, poor unappreciated teachers. I did say sweet deal. American public school teachers have the world's best PR operation going. Whining every chance they get about how demanding their jobs are, how many 'extra hours' they put in, how little they make, how much of their own money they have to spend just to do their jobs, how noble they are working this job that nobody ever asked them to do--welcome to the f*cking world...

You think you got it tough? You don't got it tough. American teachers would crumble if they ever had to work the real hours of a cabbie, doctor, bartender, fisherman, truck driver, small-business owner, hotel clerk, mechanic, architect, janitor, musician, surveyor, accountant, or the million other jobs that don't observe weekends, much less every city, county, state, and federal holiday on the docket, almost three months' paid vacation a year, and pension programs funded out of the public trough. How is it we go through school painfully aware that half our teachers are lazy or incompetent or pathological control freaks, then turn around and let them convince us what a bunch of saints they are as soon as we become taxpayers?" (p. 100, Smile When You're Lying)

ZiL: I did K-6 (and some college) back in the old country [Poland]. And yes, the curriculum there was more demanding, esp. in mathematics. But their system sucked (and continues to suck) in many other respects, such as lack of individualized attention and a complete disregard for psychosocial development.

MaR: I agree that psychosocial development and academic aptitude are not contradictory goals, but thus far, our schools have been artificially boosting children's self-esteem with their low standards. From my perspective, families should provide self-esteem, and schools should focus on teaching viable skills so students aren't required to work for the government to enter the middle class.

One could almost describe our current education system as a scam. If schools teach most kids no marketable skills for 18 years, it forces them to rely on the government for jobs. As a result, most kids become adults who are forced to vote to expand government, which means teachers and government unions get even more money...for teaching kids no viable or useful skills.

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