Can We Interest You In Teaching?
August 12, 2015 8:11 AM   Subscribe

“We are no longer in a layoff situation,” said Monica Vasquez, chief human resources officer for the San Francisco Unified School District, which offered early contracts to 140 teachers last spring in a bid to secure candidates before other districts snapped them up. “But there is an impending teacher shortage,” Ms. Vasquez added, before correcting herself: “It’s not impending. It’s here.”
posted by roomthreeseventeen (79 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Hey, so, we're going to pay shit for really long hours at a job where you'll probably be yelled at all day and blamed by everybody for everything that goes wrong, and we'll require a Master's degree to do it, oh and also we've historically just cut funding and pay and benefits over and over for years with intermittent layoffs. You in?"
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:20 AM on August 12, 2015 [106 favorites]


I read that NYT article when it came out. And the thing is, it's not clear to me that this is about a teacher shortage. It's about a teacher shortage in STEM and special ed. I live and work in a state with unusually high standards for teachers, so my perspective is a little skewed, but where I am, a student who has the grades and classes to become a science or math teacher is a student who has a lot of other, more-lucrative, more-prestigious, more-appealing career paths open to him or her. State legislatures really don't want to face that reality, but it is a reality. If they want competent teachers, they're going to have to do more to make teaching an appealing profession.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:23 AM on August 12, 2015 [28 favorites]


and we'll require a Master's degree to do it

Part of the emergent issue is that many school districts (NYC included) no longer require a Master's Degree when you start. So, you can have almost no experience teaching (having learned over the summer some of the basics), be thrown into a classroom, and then be told you have to start taking classes for your Master's degree at night. While you are working.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:24 AM on August 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Perhaps if they paid teachers enough to actually live within 200 miles of San Francisco...

Eh. it's San Francisco. Some tech bro will just come along and disrupt it and everything will be fine.
posted by Naberius at 8:30 AM on August 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


Someone is probably coming up with a plan right now to turn all the public schools into MOOCs.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:32 AM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Waiting for "It's like Uber, but for teachers"
posted by msbutah at 8:33 AM on August 12, 2015 [28 favorites]


My sister in law just moved the US. She's a teacher, and just got her green card. She just scored a full-time teaching gig. While happy to have a job doing what she loves to do, the penny dropped for her in terms of how relatively good teachers in Canada have it when she saw the salary offer.

I have no data to back this up, but I think the relative ease with which she was able to get a gig has to do with the appeal of teaching as a profession in the US. She had to scratch and claw her way into a teaching gig here. I think the relative glut of teachers in Canada has to do with the fact that teaching pays reasonably well and, in the provinces I'm aware of, ends with a solid defined benefit pension if you hang in there, thanks to strong teacher unions.

If they want competent teachers, they're going to have to do more to make teaching an appealing profession.

Scott Walker has other ideas.

and we'll require a Master's degree to do it

Again, Scott Walker's gonna fix that too, by:

...allowing public and private schools to hire anyone to teach, even those without a bachelor’s degree, planting Wisconsin at the bottom nationally, below states with the lowest student achievement levels.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:34 AM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I remember my 7th grade gifted Science teacher asking our classroom what we wanted to do when we grew up.

An astronaut? A bunch of hands

Police or fireman? A couple of hands

Lawyer? Accountant? Doctor? Scientist? Multiple hands raised for each

Final question was "Who wants to be a middle school teacher"? Not a single hand

He then asked the class who was going to teach their children? I remember it as clearly two decades later as I did that day. And it is certainly a more pressing question now than when it was asked.
posted by 6ATR at 8:36 AM on August 12, 2015 [18 favorites]


I think that teaching is already being disrupted by things like Teach for America, which try to solve the problem of making teaching an appealing career by saying that it won't really be your career. It's just a public service that you'll perform for a few years when you're young and don't mind working long hours for low pay and shitty benefits. I really, really don't think that's a viable model, but it is sort of the Uber of teaching.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:43 AM on August 12, 2015 [41 favorites]


A friend of mine just walked away from a job teaching at a public high school, with absolutely no plan in place for what to do next, and not a single one of us, having heard stories about the environment in which she's been working, disagree with her choice.
posted by trunk muffins at 8:45 AM on August 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


Amazing, it's as if high rents and housing prices are a drag on the economy. Who knew?
posted by wuwei at 8:48 AM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


The cost of living in San Francisco is 84.3% greater than the national average. San Francisco will have to pay all of their teachers better than $100,000 if they want decent candidates.
posted by pracowity at 8:51 AM on August 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


A friend of mine just walked away from a job teaching at a public high school, with absolutely no plan in place for what to do next, and not a single one of us, having heard stories about the environment in which she's been working, disagree with her choice.

I used to teach elementary and middle school in high-needs urban areas and this accords with my experience. It was terrible. It was really, really terrible. Some of this was the challenge of working with these students but a lot of it also came from the unattainable expectations and unsupported mandates from the district/administration. Being blamed for failing to succeed by the people who are helping create the negative conditions that make success impossible is not fun and doesn't really make you want to keep putting in effort that will never be appreciated.

This is one of those really painful situations (and for me this really is painful! It's hard for me to write or talk about it! And then when I start, I have trouble stopping!) where we really, really need good people AND I would not recommend anyone enter the teaching profession in the US. We need masses of good, smart, dedicated people to teach our kids and anyone good, smart and dedicated who tries to teach is pretty likely to burn out quickly.

We don't have enough real training and we especially don't have enough support (mentor teachers, &c.) for people starting out in the profession. Instead, because teacher turnover is so high, it feels like a lot of school districts have decided "well, if we're only going to have them for two years, let's squeeze every drop we can out of them in that time! Then we can use testing/evaluations to get rid of them before they quit so it looks like it's us maintaining standards!" instead of working on teacher retention and support. It's all totally heartbreaking.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:01 AM on August 12, 2015 [35 favorites]


"It's like Uber, but for teachers".
Haha, Substitute teacher job line/daily opening website.

Remembers horror stories of teacher housing in San Fran during the 2000's ... rodents, vectors, utilities malfunctions...

Then there is the existing org structure of like, five+ admins for every one actual in classroom teacher... part of teaching was like a race to advance as quickly as possible so as to be working anywhere, anywhere except for in an actual classroom. More money, less stress, safer even in many classroom environments, fewer work hours; and as in so many comments above; why, why would anybody want to hobble their life in order to teach/work with children?
posted by buzzman at 9:12 AM on August 12, 2015


"It's about a teacher shortage in STEM and special ed."

My brother got an ed. degree to teach math to elementary and middle school students, but he got it in 2008, right as every school in America was doing hiring freezes and shit. He teaches English in Korea now (head teacher at an "English village," something I find hilarious) and we've talked a little about what it would take to get him back. But shit like Vergara here certainly doesn't help.

(And as far as I know, the special ed. shortage has been around forever — my MIL's a retired special ed. teacher, and as she was teaching her last classes some 10 years back, she was like, 'Welp, future generation's fucked but I can't do anything about it.' Michigan's "smart nerd" GOP gov. slashed education, including special ed. funding, despite the fact that growing special ed. costs are one of the biggest drivers of educational cost increases — mainstreaming students with disabilities has been pretty good on balance for those students, but not funded anywhere near costs, and only increasing further.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:14 AM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


"English village,"

wait like Wee Britain?
posted by griphus at 9:22 AM on August 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


My Mother is 81 and still subs due to the fact that teaching paid so poorly she can't afford to retire.
She taught 3rd grade for decades and and also taught special ed.
posted by boilermonster at 9:26 AM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


prediction: 1099 school teachers by 2017. Must provide own supplies. They can join the TAs and Adjuncts down at the bar when they clock out at 9PM.
posted by j_curiouser at 9:30 AM on August 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


Shortages of employees for positions generally filled by minorities have a habit of bypassing all that "free market" stuff and acting like the problem is, say, Spanish-speaking Hispanics being unwilling to teach, rather than the problem is schools that want teachers with a substantial additional skill set for basically the same price as non-bilingual teachers. Then when you say that bilingual education in this country is often poor, it becomes blame-the-victim: You can't complain that the Hispanic community is poorly-educated when those who do go to college don't become teachers!

I can't help but feel like articles like this are just helping to build that narrative. Like this is a great thing for a Stanford-educated Hispanic woman to be able to have this kind of job security, because heaven knows she couldn't be making tons more money doing virtually anything else she could have done. Great that some people do it for love, but it shouldn't be necessary.
posted by Sequence at 9:31 AM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Eh. it's San Francisco. Some tech bro will just come along and disrupt it and everything will be fine.

It's like Uber. For teachers.

Maybe they can take a page or six from the Jeb Bush and Bobby Jinal books and turn everything into a charter school with "black box" accounting (my phrasing, though it seems to fit).
posted by tilde at 9:38 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


"wait like Wee Britain?"

It's an immersive American/British/Canadian melange — including a petting zoo, just like most English-speaking towns!

posted by klangklangston at 9:42 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


thanks to strong teacher unions.

Hey! We used to have those! Ah, them was the days.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:43 AM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Shortages of employees for positions generally filled by minorities have a habit of bypassing all that "free market" stuff and acting like the problem is, say, Spanish-speaking Hispanics being unwilling to teach, rather than the problem is schools that want teachers with a substantial additional skill set for basically the same price as non-bilingual teachers. Then when you say that bilingual education in this country is often poor, it becomes blame-the-victim: You can't complain that the Hispanic community is poorly-educated when those who do go to college don't become teachers! "

Well, and California bans bilingual education for ESL students (thanks Pete Wilson!) so from what I've heard, the best ESL teachers end up doing private school stuff.

But it's one of those ongoing peeves of mine that when we get another round of "X WORKER SHORTAGE," it's always framed as Americans not bucking up and filling jobs that need doing instead of recognizing that if you can't find enough workers, you're not paying enough — especially since the "solution" is so often "Let's make everything worse! Slash the safety net!" instead of pressure on employers to increase wages and benefits.
posted by klangklangston at 9:47 AM on August 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think that misogyny has a great deal to do with the low prestige of teaching, especially elementary education. Teaching - maybe not so much at the high-school level but definitely at the elementary - is seen as women's work, something that women do for love and pin money because of their nurturing instincts. One of the reasons that teaching became women's work in the 19th century was because women could be paid so much less! Here is an excellent article on the feminization of the teaching profession.

Teaching needs to be viewed and paid as a highly-skilled profession worthy of respect and not just a "calling." (There's a huge problem with having to have "a passion" for one's job in general.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:48 AM on August 12, 2015 [34 favorites]


There's a huge problem with having to have "a passion" for one's job in general.

There's no problem with wanting teachers who have a passion for their job.

The problem is with using "willingness to accept low pay" as a measurement of passion.
posted by clawsoon at 9:53 AM on August 12, 2015 [20 favorites]


Obviously there are some serious problems with education in the US, but I'd hate for someone who'd make a great teacher to see all the negativity and decide not to try for it, so... I love teaching, but:

I teach in a high-performing district. That means affluent families. Our kids test at the top of the curve, so no one's really looking at us.

I loved teaching the disadvantaged kids as well, and there are definite advantages to doing so, but the high-stakes testing thing makes it unbearable, and no one who's making the big decisions is interested in actually helping poor kids...the solution seems to be fire everybody and bring in totally new, unknown people/methods.

Also, I teach 1st or 2nd grades. They don't take the tests. I taught a 2-3 combo last year, and 3rd grade really is a totally different experience, mostly because of testing. At the beginning of the year, when all the other teachers get the data on how well/poorly their class from last year did on the test, we get nothing... which is less stressful, for sure.

I feel like my teaching experience is really similar to those in other countries, where they leave the teacher alone and let them do what they think is best. I've literally never had an administrator tell me what to do in the classroom... I use the district-mandated texts when I want to and don't if I don't like them. I spent two weeks last year letting my kids mess around in Scratch, and no one noticed (well, the parents did, but they're good with it). No one ever looks at my plan book, and the principal comes in maybe once a month to observe for a couple of minutes.

As far as the pay goes, I feel like it's pretty fair. It depends on where you teach, obviously, but the teachers I know average around 80 - 100k. I own a house and have a good retirement account going.

(Also, please vote for people who favor public schools and social programs for poor students and parents... mental health, medical, nutrition, job training, parenting classes, minimum wage, all these things help more than some tech billionaire deciding his new hobby is fixing education.)
posted by Huck500 at 9:55 AM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


The gender issue is definitely part of it; Dana Goldstein talks about this a lot in her book The Teacher Wars and touches on it in this interview. She also talks about the ways in which we refuse to address an intersecting array of social problems - poverty, racism, the criminal justice system - and then somehow expect teachers to be these heroes who will save kids from the system despite lacking the resources or power to do so. The elementary and early education is a particularly tricky piece, because we're increasingly realizing how essential effective early childhood education is but often lack the political will to fund teachers who will make a difference.
posted by earth by april at 9:58 AM on August 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Perhaps if they paid teachers enough to actually live within 200 miles of San Francisco...

The solution is to get teachers to marry single local techies.

Or to install a commuter train from Pacifica for teachers.
posted by GuyZero at 10:01 AM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Waiting for "It's like Uber, but for teachers"

It's like Tinder, but for teachers.
posted by GuyZero at 10:02 AM on August 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


Teachr?
posted by kokaku at 10:11 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Waiting for "It's like Uber, but for teachers"

Just some dude with a full set of Funk & Wagnalls in the back of his hatchback
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 10:15 AM on August 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


California's teacher requirements are a very high barrier for anyone not currently in college, and are very unattractive for someone who has a STEM degree who would like to become a public school teacher.

And I'm saying this as the kid of two public school teachers, who also went to public school and believes public school is good for society.

So here's my anecdote. I had a SO with a PhD in a STEM field and six years of private high school teaching experience who wanted to teach at a public school. Great teacher, hard worker, super motivated. Would have been a star in any classroom.

The barriers to entry for them to enter public school teaching were enormous.

They'd have had to put everything on hold for something like 1 - 1.5 years of "here's how to teach" classes and valuable for a newbie but absolute bs for an experienced hand guild apprenticeship to be able to teach in a public school.

At the same time, I knew an awful grade 2 teacher. Nice person, awful teacher. He was in his probationary period, had absolutely zero classroom management skill, and was socially impared in his engagements with six and seven year olds.

He was the kind of teacher where, if you sat in for ten minutes, any day, you'd agree "yes, this is a terrible teacher."

He's now been teaching a decade. The STEM field PhD gave up trying to get a credential after six months of subbing and trying to work through the bureaucracy.
posted by zippy at 10:20 AM on August 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


zippy: teachers in California can test out of internship requirements. I'm not sure what the issue was with your former SO, but the ~1.5-year timeline for someone with a Ph.d to get accredited doesn't seem to make any sense.
posted by clockzero at 10:26 AM on August 12, 2015


California's teacher requirements are a very high barrier for anyone not currently in college, and are very unattractive for someone who has a STEM degree who would like to become a public school teacher.

My wife because a California high school special-ed teacher just a year ago. ("Certificated" as the state says - WHY ARE YOU MAKING UP WORDS?)

Anyway, it was 2 years of university classes and several SAT-like tests to get qualified. Getting hired was easier than expected because we had no idea about the shortage of special ed teachers (she does single-subject English, mild to moderate disability, AKA "SDC" - Special Day Class).

THEN you have two years of BITSA - Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) Induction which she gets to do through her board at school but which most teachers have to do separately after-hours once you've got a job. So that's another two years.

It's a really, really demanding and expensive process. For a $60K-ish job. No one in STEM is going to jump through those hoops, except people who are burned out or who really want to teach very badly. But there's no inherent economic incentive.

On the plus side, there's a pension and eventually tenure. But it's a very demanding certification process for a fairly middle-of-the-road paying job.
posted by GuyZero at 10:30 AM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


zippy: "California's teacher requirements are a very high barrier for anyone not currently in college, and are very unattractive for someone who has a STEM degree who would like to become a public school teacher."

My uncle, who has a PhD in biology, taught high school bio for almost 40 years. He won the Tandy award (a national award for excellence in science teaching); he was featured in Time and Newsweek; he was invited to meet two presidents; his students had the highest AP pass rate in the state. (He was also the science teacher who refused to teach with the books with the "evolution is only a theory!" stickers on them in Georgia.) When NCLB came in, he was suddenly declared "not highly qualified" because -- this is true! -- he "only" had a PhD in his subject and 35 years of experience, and no teaching degree. He eventually retired because Georgia was going to make him either take teaching classes with 22-year-old "career-changers" or stop teaching AP.

zippy: "They'd have had to put everything on hold for something like 1 - 1.5 years of "here's how to teach" classes and valuable for a newbie but absolute bs for an experienced hand guild apprenticeship to be able to teach in a public school."

Illinois is similar. I really considered going into K-12 teaching after I finished law school, but they wanted me to take on substantial (-ly more) student debt to go to a two-year masters program and put the rest of my life on hold while I did that. Or, in the alternative, I would work as a "highly-qualified professional" for five to ten years minimum (which meant doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc.) and then they'd let me move into teaching with ONLY a year of "manage a classroom" classes.

Instead I taught college for five years. Considered career-changing again. It turns out college teaching professors are not considered "highly-qualified professionals" for the purpose of career-changing into K-12 teaching with "only" a year-long apprenticeship. Only SEXY jobs count.

There are programs like Teach for America and ACE and some smaller local ones in Chicago that use the "teach as you learn" model and basically give you 8-week intensive summer courses on classroom management and then put you in a classroom with mentors right away, but almost all of those require you to move somewhere, which is really tough if you have a family or even just a spouse with a job.

There's a lot of good data that says that women who earned college degrees, who are now in their 30s who've had children (and mostly stayed home with them) are IDEAL to quickly transition to classroom teaching -- they're good at the classroom management aspects, they know how to work with kids and whether they like it, etc., and they're highly-desired in high-poverty districts because they tend to be more effective than younger new teachers -- but there are basically NO PROGRAMS to get these women into classrooms, because they're not "highly-qualified professionals." They're statistically the best bet as "career-changers," but nobody wants to pay money to get a frumpy stay-at-home mom in the classroom rather than a sexy doctor making a sexy career change to low-paid public service. (Although Britain's spy agencies are making special outreach to hire them, as they also make very good spies and analysts and they have discovered these women are massively under-valued by other sectors of the economy so they have their pick of talent.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:35 AM on August 12, 2015 [29 favorites]


Buzzman: rodents, vectors, utilities malfunctions...

vectors?
posted by paper chromatographologist at 10:39 AM on August 12, 2015


My wife's a teacher in Detroit, probably just about the single most messed up district in the US right now. As a teacher in Detroit, here's what the last few years have pretty much meant for you: a "10%" pay cut (officially the number is 10%, because of how the cuts were done, for some teachers like my wife, that number is closer to 18%), several years over the past few years where every teacher was officially laid off at the end of the year, having to re-interview for their job, significantly increased health care contribution requirements for a significantly reduced benefit, about an extra 7% taken out in additional costs to cover pension and retiree health care (beyond the normal contributions), oversized classes, and basically the blame for anything that goes wrong when the kids fail to succeed (never mind the circumstances some of these kids are coming from and a complete lack of any parental encouragement for many of these kids to succeed).

Detroit's finances are messed up. Take a district that was designed for about 150k students, and now it has about 40k? (actually, might be lower than that now). Too much infrastructure in place for the size of the student body, which is spread out enough that it can be difficult to consolidate (especially since everyone of course screams when you try to close the school closest to them). The state's tried a number of things with some of the more failing schools to theoretically try to improve them, but that's been something of a joke where nobody really seems to have a clue (and I say that when politically I'm probably more alligned with the current government here than I am with the people here :) ). Because of the way funding is handled for schools, I'm honestly not sure I can see how Detroit will ever get out of the mess they're in, because they're at the point where a very sizeable percentage of the per-student funding now goes to covering debt costs. Quite honestly, I'm not sure that the situation is even fixable without just completely gutting everything and starting from scratch (which wouldn't be very pretty).

There may or may not be a teaching shortage in this state. I think most districts here would love to be able to hire more teachers, but the reality is, there's no money to cover it. As a result, if you're a teacher with no experience, you *might* be able to find a job if you're very lucky. If you're a teacher that has experience, your odds are just about zero of finding a new job, and less than that at finding one that will actually give you any credit for experience instead of forcing you to start at the same pay scale as a new teacher. This has been a real problem, because I've been trying to get my wife out of Detroit, but there's just nothing in the state to be able to go to.

If you're looking for a teaching job? Don't come here, you're not going to have any real luck. Which is a shame, Michigan is a state that historically has paid teachers somewhat better than a lot of states. Personally, if I were to give advice to someone looking into getting a teaching degree it'd be along the lines of run away, far away, you don't want the stress.

Personally, if I had to make a bet, I think the odds that the detroit school district survives another 5 years is relatively low, which to say the least is something that I do tend to worry about a lot.
posted by piper28 at 10:42 AM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


The other things, reading some of these articles in more depth, is that the pension & tenure regimes disincent teachers from moving around. Unless you're explicitly laid off there's no incentive for a teach to move from a shrinking district to a growing district. You'd be giving up a lot of potential pension earnings by going back to the bottom of the tenure ladder.

If Seattle wants teachers now, they should offer tenure parity for pension qualification. (Maybe that happens already though, I dunno, but I don't think it does)
posted by GuyZero at 10:53 AM on August 12, 2015


"vectors?"

BMP or GTFO
posted by klangklangston at 11:03 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Chickens. Roosting.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:11 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Rodents, vectors, utilities malfunctions,
Votives, rectors, futilities and unctions...
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:31 AM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


zippy: teachers in California can test out of internship requirements.

In this case, there was bureaucratic ambiguity about two decades old temporary/emergency credential they had gotten and taught under for a year in the 80s. There was no route around it other than enter a teaching program and then also do student teaching, according to both the state and an independent "become a teacher" consultant.

One less excellent teacher in the system.
posted by zippy at 11:32 AM on August 12, 2015


> prediction: 1099 school teachers by 2017. Must provide own supplies.

From what I understand, "Must provide own supplies" is where very many teachers are right now — at least for certain kinds of supplies — and have been for a while.
posted by cardioid at 11:37 AM on August 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


From what I understand, "Must provide own supplies" is where very many teachers are right now — at least for certain kinds of supplies — and have been for a while.

Not only that, but a lot of the purchasing has been offloaded onto the kids and their families. My church had a program where you could pick the name of a child whose family cannot afford school supplies, buy that child a backpack, and fill it with the supplies.

For the anonymous 4th grader I chose, some of the school supplies on the list of required supplies were whiteboard markers, four boxes of pencils (it was over 100 pencils), a box of kleenex, and other supplies that were obviously for classroom maintenance. Another requirement was a separate supply fee, in the form of a check made out to the elementary school.

Our schools cannot afford to buy KLEENEX for their students, but they somehow find millions to throw at self-proclaimed "experts" (who have no training in education) who promise that THESE tests will save education, and THESE metrics (and the subscription model to pay for them) will help you pass the state requirements. The mind boggles.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:48 AM on August 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


From what I understand, "Must provide own supplies" is where very many teachers are right now

Elementary school teachers in Berkeley, a generally affluent area, beg parents to buy the class paper, glue, and markers. This has been the case for the decade+ I've been in the district.

The affluence of the city doesn't matter regarding school funding, because funding comes from the state level, but it does matter in that wealthy areas have wealthy PTAs and parents who can meet these needs, while schools in other towns cannot.
posted by zippy at 12:15 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


From the insightful and informed comments in this thread, it's no secret why teaching is a terrible profession in the U.S. Like several above, it's really painful for me to admit--as a career teacher from a family of teachers who currently participates in the teaching of future teachers--that I cannot recommend teaching as a job or profession.

This past spring semester, I had to fill-in a teaching assignment at my public state university, supervising student teachers. I'm in California, and this is what it looks like for a student who wants to get one of these maybe-$48K-per-year-to-start jobs, to become a teacher:

1. 4-5 years to earn an education degree in your field of choice (mostly 5 or 6 years, given that education curricula in most disciplines are among the most unit-heavy degrees, e.g. 120 units is normal for a Bachelor's in California, most ed curricula require 132-140)

2. Following graduation, you must enroll in a post-graduate (but not Graduate School) program called the California Credential program, which will allow you to earn a CA teaching credential. Keep in mind that this means that my students finish their education degree completely with no capstone pedagogy or formal field experiences, nor any student teaching. Their subject-specific student teaching is done AFTER they matriculate out of their discipline-based education. Again, this is an entire year of post-Bachelor's education that costs similar to graduate schools, but is not graduate school, nor can these units be considered as such for continuing education or salary scale benefits.

3. Following an entire year enrolled in the California Teacher Credential program, students are issued a provisional teaching certificate, good for two years, in which time they must complete--on their own time and, again, at their own expense--the two-year BTSA (Beginning Teacher Support and Induction) program in order to earn a "full" and permanent CA teaching credential. (Seriously, give the BTSA FAQ a quick read-through and see what kind of bullshit is firmly choking the profession for beginning teachers.)

4. And then, finally, after 5-6 years of college and two years of on-the-job continuing examination and 'training,' you will finally be fully credentialed as a teacher in the state of California....except that all districts have continuing education requirements that kick in on year one of employment, with the first chunk of required graduate units usually due by year 5. SO, after all that, you now have three years to start taking some graduate classes with all that spare time you have!

That's just the formal process; I haven't even mentioned the horrible working conditions, utter lack of any kind of material or professional support, abusive treatment from students and parents that must be endured, etc. etc., that make the day-to-day working conditions absolutely terrible.

As a college professor who in part teaches future teachers, and who is supposed to be helping to recruit them, I do not understand how any reasonably bright young adult with any other possible professional futures available to them would ever, ever choose teaching as a profession right now, other than perhaps as mission work. I'm far from alone on this, at least half of all new teachers leave the profession permanently within five years--and it's not the bottom half that leave. It absolutely terrifies me that I now think this, because when it comes to universal, high-quality, secular public education, I am a True Believer. I have spent my entire adult life teaching, and love it. I love engaging with curious (and incurious) minds, I love helping people find their paths and learning more about the world and themselves, supporting through tough times, practicing patience as students develop and grow and do stupid shit, all of it.

But I simply can't recommend teaching as a profession, at any level, to anyone, unless things fundamentally and profoundly change.
posted by LooseFilter at 12:23 PM on August 12, 2015 [27 favorites]


Not only that, but a lot of the purchasing has been offloaded onto the kids and their families. My church had a program where you could pick the name of a child whose family cannot afford school supplies, buy that child a backpack, and fill it with the supplies.

For the anonymous 4th grader I chose, some of the school supplies on the list of required supplies were whiteboard markers, four boxes of pencils (it was over 100 pencils), a box of kleenex, and other supplies that were obviously for classroom maintenance. Another requirement was a separate supply fee, in the form of a check made out to the elementary school.


We have a program like this at my workplace. And yeah, most of our local (upstate NY) public schools also have fees for things that were free a generation ago.

A couple of my friends have kids in elementary classrooms where instead of each kid buying their own supplies, each kid is asked to provide x number of y supply for the whole class. All the pencils, paper, etc. are pooled. The official reason that was given was that there was fighting and teasing over who had the nicer supplies, but I'm sure that at least SOME of it was that there were kids coming in without anything.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:26 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Meant to add: The one year I did the backpack program, not only was Kleenex on the list, but so was toilet paper.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:27 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


(**on non-preview: I have spent my entire adult life teaching, and love it. I should specify that I'm still able to say this because I am one of the lucky (ever-shrinking) minority who is in a tenured university teaching position, earned early in my career, and can thus avoid most of the rivers (oceans) of bullshit and foolishness most other teachers, at all levels, have to face daily. But wow am I fighting some interesting battles in my world, too.)
posted by LooseFilter at 12:30 PM on August 12, 2015


4. And then, finally, after 5-6 years of college and two years of on-the-job continuing examination and 'training,' you will finally be fully credentialed as a teacher in the state of California....except that all districts have continuing education requirements that kick in on year one of employment, with the first chunk of required graduate units usually due by year 5. SO, after all that, you now have three years to start taking some graduate classes with all that spare time you have!

I think the requirements to be a Professional Engineer in Ontario were lower than the requirements t be a teacher in California... and that lets you do stuff like approve nuclear reactor designs.
posted by GuyZero at 12:40 PM on August 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


... (Although Britain's spy agencies are making special outreach to hire them, as they also make very good spies and analysts and they have discovered these women are massively under-valued by other sectors of the economy so they have their pick of talent.)

Please tell me you have more information about this?!
posted by easter queen at 12:56 PM on August 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


. (Although Britain's spy agencies are making special outreach to hire them, as they also make very good spies and analysts and they have discovered these women are massively under-valued by other sectors of the economy so they have their pick of talent.)

I must say that I would like this to be fantasy left-leaning social democratic Britain as opposed to really-existing V for Vendetta-was-an-instruction-manual Britain, because then they could recruit many of my friends and perhaps - were I to box a little clever about the whole gender thing - me.
posted by Frowner at 12:59 PM on August 12, 2015


Well, I went through K-12 in the sixties/early seventies, the first six years in the Los Angeles Public Schools system where I had not a single Memorable Teacher (one I could look back as having an influence on me). I did have a problem with being bullied, so my parents put a lot of money into moving me into a Private School in the San Fernando Valley, essentially a 'Rotten Rich Kids' school where I was bullied by a much higher socio-economic class of bully (including the son of an Early TV Legend). The teachers, however, were paid less than the public school teachers and not required to have the same credentials, so the memorable ones were awful or laughable, including one best known as the wife of a TV announcer who sided with my main bully, and a football coach who taught one American History course that was an hour-long pitch for American Exceptionalism (he could have become a very successful Right Wing radio talker today). Moving on to a Catholic High School showed some improvement, with general competence among the faculty, both Jesuit Brothers and 'Lay Teachers'. But the most notable teachers were (1) the Catholic Brother who everyone knew was doing 'bad things' with some of the male students, (2) the Brother doing one of the required Religion classes who tried to teach Comparative Religion and ended up bullied by the most devout Catholics in the class and (3) a Lay Teacher who directed the extra-curricular Band that won more trophies than all the Athletic Teams and did a lot to build some pride in me, even though I never became a very good musician (but we were the first to perform a brass marching band version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"). When my Best Teacher was working a non-class activity in a creative area I didn't pursue, I can say my school years sucked. And that was 40+ years ago, so anything happening in the "decline of education" is no surprise to me (I imagine there are plenty of people like my American History Coach with jobs at "Charter Schools").
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:59 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't think people look down on teachers, I just think people want both great teachers and no taxes at the same time which is pretty much an impossible goal.
posted by GuyZero at 1:33 PM on August 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think it'd be easier to interest more people in teaching if we, as a people, didn't look down on it as a profession. We treat it the same way we do troops.

I can't recall the last time I heard anyone say "Thank you for your service" to a teacher.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:38 PM on August 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


I just think people want both great teachers and no taxes at the same time which is pretty much an impossible goal.

Hitting too close to home two decades ago.
posted by Talez at 1:40 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can't recall the last time I heard anyone say "Thank you for your service" to a teacher.

My wife gets notes from both parents and students at the end of the year thanking her. Not all of them, but yeah, people thank teachers. I have. Not in those exact words I suppose.
posted by GuyZero at 2:01 PM on August 12, 2015


I think the problem is less lack of respect for teaching as a profession per se, but rather that schools are expected to solve the majority of our social problems, and when they can't, teachers are scapegoated as responsible. I see it as projection of blame.

The truth is, I can't make anybody learn anything, and there is no method, pedagogy, or institutional structure that will change someone in any significant way without substantial effort on that individual's part. I work hard to be a great teacher, and still have students fail courses regularly, simply because they refuse to engage with the material and do the required work. It is absurd to hold teachers accountable for the failings of students and parents (and government and society), but here we are: I KNOW I AM LAZY, INCURIOUS, AND SELFISH BUT WHY HAVEN'T YOU MADE ME SMART AND SUCCESSFUL YET?? YOU MUST NOT BE A GOOD TEACHER.

(Seriously, it's like holding my doctor responsible because I have high blood pressure and he won't fix it. Nevermind that all I eat is french fries and chocolate ice cream, why haven't you made me healthy yet?? Absurd, but I see, every day, people wondering why school didn't magically make them learn stuff--and that, since it didn't, it must not have much value.)
posted by LooseFilter at 2:23 PM on August 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


Just a quick, hopeful ray of light in this gloomy thread: my 24 year old daughter began her first week of pre planning on Monday. She's always wanted to be a teacher, knew that she wasn't going to make any money and that Ms. Frizzle's day wouldn't look anything like hers. She is teaching 4th grade at an F rated school (last spring while interning, she caught a 2nd grader smoking a joint in the bathroom) with kids who break your heart. She turned down offers from charter schools and chose to not go to the next county which has the best ratings in the state. She really wants this career, in this poverty stricken small town and she has no illusions about parent participation, well behaved classes who read at grade level or an "easy" schedule of summers off. What she does have is a strong belief that teaching is important and honorable. I really think she'll make it long term.
posted by hollygoheavy at 4:09 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


On the one hand, teachers still likely have a large effect. Probably not as much as poverty, but still. On the other hand, the ability to measure that effect accurately would take both a huge amount of demographic data that's not collected, plus a huge amount of data on actual teaching methods employed in any given class, plus longitudinal tracking to see whether it's predictive… and on top of that, we can't actually agree on what the goals of good teaching are.

I'm working on a consulting gig where I'm trying to quantify the effects of nonprofit spending on a subset of a huge school district, and while I can make some reasonable inferences, complying with the terms of the grant that's funding this as it's written is likely impossible. I would argue (given the other programs I know about under the grant) that no project they're funding has any hope of getting anywhere near what they're asking for. And yet, they balk if you're like, "Sure, so in order to see whether this elementary school field trip program actually affects anything like college entrance rates or drop out rates, we're gonna need about 10 more years of tracking the students that went through it, because anything else is just open to endless confounders."
posted by klangklangston at 4:12 PM on August 12, 2015


In other words, I think one of the reasons we don't have more teachers is that not many people want to be martyrs.

It would be different if they were paid as much as the position is worth to society, which is definitely more than yet another Java coder is worth. Especially in the lowest grades, where good teaching can make the most difference, make the average teacher salary at least $80,000, adjust it for local cost of living, and make it a federal government position with nice benefits. A first-choice job that people would fight to get. There would be no shortage of great teachers then, and we'd all feel the difference in the way students turned out.
posted by pracowity at 5:30 PM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


a fiendish thingy: "Our schools cannot afford to buy KLEENEX for their students, but they somehow find millions to throw at self-proclaimed "experts" (who have no training in education) who promise that THESE tests will save education, and THESE metrics (and the subscription model to pay for them) will help you pass the state requirements. The mind boggles."

Just to note, the stuff paying for outside experts is virtually always a federal grant that must be paid for continuing ed, outside audits, literacy experts, whatever. Student and building supplies come from the chronically-underfunded general funds raised by local property taxes, which also pay teacher salaries. Part of the purpose of the federal grants is so that you CAN'T divert that money to, say, a football stadium and can ONLY use it for literacy, but lobbyists for the education support industry (i.e., all those self-proclaimed experts and most particularly TEXTBOOK PUBLISHERS) definitely want those dollars both flowing from the federal government and restricted to ONLY paying for their particular products and experts. Guaranteed revenue stream.

(If you really want to get your rage on, go see how much money Apple has spent lobbying the DoE for Title II (technology) funds to be spent on HARDWARE (oh such as Apple hardware?) that is use-or-lose, while BASICALLY NO Title II funding is allocated to either wired or wireless infrastructure or to software. There are school buildings with (telephonic! not even DSL!) internet access only in the "computer room" still, using only free software, with TWO HUNDRED AND FORTY iPADs. Because you get $6 million in technology funds, but it can only be used for iPads and smartboards. (And not even smartboard projector lightbulbs, which cost an assload of money and I've seen PTAs have to have fundraisers for.))

So do let's be clear that "our schools" would vaaaaaastly prefer to be buying kleenex rather than spending millions on "testing experts" or whatever, but those funds are restricted to that use. Another point of frequent local rage is the amount of money allocated to continuing education for teachers but, again, it's federal money and it's restricted to continuing education. It can be used for teachers to stay in really nice hotels, but not for pencils. (And, hey, why not? You've got to spend it all, the teachers should at least get a nice hotel room out of it since they can't get salary out of it.)

In most states there is also a legal restriction on local funds raised by tax levy, that you can levy X much into the "gen ed" fund and Y much into the "buildings and grounds" fund, and the legal difference is basically that anything you can nail to the floor or wall is "buildings and grounds" -- entire buildings, or A/C systems, or football stadia, or new flooring, or paint, or sinks -- and anything you can move around -- teachers, desks, lunch trays, kleenex, toilet paper, xerox paper, books -- is "gen ed." So a chalkboard nailed to the wall = buildings and grounds. Rolling chalkboard = gen ed. So a school may be able to levy $6 million to building improvements but have to lay off 40 teachers. (Again there are good reasons for this -- you don't want students going to school in an asbestos-riddled firetrap because you ONLY pay for staff, and you don't want schools spending all their money on a stadium and firing all their teachers -- but it doesn't adjust as smoothly to economic limitations as one would wish.)

easter queen: "Please tell me you have more information about this?!"

"Britain's security agencies should look to recruit more middle-aged women and mothers to be new spies and should target websites popular with parents to find them, an influential committee of lawmakers said on Thursday. ... "Women or mothers in middle-age or mid-career have valuable life experience and may offer an untapped recruitment pool," Blears said."

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:41 PM on August 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


If I passed this link on to my out of work teacher friend (who wants to teach math, has taught a lot of special ed, done combo rooms), I think she'd either laugh her head off, choke, or both.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:07 PM on August 12, 2015


I found a wonktastic post on the history of how schools are funded in California.
posted by zippy at 6:33 PM on August 12, 2015


I think the problem is less lack of respect for teaching as a profession per se, but rather that schools are expected to solve the majority of our social problems, and when they can't, teachers are scapegoated as responsible. I see it as projection of blame.
LooseFilter: if you haven't seen it before, I really liked The Giant Squid's comment from a Common Core thread last January for putting that issue front and center.

My wife's a teacher here in DC and while she's had a fairly good experience the stories are tragic: students with 50+% absence rates, not for reasons we're comfortable condemning, but for things completely outside of the kid's control like ugly custody disputes or a parent’s lost job leading to the family being evicted leading to[1] … and if a teacher questioned whether it's fair to have that count against their annual ranking, the response is something like “maybe if your class was more engaging they'd come to school more”!

1. Last year, a local girl was abducted. A lot of people were quick to blame the school for not reporting it sooner, although it was quickly pointed out that 20% of the students at that school were homeless and this was far from unusual in the district. I rather doubt any of the “hold the schools accountable!” crowd has seriously thought through the implications of what this level of instability means.
posted by adamsc at 7:20 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think that misogyny has a great deal to do with the low prestige of teaching…

I don't think that teachers have low "prestige". I was taught to respect my teachers, and I recognize their hard work. A teacher's salary is based on market rates — the constant negotiation between schools who want the most good teachers for the least money, and teachers who want the best jobs with the greatest pay. And why shouldn't it be?

Teaching needs to be viewed and paid as a highly-skilled profession worthy of respect and not just a "calling." (There's a huge problem with having to have "a passion" for one's job in general.)

No. It will always be paid according to market rates. Suppose you are a principal and you now have more staff budget. You might want to hire more teachers and reduce class size. Or you might try to get better teachers. That means letting your worst teachers go, so that you can use your new budget to get the best teachers possible. You might give bonuses to teachers who would be motivated by them, but that would probably be a small fraction of teachers. Most people get into a rhythm of how to do their job. A bonus or a raise doesn't change the way they work for more than a few days.

As for passion, of course we want passionate teachers! I was very lucky to have many passionate teachers, and they were fantastic. The education I got (for free) was better than most people get in private schools, and all because the teachers I had really cared about us. Why would any parent not want that for their kids? When you're hiring people, of course you're going to want passionate people because they deliver the most.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:29 PM on August 12, 2015


…rather that schools are expected to solve the majority of our social problems, and when they can't, teachers are scapegoated as responsible. I see it as projection of blame.

Yes, I've heard the same thing from teachers. I don't know what the answer is. Would more teachers and smaller class sizes help? Would dedicated psychologists in schools help? I think I've even heard of programs where they teach the parents so that the parents can help their children?

It's funny that people are so worried about automation destroying all of the jobs when there are clearly many new jobs that we (as a society) can't afford yet, but might be able to afford after "the automation revolution".
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:32 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Would more teachers and smaller class sizes help? Would dedicated psychologists in schools help? I think I've even heard of programs where they teach the parents so that the parents can help their children?

Those kinds of things could certainly help, but they seem to me to be treating symptoms, not causes. The root causes of much of what challenges teachers and schools today stem from childhood poverty (as linked above, The Giant Squid expressed this pretty clearly), lack of public social and health support resources, etc. So I think the solutions lie with letting schools simply be schools and also creating more robust, systematic, public responses to the larger problems that are only most clearly manifest within classroom walls, rather than created within them.

It's hard enough to create a school of any kind where effective, robust teaching and learning regularly happens without also having to provide substantial material, physical, mental, and/or emotional health resources for young people, too. AND be responsible for a lot of fund raising and etc. etc. It would be amazing if, for instance, a school teacher could come to work concerned only with the day's lessons/activities/etc. When s/he arrives at their classroom site, there is at least one dedicated administrative assistant also there, to manage tasks mundane to large, like attendance, paperwork, program needs (budget, funding, material, equipment), and the class size is no more than two dozen (varying, of course, on instructional model and age/level of development). Or those tasks can be accomplished another way; regardless, the teacher would be tasked with teaching and all related needs (planning and development, curriculum, so forth) only. And when standardized testing time rolls around? Well, there are contract workers hired, trained to administer the tests, and the teachers are given professional development time (self-directed), to plan and review and prepare new material and all the stuff that should be the constant, ongoing focus of an effective teacher.

Or, more simply put, let the teachers do what only the teachers can do. Find other, specialized resources for all the other kinds of hands-on administrative, etc., work necessary to support that.

It's funny that people are so worried about automation destroying all of the jobs when there are clearly many new jobs that we (as a society) can't afford yet, but might be able to afford after "the automation revolution".

This is a fantastic point and also tragically sad, especially because the kind of transition you suggest would require educational/training resources to fill those new jobs. Unfortunately, states have mostly massively disinvested in public post-secondary education of all kinds, especially since 2008, so there is no real structure in place to support the educational needs such a smart transition would entail.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:25 PM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Or you might try to get better teachers. That means letting your worst teachers go

That's not actually how it works. Most school districts don't fire teachers except for punching a kid type events, and layoffs are often based on seniority.

In theory a principal can lay off a bad teacher, but the principal has to both offer support to correct the issue and document failures extensively, and they often either don't have the time or political capital to do so.

I could say "it's hard to get rid of a bad teacher" and just say something facile like "unions!" but that's not it. It's also tremendously hard to quantitatively (fairly) measure who is a bad teacher.

For a number of reasons, we're left with an adversarial system around firing and an inefficient but fair system around layoffs.

tl;dr the invisible hand and other economic stuff is trumped here by policy, politics, and maybe a dozen other things. And paying the least you can for a dozen teachers probably isn't going to get you your desired outcome.
posted by zippy at 11:17 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's also tremendously hard to… measure who is a bad teacher.

I agree with that, and I wasn't really suggesting firing anyone. I was just illustrating that more budget would almost never translate into raises for teachers. If there's more budget, the public will want to get something more, and if that can't be better teachers, then it will probably expect there to be more teachers.

I can understand the instinct to reward overworked teachers, but it won't happen. Taxi drivers are overworked. Hairdressers are overworked. Soldiers are dying. A lot of people "deserve more". But deserving and valuing have nothing to do with remuneration. This is why I don't like the hyperbole: "paying the least you can" — we always pay the least we can for the quality we need.

I agree with a lot of the things Loosefilter said, namely that social problems are dumped onto educators, which takes away from the quality of education. Personally, I think small class sizes make a big difference too. So if it were me, I'd want to hire more teachers. Fortunately for the new teachers and maybe unfortunately for the public: The more you hire, the more you need to increase pay in order to maintain quality.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:54 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just to note, the stuff paying for outside experts is virtually always a federal grant that must be paid for continuing ed, outside audits, literacy experts, whatever. Student and building supplies come from the chronically-underfunded general funds raised by local property taxes, which also pay teacher salaries.

Yes, I didn't mean to imply that the individual schools themselves were making decisions as to whether they should buy 1) crayons or 2) terrible advice-- I meant that individual schools can't buy basic supplies, while larger structures (Dept of Ed, state govts, whoever) are embarrassingly eager to throw obscene amounts of money at garbage "consultants".
posted by a fiendish thingy at 5:25 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I can understand the instinct to reward overworked teachers, but it won't happen. Taxi drivers are overworked. Hairdressers are overworked. Soldiers are dying. A lot of people "deserve more". But deserving and valuing have nothing to do with remuneration. This is why I don't like the hyperbole: "paying the least you can" — we always pay the least we can for the quality we need."

One difference is that teachers are paid from public coffers while taxi drivers are not. The military is a bit of a different beast, so distinguishing soldier jobs from teacher jobs would be a lengthy derail, but a salient point is that the armed forces largely take untrained people, whereas teaching jobs do not.

Finally, it's worth noting that an appeal to the market is as tautological as saying, "God did it!" and there's a reasonable case to be made that both the public policy objectives and the return on investment from teachers are poorly reflected in the current pay scales.
posted by klangklangston at 1:11 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


esprit de l'escalier: " It will always be paid according to market rates."

A "market rate" twisted by federal and state mandates and the willingness of people to pay taxes. And many of the people paying the taxes aren't directly affected by the service provided (IE: they don't have kids in school). Teacher shortages are at least in part because salaries offered aren't meeting minimum "market" rates.
posted by Mitheral at 3:11 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Teacher shortages are at least in part because salaries offered aren't meeting minimum "market" rates.

Definitely. That's exactly it: either they need to pay more or accept poor service.

One difference is that teachers are paid from public coffers while taxi drivers are not… that the armed forces largely take untrained people, whereas teaching jobs do not.

The public shouldn't pay more than private sector. And "training" already drives down supply, which effectively increases their pay. That's already been taken into account.

Finally, it's worth noting that an appeal to the market is as tautological as saying, "God did it!" and there's a reasonable case to be made that both the public policy objectives and the return on investment from teachers are poorly reflected in the current pay scales.

I agree with you that it might be true that paying more for better teachers might give a better return on investment, but that has so many problems, including (1) measuring teacher quality, (2) removing bad teachers, and (3) measuring "return on investment". And this is necessarily what someone is saying when they say "we need to pay them more" — they are saying simultaneously that "the teachers hired at the current pay scale are not good enough".
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:51 PM on August 13, 2015


The public shouldn't pay more than private sector.
That makes a great sound-bite but it's not particularly helpful in practice because it's so hard to find truly equivalent comparisons. You see this a lot with government/private comparisons in general where e.g. people like to claim federal employees are overpaid but “forget” to factor in experience, which dramatically flips the result.

In teaching, this is particularly complicated by the fact that in the U.S. the vast majority of children go to public schools and so the only data available for comparison is skewed by other factors. Many private schools are religious, where people voluntarily accept lower pay for reasons which public schools cannot match or which receive significant support beyond per-student funding. Beyond that, however, you run in to the fact that the jobs are significantly different: teaching at a private school means less politically-mandated bureaucracy, smaller class sizes, far more involved parents and a much better discipline situation for problem kids.
And "training" already drives down supply, which effectively increases their pay. That's already been taken into account.
As others have pointed out, this assertion is just silly without a LOT of evidence that there's anything like a functioning market. Given how heavily politicized school budgets are in general and teacher pay in particular have been for at least a generation, the odds of that being true are extremely low.
And this is necessarily what someone is saying when they say "we need to pay them more" — they are saying simultaneously that "the teachers hired at the current pay scale are not good enough".
The single most common reason I've heard mentioned for increased pay is retaining teachers: a significant number of teachers leave the field every year, which costs billions of dollars a year. Since teacher effectiveness is also strongly correlated with experience, that also means that students – particularly at high-poverty schools – are getting worse results.

That's not a problem which can be solved simply by paying more – high-stress working conditions also need to be dealt with – but higher pay would go a long way towards making people feel valued directly and, since our society is full of people who equate income with merit, would help with some of the respect issues over time.

I know a number of teachers with advanced degrees in their subjects. They love teaching, love making a difference in childrens’ lives, … and yet second-guess their decision to stay when the noticing that e.g. years of experience, high test scores, and 3-4 degrees translates into a lot less than what an entry-level JavaScript developer makes sitting in a hip office A/B testing banner ads, and never once having to deal with a parent who is irate at the suggestion that their child's low grades might be explained more by unwillingness to do homework than your qualifications or work-ethic.
posted by adamsc at 7:41 PM on August 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


As for passion, of course we want passionate teachers!

At the risk of putting words in other people's mouths, I don't believe that when most people discuss the problematic nature of expecting people to go into teaching for the sake of passion, they mean expecting people to go into teaching for the sake of either just passion or primarily passion.

An engineer would be expected to be passionate about engineering, but nobody would expect the fulfillment of their passion for engineering to the the primary reward for their work. However, many, many people expect that of teachers, despite the theories about the invisible Hand K-12 Academy that have been floated in this thread.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:38 AM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


"The public shouldn't pay more than private sector. And "training" already drives down supply, which effectively increases their pay. That's already been taken into account."

Why shouldn't the public pay more than the private sector for things that are poorly served by the private sector? You're making an argument from dogma there. Second, the training isn't necessarily priced in — if it were, we'd see more people wanting to be teachers. You're resorting to tautology again.

"And this is necessarily what someone is saying when they say "we need to pay them more" — they are saying simultaneously that "the teachers hired at the current pay scale are not good enough"."

That's an odd interpretation, but sure. I am totally comfortable saying that teachers hired at current rates are not good enough to meet the number of students who need to be educated — teachers are not infinitely extensible, and thus more of them are required. To meet that demand, we would need either better teachers or more teachers, and as it's reasonable to assume that individual teachers will ultimately have limited skill (it would be an exceptionally rare teacher who could effectively teach a class of 100 third-grade students), more teachers are necessary.

You're acting like market failures are either unheard of or are actually a feature of capitalism, not something that is often the explicit basis of public policy remedies.
posted by klangklangston at 11:01 AM on August 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


it might be true that paying more for better teachers might give a better return on investment, but that has so many problems, including (1) measuring teacher quality, (2) removing bad teachers, and (3) measuring "return on investment".

I think this is bullshit. Here's why. Just state the reciprocal:
it might be true that paying more less for better the same teachers might give a better return on investment, but that has so many problems, including (1) measuring teacher quality, (2) removing bad teachers, and (3) measuring "return on investment".
Your criteria remain exactly the same:

(1) measuring teacher quality, (2) removing bad teachers, and (3) measuring "return on investment".

Yet, observe that no one is stopping the 'pay less' approach for lack of those criteria being met. Why shouldn't we empirically try 'pay more'? What makes 'pay less' more rational? Fucking nothing.
posted by j_curiouser at 3:01 PM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


At the risk of putting words in other people's mouths, I don't believe that when most people discuss the problematic nature of expecting people to go into teaching for the sake of passion, they mean expecting people to go into teaching for the sake of either just passion or primarily passion.

An engineer would be expected to be passionate about engineering, but nobody would expect the fulfillment of their passion for engineering to the the primary reward for their work. However, many, many people expect that of teachers, despite the theories about the invisible Hand K-12 Academy that have been floated in this thread.


Underpants Monster: That is exactly what I meant when I say how much I hate being expected to have a great "passion" for a job. It's great to love your work. I think teachers should love working with kids, because I think it's bad for kids when someone who spends so much time with them (as teachers do) hates their work and the kids they teach. But being expected to work for peanuts and/or under terrible working conditions because of "passion" is bullshit. And this idea that women should work for love, not money, is double bullshit.

Teachers need to be paid in money, not love or hugs or sunshine or "a calling." Majority-female professions need to be paid on the assumption that they are professional jobs staffed by people who may well be the sole earner in their family units - not something that women do for "pin money" and love. Finland somehow manages to make teaching a respected and well-paid profession even though its primary teachers are about 79% female - lower than in the US, but still very much majority female.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:41 AM on August 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


« Older The End of the Sixties   |   “What makes America special is our capacity to... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments