Has Economic Reality Hit Education?

Last week several interesting articles about education appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the New York Times.  Locally, Henrico County might hire more teachers in response to complaints over large class sizes.  The NYT reported a significant decline in the number of recent graduates applying to the Teach for America program.  This program places recent graduates in inner-city schools.  Reflecting an improving economy, Teach for America has advised some school districts that its applications are down about 10%.  Additionally, the NYT‘s article indicated participation in undergraduate education programs is down about 13%.  For some districts, Teach for America supplies as much as 20% of teaching staff.

Salaries in education have been nominally stagnant for many years.  Since I retired at the end of the 2008-09 year,  my former colleagues at the Governor School have experienced only one increase of 2% which is in-line with the general trend of teacher salaries.  Utilizing the Bureau of Labor’s inflation calculator, an individual making US$40,000 in 2008 would need a nominal salary of US$43,981 to maintain the same level of purchasing power. At what point will politicians and educrats understand that promising employees a diminishing standard of living is not a business model that assures success?

– Les Schreiber

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12 responses to “Has Economic Reality Hit Education?”

  1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    GMU reports average per capita income in Fairfax County down for three years in a row. The feds, after a number of years without any raises, have received one per cent for the last two years. Life is tough out here in the trenches. No one is getting raises.

    1. I think folks need to also keep in mind that health insurance costs
      are – in fact, compensation.. that you get.

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        And pensions. Fairfax County teachers get two pensions, one the state retirement program and two a supplemental county one. I have more empathy with teachers, as County employees are generally regarded as being overpaid vis a vis competitors.

        1. and I think – when we reward teaching of core academic and have two measures of GPA – one for general/overall and the other for core academic only – we will then begin to catch up with Europe and Japan – as well as produce a better qualified and globally-competitive workforce.

          we need to stop finding and assigning blame – and take responsibility for what we need to do – to up our game.

          between the blame game folks and the “you can’t do that” folks – we are destined for mediocrity – both educationally – and more importantly – economically.

          1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            A number of community associations in Fairfax County have proposed breaking the pay link between teachers and non-teachers, especially the latter who make in excess of $100K. But the School Board refuses, even though they claim teachers come first.

            Larry, your comment about Title I teachers confuses me. You write “the Feds have specific education requirement for a teacher to be a Title 1 teacher but the State and Locals do not.” WADR, that doesn’t make sense. If Title I schools require teachers that have certain qualifications and experience, doesn’t that mean teachers instructing in Title I schools meet the federal standards, such that state and local requirements are immaterial? Not sure what you are arguing here.

          2. TMT – the Federal qualifications to be a Title 1 instructor are fairly specific in terms being a Masters and in addition coursework in dealing with kids who have reading deficits.

            The Feds do not provide as many Title 1 positions that are needed sometimes and the State and locals fill in with teachers – who, from what I’ve heard, do not have the same higher level background and credentials as the Federal Title 1 instructors do.

            Some of this involved whether the school is designated as a Targeted school (which will get a funded Title 1 position – or if the Title 1 designation is school-wide in which case – in theory – there is a pool of qualified instructors – and my understanding is, again, that there may not be the educational equivalent credentials present in everyone who is in the pool.

            This really gets to be a problem in poor neighborhood schools where all things equal for teachers in the school system – there is no benefit to going to the tougher school and instead even risk .. of getting blamed.

            So.. if you are a teacher and you do not have the Title 1 certifications and you go to a school with SOL issues and a large number of disadvantaged kids – .. well. if you have a choice – you don’t.

            So what the schools often do is send the new hires there.. because they’re glad to have to job… but they may well be woefully equipped to deal with at-risk, economically-disadvantaged kids.

            any of this make sense?

  2. so .. if your health insurance goes up – you get no increase in salary.

    the other thing to keep in mind – when we talk about increases for govt employees including teachers – and I’m going to sound like some right wing curmudgeon…

    but when you increase taxes – you hurt people who also did not get a raise and may well not have their own health insurance – and we need to understand that yearly increases to some folks – come at expense to others.

    Teachers get very reasonable salaries – with good health care benefits and a good pension.

    we need to recognize that, that’s a lot better than a bunch of people who work hard every day in the current economy, not only don’t get a raise, don’t get health care, don’t get a pension – and are barely hanging on.

    1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

      “Teachers get very reasonable salaries”

      Average starting salary for a teacher in the US is $36K versus $45K for other positions with a four-year degree.

      “not only don’t get a raise, don’t get health care, don’t get a pension”

      Sounds like a job for unionization. And for supporting politicians that protect unions and pensions.

      “and are barely hanging on”

      And politicians that support increasing the minimum wage.

      I don’t mean to come across as flip or glib, but “Other people have it worse” has never been a compelling reason to do anything be it not raising teacher salaries or eating my food because other people are starving.

      1. well, it’s a double do –

        1. – they are much worse off than teachers
        2. – the increase for the teachers comes out of their worse-off folks hides in the form of higher local taxes…

        It’s number 2. that is hard to walk away from for me.

        and don’t get me wrong – I think teachers are the salt of the earth.. they have one of the toughest jobs there is – and many work from 8 to 5 or 6 plus other school night activities .. etc.

        Most Teachers where I live earn far more than 36K though – I know quite a few who earn over 65K .. have superior health insurance – 403B’s and a decent pension that will keep them comfortable after retirement.

        It’s not nirvana.. but if I look around at the other folks in our community – teachers are among the top paid.. compared to the other jobs in the community.

        But basic truth here is – that teachers get paid from local taxes – and the only way they get increases is to increase local taxes.. usually.

        the guy that makes a living doing plumbing gets no “increase” .. but he’ll get whacked on his property taxes to pay for teacher raises.

        I’m not unalterably opposed to teachers getting raises – I just point out that it does not come from a money tree and it does come at the expense of others.

  3. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident

    Could not agree more larryg. I’m sorry to sound harsh, but teachers overall compensation package (with VRS) and benefits (12 weeks off per year) is pretty good.

    The gov’t employees who have a legitimate argument are some (not all) of those in law, medicine, IT, and engineering…..yeah, they probably do make significantly less than their private sector peers even when you consider the entire package. For instance, I know a shrink who was making about 140K at a corrections facility. He tripled his salary in the private sector (of course, to be fair, there is simply no supply of shrinks compared to demand). The bennies of the public sector aren’t going to make up that deficit.

    But educators have no room to complain IMO. Outside of exclusive private schools, public school teachers make much more than their counterparts at most private schools.

  4. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    That teaching continues to be a relatively low-wage, low-prestige job in this country tells you everything you need to know about the value Americans place on education.

    1. Part of the problem is that we pay all teachers the same regardless of performance and regardless of what they teach and I think that distorts and perverts our K-12 education system.

      For instance, we talk about class size – no matter whether the class is a core academic or a low level elective. Clearly, we should incentivize and reward instructors of core academic. We should make that something that teachers will work to achieve to get more money and prestige.

      We classify employees at many govt and private agencies as entry level, basic, advanced, and senior. Police, fire and rescue follow that approach also.

      because we treat all teachers the same – we treat core academic itself as just one of several courses taught and instructors are “interchangeable”. So the instructor that teaches phys ed or social studies is considered the same skill and difficulty as the instructor that teaches chemistry or calculus.

      we also don’t recognize specialists who deal with the harder-to-teach kids.

      The Feds do – the Feds have specific education requirement for a teacher to be a Title 1 teacher but the State and Locals do not – they just assign anyone – and in the poorer demographic neighborhood schools – they actually assign the least experienced and least qualified teachers because the senior teachers won’t go there because there is no benefit to them – they won’t get paid more – and at the same time they could be held accountable for a class that has so many difficult students that – the teacher will be scapegoated for performance issues.

      Yet – the education community is resolute that all teachers are equal and cannot be paid more for more difficult work that requires higher skills.

      And THIS is what denigrates the professional as a whole and allow the right to demagogue “bad teachers” , “rubber rooms”, and that voucher/choice schools could do the same work or better for lesser paid teachers.

      so I think the reason we rank 25th in the world – has to do with the way we educate – and it’s not the teachers fault… it is the system they work for.

      When you go to any other kind of employer – there is a hierarchy of workers that are differentiated by skill, knowledge and experience and the reward system – rewards those that have more skill, knowledge and performance.

      Teachers who teach core academic subjects should be highly skilled, and carefully selected according to their knowledge, skill and performance. It’s that core academic issue that puts us at 25th in the world.

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