Sunday, February 21, 2010

Am I Reading This Wrong?

The Iowa Department of Education posted "good" news on their website.

Iowa DOE

It says, "Iowa Governor Chet Culver announced teacher salaries, which were at 37th in the nation just one year ago, are now at 26th - ahead of a majority of states and the District of Columbia. The average salary in Iowa is now $48,638."

The issue I have is not with the amount of the salary, it's with some logic of the press release. Culver says we are 26th in the nation in teacher salaries. Fine, I'll go with that. But if MY math is correct, beings 26th means that there are 25 states with higher salaries, 24 states with lower salaries, and the District of Columbia who is also lower than us. Contrary to Culver's statement, I believe that this means that we are not "ahead of a majority of states" but in fact "below a majority of states". We are ahead of 24 states, but since there are 50 states all together, we can't say that's a "majority"

My point is (besides how scary it is that our Department of Education considers "majority" to mean "fewer that 50%") that this is EXACTLY why politicians cannot be involved in education. In any way. Our governor makes a statement that seems to bring good news, but when you read into it you realize he has no idea what he's talking about. No politician does when it comes to education. They are interested in producing a sound bite, a press release, or a piece of legislation that might seem like a good thing, but when you actually analyze what's being said you realize how unintelligible, impossible, or ridiculous it actually is.

Further illustration is provided by Joe Bower's blog who provided a summary of an Alfie Kohn speech in Canada. Bower summarized one of Kohn's points this way...

Cliches like 'raise the bar' and 'higher standards' at first glance seem to make sense; however, if we were to stop and speculate - what would the government say if every child actually scored proficiently on this year's Provincial Achievement Test? Might they respond, "Wow, those teachers sure are doing a fine job." This is laughable. It is far more likely that the response would be something like, "Those teachers are too darn easy on those kids." What this tells us should disturb you - the higher standards movement, by defiinition, is designed to ensure that not all children can achieve them, because if everyone could achieve them, that would be proof that the standard was simply not challenging enough.

No politician is going to be able to help, reform, or change schools effectively. None. That is my bold statement of this blog. They will always be looking to do something that looks good but they won't know if it actually is good. They can't know this, they're not teachers. They have no idea what happens in a classroom, just as I have no idea what happens on a factory line, a fishing ship, a police officer's car, a fireman's station, a lawyer's office, or a mechanic's garage. Real change will come from those on the front lines because we are the ones who know what is actually happening and what we can actually do.

We talked about "order" in the beginning of the year in 5th grade but only reviewed it because that was covered down in 4th and 3rd. One of our Mental Math activities this week was "If you are 9th in line, how many people are ahead of you?" I kid you not. If only someone at the Department of Education had paid more attention in elementary school...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Do Not Pay Teachers $100,000

Dear Readers-

I have been reading a lot about educational reform and ways to "fix" the public school system and a common theme is teacher pay. There are a fair number of people who believe that we can create a highly effective teaching work force if we offer teachers the same kind of salary that lawyers, doctors, and other such professionals make. Doing so would theoretically bring the best of the best into education, would motivate teachers into doing the best teaching practices, and would provide the necessary accountability to the workforce. Also, which teacher in their right mind would turn down the opportunity to make that much money?

Let me counter with this: the worst thing we can do to teaching is make it attractive by the amount of money that can be made. Yes, it would be wonderful to be fairly compensated for the work that teachers do (for the time I put into my students far exceeds the amount I'm paid for it). And yes, it would undoubtedly bring smart and bright individuals into the profession who might not otherwise think of educating because there is more money to be made elsewhere.

But what makes educating a child unique as a profession is this fact: teaching has never been about the money. And it can never be. We will never be paid what we deserve, for what is it worth to change a life? Not even a life, but 22 lives, or 150 lives, or thousands of lives over the course of a career? Such work requires commitment, passion, personal sacrifice, and an acceptance of a belief that sometimes we will never know what is produced from the seeds that we sew. Teachers become teachers in spite of the salary because it's not about the pay, it's about our love and commitment to working with students. It's about a belief in helping a cause greater than our own good. It's about a desire to make a difference in people's lives and in the world. And it's about a sacrifice we willingly and knowlingly make so we can give back what we have received.

To upset this balance would mean an influx of less qualified teachers entering the workforce. They would be teachers who are doing it for the money, who would think that the effort they put into students must be equaled by the compensation they receive for it. And when the compensation is not enough (as it inevitably won't be) then the desire to keep pushing one's self for the sake of others will diminish. We should want teachers who want to teach regardless of what they make because they know they are serving a higher purpose. What we have now is a workforce of teachers who are here because we want to be without the expectation that they will be paid fully for their work. We do not want a workforce of teachers who will only put into the education of a child what they will get out of it. The want of money cannot replace or exceed the want to help.

If anything else, we need to learn that not all problems we face are solved by throwing money at it. Let us learn from the lessons of the banking industry, the auto companies, and our federal budget. Money is a necessary evil, but not a solution to education.