Amen to “high cost of low teacher salary” op-ed

Lots of things cost money. Education should be a top priority and improving our education system begins and ends with great teachers. Educators should be valued with professional salaries. Historically, we have had vision and will so we must find a way.

I was stunned to read this article, The high cost of low teacher salary by Dave Eggers and Nina Clements Calagari, in the New York Times. It absolutely nails the issue of teacher retention and teacher salary for the general public. I’m so glad people are taking notice.

I highly suggest reading the entire piece, which is pretty pithy. Nonetheless, a few highlights:

We’ve been working with public school teachers for 10 years; every spring, we see many of the best teachers leave the profession. They’re mowed down by the long hours, low pay, the lack of support and respect… So every year 20 percent of teachers in urban districts quit. Nationwide, 46 percent of teachers quit before their fifth year. The turnover costs the United States $7.34 billion yearly. The effect within schools—especially those in urban communities where turnover is highest—is devastating.

Yes, I see this every year. The idea of “turnaround schools,” which is a new buzzword in NYC, holds little promise as far as I can see because once a school makes a bit of progress, the teachers who have gone way above and beyond the call of duty for little pay and recognition will be leaving. The school will have to start all over again. This simply does not happen in suburban schools, which enjoy better working conditions and salaries for teachers. Close the achievement gap? Not like this.

People talk about accountability, measurements, tenure, test scores and pay for performance. These questions are worthy of debate, but are secondary to recruiting and training teachers and treating them fairly. There is no silver bullet that will fix every last school in America, but until we solve the problem of teacher turnover, we don’t have a chance.

Agreed. Like this, we make no progress. Thanks for getting straight to the point.

At the moment, the average teacher’s pay is on par with that of a toll-taker or bartender. Teachers make 14 percent less than professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education. In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary—after 25 years in the profession—is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible.

When I tell people I teach middle school students, the most common response is, “God bless you.” It is as if I have chosen a life of charity work or risked my life joining the army (or something on that level). We do not want our nation’s children to be charity work or war zones. We want them to be well educated by professional teachers.

McKinsey polled 900 top-tier American college students and found that 68 percent would consider teaching if salaries started at $65,000 and rose to a minimum of $150,000. Could we do this? If we’re committed to “winning the future,” we should. If any administration is capable of tackling this, it’s the current one. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan understand the centrality of teachers and have said that improving our education system begins and ends with great teachers. But world-class education costs money.

For those who say, “How do we pay for this?”, well how are we paying for three concurrent wars? How did we pay for the interstate highway system? Or the bailout of the savings and loans in 1989 and that of the investment banks in 2008? How did we pay for the equally ambitious project of sending Americans to the moon? We had the vision and we had the will and we found a way.

Amen. Lots of things cost money. Education should be a top priority, and educators should be valued not just in empty words but with professional salaries.


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