Day: <span>May 14, 2014</span>

Making teachers an afterthought


While political leaders throughout the United States continue to heap high-stakes tests on 8-year-olds and wring their hands over less-than-magical scores, many of these same leaders – if you want to call them that — persist in neglecting the teachers at the heart of the educational process. And, I am not just talking about Texas, although our state ranks right down there with the most neglectful.

Now, those of you who think teacher pay isn’t a valid educational issue can go back to sleep. If you think teachers are overpaid because most of them get two months off during the summer, even if they cram about 12 or 13 months’ worth of work into a typical school year, you may find the Cartoon Network or the Disney Channel more to your level of comprehension.

But if you believe that teachers should be paid as professionals at a level that recognizes and rewards the value of their work, read on to learn just how far off the mark the United States has fallen in this age of “accountability.”

Pay for teachers in the United States is now only sixth highest in the world, according to a new report by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. This ranking is based on daily pay of teachers in public primary schools, adjusted for purchasing power parity. The UNESCO report is summarized in HR Exchange, a publication of the Texas Association of School Boards, linked below.

Since 2000, the purchasing power of teachers has increased significantly in many countries, while increasing by less than 5 percent in the United States. This means that average teacher pay in the U.S.  – unlike, say, the pay of hedge fund managers and other business billionaires who are some of our public schools’ biggest critics – has only slightly outpaced inflation. In Texas, according to TASB, the purchasing power for the average teacher in Texas has declined by $1,000 since 2000.

The UNESCO study also found that the United States, on average, rewards experienced teachers less for their years of service — compared to starting teachers’ salaries — than most other industrialized countries. And, the pay disparity between teachers and other people with similar educational backgrounds is greater in the U.S.

Teachers in the United States, according to the report, are paid between 66 percent and 70 percent of the average salaries of other people with bachelor’s degrees. Teachers in the 34 countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which include many countries with much smaller economies than the U.S., earn, on average, between 80 percent and 89 percent of the salaries of other individuals with bachelor’s degrees.

That comparison may be worse in Texas, where teacher pay is more than $7,000 below the U.S. average. And, now, state Education Commissioner Michael Williams, prodded by the Obama administration, wants to add insult to injury by imposing a teacher evaluation system that would potentially link teacher pay to student test scores.

Williams needs to get a clue, and, unfortunately, he isn’t the only one.