OPINION: Teachers are the real 1%: Didn’t you know?

imageYou know the neighbor who lives down the street who drives an old Honda, has a mountain of student loan debt, lives with roommates, and just got laid off as a second grade teacher at one of the schools in one of our most under-served communities? Well, before being laid off, that teacher was making bank.

At least, those are some of the findings of a recently released report on teacher pay, Assessing the Compensation of Public School Teachers, prepared by Dr. Jason Richwine of The Heritage Foundation and Dr. Andrew G. Biggs of The American Enterprise Institute. Among their findings: “Teacher compensation could therefore be reduced with only minor effects on recruitment and retention.”

I read the study, and it brought up a few interesting questions, so I called and emailed Dr. Richwine and Dr. Biggs, and asked if they cared to respond to any of the following questions:

Who funded the study, and in what dollar amounts? How much were you two paid? Are your compensation levels comparable with that of other researchers? Do you feel that you are underpaid or overpaid for your work? Has anyone ever conducted a study on your compensation levels? If not, how can the public be reasonably assured that your compensation levels did not interfere with the conclusions you reached? Do you feel that the quality of your work would suffer if you were paid less? If so, are you willing, at this time, to make a contribution to a charity of your choice for that specific dollar amount?

When you indicate that “job security for teachers is considerably greater than in comparable professions,” did you take into account layoffs, including the currently 969 laid off teachers (publication update: now 850) in The Los Angeles Unified School District who no longer have a job? To be more specific, do you believe those 969 (publication update: now 850) teachers have any more job protections than anyone in the private sector?

When you make the statement, “teacher compensation could therefore be reduced with only minor effects on recruitment and retention,” do you make such a conclusion, in part, based on any public school teaching experience, even for five minutes, in a hard-to-staff school, in one of our most underserved communities? Do you have any public school teaching experience whatsoever?

Did you arrive at your conclusions with the knowledge that, in the first five years of service, 50% of all new public school teachers quit the profession entirely?

In your findings, you cite ‘value-added models.’ Are you aware that even the best of these models are incorrect 25% of the time (that is, an effective teacher could be incorrectly labeled as ineffective 25% of the time, and an ineffective teacher could incorrectly be labeled as effective 25% of the time), and, given this data, as far as teacher evaluation is concerned, what’s an acceptable level of error when your job is on the line?

Do you think a person off the street who owns Stand and Deliver on DVD is as informed as to the realities of what it’s like to teach in a public school in one of our most underserved communities as a person who actually has taught in one of those schools for five or more years?

Dr. Richwine did not respond.

Dr. Biggs responded by email: “I’d be happy to answer your serious questions. Please delete the non-serious ones and then we can talk. Some of this is fine, but a lot of it is silly.”

I replied: “For the purposes of clarification, all of my questions are serious. I believe the lack of access to a quality, public education for all citizens — not just the privileged and wealthy — is the civil rights struggle of our lives. Given how many of my colleagues have taken second jobs just to survive, the number who have quit the profession entirely due to the long hours, low pay, relentless continual disrespect, school boards and administrators who, without our input, continually add more responsibilities without lessening our workload in other areas, so we could more effectively focus our energies on what we want, which is to serve our students, given policy debates that do not address accountability issues other than to point fingers at teachers, it is difficult for me to understand how you arrived at some of your conclusions. But I have an open mind, and look forward to your serious and substantive response.”

Dr. Biggs responded: “I’d like to help, but by and large your questions are either irrelevant or so indicative of bias that I suspect it’s really not worth my time to engage.”

The 850 currently laid off teachers and health and human services professionals from this year alone in LAUSD are not irrelevant, and for their commitment to public education, they deserve better.


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