Saturday, August 6, 2011

Those Who Can, Teach. Those Who Can’t Pass Laws About It.

Disclaimer: I am no politico.  I’m not a junkie when it comes to all of this stuff.  But I am passionate about education and I have a problem with the way the educational system, students, and teachers are treated.  So if you do care to comment on this entry, please be mindful that these are my opinions .  I welcome respectful disagreement, but please keep it just that.

Arne Duncan is one of the most powerful men in our nation’s educational system.  As the 9th United States Secretary of Education, Duncan is the head of the Department of Education, and 16th in line to the Presidency. Mr. Duncan has never taught a single day in his life.  Interesting, isn't it... a man who has never been a teacher is the most powerful man in our nation's educational system.  Just mind boggling.

(Bear with me while I set up some statistics here.)

According to the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences, there were 98,706 public schools in the United States for the 2008-2009 school year (most recent year’s stats).

The Center for Educational Reform’s website  states the following statistics, which they have gathered from the IES:

Total Public Schools: 98,916
Total Charter Schools: 5,043
Total Private Schools: 33, 740
Total Catholic Schools: 7,510

A slight discrepancy in the totals, though they claim to be using the same data to compile their numbers.  For my purposes, I'll round the total number of public schools to the middle- approximately 98,800 schools.

According to the same website, the following statistics are for dollars spent in those approx. 98,800 pubic schools, and apparently 5,000 charter schools.  (I don't consider Charter Schools to be Public Schools).

Total Public School Expenditures: $562.3 billion dollars
Average District Public School Per Pupil Expenditure: $12,018
Average Public Charter School Per Pupil Expenditure: $8,001

Now, to bring it a little closer to home, good ole' New York City.

According to the NYC Dept of Education The NYC Public school system has approximately 1.1 million students, 1,700 schools, $80,000 teachers, and a $21 billion annual budget, and is the largest system of public schools in the country.

Are you seeing what I'm seeing?  These figures presented are astronomical! They are huge! I mean, come on... $21,000,000,000??????? That's a lot of zeroes.  Granted school budgets were slashed this year, so that number may not be ultimately correct- but still.  A tremendous amount of money to spend on a tremendous amount of students who must be taught a tremendous amount of information by their teachers.  Teachers who don't make a tremendous amount of money.

 The starting salary for a new teacher in the NYC DOE who holds a Bachelor's degree and has no prior teaching experience is $45,530.  If you start with a Master's degree and no prior teaching experience (which is looking like what will be my case more and more with each passing day of this hiring freeze), your salary starts at $51,425.  Not too shabby, if you look at just that number.  But for someone like me, who is unmarried and has no dependents- a great deal of that gets chopped away with the tax guillotine.  This past year, subbing for 91 days from the very end of October to the end of June, I lost about $4,000 in taxes, aka, tuition for an entire semester of grad school.  Ahem.

So factor in the taxes.  Then factor in the number of hours a teacher works.  If you take the amount of time a teacher spends with her students, and only those hours, still a decent deal.  Except anyone with half a brain knows that teaching extends far out of the classroom.  A teacher gets a 45 minute prep period each day, and 45 minutes for lunch.  Assuming that the teacher actually eats lunch, and spends those 45 minutes (which usually dwindles to 35 by the time you drop the class to lunch, check your mailbox in the office, and then head up to the teacher's lunchroom) taking a breather.  That leaves a teacher with 45 minutes to do all kinds of marking, grading, photo copying, prepping, organizing, arranging, etc.  For the entire day.  Not a lot of time at all, so it is no wonder teachers bring home papers and tests to mark.  It is no wonder teachers spend their summer vacations putting together center activities, writer's notebooks, creating powerpoints and smart board activities, researching new teaching strategies and methods, finding new, innovative and engaging ways to impart their knowledge to their students... still think those salaries are appropriate for the hours invested and worked? 

Good. I'm glad you are seeing my point of things.  Funny thing is, so does Arne Duncan.  In fact, Mr. Duncan stated recently that he thinks teacher salaries should start at $60,000 and cap off around $150,000.  Oh, really, Mr. Duncan?  How kind of you to say.  Arne also threw in this little gem: "He called on colleges of education to raise the bar for prospective students, to lure the brightest in. 'Top undergraduates will flock to a profession that demands high standards and credentials,' he said."

HA! Yeah right.  High standards and credentials will not be what draws someone to the teaching profession.  I didn't become a teacher for those reasons.  I became a teacher because of my intrinsic desire to help students learn the value of knowledge.  Maybe if teachers were held a little higher in the public eye, more talented educators would drift back to the profession.  When students fail, it isn't their fault.  It isn't their parents' faults.  It is the teacher's fault.  Always.  And that isn't fair.  Teachers are constantly being attacked (especially in regards to the new tenure system in NYC), who in their right mind would want to deal with that?

I guess I'm not in my right mind then.

So ultimately, Mr. Arne Duncan, if you think that teachers deserve more pay (which they do), maybe you should use your position for good, instead of being a big bully.  You tried to use scare tactics and said that 82% of schools were going to FAIL under No Child Left Behind Standards.  Obviously, NCLB has it's own set of issues, but Mr. Duncan, we don't tolerate bullying in the school systems where I come from.  Not every school will have 100% of schools who make adequate yearly progress.  100% is an impossible figure to reach, especially in school systems where things are broken and in desperate need of some fixing up.

One last thing- I wish there were more outspoken, intelligent, respected advocates for education like Matt Damon.  He's my hero of the week- Check out this article and this youtube video. (PS- Matt Damon's mom is a TEACHER!)


  1. I love this post :) I am currently a teacher's aide in a public pre-K working on my Master's in Education so I know right where you are coming from!

  2. Wit we are practically twins! I am certified to teach birth-6th grade, and I'm going for my Master's in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages... slow going grad school, but I love what I do :)