The truth, it is said, is a three-edged sword: your side, their side, and reality – and it cuts in all directions.
Lately the education system is in the news a lot. Specifically, Wisconsin and its government’s moves to reduce (or on the other side, protect) the power of the teacher’s unions is currently on display. And everyone is watching.
Most people (especially the politicians) are trying to simplify the argument.
- Teacher benefits are out of control
- Teachers are underpaid
- Teachers are not achieving acceptable results from the students
- Teachers are being evaluated against specious measures over which they have no control
- My taxes are too high
- Okay, nobody really argues that taxes are too low. But they want to raise them anyway.
Everything above is true.
Teacher benefits are pretty freakin’ good. As a corporate employee, I, for example, get a heck of a lot less vacation and put a heck of a lot more of my own pay into retirement and health care than teachers do. If I’m being honest, that bothers me and seems unfair. On the other hand, I also firmly believe that teachers are by and large underpaid. I have a degree in education and completed my student teaching time, which gives me a small insight into the true amount of work that goes into a successful teaching day – and I know that practically speaking I really was only exposed to the minimum of that reality. Even putting aside the time commitment, teachers are highly functional knowledge-workers – those who in the corporate sector command more pay, typically – and they’re generally not paid at that level. There’s plenty more that could go into that argument, as I’m not even touching on the variety of non-core-education related tasks that teachers are required to perform, but I’ll leave it for now.
Teachers aren’t getting great results. It’s true. A lot of students are getting through the system ill-prepared for their life outside of school. Low test scores abound in the US. Nobody can deny that. Is that the teachers’ faults? Yes and no. Some of it is. Some teachers let kids get through without having learned the skills they need to progress. There are bad teachers out there. But there are also teachers out there who are hamstrung by the situation in which they find themselves – and I’d venture to say that’s a larger percentage than the bad ones. The majority of the problem is unsupportive parents who don’t take their part in the education of their children seriously – but we can’t do anything to them, or even evaluate them. Public schools can’t say “if you’re not willing to play your part, we won’t take you as a client.” The same can be said of some of the kids; they just don’t want to put in the work. No matter how much the teachers encourage, cajole, or punish a student (and their options to do any of those are limited anyway) there are students who won’t do the work. But it’s the teachers who are held accountable when that happens, not the students, in many cases. If a teacher flunks a student, whether she deserves it or not, the teacher is closely evaluated on that decision, and sometimes overridden. I had that exact scenario happen to me as a student teacher. I flunked two students on a major paper that was a large part of their grade because they didn’t do the work – it was late, it was poorly written, and it didn’t follow the instructions, even on a superficial level – and yet my supervising teacher upgraded them to a D – not because they deserved it, but because flunking them would keep them from graduating in a few weeks, and it was obvious to me that that decision was based on a lifetime of administrative pressures on his shoulders, not because of his instincts as a teacher.
That’s admittedly anecdotal, but I think exemplifies some of the problem. Then there is also the fact that student test scores are a poor way to measure teacher results anyway. There may be correlation (not causation) in low test scores, however they cannot be used as the sole measure of a teacher. Too many other factors can contribute to failures, including the tests themselves.
“My taxes are too high.” No kidding. I’d love to lower my taxes. Heck, I’d be satisfied if my taxes would just stop rising. I’d also like it if groceries and gas would stop getting more expensive. I have serious doubts that any of those things are going to happen, however. This is the world. Economics is a harsh mistress. For things to get less expensive, the systems that support them have to get more efficient or change completely. For that to happen, disruption of the current system has to happen. People don’t like disruption. Somebody is always on the short end of the stick.
There is no perfect answer. There is no simple solution. All we can do is try to work together within the law to fix the problems. Sometimes it will work in your favor, sometimes it won’t. This time (assuming the Wisconsin Democrats return and do their jobs instead of petulantly taking their ball and going home) it looks like the Wisconsin teachers may end up taking a hit. That hurts, and it’s not fun, and it’s regrettable that it has to be that way, but that’s the way it is. It is then up to the teachers whether they want to continue in their current jobs or get other jobs – the same decision I and many others had to make as our employers froze our wages, decreased or eliminated their contributions to our retirement and health care plans, closed locations, or implemented any other number of cost-cutting measures over the last few years.
Everybody’s right; there is a real problem with education and the payment and evaluation of our teaching staff. And everybody’s wrong; there is no simple way to fix it that doesn’t involve somebody – possibly everybody – getting shafted one way or another, and we’re ALL part of the problem because no one wants to give up what they have.