Governor Christie Pushes For Merit Pay and Tenure Reform

8924597-large Governor Christie of New Jersey is continuing his efforts at education reform in New Jersey. Well, I'm not sure that "reform" is the right word, because slashing school budgets and failing to meet the deadline for "Race to The Top Money" doesn't quite qualify as positive change.

This week, he is making headlines by pushing for merit pay and tenure reform. He wants to make it easier to remove bad teachers and to reward teachers that raise children's test scores. Merit pay and tenure reform has growing support among Democrats as well as Republicans.

On tenure reform, Christie said he would propose a bill that affords every child the right to an "effective teacher" and says tenure must be granted and taken away based on teachers’ effectiveness evaluations…

On merit pay, Christie said he wants to prohibit seniority or graduate degree attainment in fields other than math and science from influencing salary increases for teachers. The large pool of funding needed to start a merit pay program would come from the savings of firing bad teachers through tenure reform, Christie said.

A recent Vanderbilt study found that merit pay does not improve children's test scores. I'm not surprised. A good teacher will continue to work hard, whether or not they get bonus or not. However, I think merit pay is a good idea simply because it is fair. Hard working teachers should be rewarded for their efforts. That's how other professions work.

However, I'm not convinced that test scores should be a component of determining the quality of a teacher, even when they are the numbers are adjusted used various algorithms.

Christie doesn't have a shot in hell in getting these reforms passed, because we are a strong union state. Even if he did, they would probably not have much of an impact on the overall quality of education in this state. Many bigger changes would have to be made.

98 thoughts on “Governor Christie Pushes For Merit Pay and Tenure Reform

  1. Our governor is narrower than your governor. Ha, ha.
    Anyway, introducing reforms that can’t be enacted but sound good is a reasonable tactic, politics-wise.

  2. “The large pool of funding needed to start a merit pay program would come from the savings of firing bad teachers through tenure reform, Christie said.”
    I guess he’s counting on the salary differential between senior teachers (being let go) and brand-new teachers (being hired) to finance this. ‘Cause you’re definitely going to have to replace teachers who are being fired…

  3. Extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation. Watch/read Dan Pink.
    People doing mechanistic tasks that don’t require much thought respond well to rewards. People who have to think creatively do not respond well to rewards and incentives.
    The day teaching becomes a mechanistic task that doesn’t require much thought is the day I quit my job.

  4. People who have to think creatively do not respond well to rewards and incentives.
    I’m trying to apply that to Nicholas Cage’s career and bankruptcy. I don’t think it works in his case.

  5. But, more to the point, nearly everybody says that their job is too difficult/unique/precious to measure. When you have a whole system failing, I don’t see why those saying their job is “creative” shouldn’t be expected to have the burden of proof shifted to them instead of those trying to reform things.

  6. Wouldn’t you love it, if someone gave you a $1,000 check, Wendy, and said, “here you go. Take this money. We love the work you do.”? Every teacher I know would be totally thrilled to get a bonus for their hard work.

  7. Talking to bright young science and math undergrads, the real potential of merit pay is not in whether it will magically improve the current teaching faculty’s performance in a year or two. The possibility of merit pay has allowed kids who were drawn to teaching but had dismissed it — because they were too smart to spend their careers wrangling with union BS, or seeing a lazy colleague get a pay bump over them because she’d gotten an MEd at some mediocre distance learning program.
    We just had a seminar on this is my department — the turnout greatly eclipsed that of previous years and most of the questions dealt with how likely the experts on the panel felt merit pay was to becoming widespread.

  8. As a former English teacher in NJ (former as in no longer in public ed and no longer in NJ for reasons that I’m sure can be inferred from this blog), I have to say that I’m bothered by the idea that graduate degrees in non-math/science fields are considered worthless (that’s at least the implication of saying that they shouldn’t be considered in pay increases). I understand that there’s a huge difference between a degree earned from an online diploma mill and one earned from a rigorous program. But Gov. Christie just effectively said that anyone teaching anything other than math or science knows everything s/he needs to know for the rest of her/his teaching career by the time s/he graduates from college.

  9. Maybe I’m buying into Republican talking points too much, I think you’re missing the point of merit pay.
    I think I would make a very good teacher. I would probably enjoy it, too. I currently, however, make more money than my daughter’s fourth grade teacher, who is excellent and my daughter’s second grade teacher, who is mediocre but earns an identical salary.
    If I thought that “merit pay” could goose my hypothetical teacher salary closer to my current salary, I might consider switching. (Well, not now. But maybe in 5 or 10 years.)
    So, the purpose of merit pay isn’t about improving the quality of current teachers, but about getting better people to choose teaching as a career by promising them the chance of salaries about the worst-non-fireable-teacher-with-identical-years-of-service.

  10. As a former English teacher in NJ (former as in no longer in public ed and no longer in NJ for reasons that I’m sure can be inferred from this blog), I have to say that I’m bothered by the idea that graduate degrees in non-math/science fields are considered worthless (that’s at least the implication of saying that they shouldn’t be considered in pay increases).
    But merit pay doesn’t require any sort of judgment on the worth of these degrees. They are “worth something” if they improve a teacher’s performance… and the increased merit pay would reward that. Why pay for a very weak signifier of teacher quality when you can pay for the real thing directly?

  11. Those of you who support the current measures being bandied about to evaluate teachers — how do these resemble the methods by which you yourselves are evaluated?
    The issue I see with the performance evaluations for teachers is that they try to do the job on the cheap, to come up with quick and dirty ways of evaluating performance. They do this because evaluating performance for real is time-consuming & expensive.
    Teachers unions have advocated for one set of cheap and dirty methods of evaluating performance (seniority, educational degrees, tenure). EdReformers are now advocating for an alternate set of equally cheap and dirty methods.
    I’m theoretically in favor of evaluating teachers more rigorously, of avoiding reliance on things like online diploma mills for raising pay. But, I haven’t seen anyone advocating for real evaluations: for example I might be willing to advocate for classroom observation by knowledgeable individuals, over multiple periods of time, one who has an understanding of the students in that class. That’d be expensive, though, and I don’t know if it would be cost-effective.

  12. But merit pay doesn’t require any sort of judgment on the worth of these degrees.
    Siobhan, I completely agree (notice I identified myself as a “former” public school teacher — among the myriad reasons I left were the fact that I was tired of moving up a pay scale instead of receiving a merit-based raise). I just wanted to point out that at the same time that Christie is pushing for merit pay, which (at least according to your interpretation) doesn’t judge the relative worth of various fields, he’s judging the relative worth of various fields.

  13. Ragtime points out that the value of merit pay would be if people thought that merited teachers were paid more than ones with less merit. But, then, we talk about paying the “best” teachers more using the same pool of money. Will we create a winner take all system, where the best teacher gets a lot, and everyone gets very little? That is, threshold effects where there are a few winners and lots of loosers? If we do this is that because we think that’s the way the underlying performance variable is distributed (a few great teachers a lot of mediocre ones, with big distribution differences?)
    I think there are lots of questions like this we can talk about. We could have real discussions about the measurement of performance, the structures of merit pay based on that performance and the eventual (including long term effects) effects on labor choices. But I also believe that the EdReform movement (as reflected by Christie) really has only one goal: to fire the teachers who currently cost the public more. That saves the public money in the short term. And, this is a good time to do it, economically, because the labor market is loose, and some potentially excellent teachers might have been laid off from other jobs, and be willing to work for cheap. So, in the short term, we’ll pay the short term educational cost of dealing with novice teachers (everyone universally agrees that first year teachers aren’t as good as other teachers), with the hope that those teachers will be good later.
    I think that the transformation would create an unstable teacher work force (it’s already remarkably unstable), that those new entrants would leave again when jobs became more available. Why? because ultimately, we’re still trying to pay the same amount of pay for teaching, and so it isn’t going to make it worthwhile for someone who can earn even 100K being a lawyer or a manager to trade for.

  14. “I just wanted to point out that at the same time that Christie is pushing for merit pay, which (at least according to your interpretation) doesn’t judge the relative worth of various fields, he’s judging the relative worth of various fields.”
    Right, if the math & science graduate degrees were worth it, they should be visible in the “performance” measurement of the teacher, too. And, if there’s no pre-supposition that a Ph.D. in education improves your teaching, there shouldn’t be any pre-supposition that a Ph.D. in physics does either. Both should effects should be measurable somehow in your “performance.”
    (when we’ve figured out how to magically measure performance)

  15. Laura:
    You’re replacing “performance” measurements with “hard-working.” In what way are other professions measured by how hard you work, and how do you measure how hard you’re working?
    Hours? Is that how we should measure how hard a teacher is working (like we do with associates? but then, associates bill for those hours, creating a direct connection between how hard they work and how good their performance is — since performance is measured by how much money you bring into the firm).
    I think good teachers work hard because there’s enormous reward in the internal satisfaction of the work (teaching someone something — my kids’ aikido teacher was very very excited last week because she felt that she’d taught my little one left and right using a novel technique).
    I think it’s hard to replace that reward with merit pay (and difficult to try to add merit pay to that system without disrupting it).
    But, I’m not theoretically opposed to having more pay differentials among teachers and basing it on something that we think reflects their performance. For me, it boils down to how that performance should be measured (and how much teachers should be rewarded for it). Will these changes really improve the system over all, or just add significant costs in pursuit of fairness?

  16. And, if there’s no pre-supposition that a Ph.D. in education improves your teaching, there shouldn’t be any pre-supposition that a Ph.D. in physics does either.
    Math and science are the few ares where advanced degrees have been shown to matter, so that pre-supposition is wrong:
    http://education-portal.com/articles/Teacher_Training_Experience_May_Be_More_Valuable_Than_An_Advanced_Degree.html
    Nonetheless, I wouldn’t have a problem with Christie removing that exception. (My guess is that the majority of teachers with math and science masters are getting them right after undergrad before the start teaching, and Christie believes that an automatic bump is the only way to attract those more qualified teachers in the first place — if you say “just wait a few years and I promise that, on average, you see the return on your MS in biology in merit pay”, they’re less likely to take the job.)
    I think in general we should allow for vastly different teacher pay scales by subject, but that’s a reform for another year.

  17. I think good teachers work hard because there’s enormous reward in the internal satisfaction of the work
    Yes, but based on how the schools have been doing, you clearly cannot fill every position with people like that (at least you can’t if you are going to let women work in any field they wish). You need to get the ‘meh’ teachers to do an O.K. job.

  18. Maybe if everyone says that effectiveness in their job is too difficult to measure (e.g., too difficult to neatly quantify) everyone is right.
    Maybe the only time that there’s an independent, natural metric is when you’re an entrepreneur, invention or cultural producer and your business, device or novel/film/blog vastly outperforms comparable products or businesses. Even then though, I think we’d all argue that there are fantastic businesses, devices and cultural works that are oddly underappreciated–nobody’s going to say that Vincent Van Gogh’s metrics show him to be a failure because he didn’t sell anything during his productive life, right?
    Quantification in most professions is being used to keep us from having to shoulder the messy burden of making human, intimate judgments, or explaining why we value what we value. They usually end up being the architectural equivalent of trying to build a cathedral without arches, stained glass, multiple sizes of stone, gargoyles or any other idiosyncratic part that deviates from the standard stone block used in a standard stone wall.
    A law office that builds its hierarchy purely around max $$$/billing hours will probably end up misunderstanding how important some wise old partner is to advising and mentoring younger lawyers, or how one person’s unusual specialization or approach is the key to long-term success. An investment firm that isn’t heterogenous in the bets it places, the strategies it uses and the kinds of insights or knowledge it rewards is sooner or later going to end up a vulnerable monoculture.
    A school that’s all about rewarding people who teach to the tests or who look good even on a robust, multivariable scale, is almost certainly going to overlook good teaching that misses the metric, teaching which a humane, sensitive supervisor might notice and reward.
    Because we know that humane, sensitive supervisors are relatively rare, we look to the numbers as insurance against that rarity. I’d rather figure out how to make humane sensitivity the first requirement of institutional leadership.

  19. “I think in general we should allow for vastly different teacher pay scales by subject, but that’s a reform for another year. ”
    I agree with this — and would want to base it on market needs. If you’re having trouble finding qualified math teachers, you should be able to pay them more. I also think the same thing about pay for teachers who teach in difficult schools (which are also sometimes those schools where the internal reward, say, of teaching someone to read comes less easily and more rarely). And, to keep out of STEM, I think language teachers are also in short supply.
    I also would support reforms requiring more rigorous content testing for teachers, especially in the post-elementary school level, where knowing the subject matter is a big part of teaching it (kind of like in college, where we assume that’s everything, or nearly everything in teaching).
    I think those are reforms I’d support right away (first, before complicated merit pay systems that depend on childrens’ test scores) — though it would have to be a bump in pay for those teachers (not a re-distribution). I do not think teachers are overpaid now, and to the extent that there are “meh” teachers, I don’t want to devote much energy getting rid of them.
    But, no one is suggesting those — because they don’t save money, which as far as I can tell is the real goal of people like Christie.

  20. To respond to Abby and bj–
    The other issue, of course, is that you’re trying to attract skilled, capable people. I don’t think that science and math teachers are more important than teachers of other disciplines. On the other hand, a person with an MS or PhD in almost any math or science field has a lot more employment options than someone equally intellectually talented, and equally well educated in other fields. Most of these jobs also pay much more than the average teacher position. You’re going to struggle to attract truly hard-working/bright/well-educated people who love doing science and math, if you pay them only 25-75% of what they could earn elsewhere. My MS salary as a tech/researcher in industry *10 years ago* was more than my husband’s salary is now. He is a talented, dedicated teacher with years of experience, and he also holds a master’s degree. In music. Teachers’ salaries are competitive in that field, but in my first year out of grad school, with only an MS degree, more than 10 years ago I earned noticeably more than what an MS-holding new science teacher would earn even now. You’re not going to get a *lot* of the most capable people in the field to pursue teaching, at that rate. It’s going to get even worse if you move to a merit-based scale that doesn’t take into account the value/merit (and lucrative employability) indicated by a master’s degree in science or math.

  21. A school that’s all about rewarding people who teach to the tests or who look good even on a robust, multivariable scale, is almost certainly going to overlook good teaching that misses the metric, teaching which a humane, sensitive supervisor might notice and reward.
    Yes, but I pay nearly as much on school taxes as I do for the school my son actually attends. The cost per pupil is soaring while test scores and graduation rates drop. The district has been ‘reforming’ for a decade with no appreciable result unless you count decline as a result. The status quo clearly isn’t working. Merit pay and charter schools are the only things being pushed by people who don’t benefit from the status quo, so I support them and will continue to do so until somebody starts pushing a different reform that seems to have more political backing.

  22. To put in another way, I agree that the key is a humane, sensitive supervisor. I’m fairly certain that you are more likely to get a humane, sensitive supervisor out of a merit pay system than you are out of the current “We can’t fire you, you suck, so you get to be assistant principal” system.

  23. We had merit pay here — teachers whose classrooms showed a target percentage increase on end-of-grade test scores received a bonus (more than $1000, less than $2000, I think).
    It was one of the first items on the chopping block when the budget cratered. And I don’t think that had anything to do with union opposition, the union appears to have been 100% on board with merit pay.

  24. Oh, and as far as I can see, the presence or absence of bonuses has had no effect on teacher turnover. We’ve still got teachers leaving as they reach thirty and have their second child, as they reach 50 and their parents need more care, as their (mostly male) spouses make enough money to make it possible to give up earning measly pay while working nights and weekends on curriculum.
    I think we forget that the average teacher lasts less than five years, and that the average teacher is a woman, and that unions or no unions the average teacher is paid peanuts (starting teachers could make more as admin assistants in plenty of states) at our peril.
    My mother-in-law taught at a parochial high school for thirty-five years, and in her last year of teaching, she finally broke the $50K ceiling. My mother is a paralegal and she made that in her second year on the job.

  25. I think Ragtime’s point is good.
    Everyone loves bonuses. Yay bonuses. We (all staff/faculty) got a $400 bonus 2 years ago after a major retention project bore retentive fruit.
    I didn’t do what I did to help improve retention because I wanted a bonus. I did it because I wanted to retain students. I had a sense of “purpose,” to quote Pink. Pink is not talking about the unexpected bonuses. He’s talking about building incentives into management. That’s what merit pay does, and I think it sucks because the problems in education aren’t going to be solved by simplistic incentives.
    Now, if you want teachers to do some sort of boring paperwork, yes, use incentives. If you want teachers to follow scripts in the classroom, incentivize them. If you want them to think creatively, you’re shooting them and the state of education in the foot.
    Or so Pink says. He calls it one of the most “robust” findings in social science. Is he wrong? (I wouldn’t know–I’m not a social scientist.)

  26. The biggest reward you can give me, if you think I’m a successful teacher, is autonomy to teach the way that I want to teach, and teach the subjects that hit the sweet spot between what I know and what I think my students ought to know. That autonomy is worth a bunch of monetary bonuses–it would cost my college an asston of money to pay me appropriate value to give it up, and my teaching would get worse as I got richer. I don’t think that just goes for college professors.

  27. Like Tim, I value my classroom autonomy intensely. It’s why I work in a private school rather than a public school (that and the fact that despite a PhD in my field and now 10 years classroom experience, I would still have to take ridiculous education classes to get certified using time and money I don’t have). Great teachers are constantly reinventing their curriucula, pushing themselves and their students to do things better and keeping up with changes in their fields. I am not a great teacher, but I strive to do those things in the hopes I may some day become one. The problem isn’t good teachers vs. great teachers (which merit pay seems to try to do – we need to reward the great teachers!). Rather the problem is teachers in the bottom half, who teach curriculum out of a box or have no idea what they are supposed to be doing. I’m on the AP World listserv and it’s quite clear that the list is mostly filled with people who have no idea what history actually is. They keep asking the same questions, “which facts do my kids need to know to pass the test?” “Do they have to do all the reading, which parts can they skip?” “Does anybody have powerpoints for Chapter 12 of textbook x?” It’s ludicrous. The wizened heads keep repeating that World History is more about big themes, and within those themes you as a teacher have to select which societies you will cover. That you need to make your own lesson plans for this course so it has a strong narrative and isn’t just a bunch of stuff, that skimming is an important skill kids need to learn for college” (and this is a college course, in theory). Giving these people a raise because 1/2 the kids get a 3 or higher isn’t going to make them wake up and realize they don’t know what they are doing, that they don’t know what history actually is much less how to teach it. But many of them would respond great to merit pay that’s tied to say SAT II tests which solely test content knowledge that is predictable, even if that content knowledge is about 30 years out of date as on the SAT II US history test.

  28. The biggest reward you can give me, if you think I’m a successful teacher, is autonomy to teach the way that I want to teach, and teach the subjects that hit the sweet spot between what I know and what I think my students ought to know.
    Well said, Tim.

  29. Autonomy (and prestige and myth) is the major reason why graduate programs have a steady stream of suckers.
    But that’s not why most people go into regular teaching. Many like working with kids. But they also like June, July, and August. And the money isn’t bad, at least around here. (My kid’s four grade teacher makes more than my colleagues at my former college.)
    Do lower ed teachers really lack autonomy? Sure, they have to hit certain broad topics that fall under state standards, but I’ve seen a lot of variety among teachers in my kids’ schools. The principals have had very little control over or even knowledge of practices in individual classrooms.
    Jackie, thanks. I haven’t been following Balt. I’ll have to check it out.

  30. Let’s go back to the comparison between higher education and lower ed. Academics have their own kind of merit pay. First of all, you have to spend eight years in graduate school, and then seven years getting tenure during which you can be fired at any time with very little explanation. You need to demonstrate publications, peer evaluations, student evaluations, service on committees, friendly attitude. Then after that you have to prove yourself with more publications, peer evaluations, student evaluations, service on committees, friendly attitude in order to make the move from assistant to associate to full professor. Each one of those jumps means more money. Those are merit pay increases.

  31. From the article Siobhan posted:
    “I need extra time to do extra test prep, but we have a union contract that says a school day is 8:20am to 3:30pm. That’s what is so attractive about charter schools. They can do what their kids need. If they need an extra hour on Saturday, they bring them in on Saturday. I’m not allowed to do that.”
    Excuse me? That’s the unions telling her she can’t do that?
    She’s full of shit.
    Also, even if the stars were to align and the building could be opened (you’d have to get a janitor to work overtime and maybe an administrator on site) and the parents would SEND their children, she COULD STILL run her precious Saturday review session.
    She just wouldn’t get paid because it’s not in the contract. But she feels she “couldn’t” do it. No, the union won’t allow school admins to force people to come in on Saturdays or stay later than 3:30 *without* paying them. And thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for that.

  32. Yeah, I’m with Wendy (on a lot of things). I student-taught in Manhattan, and the school had what we called PM School and Saturday Academy. Those were mainly for kids to make up credits; teachers were paid an extra stipend for them. But most of the teachers stayed after school and also offered up their lunch and planning period to help kids who needed it. The school could not compel them to do so, but they were certainly allowed to. A big difference is that in charter schools, the students are compelled to attend those sessions. For the record, not one kid at my school came after school for help, though some would come during lunch or their study period. Extending their school day wasn’t what they wanted, and they didn’t unless required. I saw an interview with a bunch of seniors at Harlem Children’s Zone, and they all said that they wanted to quit after the first year but their parents insisted they stay. If it were up to them alone, they wouldn’t have kept to the long school day and Saturday classes, which is why parental support is so important. But we have to find a way to work around that, because not all kids get it.
    I think that unions need to reform certain practices, but setting teachers/unions and parents against each other distracts from the problems. I suspect that few teachers would say that they want incompetent teachers in their school (though they certainly want due process, which is what the union and tenure guarantee)—the difficulty lies in evaluating teachers fairly and in assessing student performance accurately. You wonder who hired and granted tenure to all these terrible teachers; I’ve supervised a lot of jr editors in my time, and I always knew well before three years were up who was not cut out for the job.

  33. Our district, in a test-intensive state, follows very strict curriculum guidelines. As a parent, I love it. Yes, my kids may miss out on some great units taught by fantastic teachers, but I also know that they’re following an excellent curriculum each year. The newer teachers have much of the lesson planning done for them so can focus more on classroom management. The ones who truly love teaching will continue to love it.

  34. Also, even if the stars were to align and the building could be opened (you’d have to get a janitor to work overtime and maybe an administrator on site)
    Your objection sort of shows the different mindset. No teacher at my school ever had trouble opening the school at off hours and nobody ever worried about getting the janitor.* No teacher ever opened the school on a Saturday for test preparation either, but that’s because none of the students would have come. They did do it for sports and the musical all the time.
    *If somebody had an after hours thing and didn’t clean-up, the students would get yelled at until they cleaned it.

  35. ” The ones who truly love teaching will continue to love it.”
    Why? And, not to be facetious, do you have some reason to believe they still do? Do your kids teachers talk about how much they love teaching?
    My kids’ teachers do tell me how much they love teaching (though of course, what they say to me isn’t particularly reliable, even though every knows that *my* kids are wonderfully perfect angels, and the teachers should probably pay me to have to opportunity to teach them).

  36. I’ll admit I’m sensitive to the scripted curriculum/independence, because my daughter had a teacher last year who would have rebelled in about 2 seconds if forced to follow a strict curriculum with lots of organization and rigidity and testing. And, last year was a fabulous experience for my daughter — she thrived on the independence and uniqueness and even chaos that was offered by that teacher.
    (I, personally, felt a little crazed when I entered the rather cluttered classroom, but the kids loved it. And, the particular set of kids loved it. I’m not sure it would have been great for every kid, but it was great for mine, and for her classmates).

  37. There’s something wrong with a union demanding that people who make lower middle-class wages (as is the case in BROAD SECTIONS of the country, and I can only assume that teachers are not making wages comparable to some other sectors of the economy even in Manhattan and northern Jersey) can only be required to work certain hours before they get extra compensation?
    Personally, if my boss asked me to stay late on a regular basis, and spent the past however many decades telling me that everything that’s wrong with my workplace comes down to my incompetence, I’d demand to be paid for my additional labor, too.
    Teachers already put in hours and hours and HOURS of unpaid time prepping for their classes. There are cars in our school parking lots every weekend day of the school year, and plenty of evenings, too (and don’t get me started on the unpaid hours that our librarians and support staff did to get the building ready when it opened two years ago). If you want them to offer extra instruction, you darn well BETTER pay them for it.
    Teaching in this country is overwhelmingly the province of young women in their twenties. I’d love to see how many of them went to college specifically to get a degree that would lead to teaching — in our neck of the woods, it’s the vast majority. These are not people who want to be incompetent. Tell them what to do, and give them the support to do it, and they will break their backs trying.
    June, July, and August are lovely (although actually most of the teachers I know would prefer year-round schools and year-round wages, and that includes everyone from my tenured union-supporting sister-in-law to the teachers I chatted with during our field trip on Tuesday) but the average teacher doesn’t last five years. If we agree that the system is broke, can we begin to consider the possibility that it is broke for everybody?

  38. Why? And, not to be facetious, do you have some reason to believe they still do? Do your kids teachers talk about how much they love teaching?
    We’re only in 2nd grade, but two of the three classroom teachers we’ve had so far have said that they love teaching and the other looked awfully happy when I saw her. They might have been lying but the fact that the kids enjoy their classes so much make me think that they’re being honest. I have no doubt that they have incredibly hard jobs but I also see a lot of passion and excitement when I’m at the school.

  39. From this parent’s perspective, merit pay seems to be a way to get away with keeping wages abysmally low for teachers, while throwing them the promise of a small bone if they move the earth, sun and stars. It’s a way to keep from giving annual raises (“if a teacher is any good, she’ll get the merit pay bonus”)—effectively reducing raises from a typical 2-3% to something more like 1% or less.
    I’m also dubious that teachers are going to be evaluated fairly for merit pay. What are the standards? Who is doing the evaluating? Will well-connected teachers be able to arrange who enters their classroom—thus assuring the success of their classroom?
    And finally, tenure protects people from losing their job for reasons not relevant to job performance. People are touchy about who gets to be around their kids. I know most of the readers of this blog live in a liberal paradise, but out here in the bitter areas of the Rust Belt (dying cities with abandoned factories surrounded by cornfields)—I guarantee that good teachers who happen to be gay, lesbian, pagan, buddhist, socialist, had a abortion, practice nudism or BDSM, or have any other factor in their free time that veers from the sanitized norm would lose their job if their secret(s) were revealed without tenure to protect them. Yes, I know electricians (and others) don’t have any job protection equivalent to tenure—but people seem to lose their live-and-let-live when it involves their children. Pagan electricians are ok, pagan teachers, not so much.
    Want more excellent teachers? Raise the pay. Raise the pay. Raise the pay. Pay a first-year teacher what a first-year journeyman electrician gets, and watch the number of excellent teachers climb. My Local takes between 10-15 apprentices per year. We get over a thousand applications for those jobs.
    Also—restructure the process on how one becomes a teacher. Require a degreee, but also require a simultaneous apprenticeship process (practicum?)—those that have no talent for it will wash out before completing the program, and can still go into another line of work with little difficulty (as they would still be pursuing a degree).

  40. “And, not to be facetious, do you have some reason to believe they still do? Do your kids teachers talk about how much they love teaching? ”
    If they did, I would roll my eyes at the ass-kissing.🙂 You can tell when someone is enthusiastic about their job.
    Also, my father was a teacher (HS science). My sister is a teacher (K-5; was a permanent sub last year and is per diem this year waiting for a leave replacement). My BIL is a teacher (HS computers and math). My cousin is a teacher (HS English). My aunt was a K-6 teacher but left teaching when she got pregnant. One of my friends here in CST is the librarian at the MS, and I spend a lot of time with the librarian at my son’s school because I’ve volunteered there, and I hold Lego Club there once a week. All anecdata, but I’ve spent my life surrounded by teachers, and we love our jobs.

  41. I think that one of the problems that we have with this discussion is that there is so much variation among schools in the country.
    I was just checking out the teacher salaries for our district online. (I was shocked that it was so easy to google this information.) The starting salary for a first year teacher is around $44,000. Jonah’s reading teacher who has 14 years of experience made $97,000 last year. His teacher last year who has 7 years of experience made $60,000. And she often took 6 weeks to return graded tests, which were almost all multiple choice tests.

  42. Three years is awfully fast to get life-long tenure.
    On a somewhat related subject, am I correct in thinking that teacher pensions, seniority, credentials, and other goodies are not very portable? It might be worthwhile to swap traditional tenure for being able to pick up and move with the stuff you’ve worked so hard for.

  43. “Using the D.C. public schools’ new teacher evaluation guidelines, called IMPACT, I’ve been doing a little reviewing of my own. When it comes to those old-school teachers I’ve met through the years, could this new system have accurately gauged the artistry that they used to turn many a student’s life around?”

  44. I’m cross-posting this from the “leadership makes a difference” thread, because it’s also about schools that succeed:
    I’d also guess that they had a school leadership whose first (and really, only) priority was the school and its improvement; they had a school leadership that stayed in place over a longer period of time; they had a leadership that actually knew what it was doing; they had a school board that didn’t bring in sweeping changes every couple of years; they had a school system that was not coping with state-sponsored discrimination (could be wrong here, it’s Boston after all) and may still be aiming as much at avoiding court orders as at educating students.
    Over my mom’s teaching career, I’ve seen her dealing with all of these problems, sometimes it seemed like all of them at once. She’s so very happy when her school gets a principal who’s reasonably competent and committed to the school. If the school board — and the state legislature for that matter — can avoid mucking around with things for a couple of years, that’s just gravy.

  45. His shop teacher and his gym teacher also make more than $90,000 per year. And no grading essays. OK, enough on that.
    Yes, Doug. Your right about the importance on leadership. I’ve read several studies on this. There have been some reforms of graduate programs for administrators, but I’m not sure if they are churning about better principals and superintendents.

  46. I’m shocked at those salaries, Laura. Out here in rural midwest, a first year teacher starts at around $31,000. According to our current salary schedule, a teacher who has been teaching for the past 30 years and has a Master’s degree plus 45 more graduate credits (just short of a doctorate, which *nobody* gets) can’t make more than $59,000.
    Most teachers I know, including myself, are immensely frustrated with the tenure system, yet feel powerless to try to change it.

  47. Heather, your housing costs are probably a third of housing costs in NJ, too.
    So, are people upset that teachers are making too much or that they’re making too little? Take a stand, folks. We can’t attract good people to the profession unless we give merit pay, or we pay them too fucking much. Pick one.

  48. Have fun with teachers’ salaries at:
    http://php.app.com/edstaff/search.php
    and
    http://www.seattlepi.com/data/databases/teacher-salaries.asp
    I don’t think it works to compare teachers’ salaries between urban/rural areas where the cost of living and average incomes are so different (that’s true within NJ or WA states, too).
    I’m not shocked by these salaries, though I am interested in thinking about them and comparing them across districts. NJ teachers’ salaries in urban areas look like they’re higher than WA teachers’ salaries in urban areas. I don’t know how the cost of living/income levels compare for those same districts/areas. I know Laura’s posted that private school utilization in NJ isn’t high (and it is in urban Washington) — I can imagine that reflecting on a number of things (including tax rates, availability of alternate employment for teachers, perceived quality of the schools, etc. )

  49. You have to factor in cost of living. I don’t know, of course, where “rural midwest” is exactly, but just for comparison, chose randomly Pryor Creek, Oklahoma, to see how cost of living holds against Bergen County, NJ. I used CNN’s cost of living calculator; $31,000 is equal to $47,364 in Bergen County, because you’d pay 17% more for groceries, 135% more for housing, 66% more for utilities, 18% more for transportion, and 24% more for healthcare. The Oklahoma person making $31,000 actually comes out ahead of the starting teacher in Bergen, who makes around 44K, I think, with a master’s degree. The average household income in Bergen is $103K.
    Looking at what $97K is comparable to in Houston TX (don’t know where AmyP lives, so just picked a relatively high cost area), it’s about 68K (remember, that’s after 14 years and an MA). Is that excessive? I don’t know. On that salary, can you have one parent stay home, save for a house, have a couple of kids, send those kids to college? I hope the answer is yes, because I think teachers deserve to be able to do those things. But it doesn’t seem like you’re going to be taking fancy vacations, buying upscale cars and houses, etc., on that salary.

  50. “bj, Did you mean that private school utilization is low in rural WA or high?”
    private school utilization in urban WA is high. And, really, by urban WA, I mean King county (or Seattle & its environs — noting that Seattle only has about 1/3 the population of the area).

  51. I mentioned the salary, because someone had left a comment that teacher’s salaries were lower middle class salaries or something like that. Maybe they are in other parts of the country, but around here. $97,000 for working 180 days is damn good. Really. I live here. I know.
    The gym teacher who lives across the street is home by 3:00 every day. He has so much free time that he has a second career as a landscaper. Between his salary, his wife’s teaching salary, and his landscaping work, they have to pull in over $200,000. That’s fine money.
    I’m not begrudging the reading teacher $97,000. (In fact, after learning that, I started looking into alternative route certification.) But we certainly can’t say that she has a lower middle class job.

  52. Heather, your housing costs are probably a third of housing costs in NJ, too.
    I don’t think Heather was insinuating that teachers in NJ were paid too much, but rather that teacher pay in her area is extraordinarily low. I live in an urban rust belt midwestern mid-size city (pop. 120,000), and starting pay for teachers here is $30k and “tops out” at $69k (for over 25yrs of experience and a master’s degree).
    Granted, housing costs are cheaper here than in Chicago, but—our groceries cost the same. The natural gas to heat our homes costs the same (and in fact is the same provider in most cases). Our electricity costs the same (for urban folks–rural people pay significantly more for electricity). The cost to buy a car is the same, and unlike Chicago, going carless is not an option (no 24/7 public transportation or Zipcars here). Our childcare costs are very comparable.
    In fact, car insurance and housing is about the only difference in cost-of-living. (well, and the slight difference in cost of gasoline, which is easily offset by downstaters needing to drive longer distances and more often; no “el” or Metro down here).
    Those “cost of living” calculators irritate the crap out of me because I travel to Chicago frequently (I have family there) and know how wrong the various “calculators” are. In fact, in most cases food is cheaper there! (at the grocery store that is, not at restaurants—but the grocery store is a necessity; restaurants are a “treat”)
    So….the salary differences for teachers across the US basically amount to teaching being a low-wage job (albeit with health insurance and pension, although those benefits are under serious attack) for most people, and slightly higher than low-wage for some urban teachers.
    Nowhere is it comparable to the types of wages and benefits offered to people in other professions that require the same level of education.
    I am happy with the pay offered to journeymen wiremen. I can pay my bills, own a home, care for my daughter, put 10% in my 401k, and still have disposable income for recreation. It’s one of the reasons I took the job. If electricians were paid what teachers were, I wouldn’t have chosen this field, even though I enjoy the work itself. I don’t enjoy it enough to want a lifetime of financial struggle and deprivation for choosing it.
    And that’s what I see teachers who don’t have a high-earning spouse going through. They struggle to make ends meet, because they’re getting the same paycheck that a warehouse worker gets.
    And (since this is a feminist blog, right?), the resistance to increasing teacher pay is directly related to the fact that it’s a majority female occupation, and hence the assumption is that adequate compensation isn’t necessary because that’s what they have a husband for.
    As long as teacher pay remains a “race to the bottom” (as evidenced by the fight to remove health care and pension benefits on top of removing raises)—you can count on teacher quality going down as well. People who have other options will take them. There’s a limited number of saints.

  53. Here’s some more data, comparing Bergen county & Seattle (both seem to have approx 800K in population, and CNN”s cost of living calculator puts the cost of living in Bergen about 10% higher than in Seattle). It’s not quite a parallel comparison, ’cause Seattle is a city, not a county.
    1) there are a lot more school employees in Bergen (13K v 4K). The NJ data seems to include administrators, counselors, librarians, but not what we call “classified staff” here. I tried to exclude the classified staff from the Seattle stats.
    2) there seem to be a lot more districts in Bergen county than in King county
    3) about 1.2% of Bergen county school employees make >150K. For Seattle, that’s 1 person (the superintendent).
    4) about 13% of Bergen county school employees make 100-150K. For Seattle, that’s 4.3%.
    It wouldn’t be appropriate to say that Seattle pay is right & Bergen wrong (or the other way around), but, I think this is a fairly reasonable comparison (as opposed to comparing rural OK to urban NJ).
    We’ve talked about this before with NJ — about small town supervisors (for sheriffs, and administrators, not just school), and I’m thinking I agree that there’s an issue in NJ. I think the issue results form the multiple townships, and the potential for corrupt self-dealing that arises when small populations are deciding on the salaries of officials. For a big example, one can look at Bell, California, where the city superintendent (for a city of about 10K population), somehow manipulated things to get 700K in compensation. Vernon, California has a similar boondoggle going on (where approximately 200 residents elect officials who can earn 500K+/year).
    So, if I were in NJ, I would want to be talking about how these salaries (not just for teachers, but for all public officials) are being set. And, I’d want to be looking at the salaries of supervisors/administrators of the towns, and expanding the population base that’s making those decisions (i.e. more statewide, less small townships).
    Am I right, Laura, that those are some of the kinds of things being discussed?

  54. Yes, I am cranky, and I’m sorry. Tough week, tough night (had to rescue an 11 year old from a sleepover at 1 am), and tough day, which I have to spend in front of a computer writing.
    But it’s the same-old, same-old argument and worst of all, there’s no consistency. We can’t have a discussion if the fundamental premises of the argument keep changing. So why are we even bothering? Has anyone here learned anything or rethought anything they didn’t already think at 8 am on Monday?

  55. “Has anyone here learned anything or rethought anything they didn’t already think at 8 am on Monday?”
    I have — I think there’s something questionable about how public employee salaries are being set in Bergen County, New Jersey. That does not, incidentally, mean that I think teachers are overpaid there — I might well also conclude that teachers are underpaid in Seattle. But, something feels fishy in Bergen C. NJ (can’t say what I think about other NJ counties yet).
    Bergen County, NJ & King County, WA are freakishly similar in demographics (both have 6% AfAm populations, & 14% Asian populations and even have 10% Asian-owned businesses. I’m guessing the NJ Asians are Indian, though?). Median King household income is lower than in Bergen, though, 70K v 80K. And, King does have 3X the population of Bergen.

  56. (at a soccer game. Forgive the typos.)
    I think everyone here would agree that teachers should be fairly, but we all have different ideas of what is fair based on our geographic location and previous work experience. I’ll be the first to admit that my understanding of what is fair is skewed by years of deep exploitation. I would be thrilled if someone paid me more than 30,000 and told me that I didn’t have to work on weekends. So, I sent the salary list to every body I know who lives around here. They said that the teachers were paid more than they were.

  57. Has anyone here learned anything or rethought anything they didn’t already think at 8 am on Monday?
    We think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you what we learned. You see us as you want to see us. In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is…
    …a whiny liberal…
    …and a stubborn conservative…
    …and a basket case…
    …a princess…
    …and a criminal…
    Does that answer your question?
    Sincerely yours,
    Random collection of pretend internet people

  58. In this region, the average teacher salary is somewhere between $70,000 to $78,000. A senior teacher, with steps & lane changes, etc, can earn between $90,000 and $110,000. That doesn’t include stipends and honoraria for things such as mentoring student clubs, etc.
    That’s not a lower-middle class income.

  59. I think Tim is spot on, and it’s why I am where I am. Yes, I get observed. Yes, I’m expected to teach well and will be told if I’m not and provided support to help me get better. But I was told on day 1 that I’m the subject matter expert and I should do what I feel is best for the students. I don’t make what public school teachers make nor nearly what NJ teachers make–whoa nelly! But it’s a good living and I feel like I’m making a difference. And that’s why most teachers are in this–to make a difference.

  60. So, I sent the salary list to every body I know who lives around here. They said that the teachers were paid more than they were.
    Was that list exclusively female? No, seriously. I’m finding it hard to believe that men in NJ with graduate-level education are earning less than $70k. Even where I live, when it comes to people with advanced education, that’s only true of…..teachers.

  61. Out of curiosity, I did some checking. All the surrounding school districts have an average teacher pay of $60-75k. I do know that many teachers start around $40k. Housing costs in the suburbs are crazy–still.
    And to La Lubu– I know a whole bunch of male professors in the area making less than $70k, and they have Ph.D.’s

  62. I have no idea if six figure salaries for teachers are fair or not. I don’t think it’s fair that a pro baseball player gets pay a million, while the guy who fixed my roof on a 90 degree day gets minimum wage.
    I spent last night checking out salaries of various professions. There’s nothing fair about any of it. And I feel like a greater schmuck than usual, so I might close comments on this thread to save what’s left of my sanity. Sometimes it’s better to be ignorant.
    On the other hand, money shouldn’t be such a taboo topic. Perhaps if we were all more open about these matters, workers wouldn’t put up with exploitation.

  63. It is my sincere belief that more openness would lead to less exploitation — employers surely know what employees are getting paid. So there’s an asymmetry of information, and that always gets exploited by the side with more information.
    On the other hand a story in slate/wash post reports that people are measurably less happy when they know what their coworkers earn. So ignorance apparently is bliss. But, it might also be exploitation.

  64. “For a big example, one can look at Bell, California, where the city superintendent (for a city of about 10K population), somehow manipulated things to get 700K in compensation.”
    Isn’t the Bell crew from NJ?
    “I’m finding it hard to believe that men in NJ with graduate-level education are earning less than $70k. Even where I live, when it comes to people with advanced education, that’s only true of…..teachers.”
    La Lubu, how close is your nearest bookstore? If you poke around (in the cafe, too), you’ll turn up plenty of graduate-educated men earning less than you do. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. With the recession, it’s true even outside of the humanities. One of my cousins (a bright kid with a fantastic personality) has graduate degrees in both structural engineering and architecture. He graduated at the wrong time, got laid off, went to trucking school (with electricians and plumbers and other construction people, if I recall correctly), and the last I heard, he was hauling wheat in Eastern Washington.
    “You have to factor in cost of living.”
    I think “cost of living” has to be understood more broadly than just the cost of housing, transportation, groceries, etc. Beyond that, there’s the issue of the level of consumption that’s going on, and how high the local Joneses are living. (Stanley, the Millionaire Next Door guy, says that consumption is much higher in the NE than in the Midwest or South.) While La Lubu figures that Chicago is not actually that much more expensive than her area, I expect that big city consumption patterns tend to push up costs for upper middle class people (like our good friend Todd Hendersen). When we moved from DC to non-metro Texas, it was a huge shift. We moved from being broke people in the big city to having an income 2 or 3 times that of the average city resident, so the heat was really off, consumption-wise. Although it’s true that the local Texans dearly love their shiny SUVs and truly enormous trucks, nobody here is sending a kid to a $10,000 a year preschool (which I nearly did in DC–Reggio Emilia!!!). Likewise, I was on a big DC mom’s listserve some years ago, and you somehow wind up developing very expensive tastes in baby equipment. I never actually bought a $700 single stroller, but did I think about it? Oh, yes. I was just at our local Toys R Us strolling through the stroller section today, and there wasn’t a single high-end stroller. Obviously, you can live in a big metro area without getting the consumption bug, but it’s like being Eve in the garden of Eden, which is why people (even high earners) in metro areas so often feel broke.

  65. Around here, with median teacher salaries of around $100,000, the problem goes beyond just the high salaries.
    The other aspects that chafe are steady annual raises, guaranteed pensions, “guaranteed” jobs, “part time” work schedules and the fact that the worst teachers are paid the same as the best teachers are.
    Many taxpayers are suffering horribly during these lousy economic times, having salaries cut or losing jobs, seeing 401ks shrink to half their previous values and working like dogs in their under-staffed offices. It doesn’t look right to them, especially when teachers claim they need all these extra benefits because they’re “special”. Then they painfully learn that Mr. X at the high school doesn’t really teach the students during his class, but he can’t be fired. So the only recourse for the parents in the know is to try to make sure that little sister doesn’t get stuck with Mr. X like big brother did.
    It all adds up, and then they find themselves nodding in agreement with Gov. Christie.

  66. “Many taxpayers are suffering horribly during these lousy economic times, having salaries cut or losing jobs, seeing 401ks shrink to half their previous values and working like dogs in their under-staffed offices. It doesn’t look right to them, especially when teachers claim they need all these extra benefits because they’re “special”. ”
    No, they have these benefits because they have unions. If people are jealous, they should get workers in their profession to form a union. People shouldn’t begrudge them because teachers did what too many people been brainwashed by right wing media into not doing.

  67. It doesn’t matter if only a few percent of teachers are currently getting the mega-salaries if everybody is on a seniority escalator. With all things being equal, seniority, and an aging population, the percentage of people pulling down the big bucks will only increase.
    To clarify, in our area of Texas, the median household income in our city is $30k and in the fancy suburb where people go for the schools, it’s about $70k (although the city crime rate is similar to Washington, DC and Baltimore, so economize at your peril). Middle class homes tend to start around $100k, although there’s significant housing stock well below that. While there are a lot of poor people in the city, there are also a lot of undergraduates and graduates, which probably messes with the median a bit.
    “No, they have these benefits because they have unions. If people are jealous, they should get workers in their profession to form a union. People shouldn’t begrudge them because teachers did what too many people been brainwashed by right wing media into not doing.”
    There did used to be a lot of unionized workers in private industry, and then (coincidentally), those industries started dying off in the US. It’s no coincidence that the economic area where the unions are strongest in the US is in the public sector.
    Mark Twain said something like, it’s impossible for the brain to be sober when the body is drunk. Likewise, as people like to say, we’re all in this thing together and there should be shared sacrifice, so government workers should live at roughly the median level, rather than being an over-class that preys on those foolish and unfortunate enough to try to work in the private sphere. How can government workers make good decisions about the economy if they are insulated from the results of their mistakes?

  68. On the other hand, money shouldn’t be such a taboo topic. Perhaps if we were all more open about these matters, workers wouldn’t put up with exploitation.
    Right on.
    And to piggyback off what Wendy said about unions—one of the things I most appreciate about being in a union is the enforced sexual equality of the paycheck—men and women are paid the same (that doesn’t happen in nonunion environments, and in my trade, nonunion contractors are typically not willing to hire tradeswomen).
    Having the same paycheck as your fellow tradespeople really increases the collegiality of the workplace. There is nowhere near the same level of backbiting on my job as I see in other environments I work in—it’s an entirely different workplace culture. Not having to fight like dogs over the same small piece of pie (raises) means we are able to learn from one another—there’s a freedom to share knowledge without the fear of how that sharing may hurt you later. The issue of dead weight earning the same pay? Not an issue in my line of work—the results of our work are immediate and visible, so those who can’t or won’t do the work are washed out—laid off rapidly, and put on the contractor’s “not for rehire” list.
    But, I’m not a teacher. My question to the teachers on this thread is: is their solidarity and knowledge sharing on your job? If so, is it the workplace culture or the union culture that fosters it? (in my workplace, I can hands-down say it’s the union—previously nonunion workers describe a real cutthroat atmosphere, and a level of nepotism that far exceeds anything in the union environment). Do people in your workplace “wash out”? And if not, why not? I’m curious because unions are often presented as the reason for keeping dead weight, but that isn’t a feature in the trades—which have strong unions as well.

  69. I think “cost of living” has to be understood more broadly than just the cost of housing, transportation, groceries, etc. Beyond that, there’s the issue of the level of consumption that’s going on, and how high the local Joneses are living.
    See, I’ve always discounted that because it’s so easily avoided. You can’t avoid the baseline costs of housing, transportation, utilities, food, childcare, etc.—but “keeping up with the Joneses” can be dismissed. Then again, my workplace culture doesn’t expect a high level of material consumption. Raises or promotions don’t depend on keeping up with fashions of any type.
    I just mentioned Chicago because I would love to live there—but it’s the cost of housing that makes that impossible. The slightly higher scale for electricians doesn’t make up for the extreme housing cost difference (and cheaper housing in the poor suburbs means an output in transportation cost equivalent to the rent difference—a mortgage wouldn’t be feasible for me there unless I didn’t save for retirement—not a gamble I’m willing to make).
    But the “cost of living” calculators don’t take into account that there isn’t any real difference in expenses other than housing (and car insurance). Every other necessity is the same (or more—eceonomy of scale and/or less competition).
    (and it really surprised me that you mentioned that, Amy P. I thought I could count on you for being the fiscal conservative!)

  70. The entertainment business isn’t really a great example because it’s such a mix of the excesses of the free market (really, folks, while you’re complaining about the salaries of the people who take care of and teach 20+ kids 6 hours a day, SNOOKI is making millions. C’mon), but much of the entertainment business is unionized. The writers, directors, and actors are all unionized (that doesn’t prevent many of them from getting big fat paychecks), and the set crews are in unions.
    And unions there have absolutely not killed that industry.
    Laura, maybe instead of education week we could have organized labor week, because that’s something we all could learn more about (and I include myself!).

  71. The biggest unions as of 2003:
    NEA – National Education Association – 2,679,396
    *SEIU – Service Employees International Union – 1,464,007
    *UFCW – United Food & Commercial Workers – 1,380,507
    *IBT – International Brotherhood of Teamsters 1,350,000
    AFSCME – American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees – 1,350,000
    *LIUNA – Laborers’ International Union of North America 840,180
    AFT – American Federation of Teachers 770,090
    *IBEW – International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 700,548
    *IAM – International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers 673,095
    *UAW – United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America 638,722
    Out of the top 10, 3 (the non-starred) are unions for public employees, right? Are the other 7 really dying industries? (You might argue UAW is, but the auto companies seem to be rebounding.)

  72. so, about the movies: much of the success of Toronto in being the stand-in for New York in movies is due to being out of reach of the New York unions. Here is the huge fight over The Hobbit – whether to stay in NZ or go to Eastern Europe to film: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/the_big_picture/2010/09/will-peter-jackson-get-labeled-a-union-buster-on-the-hobbit.html. So, yeah, there is some fleeing of the unionized jurisdictions. Not to mention the happenstance that all the Japanese/German auto transplant manufacturers seem to end up in the right-to-work states.

  73. Just to add another layer of grey to this discussion.
    The average teacher salary in our district is $90,000. The teachers were forced to start contributing 1% of their salary to their health insurance for the first time. Some are so pissed off about it that they are on an unofficial work slow down. The principal told the parents that we couldn’t hold fund raisers on Friday nights or the weekends, because the teachers wouldn’t go to it. The union rep said that she wouldn’t encourage teachers to attend the Thursday night fund raiser, because we were doing it for the kids and not for the teachers.
    All this is going on in our town and people are ticked off, because these salaries aren’t coming from some big mega corporation. The $90,000 salaries for 180 days of work come directly from people’s taxes in our town. They aren’t making that kind of money. They’ve been paying for their own health insurance for a long time. They are having a hard time paying their local taxes, which for the average house around here is $9,000 per year.

  74. They should unionize, not try to bring everyone down to their level.
    And, they should stop voting for Republicans who refuse to use oversight on corporations so that they cannot exploit their workers.
    And, they should have voted for people who support a goddamned public option that would separate health insurance from employment and fund it through taxpayers so that EVERYONE would be contributing.
    These are all problems that can be solved without scapegoating the people that you send your kids to for 6+ hours a day to learn everything you can’t teach them.
    I’m done. Really. I promise.

  75. They should unionize, not try to bring everyone down to their level.
    That’s not possible at anything like the wages we are talking about. If you figure a salary of $100,000 per year*, the $14.3 trillion U.S. economy means only enough money for 143 million to be paid. That is 12 million less than the number currently employed, even with 10% unemployment and a record high number of discouraged workers. The ability to do these kinds of calculations quickly is what has kept me from becoming a Democrat.
    *Of course, the employers’ portion of health coverage, SS taxes, and retirement are not included in that $100,000 salary and the real figure is much higher.
    (Unless I can mangle another quote from a John Hughes movie, I’m done also.)

  76. “That’s not possible at anything like the wages we are talking about. If you figure a salary of $100,000 per year*, the $14.3 trillion U.S. economy means only enough money for 143 million to be paid.”
    How ’bout if we pay just the subset of folks with a college-level skill set (and, I didn’t say a college degree) a 100K. Then could our 14+ trillion dollar economy afford to pay teachers (and other with doing work requiring their qualifications) that much money?
    As I spend more time with the NJ teacher salary database (I’d be so much happier if I could download the data, but haven’t found a site that lets me do that), I think the problem in NJ is balkenization. Teachers salaries seem to be higher than they are in the West (but, I haven’t done the comparison to other East coast places, like MA, where I hear that most people use their public schools, unlike hear in urban WA). But, the real data points that pop out at me from the data base is the number of supervisors being paid 150 & 200K+ (superintendents, business managers, educational supervisors). None of those people get paid at that level here, and even if they did, there would be 5 of them for the population they serve, rather than the 20+ I see in places like Bergen.
    (I do have to add the caveat that it’s possible that districts in Bergen are supporting 2X the number of students we see here, if private school utilization is so much lower).

  77. How ’bout if we pay just the subset of folks with a college-level skill set (and, I didn’t say a college degree) a 100K.
    Doubt it. The rough cut above assumes zero return to capital (i.e. nobody retires on anything but Social Security). To even get close, you need to do things to discourage immigration that would make an Arizona legislator blush or do things to the uneducated that would make Ayn Rand seem like Samuel Gompers.

  78. “Out of the top 10, 3 (the non-starred) are unions for public employees, right? Are the other 7 really dying industries? (You might argue UAW is, but the auto companies seem to be rebounding.)”
    I suspect that you have to really unpack the union stats to figure out which unions cover which kinds of workers. One of my aunties used to be a parole officer for juvenile delinquents in WA and she was somehow under the Teamsters. The SEIU definitely covers government workers and given that the feds own most of GM right now, the UAW arguably does too.
    Here’s a NYT article from this year entitled “Most U.S. Union Members Are Working for the Government, New Data Shows”:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/23/business/23labor.html
    This year was apparently the crossover point. Private industry membership has been declining and public service membership has been on the rise.

  79. “These are all problems that can be solved without scapegoating the people that you send your kids to for 6+ hours a day to learn everything you can’t teach them.”
    I like my kids’ private school and the teachers a lot, but I definitely don’t expect them to teach my kids everything I can’t teach them. First of all, that’s an unreasonable expectation. Secondly, my older child can read for herself and my five-year-old will soon. Thirdly, there’s a big world out there, full of other people, places, websites and movies to learn from, so the school doesn’t need to do everything.
    I dearly love the academics at the kids’ school, but except for music, Latin, and Spanish, between my husband and me, we could cover every other subject easily.
    What the school does provide that we can’t is child care, “socialization,” friends, and a Christian community. (That said, those school hours are the seven hours a day when a child is most alert and able to learn, so I don’t want that time wasted.)

  80. I see from the sidebar list of comments that I have a whole bunch, but this morning I remembered something interesting about extrinsic motivation and creativity that I suspect nobody’s ever heard of here. It’s about dolphins, though, so it may not apply to humans. Karen Pryor, an animal trainer, has a book on reinforcement (both of animals and humans) entitled “Don’t Shoot the Dog!” She has a story in there about some dolphins who were reinforced for creativity. “At Sea Life Park we shaped creativity with two dolphins–in an experiment that has now been much anthologized–by reinforcing everything the animals did that was novel and had not been reinforced before. Soon the subjects caught on and began “inventing” often quite amusing behaviors. One came up with wackier stuff than the other; on the whole, even in animals, degrees of creativity or imaginativeness can vary from one individual to another. But training “shifts” the curve for everyone, so that anyone can increase creativity form whatever baseline he or she began at.” Pryor says later that the creative dolphins “became real nuisances, opening gates, stealing props, and inventing mischief. If everybody behaved like our creative dolphins, we’d never get anything done. So, very often, individual creativity is discouraged in favor of group norms.”
    There’s a more bread-and-butter quote about the value of sporadic reinforcement earlier in the book:
    “If I were to give a dolphin a fish every time it jumped, very quickly the jump would become as minimal and perfunctory as the animal could get away with. If I then stopped giving fish, the dolphin would quickly stop jumping. However, once the animal has learned to jump for fish, if I were to reinforce now the first jump, then the third, and so on at random, the behavior would be much more strongly maintained; the unrewarded animal would actually jump more and more often, hoping to hit the lucky number, as it were, and the jumps might even increase in vigor.”

  81. On the matter of money, let’s put it this way: I don’t think the cost of living where I live is probably hugely different from the cost of living where Laura (11d) lives in NJ. Some of her district teachers are pulling down pay that is right about where I am or somewhat higher, and I’m a college professor with a doctorate and 17 years of teaching at a fairly selective institution. Would I trade places if offered? No, because of what I mentioned before: the psychic & organizational benefits of professorial labor, if I had to monetize them, would be another 100k or more in salary a year.
    But, I dunno, maybe this also suggests that the teachers in Laura (11d’s) district are pretty well-paid. The problem, as always, is trying to decide what we think ought to happen in this respect. It’s a hard conversation to have if everyone in the conversation isn’t equally exposed to the “how much is what you do worth to society” evaluation. It’s also hard to have this discussion, as per Wendy’s comments, without getting clear about teaching’s value as a whole. Given how much sturm und drang there is among the middle-class about public education, the mixed-messages can get a bit heavy on the ground.

  82. bj, New Jersey is one of the most corrupt states in the nation. Our superintendent is paid $220,000 to supervise two elementary schools and a middle school. One town, Teterboro, has a 200 grand superintendent, but zero students. The town is too small to have schools, so all the students are shipped to another town. Four of the superintendents in our country are brothers and from Italian lineage. (I’m Italian, so I’m the only one allowed to roll my eyes at that comment.)
    It is possible that sometimes that unions and government officials go too far and pay themselves at scale that out paces other people who live in the community. These affairs should be questioned. Because Democrats haven’t been willing to even entertain the idea that unions have gone too far in New Jersey, we have an ass like Christie in the state house.

  83. (I’m Italian, so I’m the only one allowed to roll my eyes at that comment.)
    I’ve been encouraging the Croatians to steal stuff from the public, just to take the pressure off, but no luck.

  84. Laura, you are willing to at least entertain the idea that teachers actually work more than “180 days a year,” right? Even (gasp) gym teachers and shop teachers? That we often work on the weekends at school or at home, that we often are working (either at school or at home) long after the school bell rings, that we work over the summer and during holidays?
    I know you’ve had some experiences with bad teachers and administrators, and lord knows there are plenty of stories about them in the media, but the way you talk about teachers is so often repellent to me, and I don’t even teach in a public school, with the same kind of workload and conditions that public school teachers do. I really enjoy reading your thoughts on education policy and everything else that you post about here, but it still gets very frustrating from time to time.

  85. Yes, those numbers are really popping out at me when I look at the NJ salary site — folks making 220K to supervise 3 elementary schools, with a staff that includes a school business supervisor & an educational coordinator and other people who cost a total of 600K to “supervise” a staff of 132, and 3 schools (which in turn have their own principals paid 150K). Those salaries I find problematic (and, what’s more, suspect corruption as you report).
    Teachers making 100K? I actually think that’s reasonable, that it makes teaching the professional job I’d like it to be. Now, it’s a separate question if the teachers aren’t being professionals, but, what I’d like is for them to be professional expert workers and to pay them professional wages, not to pay them assembly line wages and get assembly line work.
    And it doesn’t phase me at all that a teacher would make the same amount of money as a professor in a non-income generating field at a selective university. In fact, I think it makes sense (if both the folks are actually doing their jobs).
    What I’d change?
    1) more rational certification rules
    2) longer tenure clocks (5 years?)
    3) counting all teaching experience (not just within-district, which has the effect of limiting the labor pool).
    4) opportunity to pay differently based on labor pools in different fields (i.e. pay foreign language instruction/math instruction, etc. more)
    For those things, I’d wouldn’t be so upset about the wages.
    (PS: Bell might be populated by NJ emigres, but homegrown Californians played a role, too.)

  86. “See, I’ve always discounted that because it’s so easily avoided. You can’t avoid the baseline costs of housing, transportation, utilities, food, childcare, etc.—but “keeping up with the Joneses” can be dismissed. Then again, my workplace culture doesn’t expect a high level of material consumption. Raises or promotions don’t depend on keeping up with fashions of any type.”
    Stanley talks a lot about these issues in “The Millionaire Next Door,” about how there are different levels of consumption associated with different professions. He particularly warns against getting sucked into high-consumption neighborhoods because to a great extent, your neighbors’ consumption will dictate your consumption. (We live in a neighborhood where most people are renters and favor what I like to call “hardy, drought-resistant native ground cover” (AKA weeds) and it’s saving us a bundle.)
    “(and it really surprised me that you mentioned that, Amy P. I thought I could count on you for being the fiscal conservative!)”
    I am a very recently reformed spendthrift.

  87. I’ve been encouraging the Croatians to steal stuff from the public, just to take the pressure off, but no luck.
    They couldn’t even steal half of Bosnia while the conditions were good.

  88. I’ll weigh in with Jackie on at least one point, Laura — it struck me in your comment about fundraisers that at least up until this point in your school district, teachers were being expected to attend these events in the evenings and weekends, that’s another set of work commitments for teachers in itself.

  89. OK, one last comment and then I’m closing comments only because I can’t write new posts with this thread so hot.
    My comments about teachers seem so negative only because I was reacting against comments about teachers that I perceived as unrealistically shiny. The truth is that some teachers are fabulous and some aren’t.
    Ian’s teachers for the past few years have been fabulous. He had a very mediocre special preschool teacher for two years. I knew the special education literature better than she did. She thought Ian was mentally challenged, rather than neurologically challenged. She was mean. But after we finally figured out what was going on and had him put in a special school (a public school), he blossomed. In contrast, his new teachers were extremely smart and had the patience of saints. Very few people can do what they do. Their greatness isn’t that they are putting in time on the weekends (they don’t have to) or in raising test scores (those kids are going to bomb the state tests), but in understanding and empathizing with very, difficult kids. There is no way of quantifying their unique talents, which would be a hurdle if we wanted to figure out a way of implementing merit pay, but that’s another topic.
    I think that one of most interesting subtopics in this thread was about unions. If someone sees a good study or article about unions, send it my way, so I can jump start another discussion.
    Good chat, folks!

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