Sunday, February 27, 2011

I don’t care about teachers

Okay… I don’t mean it like it sounds.  Not really.  But who’d read a post titled “Education reform and priorities”?  Me, neither.  I’ll warn you, some of my ideas are not going to be popular.  I don’t want to be the person who only says things that are popular.  That’s not what leaders do.  Do keep in mind, however, that I have plenty of close friends and family in the field of education.  While I am not I primary or secondary school educator, I am an educator.  I teach adults Lean Six Sigma for a state college.  Not exactly the same thing… but I’m no ignoramus, either.

I think our priorities are wrong.  All messed up.  They’re a bowl of spaghetti… mixed in with a few scant other noodles and plenty of meatballs.  I’m a fan of a “little” book called “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”  One of my biggest takeaways from that book was the very basic idea of “KEEP THE MAIN THING THE MAIN THING.”  Seems so simple, yet us human types are very easily distracted by extraneous politics.

So I don’t care about how much teachers are paid, what licensure requirements are from state to state and if they include master’s degrees.  I don’t care about teacher unions or collective bargaining. I care about the kids.  More specifically, I care about my sons.

FOCUS ON THE KIDS.  Teacher pay… what is the level of pay that will attract and retain qualified instructors?  That is what teacher pay should be.  Currently, the national average for teacher salary is $50,000.  That’s fair…in an area with a cost of living index somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.0 (average); it follows that pay should be commensurate with cost of living.  Teachers often bristle at the reminder of the 180 day work year (plus a few CE and prep days)… but it is one of the benefits of being a teacher, and it should be considered.  I used to work at a place with a gym.  That was cool.  Not as cool as summers off, but it should be considered as part of my (past) benefits package.

Teaching isn’t a job that will get you rich.  Everyone knows this.  If the pay makes you crabby,  you’d be wise to find a different occupation.  People do this every year.  Did you know that the nursing profession has a very high turnover rate?  Nurses, who are arguably paid VERY well (for the privilege of dealing with less than charming individuals and 12 hour shifts with scant (or no) restroom privileges).  They leave the profession.  They decide the pay isn’t worth it, and they find a different job.  The best engineering manager I’ve had the privilege of working for had a BS in Forestry Management.  It happens.  A teaching certificate is not a guarantee of employment any more than my diplomas and certificates are for me.

I’ve read arguments that since teaching requires a master’s degree, they should make more than the $50,000 average.  And some teachers have PhDs, therefore they should make six figure incomes. I’ve read the FB post flying around about how if teachers were paid minimum wage, they’d be making hundreds of thousands per year, because they’d get paid per child.  Perhaps I’m just a party pooper… but that post is illogical.  People don’t get paid a wage multiplied by a unit (be it a widget or a customer or a student) in any profession.  A PhD is not some income multiplier by default.  I know plenty of PhDs in more lucrative fields that don’t make anywhere near six figures.  If the guy at Starbucks brewing up my skinny grande hazelnut latte has a PhD, that doesn’t mean he should be making 6 figures, either.   I don’t need a cardiologist to look at my annual labs to tell me that my cholesterol levels are healthy.  Any job has a required skill set, and the pay for that skill set is $X.  Based on the PhDs I know… I’m also thinking that I don’t want a PhD teaching my kids.  Their heads work differently.  This doesn’t mean there are no PhD types suited for education in a primary/secondary classroom setting… but by and large they don’t.

It’s about the kids.  What is the value that will attract and retain individuals with the hard and SOFT skills to mold my children? 

In Idaho, the legislature is considering a few moronic measures, one of which is to cut kindergarten.  The other is to greatly increase class size and give every student a laptop. Moronic.  Honestly, I don’t care if teaching jobs are lost.  I’ve been laid off twice.  It happens to the best of us.  The test for rightness and wrongness isn’t about the fairness to the teachers.  It’s about the fairness to our children and our community.  How do the children and the community benefit from the absence of kindergarten?  The legislators responsible claim that kindergarten is a glorified daycare, and is only for lazy parents.  I take all sorts of umbrage to this.  Studies show (and I’m too lazy to look them up… for now) that kindergarten greatly improves overall education outcomes, and that full day kindergarten has a greater positive impact at graduation.  Studies also show that school districts save money with full day K, as the midday bus run is a huge finance drain… but I digress.

Increasing class size to give kids laptops is insufferably moronic.  Not because 700 teachers might loose their jobs, but because the class size increase proposed is absolutely detrimental to the quality of education.  45 kids in a room is … nuts.  The priority with this proposal is not about increasing the quality of education (or even maintaining it through a cutback including a technology implementation), but it’s about the utter hubris of one elected official.  Put him on the MAP!  Idaho gives kids computers!  … so what?

In Wisconsin, the nation watches as the debate over union contracts grows increasingly heated.  Over teacher contracts.  Over asking people to pay into their own retirement and their own health benefits. Did you know that healthcare expenses rise 16% every year, while all other industry averages a 2.5% to 3% inflation rate?  The rest of us suck it up.  What is so offensive about the idea that public employees follow the employment trends of the rest of industry?  Certainly it’s worth a conversation.  It doesn’t hurt the kids, and it benefits the community.

It would seem as if a lot of the controversy is regarding the “pay for performance” aspect of the proposal.  Granted, at first face, pay for performance sounds like a super idea… but the only real way to measure teacher performance is with standardized testing.  Don’t get me wrong… I’m a big fan of “you can only improve what you measure (~Lord Kelvin)” but I also see how my nine year old comes home with homework centered around test performance.  I don’t want him go graduate high school skilled only in knowing which circle to fill in with the #2 pencil.  I want him to be a critical thinker.  I do realize that a lot of that is on me as a parent… but critical thinking should be inherently built in to all of education.  IF the PhDs in education (see… I do think they have a purpose) can find another way to measure teacher performance, I’d be all over this.  And again… it comes back to the MAIN THING… what’s best for our children and our community?  There has to be a balance between measuring teacher performance and teaching strategy.

As for pay cuts… why shouldn’t teachers experience the same cut in pay that the rest of industry has in the last few years?  Now… before you get all crabby on me… let me finish my thought.  The rest of industry also pays leadership based on performance.  This includes CEOs, the C-suite, and upper level managers.  Generally, these positions are paid handsome bonuses if particular performance measures are met.  This would translate into Governors, Congress, and high level public employees.  Leadership also takes greater pay cuts, and they take those pay cuts FIRST.  I think this same model should be followed in education (and in state legislation).  I have never been able to fathom why lawmakers hack away at safety and education spending as one of the first lines of business when it comes to saving money. KEEP THE MAIN THING THE MAIN THING!  Education and Safety come FIRST… not in budget cutting, but in priority.   Pay the superintendent based on the overall performance of the state education.  I wonder how education policy would change?  I wonder how overall public policy would change if the public sector was forced to align more with industry and business in terms of financial policy.