My boss writes a monthly political opinion column for a magazine called Northwest Business Monthly. He ran for state senate in 2004, as a Republican, though he now says that the Republican Party is frustrating to him. He calls himself a “moderate conservative.”
I don’t write a monthly column for anyone, I mostly just write this blog and discuss politics with my wife and anyone else who’ll listen. I’ve never run for public office (unless you count my unsuccessful bid for sixth grade class vice president — I think it was my philosophical unwillingness to promise Dr. Pepper in the school drinking fountains that ultimately spelled my demise). I vote Democrat, though I’d have to admit that the dems and most American politics are frustrating to me right now. I call myself a “big fat liberal”, but in truth I’m probably closer to center than I typically am willing to admit.
He and I get along very well. And while we have somewhat different politics, we have a mutual respect for each other. We welcome feedback from each other. We welcome debate. That is why today I must take issue with the two significant assertions he makes in his column in the June issue. One assertion is fairly miniscule. The other is very substantial.
The small issue: John Stossel should win some sort of “Journalist of the Year” award.
The Biggie: “Teachers are underpaid” is a myth.
I’m very upset that so many people continue to buy this notion. Teachers ARE underpaid. I’m going to show you why.
But first let’s deal with Stossel.
John Stossel of ABC’s “20/20” is a sensationalist entertainer who had frequently misled his audience (and been caught doing so). He’s not a journalist in my book. To wit: in February of 2000, he reported that commercially grown produce has no more pesticide than organic produce. Later that year, the Washington Post (a reputable publication, by most accounts) reported that the research upon which Stossel’s report was based had never been conducted. Read about it by clicking here. You can read more about Stossel by clicking here. Be sure to check the sources. They’re equally reputable. He deserves no such award.
Now let’s move on to the Big One. Stossel has written a few books, most recently one titled “Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity”. I don’t intend to read this book (and my boss hasn’t yet either, as he claims in his column). Stossel asserts the common claim that “teachers are underpaid” is a myth.
When I got incensed about reading this in my boss’ column, I called a friend in California who’s a teacher. What follows is a fairly simple explanation for the fact that teachers are underpaid. It’s not my idea, and I won’t take credit for it, but it is important to understand nonetheless.
Here’s the scenario: let’s say you were to offer a teacher a babysitting/child care wage. For example, I pay my babysitter $4 per hour per child. If I had one kid, I’d pay her $4 per hour, two kids? $8 per hour and so on. Now on an hourly basis, this amounts to $1.15 less than the federal minimum wage. Since I live in Washington, she’s making over $3 less than the minimum wage. $4 per hour is a fair, market-driven wage for child care, and if I could afford to pay her more I would, and when I can afford to, I will.
We’ll offer our teacher $0 for vacation. Though most teachers have the summer “off”, they don’t collect paychecks during the summer. And most responsible teachers use the summer for lesson planning and cirriculum organization so their school year can beconsiderably more orderly.
We’ll offer $0 for planning, grading papers, email, calling parents, attending to extracurricular activities. That’s about 5 extra hours per day during the school year. We’ll call it 900 hours of unpaid work per year (5 hours per day TIMES 180 instructional days) –and that’s a fairly conservative. This amounts to a loss of around $3,600 if we are paying babysitting wage, far more (approximately $5,400) if you consider it overtime.
We offer $0 for the extra supplies teachers must buy every year because the school district won’t–on average, $1,000 per teacher–and far more if the teacher has their own computer.
Offer $0 for attending conferences, for taking classes and continuing to educate oneself as a professional. Not to mention the fact that continuing education is required by law. This amounts to roughly $1,000 per year.
Now let’s do the math, and see if this offer sounds good. For the purposes of the folowing examples, we’ll assume the following are true: an average class has approximately 30 students, the average teacher teaches 6 classes per day and that there are 180 instructional days in each school year. These numbers could all shift slightly depending on the district.
$4 x 30 students per class x 6 classes per day x 180 instructional days = $129,600.
At the Federal minimum wage, it’s $166,860.
To me that sounds more like the salary of the lobbyist in the state capitol who is lurking on behalf of the textbook publishers and standardized test publishers, bribing state legislators with campaign funds to adopt their educationally bankrupt, extraordinarily expensive products.
But we all know that teaches don’t make that much money. According to the State of Washington, a first-year teacher in this state who holds a bachelor’s degree has a base salary of $31,386, starting in the fall of 2006. Now let’s figure how much the taxpayers are paying per child, per hour, if the teacher is a first year teacher in the state of Washington. Let’s do the math again.
Annual base salary of $31,386 MINUS $2000 out-of-pocket per year for supplies and continuing education DIVIDED BY 180 Instructional days DIVIDED BY 6 classes per day DIVIDED BY 30 students per class … EQUALS:
90.7 cents an hour. And that doesn’t even include the opportunity cost of all the unpaid work that teachers do outside their work day.
Every Washington teacher and supporter of Washington teachers should be wearing a T-shirt that says in giant letters:
90.7 CENTS AN HOUR
There’s probably a sweatshop somewhere in Bangladesh or Indonesia that pays better.
The idea that teachers are underpaid only works if you assume ALL of the following:
1. Teaching is easier than babysitting; hence the idea that having more than one kid at once should mean the taxpayers are entitled to some kind of “discount” per child.
2. Teaching is FAR easier than day care–because it is FAR less expensive. And conservatives want to privatize public education; in that situation, the amount of money reaching the classroom and the teachers would drop precipitously in order to line the pockets of the corporate bosses running the privatized schools. Superintendents and throngs of district administrators with mysterious unknown responsibilities are already draining the system of valuable dollars. In a corporate environment these would be the last to go if the budget had to be balanced.
3. Teaching should require no training at all, since it’s the only job where the employees have to pay to train themselves on the job.
If teaching were lucrative, politicians would do it.
If teaching were easy, then half of all first year teachers wouldn’t leave the profession within 5 years. You can read about it in the Washington Post. Want to know why the education system is “failing”? That statistic tells the whole story.
Next time you meet a teacher, you should thank them for working for what amount to slave wages. Give them a big hug and offer to buy them lunch.
Next time someone tells you that teachers or overpaid, ask them if they’d be willing to work for 90.7 cents an hour.
And tell them to check their sources.