In case you haven’t noticed, there has been a flurry of teaching-bashing going on lately in the media, and Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari, founders of the wonderful 826 National tutoring centers in San Francisco, have had enough of it.
Enough With The Teacher-Bashing
Writing in Sunday’s New York Times, they explain:
When we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.
And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.
Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives.
Teachers Earn 60% Of Salaries Earned By Other College Graduates
Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on in education. As I wrote here, a month ago, most teachers in the United States must go into debt in order to prepare for an occupation that pays them, on average, 60% of the salaries earned by other college graduates.
Those who work in poor districts will not only earn less than their colleagues in wealthy schools, but they will pay for many of their students’ books and supplies themselves.
And with states’ willingness to lower standards rather than raise salaries for the teachers of the poor, a growing number of recruits enter with little prior training, trying to learn on-the-job with the uneven mentoring provided by cash-strapped districts.
One Third Of New Teachers Leave Within First Five Years
It is no wonder that a third of U.S. beginners leave within the first five years, and those with the least training leave at more than twice the rate of those who are well-prepared.
According to Eggers and Calegari, this turnover costs the United States $7.34 billion annually.
How To Recruit And Train Teachers And Treat Them Fairly
Taking a positive stance on this situation, the authors go on to suggest that with over half of the nation’s 3.2 billion teachers retiring in the next ten years, the country has a rare chance to turn things around. And they make some very interesting points:
People talk about accountability, measurements, tenure, test scores and pay for performance. These questions are worthy of debate, but are secondary to recruiting and training teachers and treating them fairly. There is no silver bullet that will fix every last school in America, but until we solve the problem of teacher turnover, we don’t have a chance.
The consulting firm McKinsey recently examined how we might attract and retain a talented teaching force. The study compared the treatment of teachers here and in the three countries that perform best on standardized tests: Finland, Singapore and South Korea.
Turns out these countries have an entirely different approach to the profession. First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession. (We don’t.) In Finland and Singapore they pay for training. (We don’t.) In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what we do.
Very Low Teacher Turnover In South Korea, Finland, Singapore
As a result of this respectful treatment, teacher turnover is remarkably low: in South Korea, it’s one percent per year, in Finland it’s two percent, and in Singapore it’s three percent.
Clearly, there could well be other factors involved in these numbers, but they do paint a startling contrast to teacher turnover numbers in the U.S.
In conclusion, Eggers and Calegari report on a survey:
McKinsey polled 900 top-tier American college students and found that 68 percent would consider teaching if salaries started at $65,000 and rose to a maximum of $150,000. Could we do this? If we’re committed to “winning the future,” we should. If any administration is capable of tackling this, it’s the current one. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan understand the centrality of teachers and have said that improving our education system begins and ends with great teachers. But world-class education costs money.
If President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan are serious about the United States regaining our educational standing in the world, they need to stop bashing teachers and start taking education in American seriously.
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