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Education and the fear of "below average"(65 posts)

Education and the fear of "below average"Duane Gran
Jan 2, 2003 12:36 PM
I read an interesting article about some new education laws:

It seems that many school districts are concerned about the pressure of failure to meet the requirements. The article touches on a lot of issues, but it all centers around standardized testing as a guage for accountable progress.

It hasn't been that long since I was in high school (graduated in 1992) and I can remember several national programs to make America #1 in education. I said it then, and I'll say it now: Pay teachers a wage comensurate with someone who is nurturing our greatest resource.

It is outrageous that I can earn double or triple the salary of a teacher by tending Unix servers or developing software when they have direct influence on the lives of dozens of children. It makes my line of work seem pretty lame and unimportant.
The over-riding problem in public education . . .Steve98501
Jan 2, 2003 1:12 PM
is not teacher salaries, school facilities, or any of the host of commonly referenced shortcomings. The public schools I am familiar with in the Pacific NW are generally quite adequate to the task of educating students. This is not to say the teachers couldn't use the pay increase promised them. Bush's education law seems like it will contribute to reduced effectiveness in public education.

The biggest problem in public education is American parents who send to school kids who are unloved, unfed, inadequately clothed, unrested, undisciplined, and otherwise unfit and unready to learn. I do favor providing adequate funding to our schools, but no amount of spending on teacher salaries and school facilities will reverse this over-riding deficiency in American education. Since politics cannot deal with the root cause, it's almost reasonable to expect the government to throw legislation at the symptoms instead.
Jan 2, 2003 1:15 PM
So I take it you are willing to give up 1/2 of your salary to give to the teacher of your choice? I doubt it.

Frankly, I don't see how giving more money to teachers will improve education. There is no direct connection. If the teachers we have now can't get it done, how will paying them more help? And if more money does help, isn't that kind of upsetting? Does it mean they have been holding back all this time, purposely producing undereducated kids to make a point?

My mom was a teacher for almost 20 years. I have several friends who currently are teachers and some who were formerly teachers. The reality about teacher pay is that teachers don't want it bad enough. The typical teacher is not in it for the money and accepts the fact that they will never get rich doing it. Teachers will rarely band together to demand pay increases. And despite low pay, the typical teacher will spend their own money on classroom supplies. It's not about money.

Do I think teachers should be paid more? Absolutely. Will they ever be paid what they are theoretically worth? Nope. Will it improve our educational system if they are? Nope.

The problem with our educational system is not underpaid teachers. The problem is underachieving students and underfunded schools.

Finally, America will never be #1 in education again. It's no longer statistically possible. America has too many people to compete fairly with much smaller countries like Japan and Holland. America will be lucky to stay in the top 20.
Jan 2, 2003 1:44 PM
Aren't underpaid teachers part and parcel of underfunded schools?

Simply paying the same teachers more money will not get better results. But offering a high enough salary to attract and retain bright people will.

In a country where parents will rarely inconvenience themselves for the sake of their children's education, it seems ludicrous to ask strangers to forgo a decent wage to do the job for them.

Finally, your assertion that America can not have better education system that other countries is downright bizzare. Too many people to compete fairly? WTF? I guess our Universities will always trail Japan and Holland too, eh?
Jan 2, 2003 2:05 PM
By underfunded schools I mean facilities, books, equipment and supplies.

You make the erroneous assumption that low salaries are only attracting and retaining people who aren't "bright" and that is absolutely wrong. Spend a few years around teachers and you will find that most are very bright, and yet most are underpaid. Why do they do it? Because they like doing it. It's a vocation for most. Money will always be secondary.

American education will always trail smaller countries for the simple reason that there are a great deal less students/teachers/facilities/etc. to deal with. The bureaucracies are smaller as a result, too. Therefore, it takes much less money to run the schools and get results equal to American schools. With a higher level of funding, results can easily exceed American schools.
Again, why force teachers to make sacrifices. . .czardonic
Jan 2, 2003 2:19 PM
. . .that parents won't. Teachers are the only ones expected to put themselves out for the sake of their students.

I'm sure there are many bright teachers. There are also not enough teachers, and a lot of bright people who won't go into teaching because they aren't willing to be underpaid. Should we really be using a vow of poverty to ensure that our teachers are dedicated enough?

And again, our superior universities (including some states systems) belies your argument about country size and quality of education.
Jan 2, 2003 2:34 PM
I'm talking about schools. You are talking about universities. These are two totally different things. The quality of students in universities cannot be compared to those in schools. As far as I know, schools are mandatory everywhere in this country, whereas attending a university is elective. Underachieving students don't generally attend universities, and if they do, they don't generally last long. Therefore, claiming overall excellence of the system based on university level students is a very bogus and myopic practice.

I do think teachers should be better paid. My whole point is that they never will be until they band together and demand it. That's not going to happen anytime soon and it will probably never happen on a large enough scale to matter. Teachers have gone on strike many times attempting to increase pay, but administrators know the reality and know they hold the upper hand. Gains have always been minimal.
You are talking about scale. . .czardonic
Jan 2, 2003 2:56 PM
. . .and asserting that due to bureaucratic overhead etc., America can not complete, no? Of course our university system is different, but in terms of scale it is much larger than say, Japan's or Holland's, and yet remains competitive and demonstrates that America's size does not prevent us from having an excellent system.

Schools are mandatory in Japan too, taking your example. What does that have to do with anything? Unless American has a disproportionate number of underacheiving students, you've still failed to give any reason why our schools should lag behind.

Once again, you are blaming the teachers for the fact that parents would rather lose the few dedicated teachers they have than pay them more. Talk about a myopic practice.
Jan 2, 2003 3:11 PM
America does have a disproportionate number of underacheiving students. That's basically what I originally said. At no time did I assess blame for this, but I most definitely did not blame teachers. I won't claim that all teachers are good, but parenting and genetics will always have a much greater impact on student achievement.
please....Duane Gran
Jan 2, 2003 2:37 PM
I attended a university with a popular teacher's college (about 13% in that specific program) so I encountered many future teachers. None of them had delusions about making good money doing the job and they seemed genuinely interested in making a positive impact. We should be thankful for the philanthropy of current teachers, however I don't think we can count on the trend to continue forever. Paying teachers well could only help. I don't see how it could be a bad move.

I can't disagree with the points about apathetic parents, made by another respondant. This is a big factor and school can do only so much to level the playing field.

I do have to take issue with one particular phrase in your comments:

The problem with our educational system is not underpaid teachers. The problem is underachieving students and underfunded schools.

Does this mean you see infrastructure, books and various supplies as more necessary than appropriate compensation for teachers? I wouldn't want either to lag, but I would prefer a well paid (and quite possibly happier) teacher over better facilities. As I think back to my public education what stands out were a few great teachers (and some rotten ones unfortunately), not any material items. My apologies if I misunderstood you.
Jan 2, 2003 3:05 PM
I don't see funding schools and paying teachers as an either/or situation. Where I went to school, in Los Angeles, the buildings were aging when I was there, many years ago. They haven't gotten any younger since, and there's been a major earthquake. I'm sure that across the country, the situation is the same. Except for the earthquake.

Remove the top level students who are self-motivated and you end up with a lower level that doesn't care, but also a middle level that wants to care. The middle level is the largest segment and needs motivation to come to school and to participate, and this is where good teachers come in.

Fortunately, there will always be good teachers, regardless of pay. But if students are to excel, there has to be more. There has to be hot water in the showers after gym class. The books can't be worn out, or worse, outdated. The school library has to be stocked with up to date references, and not have missing or defaced books. The classrooms have to be heated in winter. Sports equipment has to be available and in good condition. The infamous American bad sense of geography couldn't have anything to do with outdated maps in classrooms, can it?

It's a system. All parts matter.
please....Duane Gran
Jan 2, 2003 6:34 PM
The infamous American bad sense of geography couldn't have anything to do with outdated maps in classrooms, can it?

LOL. I seriously doubt it. I was appalled at the National Geographic report and took the test myself (scored 19/20). No kids are confusing Rhodesia for Zimbabwe because it changed names in the last decade. Young people are simply ignorant about geography. I bet you could hang a 100 year old map of Africa or the Middle East in a classroom and no one would notice the error for weeks. Heck, hang a modern map upside down and it won't get noticed for weeks. ;)

It's a system. All parts matter.

I see your point more clearly now, and I agree with you.
Jan 2, 2003 2:23 PM
Teachers don't get paid much because it is not that difficult to become a teacher, leading to a tremendous supply of teachers. Tending Unix servers takes a more specialized set of skills and not as many people are properly trained in that discipline. That's one of the reasons that teachers are not paid much. The other is that they are funded by public money, which has tighter purse strings than private money.

Ask yourself how taxpayers would react if, in order to make the average teacher salary go from $40,000 to $80,000, their taxes would increase by 100%.

Paying teachers more,TJeanloz
Jan 2, 2003 2:58 PM
This isn't really a reply to the above post, just a parallel observation. Paying teachers more doesn't get you smarter or more motivated teachers. It gets you people who will do whatever job pays them most competitively. A perfect example is a cousin of mine. She graduated from a top-flight east-coast college, and had some difficulty finding a job. Through a federal program, she took a job as a teacher (in Arizona). Her salary is more than mine (I'm an investment banker, so my bonus will make up for it, but that's another story), plus the Federal Government is paying for her master's degree and forgiving all of her subsidized college loans. My point is that she took this job teaching because the compensation package was more attractive than anything else. Did she want to be a teacher? No. Does she like being a teacher? No. By her own admission, is she a good teacher? No. Is this who we want teaching our kids? No.

The problem with the analysis is that teachers, in a masochistic sort of way, derive pleasure from their jobs- and are negatively compensated for such pleasure. The vacations aren't bad either. Paying teachers more will only attract people who are less willing to sacrifice to be teachers, which, in a sick sort of way, isn't what you'd want.
Careful with that logic!czardonic
Jan 2, 2003 3:20 PM
After all, doesn't it then follow that underpaying investment bankers will ensure that only those will true dedication will go into the profession? Are you prepared to be penalized for whatever enjoyment you get out of your job?

Also, I think you are confusing dedication with talent or ability. They don't always go hand in hand. Anyway, if paying higher salaries makes teaching worth the while of more bright people, I don't see the problem. Let's remember that crappy salaries are what got us the crappy system we have now.
Careful with that logic!Steve98501
Jan 2, 2003 3:49 PM

Careful with your own logic as well. You are wrong stating ". . . that crappy salaries are what got us the crappy system . . ." Yes, teachers deserve and could use a salary increase. No, increasing teacher pay will not significantly improve student performance by any useful measure. I'm not a teacher, but I know and have known many and been involved in my local public school system. A few teachers are dead wood, but the majority are smart, talented, and they do what they do because they like it. But no matter how good they are, they cannot make up for the poor quality of the raw student material sent into their classrooms.

I knew an elementary school principal who had a discretionary fund to cloth kids (like an 8 year old girl wearing only her drug-addict mother's boyfriend's scuzy T-shirt, and nothing else!). And the school has a breakfast program in addition to the lunch one to feed kids who show up whose last meal was yesterday's free lunch. And that's the easy part. It's impossible to counter the effects of the student who barely slept the night before or is too stressed out from the effects of a dysfunctional home environment. The percentage of students at school who are not fit to learn is staggering. So while money for schools is critical to academic success, money alone will not achieve it.
Point taken.czardonic
Jan 2, 2003 4:13 PM
I wasn't suggesting that adding 20K to teachers paychecks is the solution. Under certain circumstances, no amount of money will buy success. Nonetheless, neither do I think that we can take the good teachers that we have for granted.

Moreover, I don't think that low pay is a reflection of our assumption that good teachers will make sacrifices to do a job that they love. Low salaries are a reflection of our disdain for our children and the people that educate them.
Umm, how about pay for performance?VertAddict
Jan 2, 2003 8:48 PM
Just thought I'd lob the idea out there, surprised it hasn't been raised already. I agree with Czardonic (yes, it's true!) that asking teachers to wear their financial suffering for their profession like it was a badge of honor makes no sense. But as a way of channeling the extra spending, what's wrong with pay for performance?

I know evaluating of a teacher's capabilities would not be an easy system to set up, there are of course so many variables that would have to be considered (students' preparedness for the learning process, infrastructure available, etc). Nevertheless, this is what corporations all over the world do and it works quite well. Reward those who are making the most significant all-in contribution, and all will be motivated to perform better.

As far as the person mentioned in an earlier post that took the teaching job because it paid, not because she enjoyed it or was good at it, well, she would quickly find it less lucrative. She would either have to learn to perform like a good teacher or find another line of work. Those who are dedicated would rise to the top. Again I ask - what's wrong with that?
But who DEFINES "performance?" Eagle Forum? ACLU?Silverback
Jan 3, 2003 12:44 PM
my wife's been a teacher for 20 years, and she has no problem with being paid for performance--she's turned out hundreds of scholarship winners. The problem we have here in Redneckland is that nobody agrees on what performance is. The conservative faction wants to fire anybody who teaches evolution. The gun nuts want to can anybody who doesn't support their interpretation of the Second Amendment. The mining companies (a big industry locally) don't believe in teaching anything that smacks of environmentalism. Everybody agrees kids should read, but nobody can agree on WHAT they should read. Meanwhile, there are almost daily fights in the classroom, and more and more kids are showing up with knives and guns, and the teachers are responsible for the kids' safety. So is my 5'1", 115-pound, 45-year-old wife supposed to wrestle some gangbanger down and take his 9mm away, or what?
It follows perfectly,TJeanloz
Jan 3, 2003 6:26 AM
One of the travesties of my field of work (investment banking) is that 2/3 of the people in the field are here because they think it's the best way to make the most amount of money in the least amount of time. These people hate their jobs, and feel like they're being taken advantage of when they're required to put in 100+ hour workweeks. Because they hate their jobs, they're lousy at them, but they stick with it, because they get paid a lot. This results in having an industry with a lot of smart people who are bad at, and hate their jobs. The firm I'm currently at has some of the most talented and dedicated bankers- and the lowest salaries. We get put on cool projects, and for this, we take less money.

The fact is, I don't think that people who don't want to be teachers should be teachers. Or that anybody should do a job that they don't love, for that matter. Paying higher salaries would get you smarter teachers, there's almost no question. But what makes a smarter person a better teacher? You don't have to be Einstein to teach fractions or high school algebra. We need better teacher training and evaluation, not people who are inherently smarter, to improve the system.
Paying teachers more,bigskulls
Jan 3, 2003 12:06 PM
I think recent college grads are an exception to the rule. These guys may take teaching jobs for the money, usually because its either that or nothing, but very few people in other professions would. Even after the 12% raise given to NYC teachers this year, the pay (35K a year to start) is almost always worse than what you can make elsewhere, and the hassles that go with it are incredible. You've got to get fingerprinted, certified, deal with unions, the local bureacracy and parents and pay for your own class materials for the priveledge of getting thrown up on or threatened with serious voilence.

I'm on the fence about paying teachers more. First, you can't tell me that good, motivated teachers don't deserve a raise. You can make more money cleaning houses than teaching. Plus, there are many people in other professions that would make excellent, highly motivated teachers, but who simply cannot afford to make the transition. Increasing salaries will do something to lure more of these people.

On the other hand, by increasing pay you are rewarding all the bad, unmotivated teachers who currently inhabit the system, and giving them even less of a reason to leave.
I disagree.czardonic
Jan 2, 2003 3:10 PM
It takes a lot more education and training to become a good teacher than it takes to babysit servers.

Becoming a good teacher is difficult. What keeps good teachers from commanding good salaries is the fact that our society doesn't care a whit about the quality of teachers that are educating our children. Thus, the dedicated people who do choose the profession must compete with the hacks that we're perfectly willing to replace them with.

What would be the point of making such a bogus proposal to taxpayers? No one would need to pay 100% more taxes in order to double the average teacher salary. At worst, they would have to double the tiny portion of their taxes that goes to teacher salaries.
Jan 2, 2003 3:36 PM
It takes a lot more training to be a nuclear physicist than it does to be a professional baseball player, but the worst major leaguer will make more than the best physicist. There is no equity in the education/pay formula.

Becoming a good teacher is difficult. It takes years of dedication and sacrifice, an expensive education, and a willingness to work long hours for little pay and huge responsibilities. But I didn't say that it wasn't difficult to become a good teacher. I said it wasn't difficult to become a teacher.

The hacks? Lots of them, because the really dedicated ones are few and far between. Why? Low pay, long hours, little prestige. But the vacations are great. Why do we put up with them? Lots of reasons, but teacher unions and the insistence that we only license teachers who have education majors, rather than professionals like engineers, chemists, business owners, etc. Teaching is NOT all about teaching today as much as it is about social work and filling out bureaucratic forms.

Its not that society doesn't care, its that we don't care enough. It doesn't hurt enough. Yet.

I taught HS social studies for four years. I always got great reviews and the parents and students loved me. I left in 1987 because I had a family to raise and I could not afford it on the salary I was making. I now make more in a month than I did in a full year of teaching.

Taxes - Tiny portion? Hardly. Fully half of Wyoming's tax revenue is used to pay for education. The largest education expenditure is teacher salaries. I'll grant your point that a 100% increase is probably too much. Lets make it 50% and see how that flies instead. Or, for the sake of argument, lets just increase it by 25%. Think that will make the screaming any less loud?

I agree that there is no equity in pay. . .czardonic
Jan 2, 2003 4:32 PM
. . .which is why I objected to your supply and demand explanation. There are a lot more people who want to play professional baseball than people who want to study nuclear physics (and probably a lot of them could be good at standing around in the grass). But, as you say, the profession with lower requirements and higher supply still pays more? Why? Because society puts a greater value on baseball than science (a preference that may well regret in the long run).

I'm not trying to mischaracterize your points, so correct me if I am wrong, but you seem to be saying that:

  • Supply/demand is not a predictor of compensation.
  • Becoming a good teacher is difficult, but doesn't pay off (financially) because society does not value good teachers.
  • Qualilfied teachers must leave the profession if they want to raise faimilies of their own.

    I don't disagree with any of that.

    You didn't finish your senetence about teachers unions. Are you saying that unions are a significant part of the problem?

    As for the taxes, what if the money saved on welfare and jail offest the cost of educating people in the first place? I won't pretend to know how the numbers would crunch, but I suspect that the net cost of investing in our schools wouldn't be a painful as you suggest.
  • Interesting point czar.......eyebob
    Jan 2, 2003 5:48 PM
    Assuming that your point inferring that if we provide better education to our youth would ultimately result in fewer crimes and a lower overall financial burden on society, it begs the question, "Isn't that a good return on investment?" I would think that moneyman would agree with this as a legit reason to raise taxes to offset the increase in school funding.

    That's a nice thoughtmoneyman
    Jan 3, 2003 6:52 AM
    But if increased investment was the solution to the problem, it would already be solved. We - US taxpayers - have made tremendous investments in education, and we continue to pay more. Yet the return continues to diminish, as measured by standardized test scores that continue to spiral downward.

    Spending more does not equal a good investment. Sometimes it just means spending more, as in good money after bad. If the increase in taxes you talk about brought improvements, measured by standardized test scores, increased graduation rates and increased literacy rates, I would say they are justified. The problem is that we HAVE increased taxes and we HAVE increased funding, with little to no beneficial results.

    There is, in my opinion, no one singel answer to the problem. It is large, complex, full of politics, and unlikely to be solved in a short time.

    We keep cutting taxes. . .czardonic
    Jan 3, 2003 12:42 PM
    . . .despite little in the way of economic stimulation. Where are the conservatives with there "good money after bad" logic on that issue?
    Jan 3, 2003 1:30 PM
    The tax cuts are having an effect - the economy IS growing. And how does cutting taxes equal throwing good money after bad? No - wait. I've got it. This is one of the fundamental differences between you and me. You see tax cuts as a cost to the government. I see it as a reduction in the burden to taxpayers. Your vision is it's the governments money first, and we get to keep what they don't need. My view is that it is mine, I earned it, and the government shouldn't take it unless there is a constitutional reason to do so.

    Put another way.czardonic
    Jan 3, 2003 1:54 PM
    You see your money as a pure function of your own personal effort, leaving no credit to the community that makes your success possible. As such, you see no reason to invest in the community, or make your contribution to the conditions that preserve your freedom and prosperity. What is yours is yours, and you see everything as yours.

    Isn't the deficit also projected to grow as tax cuts increase? Isn't the government actually borrowing money to give you back what is "yours".
    You could put it that waymoneyman
    Jan 3, 2003 2:10 PM
    But you'd be wrong. That is not at all what I said or believe. And I don't know how you extrapolated that from what I said.

    I make tremendous investments in my community, in the forms of time and money. You have no idea what I do, and no right to assume that I am not a contributing member of my commmunity.

    What's mine is mine, and I should be able to do with it as I please. I certainly don't see everything as mine. I don't see your assets as mine, although I am not sure that is reciprocated.

    FYI - Reducing taxes increases revenue. Increasing spending increases deficits. If I have a problem with Bush and/or congress, its that they spend too much in the face of rising receipts. Anytime you spend more than you take in it causes a deficit.

    No less apt an extrapolation than your charicature. . .czardonic
    Jan 3, 2003 2:28 PM
    . . .of my views on the matter. After all, do you have any idea what I do. I suspect that I am not in a position to match your financial contributions, but at least I don't begrudge the public coffers what I do contribute. Face it, everyone gets more out of the government than what they put in. If not it actual goods and services, than in the guaruntee of their ability to provide for themselves. Ideally, people would take an honest appraisal of these benefits and contribute their fair share to their maintenance. Until that happens, taxes are a necessity.

    I agree with your criticism of Bush's "cut-tax and spend" policies. But did you really mean to say that "reducing taxes increases revenue"?
    No less apt an extrapolation than your charicature. . .TJeanloz
    Jan 3, 2003 2:38 PM
    I don't know if he meant to say it, but empirical evidence does suggest that a reduction in [personal income] taxes will lead to an increase in tax receipts. In fact, adjusted for inflation, every tax cut [with one 1-year exception] since the inception of the federal income tax, has yeilded higher tax receipts. Even Reagan's enormous tax cuts lead to a 24% increase in tax receipts. He just happened to spend about 200% more, causing the deficits that were his administrations legacy.

    This is the primary evidence that supporters of the Laffer Curve drag out every other week.
    Curious. How does that work?czardonic
    Jan 3, 2003 2:49 PM
    I can only see it adding up if the argument conveniently fails to account for some other kind of tax increase. Or maybe the trick is somewhere in the "adjusted for inflation" clause, or perhaps in some coincidental factor that is not directly related to tax rates.

    Do tell.
    The theory is,TJeanloz
    Jan 3, 2003 3:01 PM
    Nobody knows exactly how it works, economics isn't a perfect science, but the current theory is that lower taxes encourage people to work more.

    The thinking works something like this:

    We'll assume I can divide my time into two groups: work and leisure time. Any time I'm not at work, I'm at "leisure". If my salary is $20/hour, $10/hour after taxes, each hour of leisure "costs" me $10 in lost income. Since $10 isn't that much, I enjoy quite a bit of leisure time.

    Now, we reduce taxes to $5/hour, and I say, crap, it was bad enough to lose $10 of income for that hour I didn't work, now I'm losing $15 for every hour I'm not working. And I work more, because my work is more valuable, making my leisure time more expensive.
    Interesting theory, I must admit. (nm)czardonic
    Jan 3, 2003 3:09 PM
    It's no theory - it's realitymoneyman
    Jan 5, 2003 8:56 PM
    People make economic choices like that all the time. The value of their work increases as the tax burden decreases, therefore they work more, earn more, and pay a greater total sum in taxes, even though the percentage of tax is lower. This does not work so accurately for blue collar workers, however, because they don't have as much choice in how much they work. It works real well for business owners, as they get to determine how much they actually make. When the tax climate favors it, they ramp up production, create more wealth, pay more in taxes. Vice versa when congress levies what the business owner considers to be too much in the way of taxes. The owner determines that making another dollar costs too much in taxes for a diminishing return on his investment. He stops making additional items, then does not create the wealth upon which he would have been taxed.

    Think of it like this - if people did not take tax policy into account in determining how much they work or how much they manufacture, the government could tax 100% of income and create a rising stream of money flowing into the treasury. But individuals do have control of how much they make, and they would never put up with a confiscatory policy like that. They would just stop working, and even though tax rates would be astronomically high, receipts would decrease. During FDRs administration, top tax rates were 95%. Even as late as the Carter years, they were 70%. No one really paid those rates, because the people tey targeted just said "No thanks. I think I'll stop my income."

    Really. That's how it works.

    From curve suggests that, as taxes increase from low levels, tax revenue collected by the government also increases. It also shows that tax rates increasing after a certain point (T*) would cause people not to work as hard or not at all, thereby reducing tax revenue. Eventually if tax rates reached 100% (the far right of the curve), then all people would not work because everything they earned would go to the government.

    I wouldn't be that bold,TJeanloz
    Jan 6, 2003 7:12 AM
    While the Laffer Curve makes sense in a lot of ways, it isn't without it's issues. People often use it to argue for lower taxes, but note that argument goes both ways, and there is a point, much greater than 0, at which tax receipts are maximized. Some people believe that the United States tax structure is on the right hand (diminishing return) side of the curve, others believe that it's on the left side. The problem with making this determination is that taxes don't exist in a vacuum. After the Clinton tax increase in 1994, we saw strong economic growth and a corresponding strong increase in tax receipts. This suggests that we are (were) on the left side of the curve. But opponents of the tax increase argue that the economy was primed for growth, and would have grown much more without the tax increase. Who was right? Nobody really knows; welcome to the "dismal science". Which leads us back to the Laffer Curve "theory" in that it seems to explain most things, but it isn't perfect, and there remains a lot of wiggle room in terms of how close you are to optimizing tax receipts.
    Right! Throwing good money after bad is always a bad idea,eyebob
    Jan 6, 2003 7:36 AM
    but if it works, is it not worth spending more money on? If it doesn't work, then there's no question that simply throwing money at the problem solves nada.

    Hmm. I get an "F" on that sentence - unionsmoneyman
    Jan 3, 2003 7:16 AM
    I wasn't an English teacher.

    Yes, the unions are a big part of the problem, for several reasons. One, they are the chief demanders of lower teacher/student ratios when there is no empirical evidence showing that actually improves performance. It is a self-serving process which has as its goal job-creation, not improving education.

    A second reason they are a problem is that they actually cheapen the image of teachers. Unions have been historically established to promote the welfare of trade members and non-professionals. Teachers, because they are required to be degreed, do not fall into that category. Teachers are professionals, and when they form unions they reduce the prestige of their position to that of a trade memeber. Carpentry and machining are certainly honorable trades, but they do not require the same education and training as a teacher. Yet teacher unions diminish the perception of teachers as being professionals, turning them into teamsters with degrees. The public perception of teachers is certainly not on the level of physicians, attorneys, or even CPAs. One of the reasons for this is that those professionals have not unionized and reduced the prestige of their professions. Teacher unions have created a vocation, not a profession.

    The investment in education has NOT worked. See my response to eyebob.

    Again, I disagree. And on Ed. spending ROI.czardonic
    Jan 3, 2003 12:35 PM
    I guess it is all a matter of perception, but I don't think the teaching profession is diminished in many peoples eyes becayse it "reduces" them to the level of carpenters and machinists (who, incidentally, make more money than teachers and in many cases train as long and/or have as much in the way of specialized skills).

    Teachers are not respected because for all the lip-service we pay to raising children, teachers are charged with the care of a segment of our population that is little valued in our society by anyone other than advertisers.

    As for the investment in education not working, I submit that we have simply not invested enough. Can one really look at our decaying, asbestos ridden schools with their condemned play structures, decades out of date texts, overcrowded classrooms and harried, demoralized teachers and say "Well, we did everything we can"? Education is expensive. It's also worth it.
    It's worth it?TJeanloz
    Jan 3, 2003 12:44 PM
    This is an interesting tenet of American education. More is always better. I'm not sure it is. What would the United States be like if the Federal Government paid for (and required) everybody to get a Ph.D.? Would we be better off? I don't think we would.

    I think one of the real problems with American education is that we try to teach too much, and that takes focus off of reading, writing and 'rithmatic. I hear people in my parent's generation lament that students in my generation can't form a complete sentance, or didn't diagram sentences, like they did. This is true. But biology used to be limited to disecting frogs, now we expect high school students to master cellular biology and basic DNA and RNA concepts. And this is in addition to all of the social training that the schools have to provide- sex education classes, conflict resolution classes etc. We could do a pretty good job teaching kids to read and write if we stuck to a 1960 curriculum, unfortunately, parents now expect the school to do all of the parenting, and there's just too much to learn in too little time.
    Jan 3, 2003 1:41 PM
    Educated people are in a much better position to make a net contribution to society, and I think that crime, welfare and epidemiological studies indicate that they do.

    As for requiring too much education, students are taught the three R's long before they are asked to learn the Krebs cycle. Are you telling me that in the 8th-12th year of education, students shouldn't be asked to learn anything more than how to diagram a sentence? Kids who can't read in high-school failed learn how long before they were distracted by biology and sex-education.
    Then what are we bad at?TJeanloz
    Jan 3, 2003 2:18 PM
    As I understand it, the criticism of American education is in the failure to teach the "three R's" to an acceptable level. I think until students master the "three R's", everything else should be put on hold. Students are taught the three R's long before the Krebs cycle, but the system allows them to continue on to the Krebs cycle without mastering what they've already been "taught". Mastery of fundamentals is far more important than academic obscurity.

    A standardized curriculum, with standardized achievment tests, should dictate what students learn. The crux of the matter comes down to what constitutes "educated". I don't think students need to be taught 1/2 of what they are- it isn't essential, and it detracts from mastery of essential skills. If students are interested in advanced subjects, by all means, they should be able to electively discover them- but not until they can read and write.

    And back on the topic of teacher's salaries and impact on students, in Boston, teachers are paid 23% more than the state-wide average, and their students fared the 5th worst of all cities in Massachusetts on the state's standardized tests. Teacher salaries and student output do not seem to be correlated.
    I doubt that illiterates are being frogmarched into AP Biology.czardonic
    Jan 3, 2003 2:37 PM
    Kids who don't posses basic skills are diverted to remedial programs until they learn or are old enough to leave. In essence, you ideal system is already in place. Those who excel can take on higher academic subjects. Those who fail are givnen ad-nauseum opportunities to learn the basics.

    If raising teacher salaries isn't the magic bullet (which I don't think it is), limiting curriculum certainly isn't.

    Do you deny the notion that teachers who don't have to sorry about making ends meet might be better able to tend to the needs of their students? Funny how we are willing to condemn teachers to the same economic malaise that we blame for underacheiving students and parents.
    Teachers: civil servants or tycoons?TJeanloz
    Jan 3, 2003 2:46 PM
    I think that teachers should have to worry about making ends meet like the rest of us do. Frankly, I don't think what they do is so remarkable or challenging that they should be rewarded with a king's bounty. These are government employees, with full benefits and pensions- and 9 months of work. The average teacher here in Boston makes more than the average worker. I don't see what they do that's so remarkable.

    I'm not saying they have to take a vow of poverty, but a starting teacher in Boston makes more than a starting investment banker. Or stock broker. I don't see that $50,000 a year condemns them to economic malaise.

    Personally, I don't think the solution has anything to do with schools. I think it has to do with parents. But it's easier to change schools through public policy than it is to change parents.
    King's bounty, no. But what does 50K buy you in Boston?czardonic
    Jan 3, 2003 2:55 PM
    In my neck of the woods you'd be a long way from tycoon status. I'm not suggesting that teachers live on easy street. Then again, considering the task they are charged with, I'm not sure they shouldn't be paid more than investment bankers and stock brokers (no offense).
    We're paid well, but it's easy to justify...TJeanloz
    Jan 3, 2003 3:04 PM
    It's really easy for a broker or investment banker to know exactly how much they're worth. And it makes for some nervous times around the office when people realize that they're being paid more than they're worth. Our production is easy to measure- which would make the whole argument moot if teachers had the same system.
    All you'd need is an objective measure of humanity.czardonic
    Jan 3, 2003 3:10 PM
    How hard could that be?
    Define "good teacher" and pay them more.Spoke Wrench
    Jan 2, 2003 3:41 PM
    It looks to me like teacher salaries are based on a couple of wrong assumptions.

    The first is that the longer you teach, the better teacher you will become. This may have a degree of validity, but I also think that it's possible to amass one year of experience 25 times.

    The second is the more you know about a subject, the better teacher you will become. Picture a middle school math teacher with a BA degree. She will make more money if she obtains a MA degree so she takes summer courses in theoretical math. Unless she finds some way to apply this new knowledge to her middle school algebra class, how is that going to make her better at what she actually does? We end up paying more for the exact same product.

    I kind of think that we'd be better off if we paid teachers a bonus for learning how to present their subject material better and for learning how to manage their classrooms better. I kind of don't think that anybody offers a Masters Degree in that.

    Why not define what constitutes a superior teacher and pay them more? It looks to me like if you divided all teachers down the middle, the below average half is benefitting by today's system and all of the better teachers, every single one of them, is getting shafted.

    The really scary thing to me is that teachers have historically avoided any king of "merit pay" program. This tells me that the average teacher thinks she is doing a below average job and would be penalized by such a system.
    I think the objection to "merit pay" stems more. . .czardonic
    Jan 2, 2003 4:35 PM
    . . .from the necessarily arbitrary measures of merit than the assumption of below average performance.

    As for better training in the methods of education, don't they give out degrees in Education?
    Let me put it a different way.Spoke Wrench
    Jan 2, 2003 5:55 PM
    You'll never know how fast you can ride your bicycle until you line up next to somebody whose about as fast as you and somebody says "Go." That's pretty much the only time that we put out our maximum effort.

    Free enterprise whupped communism for the same reason. Absent the rewards of doing a superior job, people tend to do an OK job and still think they are giving it their best effort. Our performance based industries out performed their attendance based industries.

    Schools in the US look more like communism than free enterprise to me. Teachers are paid to perform a function and nobody seems to be held responsible for getting results. We can't even agree on what a good result is.

    It's absolutely true that any measurement of performance is going to be wrong part of the time. But if we can find one that is right more than 50% of the time, it will be better than what we have now. Today every single one of our above average teachers is underpaid and every single one of our below average teachers is overpaid because we put no value on results.

    Communism is more comfortable than free enterprise. Everybody is guanteed a job and a paycheck as long as they show up. It's more comfortable to cruise along on your bike than it is to puke up your gut trying to beat somebody else up the hill.

    The rewards of free enterprise are always going to be greater because, with everybody trying harder, we produce more and there is a bigger pie to divide up among us.
    That's the union train of thoughtmoneyman
    Jan 3, 2003 7:51 AM
    That it is impossible and arbitrary to rate teachers. We cannot measure how many widgets get made, so lets not measure anything. And we know that the principals, the judges of merit, will be biased and will penalize teachers who disagree with them or teach something a bit controversial. That is a bogus argument.

    Teachers can and should be measured and evaluated. Then they should be paid, promoted or fired accordingly. Teachers who use innovative methods that are successful should be rewarded. Teachers who skate along should not. When the unions release their grip on teacher evaluation, we may be able to meaningfully measure performance and pay as indicated.

    I agree that teachers should be evaluated.czardonic
    Jan 3, 2003 12:39 PM
    But I find it ironic that people calling for these evaluations typically want to give the task to the same administrators that they accuse of being incapable of managing the system in the first place.
    Isn't the Federal Gv't doing the evaluations?TJeanloz
    Jan 3, 2003 12:49 PM
    I thought a premise of the article is that the government was doing the evaluations by standardized testing.

    I read a more interesting bit, I think in the WSJ, about the number of high school students who are skipping the standardized tests. Apparently, for good students (especially those who have already been admitted to college), there's no penalty for missing the test, so an increasing number are taking the day off. This is, obviously, skewing results downwards, and many districts are going to show declining scores as a result.
    Well, $man, that's just silly....cory
    Jan 3, 2003 12:57 PM
    First, if it weren't for unions, most of us would still be working 12 hours a day for 30 cents an hour, no health insurance, no security, no vacation. Read "The Jungle" for a clue.
    More to the point, though, you can't talk about measuring and evaluating teachers without specifying who sets the standards and does the measuring. My wife's taught for nearly 30 years, works hard at it and does an excellent job. But the "community standards" that reformers are always shouting about have to satisfy everybody from fundamentalist Christians (who want to fire anyone who teaches evolution) and loggers (who'd like to axe anything that smacks of environmentalism) to business owners who want kids who can use a computer and answer the phone, but not really be smart enough to aspire to anything better. Our local school board was taken over a few years ago by a group of fundy Christians, and what fun THAT was. More recently, the "business community" has started poking at the (allegedly) standardized tests. One fairly typical result: English teachers (ENGLISH?) were supposed to teach the operation of business machines, so the kids would graduate able to run faxes and whatnot. Of course neither the biz geniuses or the school district PROVIDED the machines, so the teachers were automatically, unavoidably not in compliance. Everybody keeps quiet and hopes no one will notice--and the system is full of crap like this.
    Jan 3, 2003 1:23 PM
    Teacher unions and meatpacking unions have different origins and purposes. And I have a clue, thank you. My knowledge of unions, historical, beneficial and detrimental, is quite good.

    So your wife is an excellent teacher. I'm glad, and with no disrespect to your wife or you, how do you know? How is her excellence measured? Assuming she truly is an excellent teacher, don't you think it would make more sense to pay her according to her excellent abilities rather than as a portion of a collective bargaining agreement?

    Don't like the fundamentalists running the school board? Run for it yourself. Make a difference.

    Do you and Silverback read the same talking points?

    His: The conservative faction wants to fire anybody who teaches evolution. The gun nuts want to can anybody who doesn't support their interpretation of the Second Amendment. The mining companies (a big industry locally) don't believe in teaching anything that smacks of environmentalism.

    Yours: But the "community standards" that reformers are always shouting about have to satisfy everybody from fundamentalist Christians (who want to fire anyone who teaches evolution) and loggers (who'd like to axe anything that smacks of environmentalism)

    many do make thatDougSloan
    Jan 3, 2003 1:39 PM
    Around here, lots of teachers do make $80,000; 40k might be starting, but they move up from there; plus, they get great benefits and summers off.

    My wife is an administrator with the Fresno County Office of Education, and used to be a high school teacher here. She makes more than many of the lawyers in my law firm.

    Are you suggesting that your area is a representative sample?czardonic
    Jan 3, 2003 1:57 PM
    Are teachers everywhere gold-brickers who whine about low pay while they sock away 80K for a 9 month work year?

    Even better question: Who are the schools in Fresno?
    Jan 3, 2003 2:43 PM
    I don't understand your first question. Maybe the sarcasm escapes me.

    There are two large school districts in Fresno, Fresno Unified and Clovis Schools. Fresno Unified is the second largest in the state, behind Los Angeles School District.

    Fresno and Clovis pay fairly equally, and both really well. Clovis has fantastic test results and Fresno pretty bad. This difference is not pay for teachers. The difference is largely the homes the kids come from.

    What I was getting at was. . .czardonic
    Jan 3, 2003 2:59 PM
    . . .are you saying that 80K is the typical salary of teachers in this country? For that matter, are teachers making 80K complaining about low pay?

    And since 80K doesn't buy you performance in Fresno, can we assume that dropping salaries to 40K in Clovis won't have any affect on performance? Or, perhaps 80K in Fresno is the difference between pretty bad and disasterous.
    What I was getting at was. . .DougSloan
    Jan 3, 2003 3:19 PM
    I have no idea what it typical country wide, particularly compared to cost of living. Yes, they are always griping about low pay. Regardless of what they make, it seems, they want their unions to get them another 5% or so every year.

    I don't understand the logic of asking if dropping salaries will affect performance. I think that, human nature being what it is, if you drop anyone's salary by half if will affect their performance, likely to the extent of quitting.

    You can't analyze the salary issues in a vacuum. You must examine the school system and the students there, too, to understand anything about why some students learn and others (on average) don't.

    Despite my saying that, I was simply giving one example that I know of where two systems are contiguous, have the same teacher salaries, and one significantly out-performs the other. According to most ways of analyzing these things, that would tend to indicate that salary is not the significant factor.

    Salary can't be analyzed in a vaccum. . .czardonic
    Jan 3, 2003 3:56 PM
    . . .but neither can it be discounted altogether. My sister teaches elementary school in an urban area, and I can assure you that she makes nothing like 80K. Can we at least agree that there are some areas where teachers are under-compensated for the responsibilities they are saddled with, and that those teachers deserve a raise?

    And are your two examples really contiguous? Are the teachers in Clovis actually out-performing the teachers in Fresno? Or should we be pinning medals on Fresno's teachers for salvaging what few minds they can out of the lot that is dumped on them?
    Salary can't be analyzed in a vaccum. . .DougSloan
    Jan 3, 2003 4:14 PM
    Really contiguous? Well, they are right next to each other. That's contiguous in my book.

    The point is that the teachers are likely not the factor that makes the difference here. The students and their families are the main factor. Therefore, teacher salaries are not a primary factor, either.

    I have no doubt that there are very few people in any job anywhere who feel they are over-compensated. I'm quite certain many teachers will think they are underpaid, along with many lawyers, postal carriers, bike racers -- you name it.

    As someone may have mentioned, teaching is one of those jobs that people take knowing full well they'll never get rich. Teaching does not have a reputation for high pay, and they know that even before they go to college. So, I'd have to assume that they choose the job for some other reason, rather than pay. I don't think it's fair that they take the job knowing that, then complain for a lifetime about low pay.

    For my part, I don't think it is fair. . .czardonic
    Jan 3, 2003 4:46 PM
    . . .to expect teachers to settle for low pay, nor to insinuate that teachers would be getting "rich" if their salaries are raised.

    Its even less fair to penalize teachers for their dedication to their students by saying, in effect, "Gee, maybe you should be more selfish and care less about your community or the future of this country if you want to own a home or send your own children to decently equipped and staffed schools."

    Teachers aren't the only factor. However, they are one factor, and one that we can directly effect. If there was a way to ensure that parents would care more for their children or contribute more to educating them, I'd prefer it over investing in teachers and schools. As it stands, attracting more and better qualified teachers and better equipping them is one of the few areas in which we can try to make a difference.
    Educashun ain't everythangcarnageasada
    Jan 3, 2003 3:26 PM
    I'm all for paying teachers more money. Raise my taxes all you want. It's worth a try. Triple salaries and see what happens. I worked hard as a teacher in my youth in an inner-city and I was burned out after one year (actually a few months) but I'm sure more talented people than myself would be attracted to such a job if more money was involved. At the least you'd have a bigger pool to pull from. But having said that, I have other worries. Inmho the most educated society in the last thousand years was the society which gave birth to Freud, Mach, Planck, Musil, Haber, Einstein, Husserl, Heidegger and so on. The same society that birthed the Nazi party. Although it is often trumpeted as such, a better education system is not always the answer to heinously complex social issues.