Now what are the chances that these letters will make the typical Fat Cat reading the Wall Street Journal sit up and take notice? But hey, the WSJ printed them.]
Published in Wall Street Journal
Good Teachers: It All Comes Down to Salary
August 26, 2006; Page A11
"Amid Shortage, States Scramble To Hire Teachers" by Anne Marie Chaker (Personal Journal, Aug. 17) leaves the distinct impression that the problem of recruiting and retaining teachers is a national phenomenon. In fact, the reality is far more nuanced.
New York State serves as a case in point. School districts in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties have little problem with staffing compared with what the New York City school district contends with. The reasons come as no surprise. Thousands of teachers in these suburban schools -- or one in 12 -- earn more than $100,000 annually. The overall teaching environment is conducive to learning. And parents are deeply involved in their children's education. This combination of factors is the antithesis of the typical situation in New York City.
A similar pattern can be seen elsewhere. Teachers are not mercenaries, but neither are they missionaries. They will not readily be induced to teach in schools where they are regularly bashed by critics who have not set foot in a public school classroom in decades. It's time to listen to teachers.
(Mr. Gardner taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District and was a lecturer at the UCLA Graduate School of Education.)
Ms. Chaker's article includes two statements that leave follow-up questions tantalizingly unaddressed: Younger hires seem easily wooed by more lucrative offers from other schools, and so schools are implementing mentoring and other programs so they won't get frustrated and flee. Can you really get even half-decent talent by offering $28,000 a year ($13 an hour) and annual salary increases that don't even cover inflation, and expect the worker to provide his or her own teaching supplies? In what other industry do people enter with excitement and then flee at a rate of 50%? Why did Ms. Chaker simply take those facts as given?
The stock option scandal has prompted action on a broad front to address compensation issues in businesses. Executives have actually been fired. But these manipulations had virtually no impact on the overall performance of the companies that perpetrated them. By contrast, if you were an investor in a company with a 50% retention rate for mission-critical talent, what would you expect the impact to be on service quality and overall performance? What would you do? Since we are all investors in our public school systems, through the taxes we pay, why aren't we doing the same with them?
We, along with Ms. Chaker and all her colleagues in the news media, should be spending far more time focused on the education industry than on the stock options issue. The systemic problems, of which teacher salaries and turnover are only indicators, have a far greater impact on our nation's competitiveness and our ability to sustain democracy.
Walt Gardner and