Jewish World Review June 2, 2003 / 2 Sivan, 5763

Joanne Jacobs

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Consumer Reports

Teacher Pay, Illiteracy , No Republicans Allowed | Are teachers underpaid?

Teacher pay has no relationship to effectiveness, nor do teachers earn more for expertise in math, science, special ed and other high-demand specialties. Salaries are tied to college credits past the BA, and seniority, neither of which correlates well with teachers' ability to teach. Two Education Next writers look at whether teachers are underpaid.

In addition, economist Michael Podgursky analyzes union data on what teachers earn: $43,250 for the average teacher in 2000-01, according to the American Federation of Teachers. But most public school teachers work less than 190 days per year, compared to 240 days for other professionals. Looking at work hours on the job, teachers earn more than other professionals, he concludes.

By (Bureau of Labor Statistics) calculations, only engineers, architects and surveyors in private practice and attorneys earn more than teachers on an hourly basis.

Private school teachers earn less. Of course, the job is considerably easier because private school students come from more advantaged, education-focused families. Podgursky compared private school pay with salaries of public school teachers in low-poverty, suburban schools. He found new private school teachers earn 76 percent of public school pay; after 12 years, they earn close to 87 percent, but then the gap widens again.

Motivate me

Parents, don't trust your children's education to the schools -- even to good, suburban schools. That's one of the key messages in John Ogbu's book, "Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb ".

In FrontPage magazine, Peter Wood looks at Ogbu's study of black students' lackluster school performance in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Educated black parents wanted their children to do well, but didn't supervise homework or participate in school events, the Berkeley anthropologist found. Middle-class black students said they  don't work hard in school. Wood writes:

The student who complained that the school failed to "motivate me" speaks volumes in those two words. No school, no person, no "role model," no society can assume the responsibility to "motivate me." . . . Teachers cannot supply motivation for the resolutely unmotivated, or even for those empty vessels that have shifted the responsibility to others. "Motivate me" is the command of someone who has already abandoned the essential educational project. A community or a culture that fosters that kind of expectation has put itself in opposition to educational achievement.

Black parents "did not perceive themselves as active agents in the education process," Ogbu writes. They assumed teachers would pour knowledge into their children.

The Black parents simultaneously uphold an attitude that educational achievement is important and a contradictory attitude that the locus of responsibility for academic achievement lies outside the students and the family. When this learned helplessness begins to erode their children's commitment to the hard effort needed to succeed in high school, both the black parents and their children reach for the well-trod rationalizations that it is somebody else's fault: the teachers that don't "care," the White community that denies real opportunities, or the society that oppresses Black culture.

Middle-class black parents are fighting a culture that tells their children that black identity is rooted in defiance, flash and isolation from the white mainstream. Parents must create a family culture that relentlessly preaches the old motto we used to mock in my youth: work, study, get ahead.

More school, less education

Instead of perpetual remedial education, why not teach 'em right the first time. Chester Finn riffs on the possibilities on Education Gadfly:

American education is so expensive in large measure because we pay for it twice. We send kids to high school to pick up the knowledge and skills they ought to have learned in elementary school. We send them to college to acquire a decent secondary education. And if we really need someone with a "higher" education, we're apt to look for people with postgraduate degrees.

Why not expect students to learn elementary skills in elementary school and so on?

. . . Fewer people would feel compelled to attend college because fewer employers would require college degrees, knowing that a high school diploma signified a full measure of knowledge, skills, and work habits. And if fewer people went to college, education wouldn't cost society as much, even though everyone would wind up knowing as much as (or more than) they do today. Better still, the savings might be used to improve teaching, invest in new technologies, make pre-school universal, and other education desiderata that we can't today afford because so many billions are needed for each level of the system to backfill what the previous level ought to have done.

See Dick go to high school

Education researchers say students do worse if they're held back than if they're promoted without knowing grade-level skills. But here's a depressing stat in a good Hartford Courant story on how schools are trying to help students who aren't ready to move on: “Results from the Stanford Achievement Test show that last fall almost as many ninth-graders were reading at the third-grade level as at the ninth-grade level.”

It's not easy being illiterate

Civil rights leaders urged Florida students to skip school to protest the graduation exam, and the state reading test used to qualify for promotion to fourth grade.

''I'm hoping the governor will realize that it's hard enough being black in America today,'' said state Sen. Frederica Wilson, who believes the policy disproportionately falls upon minorities. “For children without a diploma, it will be triply hard.''

For children who can't read, write and calculate, it's no picnic either.

Zero tolerance for Republicans

At University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Professor Mike Adams is trying to foster tolerance for different opinions. It all started when he deliberately violated university policy by posting a "Clinton/Gore '96" sticker on his office door.

After two years without any complaints, I decided to replace the sticker with one that said "George W. Bush for President." Within a few weeks I heard reports from two faculty members and one staff member saying that someone was preparing to file a complaint about the Bush sticker.

Now a sticker on his door -- "So you're a feminist . . . Isn't that cute?" -- has offended a student. She got her daddy to complain to the board of trustees.

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JWR contributor Joanne Jacobs, a former Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer, blogs daily at She is currently finishing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. Comment by clicking here.

05/27/03: Research papers, athletics, reading
05/19/03: Soft America, plagiarism, Minutemen and Jets
05/12/03: Demographics, nerves, valedictorian, vouchers
05/05/03: Gender Bias, Banned Words, Helen of Troy
04/28/03: Tests, home-schooling, self-esteem
04/25/03: Lessons, American Pride, Iraqi Schools
04/14/03: Iraqi Textbooks and the English language
03/31/03:Teachers, hugging, text messaging
04/07/03: War talk at school
03/24/03: Watching the war
03/10/03: Classroom chaos
03/03/03: Teaching tales
02/24/03: Segregation stories
02/18/03: Writing Essays, America, Beyond Bert and Ernie
02/13/03: Size matters
02/10/03: Parental homework, cheaters and memoirs
02/03/03: Diplomas, academics, preschools and Ritalin
01/27/03: Head Start, Social Studies, Marx, Africa and Math
01/22/03: Teachers as targets
01/13/03: Big Bully's Feelings
01/06/03: School of 60's Whining and Communal Destruction
12/23/02: Teaching in
12/16/02: Chocolate city?
12/10/02: Mandatory Victimhood --- and when cleaning up a school is 'racist'
11/25/02: Multi-colored math, sensitive science
11/20/02: How to leave no child behind
11/18/02: The tummy track
11/11/02: Dysfunctional documents?
11/04/02: Why go to college? Why test schools?
10/28/02: Pride goeth before an F
10/21/02: Diversity adversity
10/14/02: Bad hat day
10/07/02: Inflated sense of worth
09/30/02: The Royal road to knowledge
09/24/02: Sierra's Club
09/20/02: Stupidity Watch
09/03/02: First, win the war
08/26/02: Out of their field, out of their minds?
08/20/02: Fun with failure

© 2002, Joanne Jacobs