Where Have You Gone, Mr. Kotter?


Only 20 percent of teachers are men, a 40-year low. Only 10 percent are minority. The national student body, in contrast, is about half male and 40 percent minority. These figures come from the latest version of "The Status of The American Public School Teacher," which is put out every five years by the National Education Association, the nation's most powerful teachers union.

Quite appropriately, the report is designed to make the case for higher wages for the country's K-12 educators. (If the general rise in teacher salaries over the past 40 years is an indication, then it's been working).

One way is does that is by helping to create stories such as this widely reprinted AP piece, which asks (via the Arizona Daily Star):

So what makes teaching less attractive to men and minorities? A mix of factors, but mainly the fact that it's easier to earn more money with less stress in other fields, says the NEA, the nation's largest union with more than 2.7 million teachers and other members.

"It takes so many years to finally get a salary that is high enough to support a family," said Edward Kelley, a teacher at A.B. Combs Elementary in Raleigh, N.C. Kelley, a nationally board certified teacher with a master's degree, makes a salary of $65,000 in his 30th year.

Maybe, but aren't teachers the folks who are always telling us that they're not in it for the money? Pay is certainly an issue, but it's also balanced by other factors, including job security (guaranteed for most public school teachers after a few years on the job), work conditions, and scheduling concerns (summers off, or with extra pay, etc).

Th absolutely stupid certification requirements for teachers are as likely a culprit in the shortage of not just men and minorities but really sharp people overall in education. I've yet to meet a person who has taken an education course and raved about it; the typical education program is packed with mind-numbing courses that systematically weed out smarter students and provoke nothing but scorn from faculty in other disciplines. It doesn't have to be that way, but it is.

Similarly, teachers unions have made it increasingly difficult for people to get into teaching after their undergraduate years. Every time someone comes up with alternatives to the current union-dominated certification process, it gets shot to hell. Such entry barriers need to be examined every bit as much as pay, which really isn't half-bad once you factor in other things.

NEXT: It Ain't Easy Being Mean

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  1. I think you have to look at the emasculating work environment most teachers face. My brother-in-law is a high school science teacher in Smalltown, USA. Most of his classes are filled with kids who don’t want to be there; so he ends up baby-sitting. He regularly has parents defending the slacking and general bad performance and/or behavior of their children, e.g. “How dare you give Johnny an F!”. So, his job pretty much sucks most of the time, but here’s the thing: he gets paid about $30k for working 9 months of the year. That isn’t bad pay at all (he lives in a place with very low cost of living). I don’t think he needs more money; he needs more respect and support from the parents of his students.

    BTW, he’s also a captain in the Army National Guard; his unit got called up and sent to Iraq this summer. He’s trying to figure out how he can stay on full-time in the Army, rather than return to his teaching position!

  2. You don’t become a teacher with a Bachelor’s degree, Ray. You earn a graduate degree, which includes both coursework and a great deal of training. Then you have to get certfied. People who actually end up teaching in a classroom have therefore achieved academically at a level comparable to a lawyer or engineer. Comparing undergrad Ed majors to people with a graduate law degree who passed the bar is misleading.

  3. Brady, you do NOT fully fund someone else’s ‘brats’. We all fund the public schools. Also, I should point out that I know of no one who receives a tax credit from their local school district for their kids. Do you? The Federal tax credit for kids is a meager measure used by the feds to try and make the lives of the nations children a little better. It is crude and of dubious efficacy, I’ll grant you.

    Your proposal would not work very well. It would only result in more kids being left out of school, which is potentially deleterious to the future economic productivity of the country. If you ever plan to retire, then you are relying on the economic output of future generations. Save all the money you want to for retirement — you will still need to consume goods and services in the future. If there is insufficient productivity to generate these, then you will find your dollars buying less and less (though I suppose we could let in a lot more immigrants to make up for the deficiency, or just import the goods). In fact (TANGENT ALERT!), it has been the dramatic rise in economic productivity in the past 70 years or so that has enabled Congress to make social security into “an entitlement” despite the ever-increasing numbers of post-retirement-age people in the general population. I’m sure you could make your way by producing your own food, building & repairing your own house, making your own clothes, etc., but then you wouldn’t really be retired.

    That being said, there is certainly a lot of room for improvement in the public schools. I think the problems are rife, and it’s not fair to blame only the teachers. Centralization and busing are problematic. It would be cheaper to hire more teachers, give ’em laptops with wireless modems, and have them go door to door to teach kids one on one with a tailored curriculum. Kinda like door-to-door distance education. Get rid of the buildings and all the paraphernalia — sell the buildings for re-development and use the money to buy the laptops and start a fund for teacher hiring. I know several people who home-school, and they are able to cover a LOT more material in less time than the public schools. With public schools, there seems to be an UNeconomy of scale. Teachers’ routes can be optimized to allow them to cover as many kids as possible. Inner cities might be a problem, though…….

  4. In the last paragraph of the preceding post, I was making it up as I went. Does it show?

  5. Mark:

    I meant that society fully funds, not me in particular. I know they get a fed tax break and not local, but don’t you think NCLB costs money?

    You also contradict yourself in saying that a mini-tuition would cause people to be uneducated and doom America, because you then speak of the benefits of home schooling. Isn’t home schooling an option, then?

    Additionally, didn’t you see I was pro-vouchers…especially of the corporate nature. I would have no problem with parents using that type of resource to pay for that tax, especially low-income.

    You get what you pay for. Raise the bar and those other professionals would be motivated to move into the teaching profession.

  6. Hi have a good friend who went to school, got his master and was a teacher for a year (like his mother) before he said to heck with it and quit. Now he’s a real estate appraiser and makes a lot more, has his own hours, and enjoys his work.

    On the subject of education majors, a lot of the people in my history classes were education majors and most of them were considered a joke by the other students (most of whom were pre-law or planed to go on for a graduate degree in something else). I realized I couldn’t do anything with my history degree, but I was bright enough to stay away from teaching. The education majors had to do unpaid internships to get certified, and then made $30,000 if they were lucky. I was able to get a job based on my *hobby* of web design and tinkering with computers making the same, without any expensive internships or tests, and without having to herd kids around and deal with all the crap parents do.

    That said, I think most teachers are idiots and are lucky to get what they get. If things were run sensibly, teachers would be paid $50,000 a year starting, but have a lot more accountability.

  7. Brady,

    No contradiction. I expect that there is a large overlap between the folks who cannot afford the tuition and the folks who are not savvy/ capable/ educated (sub-high school, even) enough to make effective home-schoolers, even though their kids might otherwise do just fine in the public schools. I expect that there would be just that much less upward mobility, socio-economically speaking, through no real fault of the kids.

    I agree that if one can’t afford kids, one shouldn’t have any. However, once the kids are born, they deserve (I think) the best chance that can be arranged for them (within limits), despite their parent(‘)s(‘) deficiencies. I also agree that whether we are doing this very effectively now is highly debatable.

    As for home-schooling, I am a fan. If I could only convince my wife that she could do it, my kids would be there. If you think it’s a pain to pay school taxes for a service from which you are not directly benefiting, try dropping 6 g’s per annum per kid on private school AND still paying the school tax. I do this despite the fact that my local district is supposedly “One of the 100 Best School Districts in the Nation”.

  8. joe,

    I never intimated that a bachelors would get anyone a teaching position. Don’t get ahead of what I’ve actually said. The article was in response to teachers’ claims that a masters degree (or higher) should be worth what other professions value their graduate work. The academic record shows that most edmajs would not be able to perform at even their proven sub-par levels in other subjects.

    The college performance they measured even left off the freshman year because people tend to do so badly in that year and so many change majors then as well.

    The root of the problem is the union and the first fruits of the unions are the public schools. If we could make the teaching profession more competitive i.e. accountable, public schools would receive a tremendous shot in the arm. But we simply can’t make the unions go away. So we go to the next step; school choice. This forces the unions to get their act together, eventually.

    Walter Williams, G.Mason economist and Reason Foundation board member, makes a good argument for doing away with the education major altogether.

  9. Brady,

    before you say it, let me just say that the former does not necessarily constitute a contradiction — extolling the ‘virtues’ of publics schools while sending my kids to private academy. It is a question of relative value. The public schools may leave a lot to be desired, but in most circumstances they are better than nothing.

  10. Another thing to consider when looking at teachers’ pay is that they do not work the average 220 days a year that other professionals average.

    And no one wants to hear about long days, most successful people I know work long hours one way or another.

  11. In my opinion, the rise of homeschooling should be seen as a telltale sign that the public school system is falling apart. Tell me another industry where a family is forced to pay for one product yet increasingly opts for its own homemade product.

  12. As to the “teachers as professionals” business,
    one of my favorite papers of all time is:

    Paglin, Morton and Anthony Rufolo. 1990.
    Heterogeneous Human Capital, Occupational
    Choice and Male-Female Earnings Differences.
    Journal of Labor Economics 8(1, Part 1),

    The title makes it sound less interesting
    than it is. The cool part is a graph that
    has math GRE scores on one axis and verbal
    GRE scores on the other. Each point in the
    figure is the means of the two scores by
    major. Every stereotype you ever had about
    different fields is confirmed by this graph –
    it’s wonderful. As you might expect, education
    is way down in the left corner, with low means
    on both.


  13. I must be doing something wrong, Ray. I work 235 days a year 🙂

  14. Ray, you introduced the idea of low education achievement among undergrad education majors, then explained that you were doing so to counter the idea that teachers are on a par with other professionals. I think it’s fair to point out that there is a difference between people who earned a bachelor’s degree, and those that have earned a master’s, done their practicum, and been certified.

  15. Jeff,

    The Paglin-Rufolo paper sounds interesting. Do you have a link to it? All google gives me is other papers that reference to it.

  16. joe,

    So you’re trying to make the point that the lower half of the edmajs aren’t making it through to the graduate work and cert process?

    Assuming that’s what you mean, then:

    1) The frosh year was deleted altogether so everyones’ usual worst year is thrown out and those that dropped out or changed majors were not figured into the equation.

    2) The “upper” portion of the edmajs still came out of this statistically under performing group. Following the rules of probablity, a small % may have been intellectual giants but this upper crust as a whole would still only be on a par with the other professions’ median.

    I’m not taking all teachers to task, I’m making the point that a bleak outlook and possible academic sinecures only attract a certain kind of prospect and they’re not the ones I want teaching my kids.

    If I can ever make a living off of my artwork alone, I’ve thought about finishing my own course work and maybe some day teaching economics. Note that this still wouldn’t even be my primary career but something I made room for in my professional life.

  17. You don’t become a teacher with a Bachelor’s degree, Ray. You earn a graduate degree, which includes both coursework and a great deal of training. Then you have to get certfied.

    Depending on the state, you can become a teacher with nothing more than a bachelor’s degree.

    Anyway, there’s a reason teachers don’t get paid more for having a master’s degree or a PhD: their graduate degree adds no value to their teaching. There’s nothing a (for example) high school calculus teacher gains by having a PhD in Education, or a PhD in Mathematics for that matter. Realistically speaking, no K-12 teacher really needs more than an two-year degree.
    Should a newspaper reporter with a Ph.D be paid substantially more than one with only a bachelor’s degree? Not in my opinion; his degree is worthless for his job.

    The advanced degree requirement is serves two purposes: it lets politicians look like they care about education, and it makes teachers’ unions happy by making it harder to become a teacher.

  18. Keep the pay low and you have shitty teachers.

    Two points:

    First, the article names “$65,000” as the high-end salary. That’s $65,000 for eight to 9 months work, not for 12 — scale that up to 12, and you get around a hundred grand, which isn’t chicken feed.

    Secondly, let’s say you’re right, and that bad pay means shitty teachers (I agree on that point). Pay has been bad for over a generation, which means that the overwhelming majority of the people currently working as teachers are “shitty teachers”. This certainly fits with my school experiences. 🙂

    What benefit do we gain by paying shitty teachers more money? Surely any substantial increase in teacher salaries should be linked to (a) the removal of the “tenure” system and (b) a rigorous system of testing and evaluation aimed at flushing out all the crap from the profession. The problem with this idea is that the teachers’ unions will never, ever accept it — and why should they? Most of them would get the axe.

    Which leaves us with two options, regarding public education salaries: do nothing, or pay incompetent people more money for their pathetically bad performance. I’ll take the first option, thanks, and send my kids to private schools. Public schools will only improve once the teachers’ unions have had their backs broken.

  19. Actually, I’m surprised that no one’s mentioned two other factors that would explain the declining number of male teachers. First, the number of male teachers was artificially boosted in the late 1960s and early 1970s by men seeking a way to avoid being drafted. (Educators were subject to some sort of exemption. I don’t know all the details, but I had two teachers in high school who openly admitted that was why they had become teachers in the first place.) Second, male teachers run a substantially greater risk of being accused of improper sexual conduct with a student.

  20. what? a union screwing over its employer, its customers and its non-union fellow workers? say it isn’t so!

  21. Coming from a family of teachers I believe that their pay is insufficiently low. Probably the main reason for me say this has to do with my sister and good friend who truly want to teach, but the low pay is keeping them in their current career. When it comes down to it, the salaries just don’t compare. I would argue that those are 2 great teachers that everyone loses out on. Keep the pay low and you have shitty teachers.

    Now, before you start thinking I’ve lost my wits, I do believe that there are ways where we could rechannel current money into teacher’s pockets. Firt, grade school football (and other) coaches should not be pulling in multiples of a teacher’s pay. I’m not jock bashing, i love sports, and my cousin who is a coach agrees with me on this. Where my mom teaches in Texas (yes, Football, USA) the coach makes 3 times what a teacher does near retirement. Rediculous. As a matter of fact, I would support the idea of students paying for their pads, helmets, etc. The money could go to computers in the classroom where it belongs.

    Also, quit reducing class size. Every time a new teacher is added, you are taking that money from a current teacher. There is nothing wrong with a 1:30 teacher to student ratio from middle school on.

    I’ve liked the voucher idea for quite a while and would support that idea. Standardized tests are eating up the budget, along with No Child Left Behind. Quit forcing them to pay into teacher retirement accounts. I have tons more reasons, but will stop here.

    All I’m saying is let’s not pretend that teachers deserve to earn low wages, rather let’s analyze the problems at hand so we can give them what they deserve.

  22. “…aren’t teachers the folks who are always telling us that they’re not in it for the money?”

    Please, Nick. People who aren’t looking to become rich still like to keep the car running, the bills paid, and maybe have a little in the bank for emergencies. Every teacher I’ve ever met is willing to earn less than they could get in private industry with the same resume. The fact that people with masters degrees are willing to earn McDonald’s manager money doesn’t mean you get to insult them when they’re not willing to earn burger flipper money.

  23. Reminds me of a comedy skit from the Man Show. Jimmy Kimmel is eating dinner with his family, when his son tells him that his teacher said he was misbehaving in class. Kimmel’s response is priceless. “Son, let me tell you something about your teacher. Your teacher went to college for eight years and makes about thirty grand. Don’t ever listen to your teacher.”

    Before anyone jumps down my throat, that skit is a JOKE, i.e. it is supposed to be FUNNY. Still, it makes an interesting point about the economic disincentives that exist if one wants to become a teacher these days. Call me greedy, but if I’m going to invest a lot of time and a lot of money in a college education, you better believe I’m going to pursue a degree that’s going to pay for itself. I imagine that, in economic terms, the Net Present Value of a degree in education is negative, i.e. economically, one would be better off without it.

  24. Brad:

    Regarding your argument of the economic value of being a teacher, you state the exact problem that I am addressing. How would you have even gotten to college if it weren’t for the underpaid teachers giving you your gradeschool education? Perhaps, “one” being the teacher would be better off making a different decision, but _you and others_ would not be better off if more people continue to make that decision.

  25. Here is a thought I’ve had for quite a while that is relevant to this topic. It does irk me that I have to fully fund someone else’s brats going to school. Why are parents given tax credits for children instead of being more taxed to fund their education? There should be a mini-tuition tax put on parents with children in public schools. This would lessen the number of low-income, baby-factory households and put accountability where it belongs.

  26. I don’t complain about the U.S. teachers’ unions nearly so much anymore now that I have a friend in Italy studying to become a secondary school teacher there. According to her, the teacher certification exams in Italy are only offered once every *ten years*.

  27. Maybe teachers don’t make a lot of money because there is no shortage of people who would like to teach. It’s an attractive job. Summers off, decent hours, the joyous laughter of children echoing through the halls…. (ok, that last one was over the line)

    I don’t think that many university freshmen start out with the intention of 8 years of school to get a $30K/yr job. More often then not history, english and sociology majors graduate and suddenly realize that they don’t stand a chance of getting a decent job with their worthless degrees. Not recognizing that the first degree was a sunk cost, the decide to take on another degree in education to put the first one to use.

  28. I have it catalogued on my hard drive at home so I’ll give more details later but one of the think tanks devoted to education ran a story on teachers pay.

    They looked at it from a refreshing standpoint in that they looked at the SAT scores and subsequent college performance of education majors.

    In short, education majors had an average SAT of something like 960 and did equally ho-hum/below average in their actual college performance.

  29. I should add to my above post that the article was in response to some academics somewhere making the argument that teachers should be paid on par with other “professionals.” Engineers, lawyers, economists etc.

    Of course their scores were no where near the other professional majors.

  30. Sadly, J troy is all too correct. Up north here the unions have the same sort of strangle hold on the bureaucrats. Personal example: I am a nationally licensed (B) soccer coach. I approached my daughter’s principal to volunteer as a coach, only to be told that a teacher had to fill that role, however unqualified they may be. This after a labor disruption over the issue of extra curricular supervision at the beginning of the school year. But they would have loved to have me as a parking lot monitor. Crazy.

  31. Brady said, “There should be a mini-tuition tax put on parents with children in public schools.”

    This sounds an awful lot like the situation that we’d have if we were simply to privatize the schools and lower the taxes to reflect the amount NOT being spent by the state on education. EXCEPT that under your scenario, it looks like education would remain a political football, with an untaxed childless person entitled to as much of a say (vote) as any parent, in terms of electing the school board members and running the schools. If we were to privatize the schools and lower the tax burden for all, families would have more incentive to limit the number of kids to something affordable, but they would also be able to call the educational tune because they, and only they, would be paying the piper.

  32. Don’t you ever ask them “why,”
    If they told you, you would cry,
    So just look at them and si-i-igh,
    And though they love you.

  33. James:

    I would prefer privatization as you described. Sounds good to me.

  34. I’m an Alt-Route Teacher with a BS in chemistry and 2200 on my GRE. Teachers aren’t professionals, our performance has nothing to do with our pay, and varies inversly with our education credentials.

    Those who can, do… those who can’t, teach.

    Why? There is no clear goal for highschool education, no defined set of skills and knowledge a student must have, no test to test for those skills and knowledge. Legally intimidated, in a classic bureaucracy, with only a union of greed to protect us, we put up with your teenagers so you don’t have to.

    Teachers are paid too little for what we should be doing, and too much for what we are doing.

    And what should we be doing? How much does everyone actually have to learn to function. Think to the things you do in your job, in your everyday life, think of the wisedom that animates your decisions… did any of this come from your public education, from a classroom? English language, for those of us lucky enough to be taught grammar, I suppose ( although much is learned from home, and from reading and being corrected, events unlikely in a school).

    Like the UN we are enamored with the ideal, instead of appalled at the reality. Your child’s grades are inflated, nearly meaningless. Your child does not know any history, logic, or civics. Many of your childs peers are functionally illiterate, and bored. Drug use, sexual blossoming and indoctrination into liberal pop culture, is the public school experiance that stays with the student.

    Despite endemic failure, when push comes to shove, people learn by sophomore year of college, or on the job, but if all else fails.. they become teachers.

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