Teacher’s Pay – This is “Fairness”?

Lately I have been spending a lot of time with teachers.  It is encouraging and frustrating at the same time.

Many of them are highly skilled, engaged, and enthusiastic.  There is that bunch in the middle – some are learning and improving, some are slacking a bit.  And there are teachers who should find a line of work that is not so crucial to our families and our nation.

It’s not surprising.  If you look at any group of employees you will find a mix of talent.  But here’s something that concerns me:  in the business world, where survival depends on real-world results, managers are selected, compensated, promoted and released based on their talent and contributions to the organization’s success.  Successful businesses use this natural, competitive human resource development process to improve their performance on an ongoing basis.

Unlike business professionals, teachers are paid based on years of service and college credits, without regard for their teaching skill and success with students.  Why?  Is success in business more important than success in education?  Is it too difficult to evaluate the performance level of teachers, compared to business managers?  Do teachers not have the same proven motivations that all other humans do?

It surprises me that good teachers are so willing to have their earnings reduced to the lowest common denominator.   I can understand that a hundred guys installing widgets on an assembly line are pretty interchangeable, and the only way to distinguish them is reliability and loyalty.  But education is much more complex, and teacher performance is much more variable.  It seems wrong that the top performers are held to the earning power of their weakest counterparts, who just happen to have the same tenure and step level.  Wrong for those teachers who overachieve, wrong for the professionals who choose a different career where their talent and effort is rewarded, and wrong for our nation at a time when we are searching for ways to leverage our educational results.

If I owned an NFL team and chose to pay my players the same, based on their years on the roster but disregarding individual talent and contributions to the “W” column, how many games would I win?  How long would I survive against the competitive teams?

The concept of “fairness” is a top priority of Democrats, the party in power.  The teacher’s unions are rigidly supportive of the Democrats, and vice-versa.  I can’t think of anything less fair than everyone being paid the same, regardless of their talent and contributions to success.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Well, I try my best to be just like I am
But everybody wants you to be just like them
They say sing while you slave and I just get bored
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more

Maggies’ Farm – Bob Dylan

Write a check to your school for $88,000?!

In my neck of the Montana woods, the annual cost to educate a K-12 student is over $11,000, which is about the state average.  Some nearby rural school districts spend $15,000 per student and one spends over $22,000 per kid per year.  (Data is available at the ‘Transparency in MT Schools’ website – thanks to the Montana Policy Institute).  This does not include the additional costs of government offices and personnel related to education.

Most people say we should spend more on education.  They aren’t specific about how much would be enough – $25,000 per student?  $50,000? $100,000?

Forgive my “old Bean Counter” instincts, but hearing these numbers makes me think:  If I live in this small Montana town where educating a student costs $22,000 per year, and I have four kids, do I have to write a check for $88,000 every August?

Now, I’m not going to tell any community or school board that they can’t spend that much, or more, if they are spending their own money.  The problem is, they aren’t.

For reference, Montana’s 2008 per capita income was under $35,000.  Most parents have no idea how much their schools spend, because they don’t write a check to the district — school funds come from somewhere else.

The costs are hidden.  Just like GRANTS.  Just like EMPLOYER PAID HEALTH INSURANCE and MEDICAID.  Just like pretty much ALL GOVERNMENT SPENDING.

It’s so easy to spend somebody else’s money.  The trouble is, as Margaret Thatcher famously said, “You eventually run out of other people’s money.”  She’s right.  We are out, and are now having to borrow and print the money we spend.

I’m not an anarchist – I know that there are important things that are better done collectively than individually.  And I’m not picking on Montana, our school spending pretty much mirrors the national average and test results are above average.  Much of the cost is mandated.

But I am a realist when it comes to budgets, and a believer in the miracle of the free market.  Gang, I’m sorry, we can’t keep spending more and more on education in this country, especially when our kids are not getting our money’s worth.

Many people just can’t get used to the idea of school vouchers, or school choice.  But look at it this way.  Let’s say you have three school kids.  Would you be ready and willing to write a check for $33,000 for the school year?  If you were able to write that check, would you be more demanding about what you are getting for your investment?

Now turn that scenario around.  Most people could not, or would not write that check.  So if instead you received a check from the government for $33,000, how would you spend it?

Would you spend it on the best education for your child that your money could buy?  For $33,000, would you perhaps stay at home and educate your own children?  Would you pay college tuition for your high-functioning senior instead of high school?

If one small-town school is your only choice, obviously that’s where your voucher goes.  You may choose to supplement it with your own money or contributions until it meets your standards.

Alternatives quickly spring up in the free market to supply any consumer demand.  Education is no different – why wouldn’t I buy the education product that is best for my family and student (quality, safety, value)?

Give me a million dollars and a hundred kids, and I’d sure like to give it a shot.  Bet I could hire some damn good teachers, and every graduate would be ready for financial independence and a productive career, or higher education.  There would be plenty of funds to transport, feed, and educate students at a level that is unattainable by the current system, along with a profit.

I recently heard a career public school educator remark, “the best math comprehension model I have ever seen is the one in place at Sylvan Learning Center.”

This is a deep discussion, with many questions (i.e. special education, extracurriculars, social issues, welfare kids), and this post is already too long.  But there are as many answers and ideas as there are questions – the free market has a way of finding solutions to consumer wants and needs.

I just want every parent to give some serious thought to the possibilities and potential of school choice, rather than dismiss it out-of-hand.  It’s time we take the chance.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Gonna do my very best and it ain’t no lie
If you put me to the test, if you let me try
Take a chance on me
(That’s all I ask of you honey)
Take a chance on me

Take A Chance On Me – ABBA