April 1, 2010

Thoughts on Education, Part One

Used to be that the local newspaper would print exorbitant teacher salaries (emphasis added) in the paper…you know, a list of all teachers making $20,000 (heaven forbid) or all teachers making say $40,000… (Gasp!) I remember when my Dad made the $20,000 list – how embarrassing it was, not that he made so much money, but how little it was in comparison with the wages of other folks in the area, such as those at the local air conditioning and auto factories.

I remember thinking then that what my parents did – Mom was a teacher as well – was more valuable and worth more than say, someone pushing a broom around a factory, and yet the janitor made only a couple thousand dollars less than Dad (and Mom hadn’t even made the published list). Perhaps that was when I stopped being an idealist.

And now, it seems like we can’t open a newspaper without seeing at least one article talking about education – whether it’s late state aid, the number of teachers, cutting teacher positions or raising property taxes, or cutting or freezing teacher pay.  And even when concessions are made, the comments flood in from both sides, some saying the concessions are not enough, others saying they’ll open the floodgates to our overall demise.

Clearly there are strong opinions on both sides of the education discussion – I have a few of my own, naturally – and there is need for discussion if we’re all to come out on the right side of getting a good education for students so that we can continue to compete in a very changing world. I’ll share my thoughts in the coming days, but first, I wanted to add some historical perspective.

My Dad worked for Goodyear for many years before going back to school and becoming a teacher. We lived in the school district where my Dad taught –and eventually Mom too, once we kids were old enough not to have her as a teacher - because it was critical to them that they had skin in the game, that they be part of the community that was paying their salaries.

We were looking at some old family stuff this past weekend, and found some old paperwork from the school. Dad’s salary in the 1966 – 1967 school year, with his Masters degree complete, was $6650. My Mom, who at that time had four years’ teaching credit, was paid $6900. Fast forward to the 2009 -2010 school year, where according to a study by the New York State School Boards Association, the average salary for a new teacher with a Masters is $45,876.

Math was never my best subject, but it’s not hard to do a quick calculation and see that, in the 43 years between my Dad’s early years and present day, the starting salary’s gone up less than $1000 per year in actual (not adjusted) dollars. Is that really so much?