by Charles A. Monagan
May 2, 2011
09:04 AM
On Connecticut

It's Not the Teachers, Stupid!


This op-ed piece over the weekend in The New York Times suggests that teachers in the U.S. are underpaid, and that we need to consider upping their salaries significantly if we are to expect better performance from our children.

We have been through this in Connecticut, most significantly in the mid-1980s, when the Education Enhancement Act (EEA) pushed the state's public school teachers to No. 1 nationally in salaries and benefits. The idea was not so much to reward existing teachers for their good work as it was to attract a new generation of outstanding college graduates into the profession - the same thing Eggars is suggesting in his article.

It's hard to say how well this expensive effort has worked in Connecticut. We have remained at or near the top in many measurements of quality in the public schools, but we were already there before the EEA went into effect. Certainly one result of the raises was that veteran teachers stayed on the job longer than they otherwise would have, thus denying opportunities to the young teachers the legislation sought.

In any event, I think the main argument in the op-ed piece is flawed. The problem isn't with the teachers, it's with the students - or more specifically with the students' parents. Never before have parents cared less about the education their children are getting, or about the role they need to have at home in the educational process. Part of this has to do with the growing belief that education is the government's, not the parents', job. Part has to do with the increase in single-parent homes and the difficulties found there. And part has to do with general laziness and selfishness among parents - the idea that buying something for your kids will yield the same benefits as spending real time with them and teaching them something.

Parents who do care (and there are, of course, many of them) have alternatives, and they have nothing to do with how much the teachers are getting paid. Private schools typically offer environments in which learning comes first and where the teachers and parents are highly motivated. True, these school are expensive, but most in recent years have upped the number of scholarships they offer. Another bastion for learning are public charter schools, where teachers work off the clock and parental involvement is mandatory. In neither of these cases are the teachers paid more. They are there because they love to teach and because they know the students - and their parents - are motivated to learn and succeed.

That's something money can't buy - and that's where Eggars' logic is errant. Throwing money at teachers may attract some bright newcomers to the profession, but it will also deepen the existing flaws in the system. Parents will believe even more than they do now that education is strictly up to the teachers and the schools. They will become even angrier and more resentful when their children fail. And they will be even less likely to look at themselves in the mirror as the main reason why.

It's Not the Teachers, Stupid!

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