Eggers On Teacher Pay, Russo On Eggers

Dave Eggers, Nínive Calegari, and Daniel Moulthrop have an op-ed in today’s NYT about teacher pay. This Week’s Russo picks it apart here.

It is one of those pieces that makes you look like a real grinch if you criticize it, but it is exactly the kind of feel-good exercise that ultimately won’t lead to what the authors, and many others, want, higher teacher salaries.

First, their solution, using school bonds to pay for salaries is against the law almost everywhere (and not without good policy reasons). It’s a crazy idea because given the political pressure on school boards, is it really wise to let them borrow money in addition to raising taxes? It’s not any more acceptable for George Bush to put us all in hock for his fiscal policies than for well-meaning liberals to do the same for their issues. At the local level voters have to approve bonds, of course, but that’s hardly a great check on problems especially considering the dynamics of local education elections.

Second, while they talk about average teacher salaries and offer some compelling anecdotes the authors fail to note the wide salary variation around the nation. In some places salaries are wildly below market, in others no. In some the problem is starting salaries, in others it’s the midpoints or high end on the scale. They also fail to note the often generous benefits that teachers enjoy. Their story about a Redwood City teacher forced to sell wine is less compelling when you consider the health benefits he’ll enjoy as a result of his service — something even some of his chardonnay sipping customers may not. Not a reason not to address salary issues (or expand access to health care for that matter) but relevant context nonetheless.

Rather than pay teachers more for the same work-year, it might be useful to think about lengthening the school year. Time is too often treated as fixed in education discussions. Longer school years, particularly for at-risk students, is not only a good idea, it’s a reform the public gets. Likewise, their private sector executive who wouldn’t try to improve staff quality without resources also wouldn’t try to do it by paying everyone the same regardless of the scarcity of their skills or how challenging their work environment was.

Reform will help with new resources but one can’t happen without the other.

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