Arne on Teacher Salaries and Standardized Tests

Arne sat down recently to respond to a couple of questions he received on his Facebook page. Kenny commented on how teacher salaries make it difficult to stay in the teaching profession. Duncan noted that low salaries are a real challenge.  “I’m out very publically saying that I think teachers need to make a heck of a lot more money,” Arne said. He went on to explain that we can’t pay a great teacher enough money for their talent and expertise. “We have to elevate the teaching profession,” he said.

In response to a comment from Sharon who worried that an overemphasis on standardized tests may keep talented teachers out of the classroom, Arne said that he absolutely shares that concern, and is one of the big reasons ED has offered No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers to states. NLCB is “far too punitive; it’s far too prescriptive, led to dummying down of standards, [and] led to a narrowing of the curriculum,” Duncan said. “We know filling out bubble tests once a year should not be what everyone is focused on.”

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17 Comments

  1. Okay, now let me tell you all something that might make you see clearly: TEACHERS MADE US ALL TAUGHT ENOUGH TO GET JOBS IN THE FIRST PLACE!!! Look at how far behind the United States is in comparison to other countries in education. We need to encourage teachers to educate them in a better fashion, but how can we if they are having stones of stress thrown upon them?
    Testing is cutting the amount of teaching time teachers have to teach students the actual subjects they need to learn, teachers often have to work before and after hours without pay, teachers spend a plethora of money from their own pockets on classroom supplies, some of the best teachers have a chance of getting laid off, all teachers are paid based on seniority, not on how well they teach (this lowers the chances of a teacher teaching accurately) teachers are sometimes working at fast food restaurants to make ends meet, some teachers aren’t even given the keys to their workplace (ask Brian Crosby), teachers have to deal with all sorts of other things…
    I believe that giving teachers money comparable to a lawyer’s if they teach exceptionally well would boost the chances of a teacher enduring all of these hardships so that he/she could teach the children exceptionally well and gather enough money to compensate for all of that stress and money out of their own pockets. Even better, eliminate that stress by redesigning the education system completely so that teachers are treated like doctors. Doctors, after all, are well trusted, fired if they all of a sudden become untrustworthy, and are well paid because they treat illnesses and save lives.
    Educating people save lives, but in the long term. Who’s more likely to survive, someone who can’t even read the restaurant menu and can’t seem to count his change, or someone who has been taught so well by a teacher that he could build rockets and train teachers so that they would be literate enough to teach kids well enough for them to succeed too.
    Plus, a large percentage of criminals are high school dropouts, by the way. If taught well by a teacher motivated enough not just to teach, but teach WELL, there might just be the solution to all of those overcrowded prisons.
    Besides, the country needs not just teachers, but exceptional ones. If they get high pay and are not put down as much, but instead treasured, then the mentality of Americans will be: I’ll become at teacher! And the next thing you know, more innovation happens because of a domino effect of good teachers who teach good habits, necessary skills, and how to exceed standards.
    If we don’t pay teachers like we pay doctors or lawyers, then for every day we don’t pay them well according to excellently teaching people, then we’re lowering their expectations, and they’ll teach poorly. Don’t we want an optimal nation, not a poor taught one?
    I say, Arne Duncan, an all of you Americans: Make teaching one of the most popular professions by paying them more proportional to their teaching ability, and you’ll start to see changes immediately. For the better. We want to be an intelligent nation, now don’t we?

  2. As a professional engineer in the process of (voluntarily) transforming into a K-12 educator, I hope I can add a hybrid perspective.

    As a aerospace research engineer (federal), I started at $43,500 and advanced to roughly $80,000 in five years. This is not because of some arbitrary euro-centric preference, it is because of simple supply and demand. At the level of STEM understanding required to ensure our national security, economic vigor, modern infrastructure, and quality of life, there are simply not enough young people moving into the ranks to replace those retiring. Engineers, not defined by their degree but by those who can think creatively, rigorously analyze a system, and synthesize new innovations, are in very short supply; the demand for such people in our modern world is very high. I do not think I could say the same about literature. No disrespect intended, as I love literature and fully see its value in society, but the simple fact is that the skillset is not required in as large quantities right now.

    I am aware that switching to a career education will probably mean a pay cut of 50-60%. This concerns me, but is not stopping me – I am, alas, a stubborn idealist. But for the general case, consider those who are similarly prepared as I am. Should those well-trained as engineers and scientists have to choose between a world of creative application of their talents, probable advancement, and job security, versus a world of low-pay, advancement and security based solely on tenure, and declining respect and creative freedom? If not, how can we structure education such that this comparison is more favorable? Because that is the comparison being made by graduates versus other professions.

    Teaching *is* a profession, and a important one – indeed, the *most* important one, since it feeds all of the others. But it is also a unique one – unlike medicine, law, or engineering, proficiency in the subject matter and theory of practice are not enough to be effective. What gets missed in that analogy is that, while a surgeon with more training and experience will probably perform a better surgery, a teacher with more training and experience will not necessarily prompt better learning. I think we all have personal experiences to attest to that. What is unique about this profession is this: That children learn from people they love. They learn when the material is engaging and relevant. They learn when they can apply their own initiative and correlate it to success. Some of that can be taught, some if it can’t.

    There is no way that an education major with a credential in math or science can bring as much content knowledge to the table as I can. Does that make me a better potential teacher? Not necessarily. Not by a long shot.

    Teaching is a noble calling because it is the *only* one which directly professionalizes the intersection of people and ideas. This goes above and beyond subject matter competency. We should be reaching out to those in all fields who have these qualities, and incentivizing their consideration of teaching as a profession. Make it *the* selective pathway, an honor; that beyond their excellence in science, math, literature, history, theatre, engineering, or language, they also exhibit the much more in-demand talent than any of these of being able to connect their ideas with people. And then pay them commensurate to the field from which you plucked them.

    Can performance in this quality be measured by standardized testing? Not in isolation no, and such a proposition is yet another dangerous deterrent to those in more open fields. But rote subject matter competency *is* important, when combined with the assurance that the student has developed the creative and analytical capacity to apply it. Know the equation – but also write a paragraph on why these quantities are related in this way. Know the scientific principle – but also explain to me what we know about the universe as a result. Know the name of the artistic movement – but also tell the world around you what we as a society failed to learn from it.

    Does that require more time and resources? Definitely. But I think it is what is required for an increasingly knowledge-based world, one increasingly dependent on technologies, systems, and social structures which did not exist when the present education system was created. So that also means change, which in turn means both pain and opportunity. But if we fail in this, the whole nation fails. Education is too central a pillar to a strong republic; no such republic can hope to stand long with this pillar strained or broken.

  3. Surely, it must be an intellectual challenge to effect learning in a classroom where learners are daily prisoners , marching in lockstep regimentation according to age. Captive learners they are, undergoing a minimum 12 year sentence with no early release for learning to learn. Is it possible with a program of early release that time in high schools might be greatly abbreviated? This is purely an academic question being that teacher unions would not approve due to the resultant loss of caretaker positions.

    But even in fulfilling the minimum 12 year sentence, what if inmates should recover the innate initiatives in learning, like the learning they reveled in before being institutionalized. With the youthful energy and ability of the inmates, teachers would be at risk of playing catchup and having to learn from their charges, particularly at the high school level. But for those teachers that were free to learn, esteem would surely be raised.

    • Do you honestly think that teachers want to be caretakers? They don’t want to babysit. They don’t want to hold hands for the slower-learners at the cost of handicapping the faster learners. They don’t want to simply shoot for pass, they want all, I repeat ALL of their students to shoot for the highest goals humanly possible.

      But how can teachers encourage every student to shoot for the moon when governmental (federal and state) mandates cut them off at the knees? How can they provide the most enriching environment when the funding is gone?

      How can you expect teachers to encourage their students to shoot for the stars when the federal and state government mandates that they encourage the middle ground. Race to the bottom and No Child Left Behind, or ahead, have ensured that educators are crippled at the starting line.

  4. Vicki, teachers do only get paid for 10 months of the year, in my state. But we are penalized for having a second job during the off time of the summer because we cannot collect social security. The professions you speak of have the open door of bonuses, overtime, perks. Teachers do not. Perks are considered bribery and are against the law, while only unethical for other professions. Teachers are under a huge amount of stress, not necessarily from standardized testing, but from the community -parents especially. There are so many laws and regulations and requirements for teachers that teachers are subject to that other professions are not. Also, teachers salaries are not based in any way upon their job performance. Great teachers with just as much experience as a poor teacher are paid the same. Other countries see teachers as providing a public service that enhances and enriches the countries future. That their teachers have chosen to dedicate their life to contributing to the countries’ future in a global economy, and all the skills that entail. In my experience, I am usually seen as public enemy number one.

  5. Obviously neither of you know anything about the teaching profession. Teachers are required to complete 20 hours of course work per year of teaching, take numerous standardized exams not unlike the MCAT, and their salaries are for nine months only. The other three are not paid vacation. Talk about intelletual challenge? A new teacher brings home 892 every two weeks in my district. Out of that they must pay for the manditory courses and conferences that are required to keep their teaching certificates current. The reason that states are not equal in their education is due to the fact that states have unequal resources. Smaller states have less revenue to utilize in updating technology or even to buy enough books for their student population. The money just isn’t there. If the Federal Government requires school districts to become more accountable then a tremendous amount of money needs to be given to each state that is in need. Teachers should not be in the position of defending their profession, ever. After all who do you think is at the front of each of your college classes? Let me guess, a teacher.

    • Not to belabor the point, but are teachers required to have formal training costing a couple hundred thousand dollars prior to ever earning any income in their chosen profession? Does ongoing training and collaboration happen at your employers expense or your own? During the work day or after hours/weekends?

      I live in NJ and we have teacher starting salaries of $55,000+ in some districts. Add another $30,000+/- in employer paid benefits and you have teachers starting at $85,000 for 180 days of work with less than 5 hours of student contact time during each day. I fail to see how teachers are under-compensated for their work (i.e. teaching students).

  6. Vicki’s false premises undermine her argument. The intellectual challenges of effecting learning in complex social situations – classrooms – equal (or exceed) the cognitive challenges of the engineering professions. Law? Even more simplistic – learning rules to outmaneuver opponents in win/lose scenarios. Hardly as complex. Engineers, lawyers, and doctors choose engineering law, and medicine – not education – because of the low esteem associated with the profession and because of the widely understood difficulty of teaching other people’s children in multivariate environments. Sorry Vicki – your argument does not move forward.

    • Vicki’s false premises?? And instead, your premise is that a degree in education is more intellectually challenging that engineering,law, and medicine?? Thanks for the laugh.

  7. FYI, some engineers coming out of college are making starting salaries in the $40,000’s in the current economy.

    Why do you think teachers should earn the same as people with degrees in law, medicine or engineering when comparing the intellectual challenge of required coursework and years of formal training beyond a bachelors degree? The requirements to obtain an education degree and become certified needs to be as difficult as those other “professions” before the level of compensation can be adjusted to those levels. The majority employed in those other professions mentioned are in the private sector whereas the majority of educators are in the public sector. The forces of supply and demand determine those salaries as opposed to the monopoly of publicly institutionalized education. Are you comparing total compensation (employer contributions to benefits, days/hours worked on site, vacation days, paid holidays, sick days, pensions, etc.) rather than just a salary since the public section is significantly more generous than the private sector in these areas?

    And finally, any workforce represented by a union will never be viewed by other professionals as being on the same level even if they are paid more, just try comparing a professional athelete to a doctor.

    • I agree with Vicki. The difficulty, demands, time, and cost of becoming a doctor or lawyer are extremely more intense than what is required to become a teacher. That is not to say that excellent teaching is easy. However, discovering what illness is making a patient sick and potentially killing the patient then addressing that illness to hopefully save a life is hardly simplistic and less important than teaching. Likewise, discovering evidence about a crime to defend or prosecute a criminal and present it in such a way as to convince a jury is neither simplistic or less important. It boggles my mind that anyone could suggest such a thing.
      I love teaching and want to be one of the excellent teachers. I do appreciate the time off and benefits afforded to teachers. All things considered, I think teachers are compensated very well and should stop wallowing in self-pity. We need support of our community, government, and parents in particular in order to do what is right for the students. We do not need pity or to be seen as whining.

      • Teachers address the illness of the country as a whole. They stem the systemic infection of ignorance that seems to run rampant. You think teachers are compensated very well?

        Their jobs are under attack – from people just like you. The obvious and systematic dismantling of the American educational institution means that many teachers don’t have even basic job security.

        Their pay – While they may only be in the classroom for 9 months out of the year, the good teachers certainly don’t only work those nine months. My wife’s salary (28,000 – 5 years in the field), when divided out among the time she spends working during the summer, at home after school and on the weekends, comes out to about $3.00/hour. That doesn’t count the money we spend out of our own pockets on the students (because that’s our choice).

        So, while teachers may not have as difficult of a degree track (which I would beg to differ), their job is MAKING doctors and lawyers!

        Please educate yourself.

        • You know all of those doctors and lawyers?

          They all had teachers at one point, and most likely wouldn’t be able to diagnose and save lives without having good science teachers and those lawyers wouldn’t know how to develop a strong argument without solid english teachers.

          Take away the teachers, and what do you get?
          No doctors.
          No lawyers.

    • What is so frustrating is the Euro-centric notion that some professions are more valuable than others. My sibling is an engineer with a B.S. I have a B.A. in Literature. He is paid far more than I am as a National Board Certified Language Arts Teacher. Most would argue that a major in literature is just as intellectually challenging as an engineering major, though they certainly tap into different intellectual aptitudes. However, the he will get more monetary compensation according to a Euro-centric value system. I do not have to go into the reasons why, but the irony is neither of us would have gotten anywhere without teachers.

      We all come to the planet with different abilities and potentials to develop skill sets. Why does this culture always attempt to elevate one over the other in regards to merit?

      Note: As doctors are becoming more and more micro-managed by drug companies and corporate health care systems as private practices dwindle, do not think they are beyond the consideration of organized labor bodies. They are finding that their professional organization are not protecting them against the manipulation of corporate health care systems.

    • I agree Vicki.

      I know plenty of high school educated adults that could walk in to a classroom and outperform many of the current “educated” teachers in this country. Of course they wouldn’t stand a chance in other professions.

      Mr Duncan believes teachers should start at 60K and top at 150K. I certainly would like to hear what he thinks some other jobs should start and top at.

      We became a great country and created great minds without teachers making two, three and four times the salary of the working parents that pay them.

      • We became a great country BECAUSE of the teachers. Where did you learn to write well? Where did you learn to add? Who taught you to think critically?

        I’m sure that you weren’t born with it. The fact that you can form an opinion about this matter says that you are at least decently well educated. . . So where did that education come from?

        The teachers that I know go into teaching because they love students, they love teaching, and it’s their life’s calling. Sure, there are some that are only in it for a paycheck. . . But can you tell me that every lawyer, engineer, or doctor is in their current profession for more than a paycheck? Can you tell me that every single one of them is in it for altruistic reasons?

        I’m not saying that teaching is more important than the parents’ jobs. What I’m saying is that in the current culture, teachers do more work than they are paid for. They are expected to be teachers, social workers, counselors, coaches, organizers and, in many cases, surrogate parents.

        So, if we’re going to pay by job, then add all those things up. Fair compensation for fair labor.

    • Vicki,
      Why should they earn the same as lawyers, engineers or doctors? One simple reason: without teachers, there are no lawyers, engineers or doctors.

      The requirements to obtain an education degree —– IF DONE CORRECTLY —– is just as difficult as one of those degrees. If the prospective teacher is good enough, he/she will make the degree difficult. Sure, there are some that go into teaching simply because they don’t know what else to do. BUT those people are in the VAST minority. Can you honestly tell me that every doctor went into medicine for more than a paycheck? I think not. Just as with all aspects of the working world, there are some teachers that are only in it for a paycheck. But, most are there because they have a love for students, and a love for teaching.

      The forces of supply and demand. . . Do you honestly want the same people that got our economy where it is today in charge of your child’s education? Do you want a hedge fund manager to decide who learns what? No. Education must be a public entity, otherwise we can be guaranteed to have a tiered system of education, where one’s fate is determined SOLELY by income at birth.

      “Are you comparing total compensation (employer contributions to benefits, days/hours worked on site, vacation days, paid holidays, sick days, pensions, etc.) rather than just a salary since the public section is significantly more generous than the private sector in these areas?” How many days off do you get? My wife is a teacher (and would be livid if she knew I was telling people this). She makes 28,000 a year, before taxes. She gets 3, yes T.H.R.E.E. Paid days off. Any time beyond that, and her job is in jeopardy. Do you get more than three days off? Now, your instant rebuttal is, “BUT SHE GETS THE SUMMERS!!!” No, no she does not. With the social worker role that is thrust on her by the schools policy of helping the whole student (which she would do anyway), her summers are spent in seminars that we pay out of pocket for, at students’ houses, and at the school preparing for the following semester.

      If a teacher is good, genuinely good, then the time off is almost non-existent. I know that there are teachers that do not do anything during the summer, but again, minority. Are there predatory lawyers, bankers and doctors? Yes, but in the minority. Please don’t let a bad apple spoil the bunch.

      “And finally, any workforce represented by a union will never be viewed by other professionals as being on the same level even if they are paid more, just try comparing a professional athelete to a doctor.”
      WOW. Do you know why teachers have unions? It isn’t, really, to bilk the tax-payers out of as much money as possible. It is to defend themselves from the slings and arrows of ignorant people in the community. Teachers are held responsible for many outcomes that they have no control over. If a student comes to school hungry and tired because of the actions of parents, the teachers are still accountable. The school board decided to do away with breakfast, eliminating the only morning food for that student? Teachers have to deal with it, and answer for the outcomes. As for the statement about professional athletes. . .Really? Teachers must attend college, and receive at least a bachelor’s degree. They must be certified, tested several times over, and then compete for few positions. While professional athletes must compete for few spots, that’s about the only similarity. Most pro-athletes are inherently good at their job. Not many teachers know about critical pedagogy, alternative assessments and alternative teaching methods before they receive their college degrees. . . . .

      It is people like you that ensure that the last bastion for the good of EVERYONE, education, will be dismantled like everything else. I for one, am terrified of a future where ignorance and hatred reign. If education goes private, en masse, we will be greeted with a tiered school system that serves to do nothing more than maintain the current class system in America.

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