Friday, March 11, 2011

In a recent letter to the editor, the writer started their letter by stating “..this is not an attack on any one teacher.”  They then proceeded to attack the entire New Paltz teaching staff by sharing some of the contractual language of their contract.  The first two paragraphs stated the minimum amount of time that teachers are required to work.  While these numbers are correct, they do not accurately reflect what happens in  real life.  Many, if not most teachers are at school well before or well after the official “start and end” times on a regular basis.  During that time, they prepare the classroom for the day.  Others continue the work they did at home the night before, marking papers.  Some are meeting with parents who need an early morning meeting.  Other are providing enrichment  for students who can come early  or stay late, either in groups or individually.  Others stay to meet with their colleagues on an informal basis, planning how to work together collectively, discussing practice, sharing resources.  Some are taking in-service courses.  At night, teachers are marking papers, developing assignments, researching lessons and talking on the phone with parents.

During those summers off, most teachers further their education with ongoing professional development, engaging in programs and projects to increase their skill, expand their knowledge base and help to make them better teachers.  To maintain a teaching license in NYS, all teachers must take 175 hours of coursework over a five-year period, one week a year. For at least one week  prior to school, many teachers, especially but not exclusively those at the elementary level, come in to prepare the classroom for the student’s arrival.  They put their room back together after it has been serviced by maintenance, unpack their supplies, do massive amounts of paperwork to get ready as well as be available to meet students who always come in so see who is their new teacher(s).

The writer then goes on to examine the benefits teacher’s receive.  This is the local echo of the now national mood to incite people against public employees.  This has resulted in a review of this compensation.  Studies have shown that when accounting for level of education, public employees, including teachers, make less than their counterparts in the private sector when salary and benefits are considered. In NYS, all teacher must have a Master’s degree in Education. 

But this outrage belies a more troubling trend in our public discussion.  It is true that public employees, workers who are about the only group left with powerful unions, have a decent wage, for which they work hard by the way!
It is more of a concern that others wish to pull them down rather than say, “Why don’t  I have good health insurance, more vacation time, better retirement options, and the ability to have a say in my work rather than be dictated to?”  Why do we not seek to aspire to all of us having a better economic life?  There is enough money out there.  But we don’t have it.  Guess who does! 

This shift of wealth upwards coincides with the decline of unions since the early 70’s.  What has happened in our society is a massive transfer of wealth to the top 2% and within that, the big winners by far are the top one-tenth of one percent.  Over the last 30 years, this vast accumulation of wealth--how many mansions can you own?--has led to vast amounts of money being used to legally bribe and buy politicians of both parties.  What has resulted is an abandonment of a middle class society.  What is now clear, although it has been happening over time, is the creation of an oligarchy, a society that is being run for the benefit of the wealthy.  In NYS, since 1990, the top 1% of earners, those earning over % 633,000 in today’s dollars with the average income being 2.3 million, have doubled their share of income, from 17% to 35.3%.  The top 5% of all earners, those with incomes from $209,000 up, take home 49.4% of all NYS incomes. The rest of us now share the remaining 50.6%.  The bottom 50% of all earners in NYS take home only 9.1% of all income, down from 13.9% in 1990.  Moreover, that top 1% pays only 8.4% of their income in NYS taxes while those with incomes from $33,000 to 209,000 pay between 10.7% and 11.0% of our income in taxes.

We, the bottom 95%, are being squeezed.  We are being pitted against each other.  Who benefits? 

David Dukler


MaryAnn said...

In any profession people will always use the "bad example" as that of the "norm" I'm sure most parents feel like a great teacher is worth every cent they make and may even feel like there is no price high enough to pay for someone that is truly shaping the lives of our children.

As an adult (non-student) who has seen first hand, teachers (in this very district) who not only are not fond of children, but sometimes appear to downright dislike them, those would be the "teachers" that usually come to mind. Just like people blame all cops or all politicians on the bad apples.

I didn't read the article mentioned in this post, but I can't imagine any parent who would prefer an unqualified teacher, or one willing to work for minimum wage, because you really do "get what you pay for" - but it's always going to come back to that - exactly what are we getting for our money? Ask your own children to name a teacher they respect or really think they've learned something from - it's pretty saddening and sickening that out of how ever many teachers in this district, the same 5-7 teachers names will come up - and that there are ZERO consequences for the crappy one - and don't kid yourself - there are plenty of "bad teachers".

Martin McPhillips said...

Heh, I wasn't expecting that "eat the rich" class warfare paragraph at the end. I guess David Dukler got the memo from Michael Moore.

(Mr. Dukler leaves the lingering suggestion that the wealthy in New York gain their wealth at the expense of the non-wealthy when, in fact, because New York City is a great hub of commerce, the wealthy often get that way because they trade nationally and globally. In other words, they bring wealth into New York.)

Anyway, there are few, if any, job categories as insulated from market forces as public school teachers. They work in a command economy (compulsory education where state schools are the default monopoly). They get lifetime job security after three years. Their unions, especially in New York, have a prime rentseeking lobby with the state legislature. And they regularly get sypathizers like Mr. Dukler elected to school boards to press their case there. The advantages they manage to get thrown their way by the state are well beyond anything private sector workers, who are exposed to market forces, could or should get.

A full-fledged reform and restructuring of education, both to make it more affordable and more effective, is the enemy of teachers unions. They want their industry to make bigger buggys and breed stronger horses that will allow them to escape more quickly into the past.

Terence said...

MaryAnn's reference to teachers who don't like kids strikes a chord for me. I still remember my fourth-grade teacher, and not at all fondly; she is why I don't believe in tenure. However, I've come to realize that tenure protects both bad teachers and good from political decisions, such as teaching about controversial topics like evolution and Huckleberry Finn.

I would prefer that job security be enshrined in the contract itself, rather than the law, because that provides the sort of protection which any person has the right to negotiate for in his or her job, without creating a legally protected class.

Pete Healey said...

Dear Dave,
"The top 5% of all earners, those with incomes from $209,000 up, take home 49.4% of all NYS incomes. The rest of us now share the remaining 50.6%. The bottom 50% of all earners in NYS take home only 9.1% of all income..."
The quotation above is from your posting. So let me take some of these numbers and rearrange them slightly. The top 5% gets almost half, and the bottome 50% get less than 10%, so the middle (and upper middle) 45% get almost 45% of all income! That says to me that there are major differences in income between the upper (almost) half and the lower 50%. I'm just sayin' that their interests aren't always the same because their incomes (and benefits) aren't anywhere near the same.