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Larry Sand
Do L.A.’s Teachers Deserve a Raise? « Back to Story

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I don't know about other teachers, but 187 days a year I work from 7:30 AM until 5:30 PM Mon-Thurs, from 7:30 AM until 4:30 PM Fri, and from 9:30 AM- noon Sat at school. I spend not less than 8 hours Sat and Sun prepping for classes, grading papers and tests, preparing exercises, quizzes, tests and projects. During summer I attend a one-week advanced placement institute, a three-day economics seminar at the regional Federal Reserve Bank, and at least 3 additional days of professional development. My district's and state's pension contributions are decreasing by about 1.5% a year, the state-managed pension fund's interest rate is dropping from 5.75% to 3%. The district in which I teach wiped out "step" pay increases 5 years ago after the district found it had overspent its teacher compensation budget by $68 million. The district granted teachers a 1% pay increase this academic year, the first teacher pay increase since the $68 million overspending debacle. A proposed teacher pay-for-performance system is looming in which student achievement on state tests and student opinions regarding their teachers will play a substantial part in determining teacher compensation. I teach in a non-union state and am not a union member (or sympathizer). Fortunately, my spouse's employer offers extraordinary medical coverage. While it can be argued that ineffective teachers--and there are some, no doubt--are draining resources from public education, don't paint all teachers with such a broad brush.
Thank you, Marilyn.
Liz, are you a professional or some minimum wage worker who gets paid by the hour? Teacher contracts are annual contracts based on days worked (182 in my state) and you are paid for the job and to get the job done, no matter how many hours you may or not work any particular day. Welcome to the real world Liz. Perhaps if you were in the private sector, you would know about tax laws regarding exempt and non-exempt employees. If you want to be considered a professional, maybe it's time to start acting as one. I have yet to hear any lawyer, doctor, or CPA complain about working more that a 6.5 or 7 hour day and complaining that they are unjustly compensated. Your compensation and benefits (including all your days off) far exceed that in the private sector and the demands of your job are often much less requiring no travel or disruption of family life. Surely you know that there is extra duty pay for teachers in the form of additional stipends, do you not? Heaven forbid, a teacher should go beyond the call of duty. In my experience, most teachers won't fart unless they get paid for doing so and when they say think of the children, they really mean think of me and give me more money.
Good post Allen.
The average teacher works between six and a half and 8 hours a day? No. We work unpaid overtime each week (we never get overtime under any circumstances) saving the taxpayers millions of dollars a year. I work at least 10 hours a week of unpaid overtime, sometimes 15 hours and more.
Well it looks like we have a nice selection of the usual respondents whenever the noble teacher's nobility comes under inspection, especially with regard to how well-compensated teachers should be for their selflessness, dedication and generosity.

Sadly, none of those respondents have addressed Mr. Sands article choosing instead to regurgitate past, but admittedly successful, talking points. And that's not including those responsdants who disdained any attempt at a worthwhile response in favor of self-righteous outrage consisting of insults, diversions and misrepresentations. The response is understandable because there's no defensible reason for the overly generous pay structure enjoyed by L.A. teachers and by most public education teachers. The "because I can" rationale offered by President Clinton for his transgression is, unfairly no doubt, not available to teachers. Hence the outrage and diversions.

But the fact remains that by any reasonable standard L.A. teachers, and public education teachers in general, are quite generously compensated especially when one considers the relatively modest amount of time that's spent on the job and even more when one considers that teachers aren't required to demonstrate any degree of teaching skill. Good teacher, bad teacher, it's all the same when salaries are figured.

The underlying point, which Mr. Sands implies but never states, is that the pay of teachers is unrelated to their value even though it's widely recognized that a good teacher's worth considerably more, in terms of student attainments, then is a lousy teacher.

Where Mr. Sands goes astray is in the final paragraph in which he states, "Teachers in Los Angeles and elsewhere need to come to grips with reality."

No, actually they don't. They can careful ignore reality in preference to the cocoon of fantasy, provided by the politics of education, in which they've resided so long. But it's the cocoon, the public education system, that's to blame not the teachers. Teachers are only guilty of enjoying the benefits of a situation over which they have little control and for which they have no responsibility. Placing the responsibility for teacher's pay, or any other aspect of the public education system, is as misguided as blaming UAW workers for poorly-designed or manufactured cars. That responsibility lies elsewhere.

In the case of public education the responsibility for over-paid teachers and under-delivery of results lies with the voter. If we're silly enough to assume a public agency can do a good job educating kids then we're quite properly saddled with the results - a mis-educated populace.
I'm with David on this. Not to mention that teachers are being harassed and intimidated at all levels. It's rolling downhill from Arne Duncan and it picks up speed. So much so, that the students prefer gaming the system to learning. City public schools are so out of compliance with Special Ed regs and other regs that the State Board is coming in and running the schools in CA. But, that isn't the teachers' fault.
Timothy, please back up your statistics that teachers have a higher drop out rate than the military. Are you including teachers who go into school administrative positions in that number? Are you including women teachers who only work as teachers until they have children in that number and then stay home? My son who is now 36 years old earned over $100,000 as a high school classroom earth science teacher for the fiscal year ended 6/30/13. His father and I encouraged him to go into education so he would have a good (easy) life and to marry a teacher too which he did. We knew he was not the type who wanted to set the world on fire. He is now a high school administrator making much more since he works 210 days instead of 180. Incidentally, my son's wife only had 8 years credible service as of 6/30/13 as a elementary school art teacher and made over $62,000. Both of them work in suburban school districts and neither complain about the dangers they face in the class room since they don't. Or do you buy the myth that police officers risk their lives every day or that our military puts itself in harm's way every day too? Teaching and police work hardly rate as the most dangerous occupations according to Labor and Commerce Department statistics. They are way down on the totem pole with Fisherman, loggers, transportation workers and many more other occupations being much more dangerous occupations--much more dangerous occupations that don't pay as well or have the excessive benefits teachers have. Granted, there are teachers who work in high crime ghetto areas but not most. Even then, they don't face the dangers of your typical taxi driver in a big city or someone who works in a post office. As to other posters' comments that we try ignorance instead, have you ever read the threads of persons on Facebook? I don't blame teachers for the failures of our schools since there are many other factors like family, socioeconomic, and heredity that also enter into rating the performance of our schools and teachers.
Marilyn, your comments regarding Illinois are spot-on. But, again, Illinois isn't in the fiscal position it's in solely because of how much it pays its teachers. It's in fiscal straits because of the never-ending corruption and greed of its governors, state legislators, and Chicago city government officials. Teachers' salaries and pensions more than likely make up a very small amount of Illinois' red ink. As for comparing time spent by "professionals in the private sector" to that spent by teachers, I'm not so sure that we as a country don't have a skewed view of how much time workers in the private sector (even successful workers) spend at their desks actually working. And when one factors in how many private businesses and corporations depend on government contracts for their subsistence, this casts a completely different light on public v. private work. Finally, one can almost hear the sneer in your voice when you ask how hard can it be to grade papers. Putting to one side the fact that we both know this is not a teacher's sole responsibility, I can say, from personal experience after supervising 30 (sometimes more) young professionals, that checking somebody else's work and trying to teach them the fundamentals of whatever task they're attempting is not easy. But in my case, at least, I didn't have to put up with the kind of mean-spirited and disrespectful attitudes that come from spoiled brats and dangerous thugs. Teachers (whether in our cities or our suburbs) confront this on a daily basis. If we're paying them too much to do so, I suppose Don's comment below best sums it up: if education is too expensive, "try ignorance". I couldn't imagine ever wanting to even be a teacher in today's society. In my humble opinion, those who do it deserve every penny they make. And they deserve our thanks, as well. (Their unions are another matter entirely.)
My, my. shameful:

"And the average teacher works between six-and-a-half and eight hours a day, 180 days per year...."

That's two lies in one sentence. Obvious lies at that.

"The myth of the undercompensated teacher... teachers actually receive salary and benefits that are 52 percent greater than fair market levels... extra classes and workshops (for teachers) have no effect on student learning (despite that's how every new technology and text book gets rolled out)... teachers’ unions have positioned their members as low-tech factory workers—interchangeable widgets (because wages go up with seniority)....

Really ??? Anti-union followers of Ayn Rand and similar gurus publish hundreds of studies every year. But unions work -- particularly well where you have "combat zone" problems such as present severally in Los Angeles.

One of our colleagues at Leuzinger High School had lost most of an arm to a shotgun wielding gangbanger -- kid came into a locker room after a football game and blasted away. But how would this Larry Sand guy figure how to make calculations in that environment ???
The fact remains that the teaching profession as a whole has a higher drop-out rate than the US Army or the US Marine Corps. If teachers are overpaid and over-benefited, one wonders why this should be the case.

I suspect it's because there are other battlefields besides the storied Iraq and Afghanistan and they are right here on USA soil. Enough said.
Before anyone else comes to the defense of teachers, please consider this. Based on a comparison of the number of days a teacher works (less than 180 given the generous sick/personal day benefits) vs the number of days the average private sector employee works (240 days, likely more), a thirty year work history for a teacher is equivalent to an over 40 year work history for a private individual, not even taking into account the longer work days of those in the private sector. Professionals in the private sector are more likely to work 60-70-80 hours a week doing tasks more difficult than grading papers. As an added note, there will be no reform in what teachers earn as long as salary schedules for performing the same job range from the mid 40s for beginners to over $100,000 just because of years of service. Most learning curves don't exceed 2 years before diminishing returns on experience. My sister, whose major employment history was in Corporate accounting management, is always dismayed at the salary range for teachers, saying that if she hired a recent college graduate for a staff accounting position the range for that particular job would not be over $10,000 (if that). In order to get a higher salary, that individual would need to obtain a position that has more responsibility and a lessor number of qualified people to fill that position.
As a former teacher who only taught for five years back in the sixties when teachers were underpaid and represented by associations and not unions, I side with Larry Sand. Teachers are vastly overpaid compared to the private sector. Planning time is included in their short day and, really, how hard is it to grade papers? Give me a break. Someone with a Masters degree or Bachelors degree should not find teaching freshman courses or even senior courses challenging. Here in Illinois, we now have over 11,000 teachers receiving over $100,000 a year in pensions that are increased 3% a year, compounded. Illinois teachers can retire at age 55 with pensions equivalent to 75% of the average of their four highest years' earnings. Oftentimes there is a 20% bump in salary for the final two years of employment to encourage retirement. In every well-paid high school district, many teachers make $100,000 a year. Granted, they pay just over 9% of earnings to retirement plans but this is a pretax deduction making that contribution rate close to the 6.2% persons contribute to SS. Full retirement age for SS is 12 years later (age 67) and the maximum benefit at that time is about $2600 a month. That $2600 applies to persons like sport stars and CEOS, lawyers, doctors, etc. who have made the maximum SS contribution for 35 years since SS is based on the average of 35 years, not four years like teachers. The average SS recipient gets $1200 a month and one has to wait until 62 to get it a reduced benefit. A teacher who retires at $75,000 a year pension at age 55 is making close to $110,000 a year pension at age 67 when the Michael Jordans of this world retire at age 67 to collect just over $2600 per month. No wonder Illinois is broke.
Good for David, below. Moreover when I was a teacher I never worked less than 50 hours a week with all the grading, preparation for classes and all the rest. People who are complaining about teacher's pay are saying education is too expensive. My suggestion: try ignorance. Now that's really expensive!
I am not a fan of unions, teachers' or otherwise. I am not, nor have I ever been, a teacher. I am, however, tired of the constant uproar over teachers' salaries. Perhaps, relatively speaking, teachers do quite well. Many teachers undoubtedly work shorter days. And for most of this country's history (at least during those times when there have been brick and mortar schools), teachers worked less than a full year. But let's not be so blind that we can't (or won't) see the other side of the coin. Teachers have to put up with other people's brats (sometimes thugs)as a regular part of their daily job. Teachers have to listen to parents (who otherwise do little to nothing to help educate their little darlings) when parents think that teachers aren't doing their jobs (the parents having no clue what it takes to do a teacher's job). And, as a final consideration, local government always seems to find plenty of money to spend on all kinds of fantastic projects (pro sports facilities and multi-million dollar high school football stadiums come to mind). Local governments also seem to be flush enough with cash such that they can give tax breaks to companies to relocate to an area, all in the sacred name of "more jobs". Yet when it comes to paying teachers' salaries it seems this country has, within the last 5 to 10 years, developed an aversion that borders on hysteria. Teachers' salaries (and their pensions) are not what has ruined local government finance. Our elected leaders (many of whom listen too much to teachers' unions; some of whom don't) are quite capable of (and have been) creating financial turmoil that is completely unrelated to teachers' salaries. A chorus of voices bemoans how poorly our nation's children are educated. But when it comes time to pay for this education, the same folks in the chorus want to do so as cheaply as possible. You get what you pay for in life. If all you care about is whether the H.S. football team has a great place to play its games, or if all you care about is making sure that the local pro sports franchise doesn't pack up and move to another city, then you won't have any problem shelling out more money in taxes to build modern day Coliseums. But if you want your children to be educated, then stop whining about teachers' salaries, start supporting teachers, and start making sure that your kids don't just play computer games (or worse) when school is out-of-session. This is all just commonsense. As an ex-teacher, Mr. Sand, I would think you of all people might understand this. But if most teachers are like Mr. Sand, then perhaps I'm giving teachers too much credit.
Teachers in Texas, at any rate, work a lot more than that. There is homework to grade, reports to prepare on students who are not doing well and the intervention that is planned, and on and on. Plus lesson preparation. It works out to more like a 50 hour week, with occasional weeks of heavier duty.
Some do, some don't, but Larry rather than revealing what teachers actually do in Los Angeles schools for their money, you spew so much negativity and misleading propaganda.
I remember my teacher wife earning education credits towards a pay increase by taking a three week tour of England -- which included a couple visits to Shakespeare theatres.

Indeed, since the class credit moved her up to the next pay level, we recouped the trip costs in a single year's higher pay. Of course, that higher pay continued, year after year, after year.

Thank you taxpayers.

BTW, my wife fought the teacher unions (stories there to tell), and favors education vouchers for private schools. She was a mentor teacher highly prized by student teachers.

Now retired, we enjoy the generous pension. But in fairness, at least the teachers paid 8% annually towards their pensions, less than most government employees (in the past). Furthermore the teacher pension formula is less generous than most local government employees, and than ALL "public safety" employees.
Bruce William Smith December 12, 2013 at 3:52 PM
Another apt, perceptive commentary from Larry Sand. There is no doubt that teachers' unions need reforming if they wish to attract younger teachers and other young people considering going into teaching as a career option. The 20th century factory model never did help American teachers all that much, and is clearly out of date in the 21st century. Collective bargaining is not something that we should ditch or, worse, proscribe, but we need more cooperative labour-management relations if we want to have a truly competitive education system in this country.