Sunday, May 19, 2013

By The Numbers

It's both a fun time of year in high school and a time to reflect. I've had kind of an interesting juxtaposition of a couple of items. We have a couple of students that I know at my school who are graduating and think they want to become teachers (we have a great Teacher Cadet program where they get an opportunity to learn about teaching/learning as well as a mini-student-teaching opportunity).

In many ways I think this is great - we must be doing something right if we have bright, amazing students thinking they want to become educators. But the second item gives me pause, so I thought I'd take just a few minutes to share some numbers that I've come across recently.

From the Colorado School Finance Project:
  1. Colorado’s teachers made $6,400 less per year than the national average.

  2. When adjusted for inflation, Colorado’s teachers made $5,200 less than a Colorado teacher in 1992-93, a 9.6% decrease. During the same time period, the national average teacher salary increased by over 2%.

  3. In 2010-11 Colorado’s teachers were paid at the national average level five years ago.

  4. If Colorado put the same effort toward K-12 as it did in 1992, there would be $1.2 billion more dollars for K-12 per year.

  5. If Colorado put the national average effort toward K-12, there would be $2.248 billion more dollars for K-12 per year.
Okay, so that's not terribly encouraging, but that's Colorado in general. What about my school district? Let's look at beginning teacher salaries.
  1. Let's compare the beginning teacher salary in my district in 1991 with today. When adjusted for inflation (Bureau of Labor Statistics), beginning teacher salaries would have to increase by 9.5% just to break even with 1991.

  2. When you take into consideration the increase in employee contributions for insurance premiums, that changes to an 11.3% increase just to stay even with 1991.
Okay, so that's not terribly encouraging either. But we have a fairly traditional salary schedule in my district (although a committee is about to meet to consider changes to that), so the beginning teacher salary doesn't reflect the built-in raises a teacher that's been in the district since 1991 has received. (By the way, I picked 1991 because that's when I entered the district.) When you look at my salary, I certainly have seen increases that put me comfortably ahead of inflation.

Well, until you look at the last five years, in which case I've lost 6.6%(and even more when you include increases in insurance premiums). This happened at the same time that I, and every other teacher I know, has had their responsibilities and expectations increase dramatically. My case is somewhat different because I wasn't - and am not - a full-time classroom teacher, but I still think it's instructive. Five years ago I was the full-time technology coordinator for my building. Today I am still the full-time technology coordinator for my building, but I also teach one section of Algebra. We have significantly more technology in the building than five years ago, plus that one section of Algebra added at least 15 hours to my work week. All while taking a pay cut.

Now, I want to be clear, this is not about my salary. I've even gone on record in my district with the somewhat blasphemous statement that I think I get paid enough, especially when compared with younger teachers. (Having said that, in case anyone from my district is reading this, that does not mean I would turn down a hefty raise :-). My district has a good relationship with its teachers and, while I don't always agree with the financial decisions they make, they have generally done a good job in a difficult time. What I think this is about reflects a larger issue in America today - the decline of the middle class.

I would say teachers are pretty representative of the middle class in the United States. What the above trends show is that, should those trends continue, teachers will no longer be able to achieve middle class status (unless they marry well). And I wonder what that says about what we value in this country?

Which brings me back to those two graduating seniors I know. They are both about to spend a fair amount of money on a college education. They are both very bright and very successful and could choose careers in a wide variety of areas. I really want them to choose to become teachers. My problem is I'm just not sure I should encourage them to do so.

And that makes me sad.

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