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Do We Value Our Best Public School Teachers?

Updated on December 1, 2019
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A former university communications professor, Sallie, an independent publisher, also writes romantic fiction novels and short stories.

Why Aren't Public Teachers Our Real "Stars?"

America loves to idolize and worship stars of screen, sports, and music, but it is way past time for us, as a nation, to realize that we need to see, as our real stars, our most effective public-school teachers. Unless we begin to do this, soon our nation might be competing in the world education arena with developing nations only. Unless we reverse the downward spiral we seem to be on, other developed nations are going to continue to leave us behind, in the chalkboard dust.

In America, our love of stars shows, in their paychecks. Johnny Depp can earn triple-digit millions for his work in a motion picture, and other top Hollywood stars, including Robert Downey Jr., Johnny Depp, Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Cooper, Matt Damon, Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio, Duane Johnson, Tom Hanks, and Jennifer Lawrence (the world's highest-paid actress), all earn double-digit millions—for one movie. In the world of music, Rihanna, Beyonce, and Taylor Swift are among the top-earning female singers of 2019, while Kanye West, Ed Sheeren, and The Eagles were the top-earning male musicians. Top athletes earned more money than ever before, and their salaries are being driven by bigger and bigger TV contracts. The list of the world’s 100 highest-paid athletes required cracking $25 million this year, and that is compared with five years ago when the cutoff to be on the list was $17.3 million. Great, huh, if you’re a star of screen, sports, or music.

But what about the stars of our public school classrooms? In America, no matter how big of a star they are, the national average public school teacher salary for 2017-18 was $60,477—a 1.6 percent increase from the previous year (according to the National Education Association).

What do you think?

Should outstanding public school teachers be offered endorsements, bonuses, prizes, and appearance fees, like star athletes?

See results

Why Aren't Our Children, Schools, and Their Teachers Our Priorities?

I am not saying teachers should ever expect or even need to earn salaries like the stars of screen, sports, and music, the stars many of us clearly worship and adore. But I am saying that America’s NUMBER ONE priority needs to be placing an effective teacher in every public school classroom, and to do that, we need to pay them well for their efforts. We need to make quality education as important to us as are our interests in movies, sports, and music. Then, after we make quality education our NUMBER ONE priority, our state and community leaders need to work together on creating and sustaining working conditions and environments in which good teachers can:

  • Perform their jobs well in safe environments that foster and nurture learning opportunities for students while teachers feel challenged and encouraged to grow in their knowledge of their subject matter.
  • Strengthen their teaching abilities through well-planned/supported professional development opportunities.
  • Provide avenues/opportunities for work connections for those desiring/needing to bring in more income, so that we can expect to keep effective teachers in our classrooms once we get them.

Effective teachers are the shining stars of public school education. They are the ones who make a difference. They make a difference in the classroom, to the school, to the school district, and most importantly, they make a difference in the lives of the students they teach. But they can only make a difference in the lives of those students that their light is allowed to reach. Many of our students, when they are not reached by an effective teacher, will decide that school is not the place for them, and then they become part of our nation’s high school dropout rate statistics.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that the nation's graduation rate has hit an all-time high. According to The department’s data shows that, at the end of the 2016-2017 school year, around 84.6% of students in America earned a diploma.

Public School Teachers: The Key to Student Success ...

Did you know that teachers have a greater impact on student learning than anything else in school, yet many school districts across the nation do little to attract and retain high-quality teachers? Did you know that in the past, precious little has ever been done to ensure that every student attending a public school is placed within the reach of an effective teacher?

I bet most people don’t know that students who are provided the most effective teachers can gain a whole year’s more worth of learning over students who are given the least effective teachers. It’s true. In fact, research shows that students who have strong teachers three years in a row can boost their test scores as much as 50 percentile points (on a 100-point scale) above what they would gain by having three ineffective teachers in a row.

Research studies have shown that you can take a student, any student, from any income-bracket, any racial or ethnic group, and any background, and place him or her inside the classroom of several ineffective teachers in a row, and that student’s ability to learn will be dealt such a crushing blow, it is likely that that student would never recover the ground lost.

Is There a Color for Success in Our Nation’s Public School Classrooms?

On the other hand, the research also shows that you can take any low-income students, from any racial or ethnic group, and any background, and place him or her—for five years in a row—with good, effective teachers, rather than with average or mediocre teachers, and any preexisting achievement gaps they may have had before will be completely eliminated. That means those students, simply by being placed within the reach of effective teachers, will become able to compete with any other student, from any income bracket, any racial or ethnic group, and any background.

Most of the most highly effective teachers are most likely to be found teaching in the most affluent schools with the smallest populations of black students and other students of color. And, it’s also true that teachers with less than two years of experience and those that are teaching out of their field of study are most likely to be teaching in low-income, high-black-and-brown population schools.

Unfortunately, research shows that the students most likely to benefit from effective teachers are not being taught by effective teachers. These students are the same ones who, historically, have been under-served by the system; and they are the same ones that are the most dependent on public schools for their education. They are the low-income, low-performing students, and they are primarily students of color, especially black and brown students, that are far more likely than others to be in classrooms led by inexperienced, non-certified, poorly educated, and under-performing teachers.

High School Graduation Rates in America

According to an article published in the Washington Post (Dec. 4, 2017), using data released from the U.S. Department of Education, the article reported that America's graduation rate rose to what appears to be a record high, with greater than 84 percent of students graduating from high school, on time, in 2016.

This 84 percent represents the highest graduation rate recorded since 2011, the year the Education Department first used a standardized reporting method that public schools were required to use. Using the standardized methodology, from 2015 to 2016, the American graduation rate rose from 83.2 percent to 84.1 percent, nearly a whole percentage point. Since the standardized reporting requirement has been in use, since 2011, the graduation rate has risen about 4 percentage points. Before the standardized reporting method was put in place, 79 percent of American students earned their high school diploma within four years.

Even with graduation rates seeming to be improving, America is still lagging behind other industrialized countries when it comes to educating our population. Once seen as leader of the pack among industrialized countries, our nation’s students are still behind many other developed nations when it comes to proficiency in math, science, and reading, as well as in the percentage of high school and college graduates. In fact, a recently released report from the U.S. Department of Education shows that American high school seniors showed no signs of improvement in either math and reading between 2009 and 2013.

Despite the rise in the graduation rates, American public schools continue across- the-board underperformance, even when considering children from families where at least one parent has a college degree. Even in wealthier school districts, research shows U.S. students with even more advantaged backgrounds are not performing as well as their counterparts, that is, students from similar backgrounds, in other industrialized nations.

Based on information published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development by its Program on International Student Assessment, students coming from families where the parents are more highly educated perform better than those coming from families where neither parent has a high school diploma. As of 2014, as in the U.S., in other industrialized nations, when it comes to international assessment among students from better-educated families, among the highest scoring countries are South Korea (73 percent), Poland (71 percent), Japan (68 percent), and Germany (64 percent). Also scoring higher than students in the same group in the U.S. are countries including Canada (57 percent), France (55 percent) and Australia (55 percent), with the U.S. outperforming only six countries, and these include Greece, Mexico, Turkey, Chile, and Sweden.

Would It Help to Rearrange Our Top Priorities?

There's nothing wrong with celebrating stars of stage, screen and music, and we, as a nation, certainly have shown the world how much these stars mean to us. But would it help our nation's education agenda if we gave more of our attention to other things that matter a lot for our country? Would it help improve our country's standing in the international education community if we were to give all our students an effective teacher? Especially since we know nothing of long-lasting value can be achieved within the walls of any classroom that doesn’t have one.

It should be a crime to deny any student an effective teacher. Placing an effective teacher in the classroom ensures students a chance to succeed, no matter what other non-school related challenges they might be facing. That means no matter what other problems a student might bring along with them to school, having an ineffective teacher is still the worst impediment standing between that student, and high academic achievement.

Our real stars, the ones we should be idolizing and rewarding with great pay and as many accolades as they deserve, are those men and women who know what it takes, and are willing to accept the challenges, to be an effective teacher.

What do you think?

Would the chance to earn much higher pay attract and keep better, more effective teachers for our nation's public schools?

See results

© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD


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