Do We Really Value Our Best Teachers?
Who Should Really Be Our Favorite "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 Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith, Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart, all earn double-digit millions—for one movie. In the world of music, both Madonna and Mariah Carey have a net worth of over half a billion. And, when you combine salaries, bonuses, prize money, appearance fees, licensing and income from endorsements, the highest paid athletes (for year 2010) earned a combined $1.4 billion, or about $28 million each, on average. 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 median expected salary for a typical public school teacher is $50,547.
What do you think?
Should outstanding public school teachers be offered endorsements, bonuses, prizes, and appearance fees, like star athletes?
Where Are Our Priorities?
I am not saying teachers should ever expect or that they even need to earn salaries like the stars of screen, sports, and music, the stars we 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. 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 dismal high school graduation rate statistics.
According to a 2010 report by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, slightly less than 70 percent of all students in the United States graduate from high school, in four years, with a regular diploma. Although many factors are contributing to the low graduation rate, at least some credit has to be given to the widespread acceptance of mediocrity inside our classrooms.
What is the Most Important 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.
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.
Is There a Color for Success in Our Nation’s Public School Classrooms?
Most of the most highly effective teachers are most likely to be found teaching in the most affluent schools with the smallest populations of 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.
Who’s Graduating in America?
America’s class of 2008–09 had slightly more than 3 million students that graduated on time (four years after starting ninth grade, with a regular diploma). Those 3 million students represented an AFGR (averaged freshman graduation rate) of 75.5 percent. What states had the highest graduation rates? Well, Wisconsin topped the list, at 90.7 percent, and fifteen other states were at 80 percent or more. These included (from highest to lowest percentage): Vermont, Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, Montana, South Dakota, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Maryland. Which states had the lowest AFGR graduation percentages? Nevada had the lowest rate of all at 56.3 percent, but seven other states and the District of Columbia had graduation rates below 70 percent. These included, (from highest to lowest percentage): Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, and Mississippi.
Once seen as leader of the pack among industrialized countries, America is now lagging behind when it comes to educating our population. Our nation’s students are 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 (according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).
Of those students who do graduate from high school, a whopping 76 percent were found, by ACT, to not be “adequately prepared academically” to meet the challenges of first-year college courses. And, as if that were not bad enough, now we’re in a race to catch up in education at a time when many developing nations, including China and Singapore, are making impressive gains in educational attainment. As of 2009, when it comes to international assessment, among the highest scoring countries are South Korea, Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai in China, and Canada.
Isn't It Time to "Rearrange" Some of 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. Now let’s give some of our attention to other things that matter a lot for our country. Let's give all our students an effective teacher, because 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?
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© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD