Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fallacies about teachers

From John Curry, March 18, 2012

Fallacies about teachers

Realities of profession show smarts don't make cents

By Jim Touchton
Special to the Star-Banner
March 18, 2012

According to a report in Florida Today, the Florida Legislature, supported by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), plans on portraying teachers as "overcompensated underachievers" in an apparent effort to continue dismantling Florida's public school system, replacing it with corporate-run, for-profit, public charter/virtual schools.

Another report, co-sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, concludes teachers are overpaid, underworked, not as smart and receive better benefits at lower cost than nonpublic employees.

Malarkey! I'll use personal career experience to debunk this travesty of intelligent reasoning.

First, a brief biography. I have an electrical-engineering degree and worked in private industry for 24 years. I have been a teacher for seven years, a union member since day one and a part of Marion Education Association's leadership for six of those seven years.

I have seen the best and worst of both worlds and offer an inside perspective, not some data collected third-hand and analyzed by third parties with an ax to grind.

The crux of the above delusion seems to be ALEC's passion to: force reduced spending on public education; increase cash flow into privately held, for-profit charter schools; increase virtual schooling, effectively removing the need for brick-and-mortar facilities (forcing parents at all economic levels to provide facilities and technology) thereby "virtually" eliminating any class-size cap or teacher-student ratio.

Here are some examples showing these greed-induced fantasies, and misanalysed conclusions are as useful as a screen door on a submarine.

Fallacy No. 1: ALEC believes "digital learning," virtual schooling, improves education.

There is no evidence to suggest online courses are better than live classes. They are cheaper, and you get what you pay for. I have seen students fail online classes because there is no motivation or mentorship to guide unmotivated students to perform. Some students report accepting payments to take virtual courses in another student's name. That can't happen in the real world.

Fallacy No. 2: ALEC believes teachers' total compensation looks good when divided by the number of contracted hours.

This one may be true, but I have yet to meet a good teacher who only works during contracted hours. For example, I am contracted for 1,519 hours per year. Last year alone, I worked more than 2,260 hours. Almost 49 percent nonpaid overtime! I averaged around 10 percent overtime in the private sector, so who's underworked here?

Fallacy No. 3: Workers moving into teaching see a 9 percent wage increase; those moving out of teaching see a 3 percent wage decrease.

Excuse me, my wage change moving into teaching was a staggering 40 percent-plus decrease. Without reference to context or type of job change this is meaningless. How did they measure education students working as servers who graduated and moved into teaching? How did they measure teachers retiring and taking a "fun" job to keep busy without regard to pay? No mention of extra hours for fundraisers, tutoring, planning, recertification, etc. — all "off the clock."

Fallacy No. 4: Teachers have generous health benefits.

My portion of family-coverage health insurance premiums went from $60 a month with a private company to $620 a month with the public school system. I hope the insurance company enjoys my generosity.

Fallacy No. 5: Teachers enjoy considerable job security, worth an extra 1 percent of wages.

Job security? Under Florida law, all teachers hired after July 1, 2011, are "probationary" forever. No matter what their results or rating, they can be given any reason for dismissal, appropriate or not — they're "just not needed." This doesn't count the 50 percent-plus dropout/turnover rate within the first five years, or the 10 percent of teachers laid off in recent months. I feel better about my 48 percent-plus salary decrease now.

Fallacy No. 6: Teachers are not subjected to equivalent education rigors and "not as intelligent" as other professionals.

Using average GPA of education majors (3.65) versus "hard science" majors (2.88) to "prove" teachers do not receive as rigorous an education and are "less intelligent" (based on SAT scores) is bunk. My college GPA is 3.49. Based on my SAT scores (from 1975) my IQ is 127. We see countless examples of second-career "hard science" folks coming into education — only to run off because the challenge of good teaching is more about reaching students than good science.

There are other fallacious arguments, but I believe my point is made. Are all teachers "highly intelligent?" Are all teachers good teachers? Arguably not! But neither are they the overcompensated intellectual midgets recent maleficent data conspirators claim.

Just because someone has "Ph.D." behind or "Congressman" in front of their name doesn't mean they know what they're talking about.

Jim Touchton is the Advance Placement physics teacher in the EMIT magnet program at Forest High School and the second vice president of the Marion Education Association.
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