Indiana is the latest battleground in the Red for Ed Revolution. I’ve been covering this movement on my various platforms for the last few weeks and I have been at once inspired and disgusted by the reactions I’ve seen. I’ve been truly moved and encouraged over the last week as I’ve watched school district after school district cancel classes for November 19th–the date that has been set aside for a large Red for Ed rally at the Indiana Statehouse–to support the teachers’ first amendment rights to be heard. As of this writing, more than 75 districts have called off classes for that day, including many of the largest districts in the state. Many districts are planning e-learning days for that day and others will make up the missed day at a later date. More than 10,000 teachers have already registered to attend and I’d expect to see well above that number actually attend. This kind of grassroots democracy is what makes America such a unique and invigorating place. It’s what makes us America. Yet, not everyone seems to be as thrilled by this as I am. I’ve been monitoring the push back on social media and, while I’m never going to let that bring me down, it does dampen the excitement a bit to read the comments of so many misinformed people. I want to address some of the most common themes I’ve seen in the negative comments online. This is Indiana, but I’m sure teachers from all over the country who might be reading this have seen the same kinds of comments.
Before I begin, let me assure you that the public opinion polls show overwhelming support for public school teachers. This is great news, but I still want to address the minority of people out there who either just don’t get it or just don’t want to get it. So let me address 5 common misconceptions about the state of the public education teaching profession.
1–It’s all about teacher pay
The media must share a lot of the blame on this one. Whenever they cover the Red for Ed movement, teacher pay is the focus. In fact, teacher pay is just one of the major symptoms of the disease. The disease has been raging for decades and it has metastasized to ravage all areas of public education, including, but certainly not limited to teacher pay. So many factors have caused this disease, factors that started slowly, but built upon one another like the division of cancer cells creating a deadly tumor. No Child Left Behind legislation created a system where public schools began to be forced to get every student to clear the same bar in spite of their starting points. Schools began to be graded upon this inequitable standardized testing formula. Poor school grades began to place stigmas on poverty-stricken districts in inner cities and rural areas alike–schools labeled as failing had funding cut off, teachers’ pay was tied to the funding. Teachers in schools scarred by this stigma would go year after year with no pay raises at all. Then school choice vouchers were offered so that parents could take public tax money and pull their child from the local public school and send them to charter or private schools. Since vouchers don’t cover transportation, generally only the wealthier families took advantage of them, thus causing the public schools which those students vacated to lose even more funding and become stigmatized even further. Then along came the ever-popular property tax caps. Those sounded good to a lot of homeowners, but they have cost school districts millions upon millions of dollars of revenue every year since they were implemented. This added exponentially to the already critical financial problems. Referendums have helped some school districts stay afloat, but others have tried and failed to get them passed. Increased pressure on teachers to show improved student performance on inequitable standardized tests, more and more non-teaching duties put on their plates, along with less and less prep time given to plan have caused many teachers to retire early or quit early in their careers to seek another profession. Because of all of the negative things associated with teaching now, schools of education in universities around the country are reporting critical shortages of students. Precious few new teachers are available to replace the many who are exiting. The teacher shortage is a monumental crisis and it’s only getting worse. I could go on, but I trust you get the point by now. So, the next time you hear someone say the teachers are mad about their pay, set them straight, won’t you?
2–The Average Salary for teachers in Indiana is $54,000 and they only work 180 days a year while the rest of us work 250.
The average teacher pay figures used for Indiana are completely misleading. Within the teaching profession in the Hoosier state is a hidden story of the haves and the have-nots. Veteran teachers, such as myself, began teaching in an era when teachers were paid under a graduated pay scale. Each year, from year one to year 20 or 25, a teacher knew exactly how much their pay would increase for each year of experience. These scales were set raises and were readjusted for each new contract. As a new teacher, I remember being encouraged to look up that graduated pay scale chart and see what I could expect to make in the years to come. Then, Indiana eliminated the graduated pay scales for teachers and created a system by which, in order to receive any rise in pay, a teacher had to be labeled as “qualified” or “highly qualified.” These specious labels have to be earned by meeting the minimum qualifications as laid out in a convoluted and complex formula tied to those same inequitable standardized tests mentioned in the previous sections. Teachers who’d been in the game for a while also felt the effects of this system, but not nearly as much as new teachers. Older teachers’ pay rates were grandfathered in from the old graduated pay scale days, so our base salaries at the beginning of this new system were $20,000-$30,000 dollars per year higher than a starting teachers’. So when you see that $54,000 figure used as Indiana’s average, that is only a result of dinosaurs like myself skewing the numbers higher. As more of my kind retire, you’ll see the bottom fall out of Indiana’s average teacher pay and you’ll get a much more realistic picture. Frankly, our young teachers have been completely screwed. That’s why so many are leaving and so few are taking their places.
3–You teachers knew what you were getting into when you signed on, so why complain now?
Read the above sections again. Do you really think teachers saw all this coming? If you do, you are delusional. No one could have seen this coming 20 years ago when I started teaching. Stephen King couldn’t have written this horror story into a novel. It’s been a slow water torture-like process. It’s like the old story of the frog who is placed in a pot of tepid water and doesn’t realize as the heat is gradually increased that he is being slowly boiled alive. Well, teachers and friends of public education are leaping out of that pot and telling everyone who will listen that we will not sit still and be boiled alive. Enough of the nonsense.
4–Why are you teachers so afraid of accountability?
Teachers welcome accountability. Our current system is not accountability, it’s insanity. Holding teachers, students, and school systems accountable to tests we aren’t allowed to have any part of developing is simply never going to work. Our government is playing the shell game with these tests, constantly changing the game and moving the bar, as a part of their agenda to discredit and dismantle public education in favor of privatized, religious-based schools. This agenda has become impossible to ignore and it is criminally unconstitutional. I laid out exactly what needs to happen in my last article which you can read here. For now, suffice to say, if you make the accountability system equitable and fair, teachers will be happy to be held accountable to it. That’s far from the reality now.
5–Private schools have better graduation rates, so we should all send our kids to private schools.
No statement shows more utter ignorance of reality than this one. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against private schools. There are many fine ones and they are great fits for some kids. My own daughter graduated from a private high school. However, more than 90% of Hoosier students attend public schools. Public schools take all comers. Private schools can reject applicants for any reason–including non-education related reasons such as sexual orientation. Yet, they can still receive public tax monies in the form of school vouchers to help keep them funded. How that is allowed to go on is far beyond my ability to understand. But the point here is that graduation rates of private schools simply can’t be compared to those of public schools. If public schools had carte blanche to hand pick their clientele, they could boast some pretty gawdy success rates, too.
So, when you see all those teachers standing in solidarity outside the Statehouse on November 19th demanding “higher pay,” I hope you’ll see past that headline and realize that teacher pay is a small symptom of an enormous disease. We need to stop treating symptoms and tackle the disease. That is exactly what teachers will be out there trying to say. That is what Red for Ed is all about. If you know someone who needs to read this, by all means, share it with them. I’m here to educate.
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