Red for Ed: 5 Common Misconceptions About the Issues Facing Teachers

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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23 Replies to “Red for Ed: 5 Common Misconceptions About the Issues Facing Teachers”

  1. This explains it well. I only disagree with one statement. I’m a teacher with 20 years experience and my pay scale was never grandfathered. I’m treated just the same as a newly hired educator. My pay has been frozen for 3 years due to lack of funding. (NOT due to my lack of professionalism.) Other years, I’ve been given a pitiful stipend of $250-500 dollars as my “raise.” Despite 20 years experience I make well below the average $54,000. With a bachelors degree, a master’s degree and 20 years experience I could’ve earned so much more if I’d chosen another profession. However, I chose this profession because of my love for kids. This decade long assault on education is draining the life out of my desire to teach.

    1. I understand, the discrepancy in teacher pay from one district to the next is also a big part of the formula. I’m blessed to teach in one of he highest paying districts I. The state. I’m in my 19th year and my base salary is nearly $66,000 a year. The younger teachers in my districts have no hope of ever reaching anywhere near my base pay unless the system is overhauled dramatically.

  2. In my opinion teachers should be the most respected highest paid profession. They are entrusted with our most precious part of our life…our children. Teachers are more important and more need than sports persons who run back and forth with a ball… or politicians who make great sounding speeches that are written by someone else…who were taught the ability to compose an intelligent speech by GUESS WHO…A TEACHER… WAKE UP AMERICA…TEACHERS ARE OUR GREATEST LINE OF DEFENSE,

  3. These are all valid points.

    For me the question is why is the red for ed demonstrations targeting the state lawmakers when their hands are more or less tied by the national standards put in place by nclb and essa? Is there something substantial that Indiana lawmakers can do that will immediately impact the issues you raised? For example can they affect the pay issue directly or is this more of a local government issue? And can the state lawmakers pass legislation that could counter some of the issues created by nclb with regards to evaluation, autonomy etc that you are raising?

    As a frustrated citizen it’s hard to know who can effect the change needed and how best to hit those pressure points.

    None of the candidates for President have yet to articulate any educational policy that adresses what you are talking about, but it seems they may be the ones who have to drive this kind of change.

    1. I know in my particular state, our education association did the same thing and achieved a 2% pay raise. Our state sets a minimum pay scale and each individual system has the option to pay higher if they choose to do so. Our classroom budget is also set by the state, which also received a boost for this fiscal year.

  4. A few other points left out…Class sizes are ridiculous in most places! Custodial staff is paid really low and they practically keep a skeleton crew at most schools. So our schools are not adequately cleaned as they should be. The custodians present are busting their bumps to just get trash and vacuum rooms. Desks are lucky to get cleaned once a week. So teachers help with the slack some. But more custodians would certainly help. Last point, transportation. It is getting harder and harder to get bus drivers. Buses are overcrowded and some have long routes because of a lack of drivers and buses. So to all those people who look down on us for protesting, shame on you. You have no idea what it is like. I have to post this anonymously so as I don’t get in trouble…you don’t.

  5. Why are my tax dollars going to private and church schools. They only admit the students they want and taking the dollars away from the public school systems. The private school. is a business, for profit.

  6. I think the major problem is at the adminstrative level. It’s were the money is being spent. I worked for a huge district and had to buy 15 NEW buses that were NOT needed…I had to spend the $$ or lose my job, because if I didn’t the district would’ve lost the money… who audits this kind of stuff.. I wish there was a way to report the kind of activity. I support ALL teachers!! GO RED!

  7. I recognize and agree with the need for better teacher pay.Would fully support that! What bothers me it the government mandated courses that have little or anything to do with education and preparation for college or life. Three quarters if not all of them would have been unheard of 20 to 30 years ago. They are taught at the cost of civics and history. Why can’t HS graduates give a plausible answer to how our government is structured. Or who was the first President? The other question I have is one of the accusations I have seen on line against Red for Ed is that the founder was an admitted communist who started in Arizona, and now lives in Wisconsin. Is this true and if so ,how much influence does he have in the org?

    1. Can you elaborate? What classes are government mandated that are not pertinent to college or life? Also students are still required to take civics so I’m not sure I understand that comment.

  8. I have no idea about the “founder” of the Red For Ed movement. As to part 2 of your question about how much influence he has…in Indiana, it has zero influence. I’ll wager there aren’t many people involved in this movement in Indiana who could tell you about who founded it or what their background is. At this point, that doesn’t matter a bit. At least not here. We can tell you the issues that are the problems and tell you what we think should be done to help, that’s what the movement is about here.

  9. Where are the teacher’s unions in this game? If they aren’t fighting for the teachers, what good are they? I take exception to the voucher complaints. SGO money came from donations and that is part of the voucher award. Also, the public school retains 10% of what it would have received had the child gone to the public school even though the student is not taking up space in the public school. This info is hard to find but this was the case at least 5 years ago when my children were in private schools. How is it that private schools teach more with way less money? That is my complaint about teachers not getting enough. Yes they should have a respectable salary. However when they spew liberal ideas like socialism and cram climate change down students’ throats with no alternative teachings, that is where I get very disgusted with public education.

    1. “ However when they spew liberal ideas like socialism and cram climate change down students’ throats with no alternative teachings, that is where I get very disgusted with public education.”

      O implore you to become a substitute teacher if you can. You can pick your hours and days you work. See what is really going on because it’s nothing like your above statement.

      1. I am a public school teacher and agree with most of the arguments presented in this article. However, I do witness such one-sided indoctrination(as referred to above), instead of constructive analysis and discussion/debate on a regular basis. This type of approach has contributed to the political support for public funding of alternatives.

    2. “How is it that private schools teach more with way less money?”

      Part of the answer is most private schools pay their teachers significantly less than our public school counterparts. My wife started in public school at 32k, I started private at 21k. Nine years on, she makes over twice as much as me. My wife funds my private school habit 😛

      1. Private schools don’t “teach more”, they get to choose and refuse the students they teach. See how that might skew test results?

    3. Private and charter schools do not necessarily teach more with less money. They are not held to the same standards, especially charter schools.

    4. Alternative teachings cannot be junk science. Climate change is real despite what Fox News has told you.
      Very curious to know what “teaching socialism” refers to in the curriculum.

  10. As a second career teacher I looked at that grid and saw the future back in 2003. For the same qualification and service that same type of teacher made the same wage 16 years later. NO EFFECTIVE RAISE OVER THE 16 YEARS. Increased insurance cost paid for by the employee was not accounted for. I presented that information to our local school board this year. Is is fair to say that local systems can just solve the problem of funding with a local referendum? No, we went to blanket state funding to ensure that each child in the state had fair access to education funding. Yes, I agree that this movement is not all about wages but when are we just going to focus on the fact that fair wages are the center of it? Not only did the unfair application of wages cause real time deficiencies, it also is costing Indiana teachers thousands in lost retirement dollars due to lower end of career earnings. Most people out there “support” education. However when you ask them to step up and pay for it, the attitude changes. Let’s cut to the core and admit that we will need to inject funds specifically for wages and it will take in increase in taxes to make that happen. Oh, I said a really bad word now. Society wants all the good things but when asked to pay for it we balk. Notice I said WE. Our basic education for all should be we get what we pay for and if we want a quality product we must be willing to pay for it.

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