Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When Economists Strive to Disparage U.S. Schools, They Work Magic

Erik Hanushek frequently attempts to prove that virtually everything is wrong with the U.S. public school system: the teachers are bad, the administrators are bad, the schools fail to educate the poor, and now, the schools fail to educate the rich — or at least the children of the most educated parents. My word, what is left?! Well, maybe a bit of evidence would strengthen Hanushek's position. But sadly, he is prone to leap from shaky data to foregone conclusions. What follows is my co-author David Berliner's setting matters straight.
Criticism via Sleight of Hand

David C. Berliner

​Hanushek, Peterson and Woessmann (2014) (HPW) criticize Berliner, Glass, and Associates (2014). They label Berliner et al. “apologists,” and as misleaders of the American people. But their critique of our work seems bizarre. They never address the issue we deal with. We talk about the role of income and poverty in national and international assessments. They do not. Here is what they do: ​“To ascertain whether the challenges facing the United States are concentrated among the educationally disadvantaged, we identify for each state and country the proficiency rate of students from families with parents of high, moderate, and low levels of education.”

​Their analysis suggests that the children of America’s better educated families do not do as well as the children of better educated parents in other countries. If true, that would certainly not make us happy. But it is an irrelevant criticism of our analysis which convincingly demonstrates that poverty, along with its sequelae and correlations, is the greatest barrier to high achievement test scores for U.S. students on both domestic and international tests. Theirs is criticism via sleight of hand—we talk “level of poverty” and the outcomes of assessments, they talk “level of parental education” and the outcomes of assessment.

​Everyone knows that there is a relationship between educational level and income. But HPW blithely assume that the correlation between these two variables is quite high, when it is not. In fact the raw correlation between an individual’s educational level and that individual’s income actually is surprisingly low. In Arizona, for example, among employed individuals 25-55 years old, the correlations between wage income and education level are about .20 for workers at younger ages, the child-bearing ages. This correlation increases with age, but is still relatively weak, only about .40 (accounting for only 16% of variance) at the upper end of the age scale examined. One’s level of education and one’s level of income simply do not provide the same information, something often referred to as status inconsistency in the sociological literature.

To criticize us with their data set requires HPW to show two things. First, that the correlation between educational level of the parents of school children and income level of those parents is quite high in the U.S. Second, they must show that the relationships of parental education and parental income is about the same in all the OECD countries. They do not provide either of these two analyses. Nor could they, since it is highly unlikely that similar correlations are the case.

​Moreover, HPW do not acknowledge that much recent data suggest that education and income are not highly correlated in the U.S. For example, we know that in 1970, only 1 in 100 taxi drivers and chauffeurs in the U.S. had a college degree. Today, 15 of 100 do. Highly educated taxi drivers are likely not to be able to afford to live in the areas where school poverty rates for families are below 10%. In those public schools, U.S. students are among the top scoring in the world. Even in the schools where about 10-25% of the families are in poverty, U.S. public school students compete remarkably well. The question is whether all those well-educated taxi drivers live in the areas served by those kinds of school? Probably not! Thus their children are unlikely to be getting as good an education as are the children whose parents, regardless of their educational level, can afford to live in those areas.

​Educational achievement on domestic and international tests is related to where you live and with whom you go to school. The children of these well-educated taxi drivers are more likely living in schools attended by people of more modest means, and this is possibly a reason for the findings of HPW. But it is not just taxi drivers with college degrees that have grown in numbers. In 1970, only about 2 percent of firefighters had a college degree. Now 15 percent do. Are they sending their kids to the schools attended by richer Americans, or to schools that serve the working and middle classes?

​About 1 in 4 bartenders has some sort of college degree. Are they high earners? If they have children, with whom would those children go to school? Our critics know as well as we do that who you go to school with is more important for your performance on tests than is your teacher, or any other influence. James Coleman made that clear fifty years ago and no credible refutation of this argument yet exists.

​So if many of America’s highly educated people are not earning high salaries, and thus not sending their children to the schools attended by the children of the advantaged, guess what? They will not do as well as might be expected of highly educated people—which is the point made by HPW. So not only does their data not refute our argument, if our hypothesis about education and income in contemporary U.S. is credible, their data actually confirm ours! Parental income and their child’s school achievement are strongly related, perhaps even more so than is parental education level and their children’s school achievement. In modern America, parental income rather than parental education more often determines who your children go to school with.

​Even more evidence suggests that the correlation between education and income (and therefore, the correlation between education and the neighborhood one lives in) is not as high as HPW suggest. More than a third of recent college graduates hold jobs that do not require a college degree. This underemployment or "mal-employment" rate appears to be over 36% for college-educated workers younger than 25. People don't go to college to be a waiter or a bartender, but that is now a common outcome of their education. Nearly 8% of college graduates are working part-time, but would like full-time positions, and these highly educated people are not counted in the mal-employment rate of 36%.

​Not surprisingly, hospitality and retail are the most common occupations of the mal-employed. Of the nearly 3 million recent college grads, 152,000 are working in retail sales and nearly 100,000 work as waiters, bartenders or in other food service posts. Another 80,000 serve as clerks or customer service representatives, and 60,000 work in construction or manual labor. ​These are Americans of child-bearing age, and they will be sending their children to school now, or quite soon. Will they live in neighborhoods where less than 10% of the families served by the schools are in poverty? Or are these now and future parents more likely to live in neighborhoods where 25-50% of the families are in poverty? Those would be the neighborhoods and schools that serve the working and the middle classes, and the students in these schools score about the national or international average on most assessments. Not great, but certainly not bad. Furthermore, going to the suburbs is no escape: Recently, and for the first time, suburban poverty rates exceeded urban poverty rates. So these poor and modest-earning well-educated Americans, often with large debts from college, are likely to wait a long time before they can move to a neighborhood with a school that has less than 10% of its children living in poverty and thus a likely very high performing school.

​As is clear, HPW switched the argument from poverty to education. Perhaps children of America’s highly educated parents are not doing as well as children of the highly educated in other countries. We did not study that issue, but we have doubts about their findings, given what we have presented above about the relationship between education and income and where children are likely to be brought up in the contemporary U.S. More important is that their argument is irrelevant to our argument. We are quite sure we are correct in stating that youth poverty is our biggest education problem (see also, Biddle (2014)). What follows is why we hold this belief. ​On the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study [TIMSS] tests, on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study [PIRLS] test, and on the Program for International Student Assessment [PISA] tests of reading, science and mathematics, public school students in five groups were assessed. One group attended schools where fewer than 10% of the families were in poverty, others attended schools where approximately 10-25% of the families were in poverty, or where 25-50%, 50-75% or over 75% of the families served by the school were in poverty. On each of these three international tests, U.S. public school students did terrific in the schools where poverty rates of families were under 10%, or even when poverty rates were between 10% and 25%. But we did not do well in schools where poverty rates were above 50%, and we did even worse on those tests in schools where poverty rates for families were in the 75-100% bracket.

Here is the recent TIMSS data for grades 4 and 8 by poverty of the families served by the school.

​ Although many nations in this analysis were not developed nations, the competition did include Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, and many OECD countries. The data are clear. First, to the amazement of everyone, the U.S. mean score in mathematics was above the international average, a finding conveniently underreported in the U.S. But averages always hide trends in data. When U.S. scores are broken down by the poverty of the families served, as in this graph, we see that the higher the percent of poverty among the families served by the schools, the lower the score in math. The science assessment showed the same trend. ​Less well known is that the two groups on the left constitute about 12 million students, and they handily beat the average score of Finland. Even the middle group beat Finland at both the 4th and 8th grade, and that means that about 50% of U.S. school children who are not greatly affected by poverty, about 25 million children, are doing as well as the nation whose scores other nations envy. But internationally high, or quite respectable test scores, are not the lot of those students attending schools with high rates of poverty. That is our simple point. ​Let’s switch to PIRLS.

​U.S. public school students, where poverty rates were low, the two bars on the left, outscored every other nation in the world, and there were more than 50 other countries and jurisdictions in this study. Underreported, once again, was that even our children in schools that serve the poorest families, the bar on the right, scored above the international average. The gap, however, between the children in schools that serve the wealthy and those that serve the poor is huge. That is our point. If we want better test scores in the U.S. we should probably stop blaming unions, tenure, the curriculum, teachers and administrators, and instead create programs to reduce poverty and the housing segregation that accompanies low earnings. ​Now let’s go to PISA, the test that HPW use to argue that we do not have it right. Here are math scores for the five groups we focus on.

​Even in math, often our weakest subject, those students in schools where poverty rarely is seen, the first bar in this graph, placed 6th in world—and they placed higher than Japan. The next group, schools with less than 25% of the children living in poverty families, placed 17th in world, well above most of the countries in OECD. But here is our national problem: The U.S. average score was low because the schools attended by children whose families are in poverty score poorly. Those in the schools most heavily affected by poverty may not have the mathematics skills needed to compete in the market. But other U.S. children certainly do, and they are predominantly those attending schools low in family poverty.

Here are science scores.

​The first bar in this graph displays PISA science scores for students in schools with under 10% of their classmates living in families that experience poverty. They were beaten by only one country, Shanghai, which as we know is not a country but a city. And it is a city with the highest rate of college graduates in China. Apparently it also does not test the children of its illegal immigrants (those from rural areas living in Shanghai illegally: Their number may approach 200,000). The second bar, representing students in schools where under 25% of the students are from families in poverty tied for 8th in the world. Not too shabby a performance for about 12 million American public school students. But once again the trend is clear. Children in schools high in poverty do not do well. The difference between the schools serving the wealthy and the poor is over one standard deviation.

Here is the reading data. The trend is clear once again.

​Reading is an area of US strength, as PIRLS revealed. We see that again in PISA. US students in schools where under 10% of the families served are in poverty placed 2nd in the world. In the group where under 25% of the students were in poverty the students placed 6th in the world, tied with Finland. So, again, around 12 million of our student’s did great. And if we assess the performance of students represented by the third bar, the one showing students in schools with 25-50% of the families served in poverty, they also did well. They came in 10th. So approximately half of all US students, about 25 million of them, are doing pretty good, but that is not true for the other half of our school population—those attending schools where over 50% of the students come from families that are eligible for free and reduced lunch, our marker of family poverty.

​We conclude that in contemporary America parental income, not parental education buys neighborhood, and neighborhood plays a big role in determining the composition of the class ones child is in, the composition of the cohort at the grade level one’s child is in, and the characteristics of the community in which one’s child goes to school. If there is not a very strong correlation between parental education and parental income, or more to the point, between parental education and where you can afford to live, HPW are wrong in both their interpretation of their own data, and their criticism of us. But we would like to add one more criticism of HPW, namely, that reliance on PISA and other international assessments to draw conclusions about characteristics of the U.S. system of education is foolish, even though we challenged their interpretations of our work by using those same questionable tests. The remarkably insightful Chinese born scholar Yong Zhao has a book coming out soon (Zhou, 2014). In it he makes it quite clear that PISA, in particular, and for international tests in general, it is impossible to draw valid conclusions about the strengths and weaknesses of national systems of education. Zhao (and many others) would caution, and we would agree, that HPW are on extremely shaky ground when they use PISA data to do so.


Berliner, D. C., Glass, G. V and Associates. (2014). Fifty myths and lies that ​threaten America’s public schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Biddle, B. J. (2014). The unacknowledged disaster: Youth poverty and educational failure in America. Boston. MA: Sense Publishers.

Hanushek, E. A., Peterson, P. E., & Woessmann, L. (2014). Not just the ​problems of other people’s children: U.S. Student Performance in Global Perspective. Harvard University, Program on Education Policy and Governance & Education Next, PEPG Report No. 14-01, May 2014.

Zhao, Y. (2014). Who’s afraid of the big bad dragon? Why China has the best ​(and worst) education system in the world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey- ​Bass.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why Are Charter Schools Spending So Much on Administration?

The state of Arizona has long been a leader in charter schools. Of a million students enrolled in K-12 public education in the state, approximately 141,000 are enrolled in the nearly 550 charter schools. At roughly 15% of the school population in charter schools, Arizona leads the nation in its commitment to non-traditional schooling. Taxpayers in the state of Arizona spend more than $1 Billion annually to operate these charter schools.

Among the promised benefits of charter schools were that decentralised and less regulated entities forced to compete for students would necessarily spend less money on administration and more on instruction. No less eminent advocates of charter schools than Paul Hill and Checker Finn have made such arguments. The reality of the charter school movement has not kept up with such promises.

When expenditures to operate public schools in Arizona are broken down by categories like Instruction and Administration, interesting trends become apparent. For the 900,000 pupils in traditional public schools, approximately $4,000 per pupil is expended for Instruction. For the 141,000 charter school pupils, the average expenditure for Instruction is $3,200.

But the surprising differences in the costs of operating traditional and charter schools appear in the category of Administration.

  • Administration in the 1,500 traditional public schools of Arizona costs $760 per pupil.

  • Administration in the 550 charter schools of Arizona costs $1,344 per pupil.
So charter schools in Arizona are spending almost twice as much per pupil on administration as the traditional public schools. Denis Smith, writing in the Columbus (OH) Dispatch observed that in the state of Ohio “Many charter schools employ highly paid administrators but compensate their teachers well below those in other public schools, leading to constant staff turnover.” The Arizona situation seems to indicate that “overpaid administrators” is not just a Mid-western phenomenon. Exactly how much charter school administrators are paying themselves is difficult — or impossible — to determine nearly everywhere. They are public when requesting tax money; they act suspiciously private when asked about salaries.

Afterword: Interestingly, the figures for Arizona match almost exactly data reported by Arsen & Ni in a 2012 article entitled Is Administration Leaner in Charter Schools? Resource Allocation in Charter and Traditional Public Schools, which was published by Education Policy Analysis Archives.

Data source: http://www.azed.gov/superintendent/files/2014/03/safr-2013-volume-i.pdf

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

An Administrator Tells What It's Like in One Sector of America's Schools

KB, a school administrator on the East Coast was provoked by a posting on Infinite Campus on this blog to reply. His observations follow:
Public education today is a nebulous Pandora's box. What makes one parent happy will make another irate to the point of a complaint to the superintendent. Some parents need to care more about their child and others would do their child the best service possible if they let the kid do their own thing for a while. I read somewhere a quote, "no matter how tall your grandfather was, everyone has to do their own growing". This is so true in schools today but many parents feel they are actually helping their 17-18yr old child by babying them, calling teachers at the slightest grade change, complaining to VP's when their child is disciplined, doing any and all paperwork/etc., related to college application, etc. They have no idea the damage they are doing to these kids. The result of this is that parents are often raising children who have absolutely no clue how to advocate for themselves or handle their own issues.

For example, I had a mom call to complain that her son (18yrs old and graduating in a month) received a lunch detention because he left wood shop class early before the bell (seen on camera, picture printed, the case was rock solid). Her rationale for complaining to me was that 1) he never received a single referral in high school and she wanted to keep it that way and 2) she was "trying to teach him how to be a man and do the right things", Hello...he's 18yrs old!! Can't he come to the discipline office and plead his case?

Just today, I had a mom come in to our main office because she wanted to pick up working papers for her 17yr old son, who she happily told us was turning 18 in a week. Isn't it possible that this near-18yr old healthy male could have ridden his bike the 3 blocks to the school and done this himself? Our entire district is about 2miles in any direction (max)

We often joke in school that we have 2 types of parents. The first are the "helicopter" parents who are constantly buzzing around the school at the slightest issue and are always "in the know". The second are called "lawnmower" parents because the will literally mow you over until they get what they want, regardless of whether they are right or not.

Our recently retired superintendent used to say, "I'm know I'm raising my kids right simply because I'm NOT raising them like these parents". I feel the same.

These (and many others) are the reasons why schools select student information systems like Infinite Campus, Skyward, PowerSchool, (and the list goes on). Tell parents that their kids need to do their OWN growing and learning and I'll tell the school to stop sending student information updates every 5 minutes.

KB, Administrator

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Warren Buffet a Foe of Public Education? Not Exactly.

Perhaps because of Buffet’s close association with Bill Gates — they played bridge together over the Internet and Buffet gave his billions to Bill & Melinda because he trusted their philanthropic instincts — it would be natural to think that Buffet and Bill have similar views about the future of education. Not so.

In a recent book review, Sacramento journalist Seth Sandronsky wrote: “What accounts for the reformers’ success is not actual facts but copious greenbacks from wealthy interests. … Call this class war. And according to billionaire investor Warren Buffet, his class is winning. Funding this conflict are venture philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli and Edythe Broad, and the Walton Family foundation.”

You would have to know a lot about Warren Buffet and his views on society not to come away from that paragraph thinking that Buffet is right there with the other reformers as an enemy of teacher unions and public education. Well, the truth is that Buffet does not stand with the GERM (Global Education Reform Movement). In fact, the Sage of Omaha is a sworn supporter of public education. Perhaps Sandronsky should have read this entry in the Huffington Post before loosely connecting Buffet to the likes of the Waltons, the Broads, and education reformers Bill & Melinda:

What if I said to you that the solution to the problems in our education system would be to "make private schools illegal and assign every child to a [state] school by random lottery"?

That's the view not of Karl Marx or the Chinese Communist Party but of the billionaire US investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett. The "Sage of Omaha" has been a longstanding campaigner for equality of opportunity and social mobility — and sees the existence of private schools as a major barrier to both. For Buffett, the fact that a tiny minority of wealthy families can choose to opt out of the state sector, and send their children to expensive and elite private schools, has a negative impact on the overall education of the vast majority of students whose families cannot afford to do the same.

I have long contended that a large part of Buffet’s success as an investor is due to the fact that he has spent almost his whole life in Omaha, Nebraska. His location and surroundings have given him a practical view of reality often missing in the minds of Wall Street hotshots and hedge fund managers. When the Masters of the Universe on Wall Street were chasing — and losing — fortunes buying Netscape and Napster stock, Buffet reasoned that humans in the future would probably buy underwear, and he assumed a big position in Fruit-of-the-Loom stock. I suspect that his views on public vs private education are equally sound. (Check out this previous posting on Buffet and the Circle of Competence.)

Back to Bill Gates, the Waltons, and Eli Broad. In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye, the poor milkman of Anatevka, sings the classic song “If I Were a Rich Man.” Embedded in the lyrics are these lines:

When you’re rich, they think you know.
The most important men in town would come to fawn on me!
It won't make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong.
Yes, some rich people are right, and some are wrong.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Myth 13. Teach For America kids are well trained, highly qualified, and get amazing results.

What follows is an edited excerpt from the recently published book, 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America's Public Schools, published by Teachers College Press at Columbia University.

TFA ascended from a college senior thesis to a multi-million dollar national nonprofit over the course of about twelve months in 1990, led by founder and current CEO Wendy Kopp (Kopp, 2001). The decade before Kopp’s thesis, President Reagan sought to fulfill his campaign promise to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education by commissioning a blue ribbon panel to report on the sorry state of the nation’s education systems. Called the National Commission on Excellence in Education. In 1983 this panel produced A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. The commissioners argued our nation was a small step away from losing its place in the world due to an ineffective and inefficient education system. The culprits? Teachers who didn’t know the subjects they were supposed to teach or how to teach them, and the universities that prepared them. The report was both sensational and filled with inaccuracies.

In this climate of fear, panic, and despair, TFA argued that the education system described in A Nation at Risk and similar reports could be fixed by recruiting the nation’s best and brightest to lead us out of the darkness. By teaching for two years, then using that frontline experience to fight for systematic change in the education system, the so-called achievement gap between rich and poor, minority and majority could be closed.

To legitimize its entry onto the scene, TFA needed a villain. So, intentionally and unintentionally, the organization cast several groups as the Banditos of the Education System: teachers, teacher unions, teacher educators, teacher preparation programs, and school and district leadership. TFA “spinoffs” like The New Teacher Project, the Knowledge is Power Project (KIPP), the Relay Graduate School of Education and even the chancellorship of Michelle Rhee in Washington DC all reflect TFA’s beliefs about the “limitations” of working within the system, and the need to overhaul public education from top to bottom. Recruits seek acceptance to TFA because they feel that teachers aren’t doing their jobs well, or systems are failing communities, or unions are holding the system hostage, or they remember the bad teachers they had when they were in school. (Fischman & Diaz, 2012)

While demonizing unions, TFA praised others as the saviors of public education: business leaders; certain elected officials; philanthropic foundations; wealthy institutions and individuals. “Bad teaching” is the enemy, not the dismantling of public assistance programs meant to combat poverty and redistribute wealth. Low quality teacher education programs are the villains, not local chambers of commerce that fight for lower tax burdens for corporations that shrink public coffers. Teacher unions are “terrorist organizations,” as Secretary of Education Rod Paige publically called them, but at the same time philanthropic foundations that use their wealth to push an ideology of privatization and limited government were to be respected. The Administration of George W. Bush was among the most vocal supporters of TFA, even commending the organization in a State of the Union address. And providing more publicity, First Lady Laura Bush, and her daughter Jenna, donated all the profits of a children’s book they authored to TFA.

In one of the first books about TFA, curriculum theorist and professor Thomas Popkewitz (1998) described the majority of corps members as privileged people “struggling for their soul:” simultaneously trying to save themselves from the damnation of corporate greed and the legacy of institutionalized racism while saving the souls of unfortunate youth born into poverty through no fault of their own. Others, less generously have described teacher corps members as “résumé builders.”

In the words of Kopp herself, “If top recent college graduates devoted two years to teaching in public schools, they could have a real impact on the lives of disadvantaged kids. Because they themselves excelled academically, they would be relentless in their efforts to ensure their students achieved. They would throw themselves into their jobs, working investment-banking hours in classrooms instead of skyscrapers on Wall Street. They would question the way things are and fight to do what’s right for children.” (Kopp, 2001, p. 6) (While TFAers struggle along for a couple years on beginning teacher salaries, Kopp — once a "top recent graduate" of an Ivy League school — exercises her extraordinary fund raising skills and pays herself an annual salary of roughly a half million dollars — $416,876 in 2012.)

Rhetoric aside, Teach For America is founded on one very problematic assumption, namely, that TFA first- and second-year teachers are better than other teachers. TFA teachers are expected to teach more effectively and efficiently, and to lead their students to higher academic achievement than the people who might otherwise hold their position in a school. The experience, training and commitment of that other person does not matter.

The best answer to the question “How good are TFA teachers?” is “It depends.” The data on TFA teacher effectiveness are contradictory. Some studies indicate that TFA teachers are as effective or slightly less effective as beginning teachers who have graduated from traditional university teacher training programs, while other studies show they are slightly more effective. TFA’s website features a review of studies conducted by research institutes and state departments of education that support the effectiveness of TFA teachers, entirely contradicted by a review recently published by the National Education Policy Center (Helig and Jez, 2010). Perhaps all these reports are right. In some places, TFA teachers do better than their peers, and in other places, TFA does worse. And when we explore what we mean by “peers,” we add even more to the complexity of finding an answer to the question “How good are TFA teachers?”

It is hard to say whether TFA teachers are better or worse than other teachers. But, we can certainly challenge an assumption that the entire organization rests on – that their first- and second-year teachers will be the force in schools that will bridge the achievement gap. In addition, as many critics of TFA have pointed out, TFA has problematically and significantly contributed to the mission of conservative, neo-liberal movements to destroy unions and public education. TFA adds weight to the notion that any smart, young person can outperform old, tired, union-dues-paying school teachers. Smart, young people also cost less money, and are not likely to complain as much when the pensions and health care programs of older teachers are gutted. And, if teaching school is nothing but a trade that anyone can be trained to do in a five-week summer program, it hardly deserves the autonomy, respect, and pay accorded to real professionals. Nearly every TFA success can be cited as a justification for “non-traditional” teacher certification programs that condense teacher training to a few months or a few on-line courses. Thus Texas, filled with neo-conservative policy makers, now has about 50 percent of all new teachers coming out of TFA and other non-traditional teacher education programs. These novice teachers have experienced enormously variable training, and almost all of them teach poor and minority students. The set of beliefs that are the cornerstone of TFA, along with data suggesting that relatively untrained teachers of the poor may be as good as traditionally trained teachers, provide neo-conservative reformers support for their negative views about teachers, and helps mask their indifference to economic injustice.

Summer 2013 brought with it a well-organized attack on TFA by a large number of its alumni. The TFA critics were especially angry over their organization’s role in support of the privatization of education. They saw privatization, ultimately, as the goal of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision in 2013 to close 48 schools and lay off 850 teachers and staff. But at the same time he planned to welcome 350 new TFA corps members who are likely not to do well, and are likely to leave the profession in 2-3 years.


Fischman, G. E. & Diaz, V. H. (2012). Teach For What America? Beginning Teachers’ Reflections about their Professional Choices and the Economic Crisis. In D. R. Cole (Ed.), Surviving Economic Crises through Education. New York: Peter Lang. Hartman, A. (2011) Teach For America: Liberal mission helps conservative agenda. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/teach-for-america-liberal-mission-helps-conservative-agenda/.

Heilig, J.V. & Jez, S.J. (2010). Teach For America: A Review of the Evidence. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved July 8, 2014 from http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/teach-for-america .

Kopp, W. (2001). One day all children: The unlikely triumph of Teach For America and what I learned along the way. Cambridge, MA: PublicAffairs/ Perseus Books.

Popkewitz, T. S. (1998) Struggling for the soul: The politics of schooling and the construction of the teacher. New York: Teachers College Press.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Myth #10. Teachers in the United States are well-paid.

Some critics cite higher than average salaries for teachers in the United States compared to their counterparts in some other industrialized nations with similar years of experience and grade level teaching assignments as evidence that American teachers are in fact well-paid. Incredibly, some tone-deaf economists even claim that teachers are overpaid. One anti-public education critic, whose mother was a teacher, also claims teachers are paid more than they are worth — I won't touch that little bit of family dynamics with a ten-foot pole. Reading these practitioners of the dismal science makes clear that they attribute no value whatsoever to the sensitivity, emotional maturity, and empathy that it takes to act in loco parentis for a group of 25 7-year-olds. I wonder at what price they value a mother's labor?

In reality, American teachers are paid less than teachers in many other countries as several critical comparisons will reveal: 1) relative wages of other domestic workers with similar levels of education, 2) salaries per hour based on the amount of time spent teaching each day; 3) differences in top salaries between starting and experienced teachers; and 4) salary trends over the last decade.

U.S. teacher salaries are considerably lower than those of other full-time, full-year workers (ages 25-64) in the U.S. with comparable levels of post-secondary education. For example, teachers employed in U.S. public schools who meet the minimum training requirements and have more than ten years’ experience receive an average annual salary ranging from 28% less at the upper secondary level to 33% less at the primary level than that of other similarly educated workers (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2012).

Teachers in several European and Asian countries enjoy higher salaries per hour than teachers typically earn in the U.S. While some critics justify teachers’ relatively lower wages as appropriate given the flexibility and additional vacation time often built into schedules in American public schools, it is not surprising that the average salary per hour (based on net contract or teaching time) for U.S. teachers with at least 15 years of experience is lower than the OECD average (OECD, 2012). Specifically, American teachers with 15 years’ experience earn on average $41 to $46 USD per hour of teaching, at the primary and upper secondary levels, while average teachers with 15 years’ experience in comparison countries earn $49 and $65 USD per hour at the same levels (OECD, 2012). In fact, upper secondary teachers in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and Japan reach an hourly salary up to $90 USD or more.

When compared to the average salary of teachers with at least 15 years of experience in 2000, salaries for teachers in the U.S. fluctuated each year from 2005-2010, increasing little in any given year across primary, lower secondary, and upper secondary levels (OECD, 2012). In fact, upper secondary teachers’ wages actually decreased 2% in 2005 compared to five years earlier (OECD, 2012).

Another thing that hurts lifetime earnings of U.S. teachers is low starting salaries. A typical U.S. teacher will make as little as half the top salary for his or her situation in the first year or two. In many nations, the starting salary is only 20% to 25% below the top salary. Teachers in the U.S. who leave the profession after a few years take very little with them to their next career.

Despite this reality, each year enthusiastic American college students choose to enter teacher preparation programs in hopes of making a difference in the lives of children. Most of them are probably aware that they will earn relatively lower wages than many of their college-educated peers and even starting teachers in other industrialized countries. While their desire to help children learn may draw these new teachers into the profession, the real challenge may prove to be retaining them in the classroom year after year without adequate increases in compensation.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2012). Education at a glance 2012: OECD indicators. OECD Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/education-at-a-glance_19991487.

David Berliner and I have joined with 15 bright young PhDs to expose 50 of the myths & lies that are threatening our nation’s public schools. 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America's Public Schools is published by Teachers College Press at Columbia University.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.