School's Out...The Union Should Be, Too
by Chuck Muth
"You are an idiot," writes Bonner
Slayton of Norman, Oklahoma. "Maybe you should do some more
research before spouting off at the mouth." Fine. Let's dig
a little deeper.
Bonner was responding to my report on a
kindergarten teacher in New Jersey raking in $70,000 a year.
I suggested that seventy large might be a tad bit out of
line with the skill set required for reading Cat In the Hat
out loud and playing Simon Sez. And that's what led to
Bonner's email, and others, telling me I don't know what the
heck I'm talking about.
Teaching is a tough job, they scolded
me. And kindergarten teachers do more than play games and
sing songs today. It's not like the "old days." How dare I
criticize what they do? That teacher has been teaching for
16 whole years and probably has college degrees up the wazoo,
they told me. How dare I complain about what some teachers
are being paid? Why, Chuck Muth, you wouldn't last one day
in a classroom! You owe every teacher who ever walked into a
classroom an apology. Blah, blah, blah.
Or should I say, "Waaahhhhhh!" Good
grief, would you like a pacifier with that whine? As someone
once said, Joan of Arc did less bellyaching on the stake.
Look, I'm not saying there aren't a lot
of good and talented teachers in the government school
systems. And I know kindergarten teachers do more than play
games and read stories these days (that the folks writing
didn't realize I was "exaggerating for effect" is a sad
indictment of their mindset in and of itself). And I'm not
saying they don't work hard or that the job is a piece of
cake or that they never take work home or that they
occasionally buy supplies out of their own pocket.
But a LOT of us in the private sector
work hard and have tough jobs which we take home with us.
And if WE don't put out a good product, WE get the ol'
heave-ho. Not so in the cocooned government-run school
system. So don't come whining to me about what a tough lot
The problem is, too many
government-employed folks don't know what's going on in the
REAL world of free market competition. And in the REAL
world, folks wouldn't get paid $70K to teach
kindergarten-level education based on how many years they've
been employed or how many letters come after their name.
They'd get paid based on their performance and the
work-product put out.
Nevertheless, Bonner challenged me to
"do some more research." So I did. Bonner's not going to be
a happy camper. Neither will you taxpayers in the Land of
Lincoln, because I found a (Family Taxpayers Network)
website listing government school teachers and their
salaries in Illinois. You can find it at:
I particularly enjoyed scanning the
list of the Top 100 highest paid teachers. The lowest on the
totem pole is high school English teacher Casimir W. Pawlak.
He works 10 months out of the year and pulls down $131,477.
Nice chuck of change. Let's see, if that's for working the
typical 185 days for a school year, Mr. Pawlak is bringing
Mrs. Pawlak some serious bacon home at $710.69 EVERY
afternoon. That ain't chickenfeed. Although, with a
six-figure income I'm sure Mr. Pawlak teaches his charges
that "ain't" ain't a word.
The head of this class is Mr. Robert
Ewy. Mr. Ewy is listed as a "teacher" ...but it doesn't say
what it is he teaches. It does say, however, that his "role"
is that of "consultant." And for this "role," he pulls down
a whopping $196,485 a year. Hoo-ha!
Let's see, let's see. There's a high
school trig teacher raking in $173,186 for 10 months of
work. An art teacher pulling down $169,663 for her 10 months
of work. Oh yeah, and there's a gym teacher stuffing
$157,269 into his jock strap...again for 10 months of work.
There's another gym teacher banking $152,563 of taxpayer
money...but for some reason, he only works 9 months out of
the year instead of 10. Probably the stress of the job and
some kind of exception his union got for him.
And let's not forget the indispensable
social worker who's cha-chinging his way to the bank at
$151,876 for 10 tough months out of the year doing whatever
it is social workers do. Or the irreplaceable driver's ed
teacher pulling down $151,830 a year for 10 months. And
don't even get me started on the ADMINISTRATORS...such as
John G. Conyers who, as a district superintendent, is
hauling away a staggering $353,351 a year in taxpayer dough.
The downside being he has to actually work 12 months instead
of 10. Bummer, huh?
To be fair, these folks all appear to
have more than 20 years experience under their belts...and
I'm sure they have extensive teaching credentials coming out
the ying-yang. But come on, folks! $157,269 to teach GYM?
$151,830 to teach DRIVER'S ED? How defenders of the
indefensible defend this defies rationality. Beam me up,
Which brings me to a recent USA Today
editorial titled, "New ideas in teaching yield dramatic
results." It DESTROYS the notion that teachers should be
paid based upon how many years they've been toiling in a
classroom. Get this.
Mark Ware is 25 years old. He has a
bachelor's degree and a master's. But he has NO teaching
credentials. Nevertheless, he's teaching in a Houston
alternative school for kids who flunked out of regular
public school. And his fellow teachers just voted him
"teacher of the year" despite his youth, inexperience and
lack of a "formal" teaching pedigree.
Then there's 23-year-old Ash Solar who
just finished up his FIRST year working in a poor Houston
elementary school. Check this out: "Although Solar's
Hispanic students started the year unable to write a
paragraph in English, 89% ended up passing the state's
writing test." Hoo-hah! Talk about getting results. And this
guy is a ROOKIE.
Ware and Solar are part of an
innovative new non-profit program called "Teach for America"
which is placing top college graduates into some of the
nation's worst schools for a two-year-stretch. "In spite of
their lack of experience," reports USA Today, Ware and Solar
"have improved students' math performance more than
experienced teachers have, and they've proved as effective
in reading instruction as classroom veterans."
Now, here's a little-discussed factoid
from the USA Today editorial which infuriates and offends
teachers and should be of grave concern to parents: We ain't
exactly getting the cream of the crop in every classroom
"Students aspiring to be teachers score
lower on college admission tests than those planning other
careers, and, in many states, veteran teachers have
difficulty passing certification tests pegged to knowledge
high school seniors are expected to master," the editorial
reveals. You wonder why Johnny can't read? Well, maybe it's
because his teacher can't either.
The USA Today editorial recommends four
reforms to improve our government schools: (1) Pay teachers
based on their effectiveness in the classroom, not mere
longevity. (2) Pay generous bonuses and other incentives to
keep highly effective teachers in our worst schools. (3)
Recruit teachers by luring top graduates from other fields,
not just those with "education" degrees. And, (4) Reform the
teaching colleges and set higher standards so they start
pumping out excellence rather than mediocrity.
Gee, makes sense to me. Who could
possibly argue with that? Umm. The teachers union, that's
In an opinion piece blasting the USA
Today editorial, National Education Association president
Reg Weaver maintains the reasons public schools suck eggs
are...parents and class size. Not that there aren't some bad
parents out there, but this is a load of that stuff babies
crank out in their diapers. The fact is, there are a lot of
lousy teachers teaching the kids of involved and interested
parents. This canard is just the union trying to shift blame
to hide the failures of its worst-performing members...who
pay dues regardless of how badly they stink in front of a
And as for class size, this is another
red herring. Sure, one-on-one education (you know, the kind
you get when you home-school your own kids) is the
ideal...but talented, motivated and organized teachers can
effectively teach large classrooms. They've been doing it
for decades. The class size scam is really all about
increasing the number of teachers (thus increasing the
number of dues-paying members!), not increasing the quality
of teaching. And while everyone and his uncle knows that
paying for performance is a no-brainer for improving
results, Weaver strenuously objects to merit pay because,
get this, it would "create a competitive environment." Well,
Weaver also voiced objections to
proposals which would make it easier to fire his dues-paying
members...no matter how bad they are and no matter how many
kids subjected to their incompetence are sacrificed. That's
just a price Weaver is willing to pay. Not that Weaver
doesn't have a couple of solutions of his own for fixing the
schools: Provide more food and nutrition programs (huh?) and
all-day kindergarten...which, coincidentally, would
mean...yup...more dues-paying members to the union. Hmmm. Ya
think there's any connection there?
Well, let me wrap this up by making a
few of my own recommendations:
1.) Fire any teacher
who isn't cutting the mustard. The future of our kids...not
to mention our country...is too important to sacrifice on
the altar of union acquiescence. There are rotten apples in
every barrel. The good teachers know who they are. They need
to stop defending these albatrosses and start working
actively to get them the hell out of our classrooms. That
is, IF teachers want to be taken seriously as professionals
along the same line as doctors and lawyers. And that does
NOT mean "bumping up" the incompetent to an administration
position. Fire 'em, fire 'em, fire 'em. Maybe Donald Trump
could make a reality show out of this somehow?
2.) Get rid of the
teachers unions. Ban them if legal. Buy 'em off if
necessary. Legislate them out of existence if possible. Just
get them OUT of the schools. They've not only destroyed
public education and the futures of at least two generations
(and counting) of unsuspecting kids and their parents, they
actively block ANY attempt to fix it. They're holding our
children hostage. We should refuse to pay their extortion.
Wipe 'em out. Goodbye...and good riddance.
3.) Teachers --
especially the self-described "conservative" ones -- who
belong to the union and object to my criticism of our
government schools need to clam up until they quit the union
(in states where union membership isn't forced upon
them)...because as long as they're paying dues they're part
of the problem, not the solution.
4.) Any teacher who
does NOT belong to the teachers union needs to take the lead
in opposing it...not just sit quietly by. They need to tell
parents, elected officials, community leaders and the public
in general just how bad the unions are for education. Such
arguments will be a lot more effective coming from folks
within the system than from folks such as myself who are
outside the system. And these teachers need to actively and
openly encourage their colleagues to quit the union, as
well. Hey, hey, ho, ho...the stinkin ' union's got to go!
5.) Make classroom
discipline THE top priority in any education reform
proposals in the immediate future. Any effort to fix the
problem has to START with regaining control of the
classrooms. Return to teachers the ability to use
appropriate corporal punishment on young misbehaving
students. Washing a foul-mouthed kid's mouth out with soap
should be ENCOURAGED...not punished. And any parents who
don't like it can take their rotten, spoiled brat of a child
to a private school or teach him at home themselves.
As for older little hellions, return to
teachers the ability to kick them out of the classroom if
they don't behave...and restore the ability of principals to
kick 'em out of school completely if and when appropriate.
"Right" to an education, my butt. What about the right to an
education being denied the other students in a classroom
just because of one little social delinquent? That punk's
"right" ends the moment he starts infringing on the rights
of the other kids in the classroom.
You wanna see more parental involvement
in the schools? Start sending little Johnny home for not
acting right and following the disciplinary rules. When
mommy's little angel is no longer afforded taxpayer funded
babysitting services, mommy might finally crack the whip and
force her spawn to straighten up and fly right. If
not...adios. Kick him out. He was given an opportunity to
get an education...and he blew it. Life is all about making
choices...good and bad...young and old. And in the immortal
words of Judge Schmales in "Caddyshack," the world needs
Oh, crud. I guess I'll be hearing from
all the ditch-diggers demanding an apology now.