What Are Teachers Worth?

Local teacher and college professor Phoebe Gohs shares her knowledge of the educational system

By: Phoebe Gohs, Columnist
“Inside Education” 

Phoebe Gohs, Inside Education

Drastic reform looms over Michigan’s public school system.[private]

Governor Rick Snyder’s “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace” proposal includes eliminating the cap on charter and cyber schools, mandating schools of choice, outsourcing teachers and allowing public monies to be spent for private and home school students, as well as for virtual education and expanded dual enrollment options.

This, first in a series of columns addressing these contentious issues, is focused on the outsourcing of teachers.

What would the outsourcing of teachers look like?

Traditional school districts would have the option to contract companies that would be responsible for providing teachers.

Charter schools are already largely privatized.

In many charter schools, teachers are employed by a management company instead of the school itself.

Teachers who work for management companies are not members of a union, nor do they collectively bargain for salary or benefits – as with much of the private sector, they are at the mercy of both demand and their employer.

This situation arises from differences in how charter schools are funded.

It is not a viable option for charter schools to compensate teachers competitively with traditional public school teachers because charter schools are underfunded – while traditional public schools have the option to levy millages and bonds for infrastructure, technology and bussing, charter schools do not.

Republican sponsors of the bill argue that privatization of education should, at least, be discussed as a cost-saving option.

“If we can pay less, why not try?” said Republican Senate Education Chair Phil Pavlov.

The elimination of waste is a laudable goal. However, does the act of paying an educator a living wage count as waste?

In an attempt to cut though the dystopian propaganda which clouds so many discussions on this subject, we must ask ourselves: “What are our teachers worth?” Because that is what this national obsession is really about.

With all the talk of anti-union versus pro union; of private versus public; of standardized testing versus individualized learning plans; of low performing schools versus high performing schools; and of the fallacious idea that traditional school teachers must be more highly-qualified than charter school teachers – we must decide what education is worth.

The majority of Americans have long embraced publicly funded education. And, since the time of the Puritans, we have historically placed a high value on the service provided by our teachers.  At the founding of our country, Thomas Jefferson said the future of our democracy depends on an educated and informed populous.  And, pursuit of the contemporary American dream is dependent upon a strong education foundation.

It is through our public education system, and specifically through teachers in the classroom, that we ensure the continued vitality of American exceptionalism.  How much should we pay this person who is entrusted with educating our children, upon whom lies the responsibility of providing our children with the opportunity to pursue the American Dream, and with whom we entrust our children?

Choosing teachers is not akin to choosing a brand of cereal – wherein we would select the lowest bidder to determine with whom to entrust our children’s future.  Our youth deserve dedicated professionals who are knowledgeable in their profession and who are committed to the education of the children entrusted to them.At our own peril we would disregard the seriousness of myriad issues facing education today; underfunding, achievement disparity among racial and socio-economic groups, stakeholder apathy and a culture of educator impunity.

But, paying less money while demanding more work will not motivate good teachers – let alone bad ones.

The outsourcing of teachers devalues the service provided by Michigan’s dedicated educators.  Teachers in every public school, traditional or charter, deserve to be treated and compensated commensurate with their education, experience, and the responsibility we bestow upon them as teachers of tomorrow’s leaders.

We cannot sacrifice our teachers’ livelihood at the altar of Dickensian schemes intended to circumvent the adequate compensation of professional educators.[/private]

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