Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What is average, and is that what we'll settle for?

The discussion about teacher salaries has devolved to this: How much will it take to keep our salaries at the Southern regional average? The easy answer provided by the state's Education Estimating Conference yesterday is, $1,700 each.

But the easy answer is not always the correct one, and statistics are all too manipulable when used to reinforce a predetermined outcome.

Just for starters, the concept of a statewide teacher average salary is bogus. The starting salary for a new teacher in the Zachary school district is almost $43,000; in Union Parish it is closer to $31,000. The fact that they average $37,000 is meaningless.

Then there is the deliberate manipulation of data for political reasons. In this article by Times-Picayune reporter Ed Anderson, a consultant told the conference that if you exclude the salaries paid to teachers in Maryland and Delaware, Louisiana teachers are the fourth-highest paid in the Southern region.

But those states are part of the Southern region. You can just as easily say that if you exclude Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, no one in the State Department of Education makes over $300,00 per year.

The report given to the Education Estimating Conference does not list all the reasons why our teacher salaries have risen in comparison with other states. To begin with, there was a rally on the capitol steps two years ago that opened the way for the first major raise in several years. Without the actions taken by thousands of teachers and school employees, it's doubtful that the current administration could post such a glowing report.

But it is also true that Louisiana has an ageing teacher corps, with many close to the top of their salary schedules. Their steps up the ladder raise the state salary average without any legislative action. As they begin to retire, we will see a drop in the state average as younger, lower paid teachers take their positions.

Finally, we should stop making a fetish out of the Southern region, which is the lowest paid part of our nation. Should we be satisfied that our teacher salaries are in the middle of the lowest paid tier of states?

When the legislative session opens, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers will ask lawmakers to take a much bolder, broader view of education than we have in the past. We believe that our teachers should be paid nationally competitive salaries. The state should come up with a long-range plan that will not only get us where we should be, but sustain that level over the long haul.

Otherwise, we will stay in the cycle that requires educators to call off school and make the trek to Baton Rouge every few years for a rally on the capitol steps.

Associated Press reporter Melinda DesLatte covered the conference meeting for this report.

(Sidebar question: Whose bright idea was it to schedule the Education Estimating Conference meeting for 10:00 A.M. Tuesday morning, just as the inauguration festivities were getting underway in Washington?)

No comments: