Friday, May 15, 2009

Rock Star Pay for Teachers?

Heck, I don't need rock star pay. I would accept babysitting wages.

Let's go with $4/hr/student, which is probably very low by today's standards. And even though my contract allows me to have an average of 33 students per class, with up to 36 in any class, let's go easy and say 30 students per class.

Teaching 5 classes per day, that's 150 students, or $600/day. We have 181 days with students, for a total of $108,600. But my contract calls for 185 days per year--pay me the above, and I'll work those extra four days gratis.

But let's get back to the linked article. This author makes a common mistake:

In South Korea, for example, schools have average class sizes twice as large as the United States, 49 versus 23, but score 21 percent higher on international seventh-grade math tests.

What might help explain that unexpected result? South Korean schools draw from the top 5 percent of college graduates. American schools, by contrast, recruit their teachers, on average, from the bottom third of college students.

How do South Korean schools attract the top university students? Money. Larger class sizes frees up the resources to pay South Korean teachers much higher salaries, drawing the best and brightest into the profession. If American schools paid veteran teachers as well as South Korean schools do, teachers would average more than $116,000 in annual salary.

How is it, do you think, that South Korean teachers are able to manage a class of 49 students? I can tell you that it's not because they graduated in the top 5% of their college classes--heck, I graduated in the top 5% of my college class. What is it that's different about Korea and the US? What could it be, I wonder? What would account not only for their teachers' ability to manage classes of almost 50 students, but also for the Korean students' better academic performance when compared to Americans?

Culture. Korea has a much more homogenous culture than we do, and that culture places a higher value on education than ours does. Culture explains the achievement gap between Americans and Koreans, and also explains the achievement gap between different types of Americans. Paying teachers $116,000 isn't going to make them any more able to teach in a culture that doesn't value education much--and if you complain that your kid has too much homework that gets in the way of soccer practice, piano practice, volunteering at the soup kitchen, and taekwondo, then you're proving my point for me.

But I'll still take the money. I'm mercenary that way.


Anonymous said...

How much are you paid right now?

Ellen K said...

Korea also has a culture where the majority of people honor education. We do not have this here. Instead we worship illiterate celebrities, overblown athletes and quasi-educated actors. Instead of seeking scientific facts from actual scientists, we allow ourselves to be bullied into submission thanks to the media, which is more concerned with massaging the egos of the rich and famous over reporting facts. Until that changes, until my female students are as adamant about getting school supplies as they are in getting weekly manicures nothing will change. Our priorities, thanks to the "I am Entitled" scripting of most media outlets-specifically Oprah-creates an atmosphere were students expect to be given knowledge as the reward for simply showing up. Until this changes, nothing else will.

Darren said...

Ellen, I agree with you completely.

maxutils said...

School choice would do a lot to fix this. Unfortunately, no one wants to do it correctly. If we totally redid the system, allowing everyone choice, we might a) improve education, b) improve teacher pay, and c) garner enough support to defeat the union's fear-mongering campaign . . .

Darren said...

Good job, max. Now go pet your unicorn.


mmazenko said...

The comparison to Asian schools completely discounts cultural differences that lead to a widely different educational environment. The issue of school discipline alone - expectations of students and authority of school personnel to deal effectively with problems - makes a direct comparison nearly impossible and, again, disingenuous. Having lived and taught English in Taiwan for five years, I can assert that the environments simply do not translate. I can picture classrooms of 80-100 students who are sitting still in their chairs and vigorously writing down everything the teacher says, nearly word for word, as the teacher stands with a microphone and reads out of a book. Any disciplinary problem is dealt with immediately and harshly, and disruptive students do not have a “property right” to stay in the classroom. In fact, any non-academically motivated students are eliminated from the school by sixteen at the latest. Thus, their scores do not skew the NAEP and international test results, as they can in the U.S.

Additionally, people who haven't lived in Asia have no understanding of just how vast the cultural differences are and how deeply that can affect school culture and test scores. On the day that junior high school students in South Korea take high school entrance exams, the country shuts down air traffic for a half hour so the testing students can have absolute quiet during the oral part of the English exam. They hold national celebrations in Korea on the day their students take the international tests to promote national pride. Students in Taiwan who don’t test into a college-bound junior high school effectively eliminate their option of college at the age of twelve. Schools in Japan lock their gates at the start of school, and several years ago a high school student who was a few seconds late was crushed to death by the gate that is controlled by a timer. Students in Taiwan leave school at four and go to English and Math/Science cram schools from sometimes six to ten o’clock at night three or four days of week so they get the opportunity to go to an academic high school.

While there is much that can be improved about US education, there is an "ocean of difference" between the two systems.

mmazenko said...


By "correctly" I assume you mean giving the "choice" to attend school or not, as well. For I work at one of the highest ranked schools in the country, and we still have students who fall below proficiency, and it's not for lack of opportunity or excellence in educational environment. For more check this story:

In terms of pay, my school (like thousands of others) have incredibly effective teachers - with entire departments posting AP pass rates of 95% - who aren't "holding back" because they aren't paid what the private sector might offer for their results. I'd take more pay, but it's not the factor in my effectiveness or commitment to the achievement of my students.

And, of course, our staff is union and tenured - so do you credit the success of one school to its unions if you are going to blame the failures of another?

Of course, I say this not as a member, or defender, of the unions. There is much to argue about with ineffective teachers. But that most often represents ineffective school administration, as they fail to rid themselves of ineffective employees, originating with their decision to agree to contracts that limit their ability to manage their workers.

Choice as a panacea? That's not close to the core of the problem.

Darren said...

Then we agree that culture is the primary issue regarding the so-called achievement gap.

mmazenko said...

Well, yes, we agree that the "achievement gap" is in many ways linked to culture, though I am much less worried about a gap between US and Asian students when comparing NAEP and TIMSS test scores.

For, I am not envious of the Asian systems in terms of achievement, only efficiency. There is not much to envy in terms of greater success or innovation in business, science, technological, engineering, architecture, medicine, etc.

In fact, I would argue that for our top third to even half, it's all those activities - sports, clubs, student government, music, arts, volunteering, even video games and free time - that is what allows America to excel in the areas it does - innovation.

maxutils said...

I blame the union only for being against choice in principle, no matter what. I believe that if you go to just about any school, the level of the vast majority of teachers will be competent or better -- the one caveat being that under-performing schools tend to be a place where beginning teachers start, then leave. Choice could fix that.

The real variable in student performance is student and parent buy in. Public schools in affluent areas do just fine, largely because affluent parents for the most part went to college; therefore they a) are more likely to have children who are intelligent and b)place value on education. Private schools (which don't even require teachers to be credentialed) succeed because parents who pay for education above and beyond their tax bill REALLY value education. Failing schools fail largely due to the fact that a great number of people attend without having any desire to do so, or any perception that the education will be valuable. With few exceptions, no level of teacher quality will change that.

I like to think I'm pretty good at what I do, and I probably turn 1 or 2 or 5 students a year into fans of my subject . . . but most of them probably learned about the same that they would have learned with anyone else.

The advantages of total choice would be that it would force buy in (everyone would 'pay' for school with a voucher), promote competition by allowing for diverse curricula, cut waste, and put private schools on the same footing as public (schools accepting vouchers would all have to play by the same rules.)

Stopped Clock said...

Incidentally I've done some research and found out that South Korean teachers do not in fact average $116000 per year, but rather more like $30000 - $50000, the higher salaries being generally found among long-established teachers who've worked their way up the pay scale. Very similar to America, perhaps even a bit lower. I suspect that what he meant by his unusually-worded claim was not that South Korean teachers are better paid, but that the ratio of teachers' incomes in Korea to the national average in Korea would make them equivalent to about 116K in America, where the per capita income is more than double.

Anonymous said...

It is true that communities (and societies) get the schools they want, but I wonder if there are other significant factors.

For one, Korean teachers have to pass a fairly vigorous certification exam in order to be permitted to teach. I'm not an expert, but from what I understand, it isn't uncommon for people to fail this exam. So at the secondary level, in particular, math teachers tend to have a solid knowledge of mathematics, which they demonstrated on that certification exam. But just to get into a university in Korea, one needs a pretty solid mastery of calculus, because without it, one would find it very difficult to pass the national university entrance exam. This is true even with respect to elementary school teachers. To put it differently, in order to become an elementary school teacher in Korea, one first needs to get into a college or university, meaning they have to know some calculus pretty well. Then they have to graduate and pass a second (reasonably stiff) teacher certification test.

Over here in the states, I think it would be fairly uncommon to find elementary school teachers who have passed a real calculus course (i.e., an AP course with a passing score on either of the AP Calculus exams, or a course taught at the college/university level). I've wondered if the fuzzy math would have taken root so deeply if more elementary school teachers here really had a reasonable level of mathematics knowledge.

At one time I was teaching a low-level math survey course at a CSU campus, and there was always a fair number of self-identified, wannabe elementary school teachers taking the course. No offense intended, as I freely acknowledge my total inability to handle a class full of elementary-age children, but most of them had a very difficult time for whatever reason. Certainly, laziness and a lack of maturity were often factors in their frequent failure, but I can supply some stunning examples of "writing" that these students submitted, which suggest that laziness and a lack of maturity are just the tip of the iceberg for these credential seekers.

The lack of math knowledge doesn't stop with the elementary school teachers. When I was teaching at a high school (more than ten years ago), I worked in a department where about half of the math teachers actually had any math background. I subbed around before getting this job, plus I had a fair amount of contact with other teachers in the district, and in my experience it wasn't that uncommon to find people teaching math who had little or no formal background in math. Maybe that has changed for the better in recent years, but I think you could look in any of the largest ten districts in the state of CA, and you would still find a substantial number of credentialed math teachers who have neither an undergraduate major or minor in mathematics.

Ellen K said...

Here's my problem with school choice. I work in a fairly affluent school. But we have kids who choose not to do well. Their parents are wealthy enough to put them in private schools, but private school won't have them because they won't work. So if these same kids are moved to other schools, what is going to magically change to make them into scholars? All that will happen is that helicopter parents will move their kids around every semester until the kid ages out or drops out.

maxutils said...

I totally agree with you, Ellen. But, at worst, school choice would not make that problem any worse. At best, having the parents physically pay, even if it's taxpayer money, might give some perspective and create some buy in. And, one COULD incoprorate a penalty of some nominal amount for students who fail to make a certain grade point average or who get removed from the school for bad behavior . . .say, $100 the first time, and increasing amounts thereafter. It might also make for more heterogenous student bodies, where failure was not so much an expected part of the culture.

Matthew Ladner said...

Just to dispel a couple of straw men:

the OECD collects data on teacher pay for 15 veteran teacher salaries as a multiple of gdp per person. In Korea, that number is 2.48, in the U.S. it is 1.12. If the U.S. paid their teachers 2.48, the average teacher salary for a 15year veteran teacher would be $116k.

The fixation on Korean culture here is overdone, as the model achieves a six-figure salary at 32 students rather than at 49 students (American schools provide much more money per pupil than Korean schools). Korean example simply illustrates that teacher quality trumps the impact of class size.

Another example of this phenomenon, closer to home, is inner city Catholic schools, which used to really pack students into large classes and get great results with great teachers.