As Election Day nears, one of the few specific second-term initiatives President Obama is campaigning on is to “recruit 100,000 math and science teachers so that high-tech, high-wage jobs aren’t created in China, they’re created right here in Green Bay . . . ,” as Obama explained at a campaign rally in Wisconsin on Thursday. (See the first link above.)
Top teacher union officials in Washington, D.C., who are pouring countless millions of dollars (most of them extracted from educators forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment) to ensure Obama gets another four years in the White House, are singing a similar tune nowadays. Earlier this year, the hierarchy of the three million-member National Education Association (NEA) union announced a “plan recently to offer $500,000 in grants for new teachers in science, technology, engineering and math,” otherwise known as STEM, as Jarrett Skorup reported for Michigan Capitol Confidential October 3. (See the second link above.)
The U.S. Education Department confirms that there are indeed nationwide shortages of teachers of math and a variety of science subjects, as well as certain other fields. On the other hand, in many states there are surpluses of elementary school, English, social studies, physical education, and some other types of teachers.
Any competitive business and even many government agencies confronted with a shortage of qualified applicants for some available jobs and an excess for others would recognize right away what to do: offer higher pay for the hard-t0-fill positions, and keep pay the same (or even lower it) for the positions that are easily filled. And when businesses and responsible government managers find they still can’t fill certain positions with qualified candidates by increasing their annual pay offer by a few thousand dollars, they increase it by even more.
No business could afford to recruit qualified applicants for hard-to-fill jobs if it had to provide the same pay to all employees who have the same amount of education (regardless of subject area) and the same amount of seniority. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of school districts across America are constrained by so-called “single-salary schedules” that, as Skorup explains, “force public schools to pay high-need teachers the same as everyone else.” To be precise, a high school science teacher with a PhD in physics and 10 years’ experience gets paid the same as an elementary school teachers with an EdD and 10 years’ experience, even if it at the going pay rate it would be virtually impossible to replace the former and quite easy to replace the latter.
The use of counterproductive single-salary schedules in public education predates the rise of teacher union monopoly bargaining, and today this foolish system is the norm even in states that do not corral educators into unions. Consequently, teacher union officials certainly do not deserve all the blame for single-salary schedules. However, top bosses of the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT/AFL-CIO) unions are by far the fiercest and most powerful foes of the abolition of single-salary schedules in our time. As Skorup observers, “the NEA and its affiliates aggressively fight to ensure all subject areas are paid the same, regardless of need.” With only isolated exceptions, the same is true of the AFT and its subsidiaries.
Single-salary schedules regularly result in gross inequities. Here is just one of several Skorup cites:
In the Troy Public School District, one-third of the 27 physical education teachers make more than $90,000 per year. Seven gym teachers make more money than Rebecca Brewer, an AP biology teacher in the district who was honored as the ING national Innovative Teacher of the Year. One of those teachers is an elementary gym teacher who makes $23,000 per year more than Terri McCormick — an employee honored as the district’s “Teacher of the Year.”
President Obama proposes to “recruit and train” more STEM teachers by loading up even more debt on federal taxpayers and sharply raising marginal tax rates. The $500,000 in grants that the NEA hierarchy says it will make will scarcely make a dent in the STEM teacher shortage. But the entire problem could be resolved without more federal spending and debt and no NEA-boss largesse necessary if school districts were free to respond to STEM teacher shortages by paying STEM teachers more than elementary school teachers. Unless and until Barack Obama calls on his teacher union allies to stop blocking this common-sense reform, one can only conclude the tears he is shedding about the STEM-teacher shortage are altogether insincere.