October 1, 2010

Missed Economic Cues in Teaching

Justin Katz

Two articles in last Sunday's Providence Journalhere and here — describe circumstances with which my family is very familiar. With the exception of math and science, teaching jobs are difficult to come by in Rhode Island, yet institutions of higher education continue to churn out graduates.

The initial problem, in my estimation, is that an artificially inflated standard of compensation makes teaching an extremely attractive option even for those without a particular vocation. Jointly with that, tight union control of the system prevents the job market from adjusting appropriately to market realities. That inflated pay remains no matter the number of candidates and no matter the success of the workforce. Consider how painfully slow is movement toward education reforms despite the fact that employers in education really ought to have massive leverage in an environment that finds credentialed teachers working as substitutes sometimes for a decade, and that without promise of a full-time job. Current teachers ought to feel under tremendous pressure to perform and to put in extra effort to prove that they're better than job seekers who'd jump through hoops to finally land a stable, full-time position doing what they initially set out to do.

Compounding the issue is that the high cost of each teacher — uniform regardless of the position held — translates directly into fewer jobs:

This has been a particularly bleak year for teacher hiring. Across the state, districts are cutting back — eliminating foreign language instruction, music and gifted programs while increasing class size.

So, not only does the employment dynamic create a glut of candidate, but it restricts the number of slots that they can fill. Under such circumstances, it is inevitable that teacher jobs become prone to patronage (as people looking for positions for years on end can testify), and those already ensconced who might otherwise be unable to compete have even greater incentive to push for increased strength of the unions that protect their mediocrity.

We end up, therefore, with an expensive, failing education system that leaves many teachers not even teaching, but bartending and working menial jobs while on the imbalanced roller coaster of multiple towns' sub lists, even as they strive to build lives and to pay off college debt.

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All of this is correct and is compounded by one additional aspect of teacher contracts rarely mentioned: seniority rules which not only protect bad and mediocre teachers but even, within certain parameters, allow a teacher from a different field to bump a teacher who has less seniority.

One notable instance of this occurred in South Kingstown about four years ago when a home economics teacher (with, it turned out, zero aptitude for art) bumped an art teacher.

Clearly, this pertains in no way to teaching or learning but is purely an employment preservation measure.

Posted by: Monique at October 1, 2010 12:34 PM

thank you for your concern for the teachers Justin. Does this mean that the colleges should stop offering degree program in teaching. What are you trying to say except that teachers should be paid less. And monique the seniority thing is no secret it gets mentioned all the time. Do you read this blog?

Posted by: triple richard at October 1, 2010 4:53 PM

The oversupply of teachers should tell us something about out entire theory of education. There are no jobs, but teaching degrees continue to be sought. Or maybe it is high paying jobs. Does anyone know the situation in Arizona where teachers make more like 35K?

I am mindful of a student in Marine Biology. In his first class the professor announced "I hope you really like playing with dolphins, because there are no jobs in this field". A friend's daughter took a Phd in Astro Physics, after almost a year she landed a job for 23K. Her sister, Yale MA in English, took a job as "personal assistant" to a celebrity at 50K.

Among law school graduates, about 40% of graduates are not in the legal field within four years of graduation.

This does not mean that there are not plenty of success stories, but it seems highly dependant on the career field chosen.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at October 1, 2010 9:47 PM

the number of out of work carpenters is also very high, should we stop teaching people those skills as well. there are many out of work actors but still acting schools continue to teach the skill.

Posted by: triple richard at October 2, 2010 7:17 AM

Triple Richard,

I am not saying the schools should stop. But perhaps the students should.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at October 2, 2010 5:15 PM

Warrington, that would be a choice for them to make. Just as some people choose to go to trade schools, some go to learn dance, some apprentice as electricians, some become carpenters. This is just more of Justin's constant teacher bashing with Monique doing her usual piling on.

Posted by: triple richard at October 2, 2010 5:57 PM

"Warrington, that would be a choice for them to make."

True, I suppose we all make bad choices. But they do have pay dearly.

To chime in with Justin and Monique, I recall discussing career choices with a guidance counselor. I ended the discussion when I realized he had fallen asleep.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at October 2, 2010 9:45 PM
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