There Will Be Numbers: The limits of wonkery

Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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25 Responses

  1. Jack says:

    Good post, and I say that as someone prepared to hate it. Its quite relevant that the media, even the well informed media, is focusing almost ocmplete on the issue that they admit is not the real issue (pay) rather than the actual sticking points (testing and evaluation). I am not 100% convinced, but you also make a good case for Mathews passive aggresivley hiding his biases based upon post topic seletion and framing.Report

  2. Morat20 says:

    One day someone should write up a “Common myths about teacher’s” post. (Which can go alongside “Marginal taxation system: The US has it, and what it means”).

    I’ve been wandering around the intertubes and the sheer number of people who believe teachers get a three month paid vacation is staggering. (They get two months of unpaid leave. The other month is generally actual work that happens when kids aren’t in school — in-service days, staff meetings, and the wind up and down before and after school).

    Having noticed my wife’s pay stubs on occasion, I can’t help but notice the attention paid to her princely salary (IE: roughly half mine, despite having the same level of education) and then her notoriously luxurious pension (in Texas, at least, it’s not) without noting that, like SS, a sizeable chunk of her princely salary GOES to her pension plan.

    It feels like double counting, you know?Report

  3. Jack says:

    @Morato But it is hardly consistant region to region. I grew up in a family almost completely populated by teachers (father, mother part time, both grandfathers, grandmother, aunts etc), and I am comfortable saying that most of them had the option of taking the summer off, and the ramp up/staff days did not take up any where near a full month, and that the summer off was in addition to regular holidays, Christmas break, Spring break etc. There compensation was nothing to write home about, but it was decent for the job. The problem for many of the junior teachers was those that wanted to work the summer and earn some extra money were by no means guaranteed, and the course you taught during the summer could be one that you had to do a lot of prepration for since it was outside of your normal lane. The real challenge in doing the sort of book you are talking about would be pensions. Pay is easy to explain across regional, education, and time of service variations, but pensions vary in a much more structural way across states.Report

    • Morat20 in reply to Jack says:

      Eh, I’m more talking basic myths.

      A teacher’s basic contract is for, roughly, 200 days. (180ish school days + 20 misc days where kids aren’t in school). They get paid a flat rate for those 200 days. To simplify teacher’s lives, they are (generally but not often) paid out over the 12 months of the year, but they’re only paid for the 200 days their butts are in a classroom.

      Those extra four weeks (20 days) are spread out — a week or so are inservice days during the school year. (Teachers are at work, kids aren’t). Another week to two weeks is end of school/beginning of school work (planning, meetings, classroom tear-down or repair) – -teachers tend to work a week or so after school ends and start a week or so before it begins. The last week is generally conferences, mandatory planning events, that sort of thing. (That’s more fluid, but there’s generally a requirement for at least a day or three of professional development).

      Some districts don’t, but many do because it generally sucks to go two months or so without a paycheck and most teachers prefer to get 12 equal paychecks then 8 equal ones, then two halfish ones, then nothing until school starts again.

      Anyways — the basic myth is that teachers get three months of paid vacation every summer. They don’t. They get a summer of unpaid leave. Their actual vacation/sick benefits are generally utter crap (my wife basically has like two vacation days a year, and whatever the bare legally allowed minimum of sick days are. And god help you if you get sick in December, January, or anytime in the spring during testing season.)

      Another basic myth is the six-hour work day. Even the burnout cases tend to have to put in 8 hours, minimum, just to get even the burnout level of grading and prep work done. (IE: The bare amount you can do without having the wrath of your department head, principle, or asst principle on your butt).

      I think a ‘slow’ work week for teachers is one where they only spend six to eight hours a week outside of school grading and doing prep work. (Ontop of 8 hours a day in the class — there before and after school for tutorials, detentions, etc).

      There’s also tenure — it’s hardly universal (and seems to be on the decline). Texas has a bit of a legacy system (permanent contracts), but they haven’t been a common option in decades — if ever. It’s one to two year contracts (with exceptional teachers getting three year ones) here.

      Ask the average Joe what teaching is like, and it really IS “three months paid vacation, can’t be fired no matter how bad they suck, and overpaid with super benefits”. (Where overpaid is generally 2x the median salary). As for super benefits — speaking solely of Texas, the only teachers I know that use the health benefits are those that are single or whose spouse’s policies won’t allow them on it, and the pension is “Social Security administered by the State of Texas and subject to raids”.

      The numbers out the back end look a lot worse than my current SSA projections, btw.

      Heck, if I croak my wife can’t even claim MY Social Security benefits because of it.Report

      • Jack in reply to Morat20 says:

        I would agree with most of that, other than the sick days/benefits comment in para 4 because that is one that varies dramatically across states and districts. I don’t buy into the “2 months of unpaid leave” as an adequate explanation for the summer period any more than I would uncritically accept “3 months paid vacation” as a sufficient explanation. I think of compensation as a whole, and annual compensation versus annual work days seems a better way of assessing the package.Report

        • Morat20 in reply to Jack says:

          Very true. However, just for the record — people hear “Three months vacation” and think “12 weeks of paid vacation”.

          I get three weeks and that’s considered pretty good in my field. Three months? That’s the Senior VP in Charge of Being the CEO’s Nephew league.

          “Teachers only get paid for the time they work, making summers unpaid” is more accurate and gives people the actual correct idea of the situation. Some districts will divide the total by 12 and send out monthly checks (even over the summer), some won’t. But they only get paid for their actual contracted workdays.

          Summer school, BTW, is generally a seperate contract. It’s literally a second job, at least around here, for those that take it. Bus driving, coaching special olympics, and such — those are stipended. (Bonus pay, usually not much).Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to Morat20 says:

            Sure they’re unpaid. But you assume that American workers might not also be willing to take three months off (with healthcare still paid and retirement contributions maintained) (and you’re guaranteed to still have a job at the end of those three months)Report

            • Kimmi in reply to DensityDuck says:

              I’m pretty sure I can show that quantitatively. how many americans live paycheck to paycheck again?Report

            • Ethan Gach in reply to DensityDuck says:

              If they’d be willing all I can say is: go try to become a teacher.Report

              • SATs were too high. 😉

                A college degree is just about essential to make a lot of money in a career, but what if you don’t want to work all that hard to get a diploma?

                Slackers wanting to earn the country’s easiest college major, should major in education.

                It’s easy to get “A’s” if you’re an education major. Maybe that’s why one out of 10 college graduates major in education.

                Research over the years has indicated that education majors, who enter college with the lowest average SAT scores, leave with the highest grades. Some of academic evidence documenting easy A’s for future teachers goes back more than 50 years!

                The latest damning report on the ease of majoring in education comes from research at the University of Missouri, my alma mater. The study, conducted by economist Cory Koedel shows that education majors receive “substantially higher” grades than students in every other department.


              • Kazzy in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Hey, if you want to up the training, standards, and (consequently) pay for teachers, I’m all for it.Report

              • Mr. Harris in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Tom, What’s the drift of this post ? Are you passively suggesting that less motivated and/or less academically inclined students BECOME teachers or simply that they attain education degrees because it’s easier?

                You may, in fact, be correct about both points. Does Dr. Koedel have follow up research indicating whether higher/lower SAT scorers are more/less likely to pursue a career in teaching once they graduate with their “gut” degrees. I’d like to see that.

                The endless research on teacher quality seems to have conclusively decided that teachers who are smart are more likely to have students who perform better on standardized tests. But performing well on standardized tests is still a narrow measure of what a child has learned in a given year. Just like waking up hung over and staggering in to your High School gym doesn’t necessarily damn you to your safety school and subject you to a life of algebra teacher and JV Volleyball coach.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                If you’re trying to claim that teachers only make 2/3 the annual average salary, then (at least in Chicago) that seems to not be the case.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to DensityDuck says:

              There is also the complete loss of freedom and control over your schedule. I get two personal days a year. I get 10 sick days (1/month) but we are highly discouraged from using them. Neither of these roll over or can be cashed in. I’ve had to miss a number of important events because they were too far away and I couldn’t take time off to make travel arrangements. I know for a fact that some teachers will abuse sick days, using them as personal cays, though I’d venture to guess this happens in most salaried positions.

              Does it make the additional time off equivalent? No. But it is at least a mitigating factor that is rarely understood.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Kazzy says:

                There exist a large number of American workers who’ve been unable to take a vacation day for most of their career, to the point that they are disallowed from accumulating further vacation time. If these people had to work the entire week but take three pre-scheduled months off every year, they’d wind up getting more vacation time than they do now.Report

          • Jack in reply to Morat20 says:

            “Teachers only get paid for the time they work, making summers unpaid” I still do not agree with that framing. Technically, and like most jobs, they don’t get paid for weekends either, but we don’t frame that as having two unpaid days a week. They get an annual compensation for 200 days work. It is reasonable to note that that annual salary allows them to have a 2.5 month summer off from work. However, I do get where you are coming from.Report

            • Morat20 in reply to Jack says:

              Thanks. 🙂

              I have a similar pet peeve about marginal tax brackets. Which became astonishment when I realized people weren’t being precise, they actually did not know how their own income tax system worked.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Morat20 says:

                I agree that a lot of people don’t know how marginal tax brackets work, but I have more than once been accused of not knowing how they work when I talk about how the increases in rates matter. (Because they do.)Report

  4. DensityDuck says:

    We’re told that income inequality is the most important problem in American society today.

    Except when it’s teachers on the upside, at which point bringing up income inequality becomes a disingenuous attempt to distract us from the REAL issues.Report

    • Ethan Gach in reply to DensityDuck says:

      It’s disingenous if the issue at hand is how much the school district should pay teachers, which it isn’t.

      The strike is by all accounts not about pay. Anyone who wants to make it about pay, something that is not why the negotiations of ground to a hault, will be distracting from the actual issue, which is in what ways teachers should be accountable, and to whom, and based on what.

      Plus the inequality is at the top. Teachers haven’t made the most gains in the past 20 years, the 1% has. Whether or not they’ve earned it is another issue.

      So Density, I reallyhave no idea what you’re even trying to say.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Wealth inequality. wealth, my good friend.Report