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Uppity Wisconsin - Progressive Webmasters

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September 20, 2006


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Yes, I can spot what is missing. We should not be comparing Wisconsin teacher salaries to surrounding states, but rather comparing the salaries to what other comparable professionals make. If you do that you find out that teachers are vastly underpaid. Teacher starting salaries in this state are ridiculously low, not compared to other states' teachers but compared to what other beginning professionals make. This makes Mark Green's merit pay proposal all the more absurd. Check out the research Alfie Kohn cites on his website regarding merit pay.
This idea has already been tried and it is a documented failure. It cannot work, yet Green trots it out one more time.

Second, we should stop comparing students' test scores in order to determine the quality of an education. This is neurotic. Parents often want to know how their child is improving or what needs to be done to help them improve, not how their child's scores compare with a student in Green Bay or Neenah. That tells them nothing. When W. James Popham--a past president of the American Educational Research Association--came out of retirement it was because he was outraged that teachers, students, and school districts were being evaluated on the basis of standardized test scores. As he put it, these scores belong in the sports section, not the front section where corporate mainstream papers such as the Wisconsin State Journal feature them. These sports score numbers are taking on such importance they are subverting attempts by teachers to meet the educational needs of their students. Increasingly the teachers are forced into using pedagogical techniques centered around boosting abstractions--these test scores--and failing to support deeply engaged, interested and active student learning.
It's been several decades since Robert Sternberg and Howard Gardner highlighted the flaws in testing. And since that time many schools in the country have demonstrated how portfolios, performances and student exhibitions are better reflections of what our students know and can do, and best support innovative, inspiring teaching.
The superiority has been demonstrated for anyone who cares to find out.
What's needed now is what Ed Garvey asked for several weeks ago: leadership. Leadership that points the way toward a future in the public schools that recognizes that kids differ and that these better accountability tools mentioned above best nurture our kids continuing impulse to learn. This would also have the benefit of upgrading the professional status of the classroom teacher. The money we spend on accountability should--in the main-- flow into the classroom, supporting these better instruments as used and supervised by teachers and administrators, rather than fattening the bank account of CTB McGraw Hill, Riverside and other corporate test firms. Further, local administrators and teachers, responsible to their local school board and community would bring about the possibility of actually having democratic schools, an essential feature of any democratic country.


I'll bet it's just coincidence this came out the day before Mark Green's education "plan."


There is a folk song about teachers and why they teach. I remember a line saying that says that since the pay is low, teachers must do it for the honor. The retort is that it is an honor to teach, but a teacher cannot feed the family with honor.

As I look around the business community I am amazed as to how many former teachers populate the private sector.
Are there any studies of compensation of educators who left the profession or how many certified teachers are not teaching?

Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance


You write: "Can you spot what is missing? There is no comparable ranking for Wisconsin teacher salaries to other states. We get the ranking for benefits but not salary."

What you don't mention is that the actual report, which is supplied to every media outlet in the state and to all our readers, is accompanied with a very detailed table. The table tells all: It lists data, both for salaries and benefits, both in percentages terms and per student, and supplies rankings for both, as well. The whole story is there.

By the way, when one decides to take a growing share of compensation in benefits, rather than salaries (as is the case in many Wisconsin school districts), several other things happen that might not be as positive as you suggest: (1) Wis. public retirement benefits are calculated on salary; turning down salary increases in favor of benefits ultimately works to the employee's disadvantage; and (2) new, young teachers make limited use of expensive benefits packages but have to forgo more attractive starting salaries as a result.


To WTA: First, I didn’t write the press release (you did) with the stunning fact about Wisconsin teacher salaries omitted.

Secondly, you never look at value for the expenditure. If a dealer showed you a new car for $18,000 and another for $30,000, would you only be curious about cost. Or maybe you ask about relative value, fuel efficiency, long term maintenance? It does no good to discuss the cost of education without mentioning its quality--unless this is a pre-election hype to getthe public excited about taxes and antagonistic towards teachers.

As for the benefits, I am not going to go into all of the math, but perhaps you should consult a financial planner. Taken into account the tax advantages, and the value of long term compounding, I think the teachers know what they are doing (deferred compensation, non taxable income, etc.).

As for the younger teachers, it is a matter of their getting good advice, which most of them receive when hired.

And as to your last comment, “Wis. public retirement benefits are calculated on salary; turning down salary increases..."...I assume we can count on you to support increased salaries for teachers, and for all public employees for that matter.


If all teachers' salaries are low in comparison to other professions with similar entry level educational requirements, then comparing one state's teaching salaries with others is incomplete.
So, for example, nationwide in 2002, here's the comparison between teachers' beginning salaries (many Wisconsin districts are still lower than that figure) and other professions:
Teachers 30,719
Liberal Arts 34,568
Sales/Marketing 37,946
Business Administration 40,242
Economics/Finance 41,102
Accounting 41,162
Computer Science 46,495
Math/Statistics 46,744
Engineering 49,702
Source: Teachers Have It Easy, 2005
This book makes compelling arguments for paying teachers more based on their education and training, importance to society, and the fact that they work more hours per year than many comparable professions.
I don't fully endorse the work since the authors suffer from the same affliction as many progressive commentators when it comes to test scores.
An instrument that measures such a narrow range of skills in a snapshot- like fashion should not be used to rank educators or students nor should it be used to reward teachers in merit pay schemes, a notion that is described as folly by educational researcher Alfie Kohn. (read that here:
Progressives should recognize that teachers should be paid well, not organized around a competitive game to see who can coach students to attain higher scores (not necessarily reflecting any real learning).
Progressives should also promote the concept of "multiple measures" when talking about ANY school district and achievement. If you haven't seen their portfolios, performances and exhibitions, then you haven't seen much.

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