Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Educate Yourself

It seems Scott Walker not only wants to end collective bargaining, his implicit goal is to destroy education in Wisconsin. He has declared that our educational system will bear the brunt ($900 million) of his draconian cuts.

The answers to this falsely-framed debate are rather obvious if one wants to open their eyes rather than entrenching their ideological blinders. The Wisconsin "crisis" is a completely political, Walker-manufactured fiasco.

It has been shown that union workers' wages and total compensation are lower than their private sector counterparts. Unionized workers only represent 10% of the workforce. To say that, on average, public sector workers make more, is a gross overstatement and terribly misleading considering there are millions more low-wage private sector workers dragging down the private sector average. When comparing equally experienced and educated workers from each sector, public sector workers make less, excluding those with a high school degree or less. Today union workers are slightly more educated than the overall workforce.

The context the right-wing and the media are feeding us, when it's all boiled down, is that people with more education and experience shouldn't be paid their "market" value because they are public workers. This is purely political and ideological. I thought these right-wingers were "market" guys and gals? If they really were they'd be calling for increased compensation for the undercompensated public workers.

Specifically, regarding education, we need to ask: Are Wisconsin educators making more than similar educators in other states? (We already know they are not making more than similarly experienced and educated workers, in general) and, How well are Wisconsin students doing?

If the costs are similar to most other states, or the national average (per capita - controlling for population), we can safely assume we are not overspending. More so, if our costs are comparable AND we have good outcomes (graduation rates, SAT scores, etc.), we can confidently say we have an efficient and effective educational system.

The National Education Association's latest research indicates, "The average salary for Wisconsin teachers has dropped to 23rd nationally, down from 21st one year ago. That is the lowest ranking going back to 1963, the oldest data on record. The average salary, which includes annual step increases for longevity and lane changes for educational attainment, was $51,264. Fifty-two percent of Wisconsin teachers hold master’s degrees and the average teacher has 16 years experience. Once ranked 15th, teacher pay was capped in 1993 and has fallen ever since. Where teachers once received 103 percent of the national average in pay, they now receive only 93 percent. In the last decade, real earnings for Wisconsin teachers declined by 2.3 percent. Teachers earn less today than they did a decade ago. Wisconsin ranked 46th nationally in salary change, with 45 states experiencing larger increases in income. Wisconsin ranks 30th nationally on starting pay, lower than teachers in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Minnesota in the Midwest. Teachers in general have the lowest starting pay of any profession requiring a college degree. Wisconsin teachers today are in the bottom 40 percent of all states for starting pay."

About 75% of students graduate nationally. In Wisconsin, 90% of our students graduate. And, over the last decade, Wisconsin has seen a rising graduation rate. Wisconsin also scores near the top on the SAT, yet ranks only 18th in per-pupil spending. Robert Carini, Brian Powell, and Lala Carr Steelman have found that the presence of teacher unions is linked to stronger performance on the ACT and SAT. Wisconsin also scored above the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

It appears our teachers are not overly compensated (in fact, just the opposite is true). And, despite the undercompensated teachers, our students are achieving better than most. Cutting funding for and/or scapegoating our educational system as wasteful and underperforming is clearly wrong, shortsighted, and counterproductive.

This is yet another policy debate where the Republican emperor has no clothes.

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