By Dave Reber December 20, 2010 4:29 pm
The language alchemists of education “reform” – the flingers of sanguine sardines – are at it again.
Just before Thanksgiving, roughly half of America’s public school teachers – the half who hold master’s degrees – might have thought they had something new to be thankful for. Specifically, the Associated Press printed that teachers with master’s degrees get a bonus of about $10,000. “Every year,” the author writes, “American schools pay more than $8.6 billion in bonuses to teachers with master’s degrees.”
If you’re a teacher with a master’s degree; you’re probably asking “Where’s MY bonus?”
But alas, there is no bonus – for you or any other such teacher. The AP article, titled “Economists Call for End to Teachers’ Degree Bonuses”, is yet another example of language manipulation on the part of self-proclaimed education “reformers”, cantingly crafted to rend public opinion of teachers.
The term “bonus” implies something extra. Dictionary definitions include “something given or paid over and above what is due”, and “a sum of money granted or given to an employee in addition to regular pay.” The choice to use the word “bonus” is no accident. In the business world, the term “bonus” means just that – pay above and beyond salary.
The master’s degree money earned by teachers is not a “bonus”, but is part of teachers’ contract salaries. Nonetheless, the author calls it “bonus” pay repeatedly throughout the article. This is an obvious attempt to paint a part of teachers’ salaries as a decadent luxury. The author actually likens this pay to a fattening frivolity; in that cutting it is “more unpopular than cutting chocolate milk from the school cafeteria menu.”
How extravagant are these master’s degree salaries? In Lawrence, Kansas, a beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree earns $34,380. With a master’s degree, a first-year teacher could earn $37,080. To place these salaries in perspective, consider that kids in a family of four will qualify for federal free/reduced lunches if total household income is below $40,793. (It is unclear whether or not this federal assistance covers chocolate milk).
With a bachelor’s degree, a new teacher would have to advance on Lawrence’s salary matrix for 12 years before his kids were off of reduced-price lunches. With a master’s degree, a teacher’s kids could be off the dole in a mere 7 years. Some “bonus.”
Having mislabeled a sizable chunk of teacher pay as an extravagant bonus, the author sets forth to demonize half the nation’s teachers by arguing that this money is “wasted.” The article cites Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a speech to the privatization/charter-friendly American Enterprise Institute, as saying “master’s degree bonuses are an example of spending money on something that doesn’t work.”
Duncan, who infamously called Hurricane Katrina the best thing to happen to New Orleans public schools, now says “the economy has given the nation an opportunity to make dramatic improvements in the productivity of its education system.” Translation: let’s use the recession as an excuse to pay teachers less and pocket the difference.
Bill Gates is also quoted, speaking to the Council of Chief State School Officers about his home state of Washington. “More than half our teachers get it,” Gates said of master’s degree salaries. “That’s more than $300 million every year that doesn’t help kids.”
Doesn’t help kids? How many teachers would – or could – continue teaching if their pay were cut several thousand dollars?
Perhaps if their pay were cut, teachers would seek more lucrative careers like computer programming. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Department of Labor indicate the average starting salary for a computer programmer with bachelor’s degree is $61,407 – more than most teachers will ever be paid. With a master’s degree in computer programming, the initial salary jumps to $80,250 and may grow to well over $135,000 – almost triple the national average teachers’ salary.
Ignoring this clear dissonance in the recognized value of master’s degrees, Gates proceeds to blame teachers’ unions for the enormous, wasteful expense of teachers’ exorbitant salaries. Gates chided “of course, re-structuring pay systems is like kicking a bee hive.”
Gates’ choice of analogy – teachers as mindless, disposable workers; interchangeable and impotent – is worth an entire treatise by itself. And though Gates is likely unaware how the gender demographic of teachers compares to Hymenopteran social order, his words still inject a sexist sting (and perhaps drone of suppressed misogyny).
His overt message, though, is that teachers and their unions are forcing school districts to “waste” tax dollars on master’s degree “bonuses.”
According to the AP writer, this money is “wasted” because ninety percent of teachers’ master’s degrees are in education rather than in content-area fields. In what other profession is an advanced degree in the professional field considered a liability rather than an asset? Good question.
Nonetheless, to make this assertion look official it is attributed to Marguerite Roza, a researcher at the Center on Reinventing Public Education. CRPE is a pro-charter, pro-privatization entity that includes in its mission the premise that public schools are failing. CRPE counts the Gates Foundation among its major financers, and Roza has since taken leave from CRPE to serve as senior data and economic advisor at the Gates Foundation.
The AP writer also cites CRPE research to assert that students of teachers with master’s degrees show no better achievement than those taught by teachers without master’s degrees. Since the organization is built on the premise that public schools are failing – not to mention who finances their “research” – it’s a safe bet that these studies fall into the same category of pseudo-science and slick statistics that permeate the business-model school reform movement.
Sanguine sardine or crimson kipper, by any name this “teacher bonuses are destroying public schools” nonsense is just the latest catch phrase on a stringer full of red herring. Teachers’ extravagant pay is not the problem.
Well, it IS the problem if your goal is to privatize public education and skim profits from public funds. And it IS the problem if your goal is to sell the nation massive software database systems to homogenize curricula and track the standardized test scores of a hundred million kids. And it IS the problem if you’d rather phase out flesh-and-blood teachers altogether in favor of online instruction.
But if you’re really concerned about kids who struggle in school, you must refuse to accept this relentless language manipulation from “$chool Deformer$” and instead tackle the real problems these kids face; the greatest of which is poverty.
Diane Ravitch recently called Gates out on his disingenuous concern for public education. Responding to Gates’ rhetorical taunting of her in Newsweek, Ravitch said “I wonder why a man of his vast wealth spends so much time trying to figure out how to cut teachers’ pay….most of whom earn less than he pays his secretaries at Microsoft.”
With a personal wealth of $64 billion and counting, Gates could pay the salaries of about 1.3 million teachers – with master’s degrees. He might save his home state of Washington from “wasting” money on teachers’ salaries, but that isn’t the real issue.
Ravitch spells the real issue out loud and clear: “The single biggest correlate with low academic achievement is poverty. The United States today has a child poverty rate of over 20%, and it is rising. This is a national scandal.”
Then, she delivers the coup de grace: “Mr. Gates, why don’t you address the root cause of low academic achievement, which is not ‘bad teachers’, but poverty. If anyone can afford to do it, surely you can.”
Then again, fighting poverty doesn’t sell much software.