Friday, March 07, 2008

What's a Raise?

Is that a dumb question? If you're a New York City teacher reading the nonsense our union often propagates, you may not know the answer. But I'll tell you--a raise is when you get more money for doing the same job. If you get 10% more compensation for working 10% longer, you did not get a raise (If you don't believe me, ask someone who just worked an extra shift at Taco Bell).

That's why I am not impressed when Randi Weingarten, UFT President, boasts of the "raises" city teachers have received over the past few years. Clearly, Ms. Weingarten does not consider our extra time or effort to be of any value. But I do. That's why I'm skeptical of stories like this one, about a new charter school that pays $125,000 for teachers. I mean, the pay sounds great. But then I see this:

In exchange for their high salaries, teachers at the new school, the Equity Project, will work a longer day and year and assume responsibilities that usually fall to other staff members, like attendance coordinators and discipline deans.

So do these teachers really make more than city teachers? Perhaps they do, if the teachers in question are at the beginning of the salary scale. Are their benefits equal to those of city teachers? Do they have a pension plan? Probably not.

They certainly sound better off than other charter teachers in the article:

Claudia Taylor, 29, applied to the Equity Project even though, she said, the thought of leaving the Harlem Village Academy, the charter school where she teaches reading, “breaks my heart.”

“I’m tired of making decisions about whether or not I can afford to go to a movie on a Friday night when I work literally 55 hours a week,” Ms. Taylor said. “It’s very frustrating. I’m feeling like I either have to leave New York City or leave teaching, because I don’t want to have a roommate at 30 years old.”

While I sympathize with Ms. Taylor, it sounds like she's working like a dog with no union protection for very little money. Will she be happier working like a dog for more money? I suppose it's better to work with no union protection for more money. But what would happen to a teacher at this school who dared to mention unionization? Would she be tossed out on her ear like Nicole Byrne Lau? Blanche DuBois may be comfortable depending on the kindness of strangers, but I'm not.

I have to question this, as well:

Will even the most skillful teachers be able to handle classes of 30, several students more than the city average?

I don't know what Mr. Bloomberg claims the average is, but my colleagues and I regularly teach classes of 34. Also, with the various loopholes in the contract, I regularly see teachers with classes up to 40. Music teachers regularly get classes of 50, and if you don't think this mayor shoves kids into every existing nook and cranny, you haven't been in a public school for a long, long time.

There's one part of this school's philosophy with which I'll readily agree---good teachers are element number one of good schools. I'll also agree that a class of 30 with a good teacher is superior to a class of 20 or fewer with a bad one. But here's where they lose me--an even better scenario is a class of 20 with a good teacher. That's what I see every day in the suburban school my daughter attends.

The fact is there are plenty of suburban teachers making very good money, with unions, with pensions, and with great benefits. They do a great job, too. My kid's in 6th grade, and she's yet to have a bad teacher. It doesn't take a miracle.

And it doesn't take a non-unionized charter school either. It takes good teachers, small classes, and decent facilities. I see them work every day.

Related: A thoughtful post on Edwize and another on Eduwonkette

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