Secretary of Education Arne Duncan used his SXSWedu keynote address earlier this week to advocate for more professional development and higher salaries for teachers. Duncan argued that teacher salaries should start at about $65,000 a year and range up to $150,000 a year for highly rated veterans.
That sounds good in theory—teachers work incredibly hard, staying at their school sites long after students have left the building, taking student work home, and planning lessons on the weekends. Many work second jobs over the summer and pay for professional development events out-of-pocket—of course they deserve to be compensated at the same level as other highly trained professionals. But considering the draconian budget cuts that have led to thousands of teacher layoffs nationwide, every teacher who hears Duncan's suggested salaries has to be asking themselves where that money is supposed to come from.
According to the the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
, 29 states project budget shortfalls in 2013, for a total of $47.1 billion. California, the eighth-largest economy in the world, will be hardest hit, with a projected $8.4 billion shortfall. And because California's largest school system, the Los Angeles Unified School District, receives 80 percent of its money from the state, 11,000 additional LAUSD teachers will receive preliminary layoff notices this week. If states can't afford to keep teachers at the relatively low salaries they're paid now, why are we even discussing the possibility of more money?
Several educators took to Twitter to express their displeasure and disbelief. One teacher, who uses the Twitter handle mblorenz, criticized Duncan for denying federal grants that could help prevent layoffs to states that won't adopt the Common Core standards. Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Level Playing Field Institute tweeted
, "Anyone else think this speech by @ArneDuncan is antithetical to what's happened the last 3 years at the DOE?"
Duncan is already quite unpopular
with educators, and a new national survey of teachers
shows that only only 44 percent are very satisfied with their jobs, down from 59 percent in 2009. A soundbite proposing an unrealistic pay scheme doesn't help. Sure, teachers should be paid more, but the primary goal should be keeping the ones we have.
Duncan should stop talking about paying teachers the big bucks until he can keep them from being pink-slipped.