COMMENTARY: While New Mexico students started their school year, and our governor delays calling a budget crisis special session, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) last week released a bipartisan report on U.S. public education: “No Time To Lose.”
Also this week, a report released by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows the “teacher pay gap” as a major factor in our educational decline.
We can establish a world-class education system if we make the necessary investments.
“No Time to Lose” is a wakeup call. A bipartisan NCSL team of 11 Republican and 11 Democrat legislators found four major lessons to learn from today’s high-performing education systems that we can implement here in New Mexico:
- Children come to school ready to learn, and extra support is given to struggling students so all students have the opportunity to achieve high standards.
- A world-class teaching profession supports a world-class instructional system where every student has access to highly effective teachers and is expected to succeed.
- A highly effective, intellectually rigorous system of career and technical education is available to those preferring an applied education.
- Individual reforms are connected and aligned as parts of a clearly planned and carefully designed, comprehensive system.
A world class teaching system entails more rigorous recruitment strategies, embedded professional development — and better pay:
In high-performing countries, teachers are compensated more generously than American teachers, typically earning pay similar to that of senior civil servants and professionals such as engineers and accountants. They are expected to be the best in the world and are compensated accordingly. Many nations view their teachers as “nation builders,” preparing the country’s next generation.
The pay penalty for teachers relative to similarly educated peers is becoming worse, notes the EPI report. “Instead teachers face low wages, high levels of student debt, and increasing demands on the job. Eliminating the teacher pay penalty is crucial to building the teacher workforce we need.”
The pay gap is widening. According to EPI’s analysis, in 1994, educators earned 1.8 percent less than similarly-trained workers in other fields. By 2015, that gap had widened to 17 percent.
Some of our legislative colleagues ask, “What about the great benefits teachers get?” Including benefits, teachers are still far behind, with an 11.1 percent compensation gap. Compound 11 percent per year, and soon teachers earn half of what similarly educated peers make.
Combined with the ill-conceived and seriously flawed evaluation system, the low pay factors in whether many remain as teachers. High-performing nations don’t use standardized test scores for evaluating teachers — and in many, teachers are paid as well as doctors and lawyers!
Potential new teachers, even motivated by altruism, face the painful economic reality that they will earn less than their peers. Attendance at our colleges of education is very low.
Cutting school funding and keeping teacher pay low hurts students. Raising compensation for all educators is critical to providing our students with world-class teachers.
We’ve already cut the budget too much. There’s no place else to cut, so we must raise revenue.
The authors are Democratic state legislators from New Mexico.