An Open Letter to our Educators

Today's teachers are "non-performing assets."

The following letter was written in response to the story .

Many educators, especially teachers, have been noticing that there is growing disapproval of their profession when there once was respect.  Why would this be?  This is a nation of upward mobility and education is a key driver.  Education is an important input into the economy and is said to be the only such input that does not have a diminishing return. Why would educators experience growing disrespect and even hostility when what they do is so important?  Educators ask, “Why do they now hate us so?”

One reason, of course, is that they do such a poor job of it.  Student test scores have been declining for decades and, despite spending more per student on education than any country in the world, we are receiving a mediocre – and deteriorating – product. This is to be expected, of course, when educators are compensated for “time on the job” - no matter how badly they perform.   It probably doesn’t help that there is growing evidence that teachers themselves do not do well on the standardized tests that are so important for their students and that a degree from a “Teachers College” is not exactly (ahem) “difficult to obtain”.

Another reason is the hypocrisy shown when teachers blather about “it’s all about the kids”, and then do anything to destroy any competition that “does a better job for the kids”.  When “charter schools” show a dramatic improvement in student outcomes, it does not spur public school educators to do a better job – it spurs them to put pressure on legislators to close them (such as in Washington D.C.).  No, although there are individual teachers who care about the kids, as a group, educators have shown over and over that they don’t really give a damn. 

A third reason for the growing disdain for educators is their whining about “how hard their job is”, when they live in a virtual Eden.  They have no concerns about inflation, retirement income, healthcare, dental care, prescriptions, eyeglasses, life insurance, substantial increases in income, long hours, night and weekend work, or business travel.  They make, in total compensation on a monthly basis, 3-6 times their counterparts in the private sector, get automatic raises, have no accountability for their work whatsoever, and then retire at an early age on fabulous pensions.  The taxpayers, who provide 100% of this Utopia, have no such easy life but have to listen to the complaining of teachers.

Why has it taken so long for students, taxpayers, and parents to figure this out?  Well, teachers lie a lot.  Many “pay for their own healthcare” but do not explain that they get a stipend to pay for it.  They claim that they only get 2% raises without explaining that they get 2-3 other raises as well.  They insist that they pay for their own pensions without explaining that, in about half the school districts in Illinois, they are reimbursed for their contribution.  Of those who actually do pay, they do not explain that they only pay about 5% of what they will receive.  A teacher who retires with a $100,000 final salary and a $75,000 pension with a 3% raise every year will typically have paid less than $100,000 into the pension fund.  Who in the private sector has ever gotten a deal where they can plop down $100,000 at age 58 and get a pension like that for life?  Yet, the private sector pays for it.

It is “interesting” that a 2% raise somehow becomes a 6% raise, which then becomes a 10% raise because any increase in pay carries over into the pension.  The “average teacher pension amount” is another attempt to deceive.  A union official or teacher spokesman will speak of an average pension of $20,000.  Oops! Without including short-time teachers, this becomes $30,000.  Oops, without including part-time teachers, this becomes $40,000. Oops!  Without including teachers long since retired, this becomes $50,000.  On and on, until one realizes that a P.E. teacher that makes over $200,000 today will retire on a pension of $150,000 that will double in 20 years and triple in 30 years due to the 3% increases.  This is what the private sector calls “not bad for a part-time job”.

Finally, educators have isolated themselves from their own communities.  Deliberately deceiving one’s neighbors is not a nice thing to do, especially when these neighbors are providing, with federal, state, and local tax dollars, the idyllic existence enjoyed by educators.  It sounds rather ungrateful.  It is also rather ungrateful to refuse to accept any accountability for results – to insist that no teacher be fired for doing a poor job even when the evidence of falling student test scores proves that many teachers are doing a poor job.  Today’s teachers have more money to work with, smaller class sizes, more aides, more staff, and more “special ed.” assistants than teachers of twenty years ago could even imagine, yet they still manage to turn in negative productivity every year.  This means that today’s teachers are, quite simply, “non-performing assets”. 

So, how do teachers get more and more compensation when their performance would get them fired immediately if they were in the private sector?  The answer is “despicably”. 

They do not work hard, do a better job, and then rightly ask or bargain for salary increases.  Instead, they take taxpayer money, pay it to the union in dues, and then the union uses this taxpayer money to bribe our public officials with campaign contributions and election support.  They make campaign contributions, and who knows what else, to the School Board candidates that they will negotiate against and who will vote on their contract.  They have used their work time and resources for political work.  They’ve used their students for political work.  

They use whatever means possible, on local, state, and national levels, to get as much from their neighbors as they can squeeze out, while doing whatever is within their means to keep their neighbors from finding out how much that really is.  Then, they insist that a beginning teacher, on the first day on the job, is immediately guaranteed $20,000,000 of taxpayer money over his lifetime.

Excessive salaries, benefits, healthcare benefits in retirement, and obscene pensions for educators, all do more damage than is readily apparent.  Everyone knows that 70% of real estate taxes go to schools and that 85% of that is for educator compensation.  However, not everyone realizes that a part of federal income tax makes its way back to teachers.  Not everyone realizes that a part of their state income tax makes its way back as well.  By the way, their pensions are exempt from state income tax. 

Not everyone realizes that this spending drives tax increases and borrowing. Borrowing, of course, is just a deferred tax.  Not everyone realizes that the bulk of healthcare and pension obligations is unfunded.  This amount, of course, is also just “deferred taxes”.   The money has been spent, but the revenue will not be there until our children and grandchildren are taxed to pay for it. 

Well, educators, does this answer your question?   Why do they hate you so?   Incompetence, ingratitude, hypocrisy, deliberate deceptiveness and lying, greed, monopolistic power, undermining the economy,  political corruption, using taxpayer money to screw taxpayers and their children – gee whiz, what’s not to like? 

So, the law says that your community has to make sacrifices to provide educators with a posh existence and the union says that parents and students have to take whatever level of education you choose to dish out, but it really is too much to expect them to like it.

You have separated yourselves from us, and your neighbors are still in the early stages of realizing what you have truly done.   What you do to provide yourself with an easy life may be acceptable to Illinois politicians, but it is not acceptable to decent people. 

Learn to enjoy the company of fellow teachers and expect to be shunned by others.  Do not tell people what you do for a living.  Learn to slink. Do not blame your union – you pay your dues and you take what they buy you.  You take taxpayer money, give it to the union in dues, these go to politicians, the politicians return the favor by legislating in favor of teachers, and taxpayers have to pay for it.  Using your neighbor’s money to cheat that very same neighbor is also not a nice thing to do.   We don’t like people who do that sort of thing.  Guess what?  Contemptible behavior earns contempt.  

                                                                                                                                                                          You must learn to enjoy your $150,000 state pensions while Illinois cuts money from battered women, the homeless, the poor, and the troubled children.  What the hell!  If they wanted to eat, they should have used taxpayer money to make million-dollar campaign contributions!  The “battered women union” should have offered a job to a relative of a politician! 

Above all, educators, those of you with a conscience must learn not to listen to it.

—John Sully (brother of a resident)

Kevin March 24, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Charter schools? I have to laugh. Who is going to charter schools? Is it the students who come from the neighborhoods that make up Englewood in Chicago? Is it the kids from Compton in Los Angeles? No, it is the children whose parents don't want their kids to deal with the fear that comes from neighborhoods like those. The kids going to charter schools are those who see an education is their only way out and the parents will spare no cost to get their kids an education so they don't wind up being another generation in the slums. But it's not just the poor kids that are struggling. We also have a generation of parents who didn't have to struggle like their parents did to make ends meet. Life was easier for them and they will do whatever they can to make life easier for their kids, so they pull them out of school in the middle of the school year for vacations, shopping trips, or let them stay home because "they are tired and just need a day off." Teachers are not creating widgets. Teachers do what they can with the groups of thirty plus students they have in each class they teach for the 40 minutes a day they have said group. I suppose it is the teachers' faults when students go home and rather than do the practice work they are assigned, they hang out at the park, or play video games, or watch television. I'm guessing that your 30 years in a classroom has taught you everything a teacher does during the school day and the school year?
Rose Lewellyn March 25, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Not sure what to comment on first. I am disappointed that this article grossly misrepresents what types of power teachers have over their pay, benifits, classroom size, work day, school year, materials, etc. Any, if not all, of the politicing mentioned above would be directly handled by the superintendent and the school board. The school board being voted in by the public and the superintendent being evaluated by them. To top it off, linking student performance to teacher performance is absurd. Unless you expect the teacher to control everything that happens to a child from fetus to five, teachers cannot be held accountable once students come to school without the basic skills a parent should be providing. It is a teachers position to instruct students at an academic level. Most are playing catch-up due to lack of parental involvement. No child left behind has put a spot light on students achieving at a certain level and does not give growth much recognition. Many schools in the state of Illinois are suffering due to these out of reach expectations when they should be rejoicing that they are making improvements against the odds.
I know the truth March 25, 2012 at 01:21 AM
WOW! EVERYTHING in this letter is FALSE! John, you are obviously an idiot if you really believe what you had written or, you work for the district and are just trying to sway the residents of the district to HATE teachers. Either way you are way out of line on this one and have no idea of what is actually happening. I wonder why you have so much disdain for teachers or unions in general, it's because of people like you that unions have to exist so the workers don't get trampled. Unbelievable.
John Sullivan March 25, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Unions are good. Monopolies are not. Absent competition, one would expect a poor and declining product from any organization. Is this not exactly what we see today in education? I, and a number of teachers I know, have disdain for poor teachers - those who refuse to do anything outside of class time, make the students grade their own tests and homework, and show a movie one day a week so the teacher can take care of administrative work during class time. Yes, the union prevents these workers from being trampled.
I know the truth March 25, 2012 at 01:50 PM
John, You blame the many for problems of a few. To be more precise, what makes you think the 180 teachers are "poor" at what they do? I agree, every organization has a some bad apples, but, your unfairly punishing these teachers .I know several of the 180 teachers and I find them all to be of top quality, caring, and very dedicated. These teachers do their very best with what their given, and , you will not see a rise in test scores unless the student gets proper attention at HOME, i.e. The parents have a vital role in a students education and growth as well. As for the BOE and the SI, this is a control issue, the have refused time and again to negotiate in good faith, let alone prove trustworthy during this time. You'll never see that get reported. This is a one sided fight that turns my stomach, and when I see uninformed banter printed it's infuriating
Kevin March 25, 2012 at 02:24 PM
The teacher haters out there all remember "that one bad teacher" they had in high school who would give worksheets while they read the paper and automatically assume that all teachers are like that because that is the one they remember. But we also know people at our jobs who don't do anything but won't lose their job because of their relationship with the boss, or because he is the guy who keeps us laughing. We know he should get fired but he doesn't because a good boss doesn't want to go through the rigormarole of firing him. How is that different from "union protection"? (In reality, "tenure" does not give a teacher a "job for life". All it does is give teachers the protection of due process, meaning, you must have a real reason to get rid of a long term teacher.) Tenured teachers do and have lost their jobs, but only if incompetence or illegal acts can be proven. Wouldn't it be nice if we all had that protection?
John Sullivan March 25, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Actually, no. In the CPS it takes about five years to complete the "due process" it takes to terminate a teacher for incompetence. No Principal can be blamed for just taking the easy way out. If we all had that protection, productivity in the private sector would fall as it has in education and there would be no money to pay for teachers.
John Sullivan March 25, 2012 at 03:41 PM
I would be happy to address all the issues above in additional posts. This is a very important conversation to have, as it involves both "children" and "education" - two areas that most value highly. Common ground is that there is a crisis in education in this country that is well-documented. There is also a crisis in compensation and pensions in the public sector. These dovetail here. Let's proceed in the spirit of enlightenment and learn from one another.
Kevin March 25, 2012 at 11:25 PM
John Sullivan says "if we all had that protection, productivity in the private sector would fall as it has in education." I have two words for you. Adam Dunn. On a serious note, one attempt to "fix" public education was "No Child Left Behind." That law said that by 2014, 100% of students must meet or exceed standards. Do you really think that is a realistic goal to set? I'd sure like to hear how it could be reached if you think it is.
David McLean March 26, 2012 at 02:26 AM
Maybe it's the 65 billion debt Illinios is suffering from the teachers union. Your the evil rich,who destroy,lie,steal,and cheat your way to a fat pension. Good luck collecting it. Were broke because of you morons.
John Sullivan March 26, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Not without accountability. However, if the bottom 10% of teachers were replaced, I think performance would improve. No one can even remember a time when this happened, so there must be some "making up" to do. Not only would the bottom 10% be prevented from taking class time from students, but the remaining 90% would realize that accountability exists. I have not read it, but yesterday I saw a reference to a study by Stanford economist Eric Hanushek that "found that raplacing the bottom 5% of American teachers with merely average instructors would catapult the United States to the top of the international educational rankings". I shall google this forthwith.
Sue Sullivan March 26, 2012 at 03:45 PM
If linking student performance to teacher performance is absurd, then how is teacher performance to be judged? Oh, that's right- they're not. My manager wants results-not excuses. If there aren't any expectations, you might as well put a baby-sitter in the classrooms for $10.00 per hour. No doubt there are more good teachers than bad, but who really knows without performance reviews and salary increases as earned? The fact is, an entire group is willing to go on strike if their demands aren't met. And, their demands exceed what is commonplace in the private sector- especially when the hours put in annually would classify their job as "part- time". That behavior would not be wise at my place of business! These situations just prompt me to write more letters to legislators for pension reform. If I understand correctly, sick days not taken can accumulate over decades and upon retirement, the taxpayers are paying for those sick days at the most recent hourly rate that teacher was paid. If that is correct, some changes need to be made post haste.
I know the truth March 26, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Prior to 2008 I dont think ANY of you private sector employees had this much hate in your hearts, you were all doing real well and could care less about public employees. Now that the bottom has dropped out you're all listening to to the media and blaming public employees for ALL the financial woe's in this country. Teacher performance: ever hear of "no child left behind", yeah it's a failure because school funding was related to test scores,what wasn't taken into account was the fact that lower income kids receive ZERO support from home ( that's right i'm holding parents accountable too!) class sizes are bigger that ever, and slower learners take up most the teachers time and take away from the rest of the class. And no, you CAN'T put them in special class, that takes an act of god. As far as excessive demands, one again one side of the story and only part of it at that, whats wanted is what is commonplace among other public schools, not the backwards slop the BOE is offering, which by the way no person public or private would agree too if you knew the whole story. Sick days don't accumulate over decades they cap out like everything else. Don't hate because of what you THINK someone else is getting, I don't know a single public retiree that lives on a private island with their own yacht, hell the ones I know work some part time job to make ends meet! So these accusations of bloated pensions are totally false, unless your talking about the administration of course....
I know the truth March 26, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Dave, your on another planet, if you really believe that, I have a bridge in California I'll sell ya for cheap.
Kevin March 26, 2012 at 10:42 PM
And if the bottom 10% of students were replaced performance would improve as well. But do you know what? That won't happen. We have universal education in the United States. All students are required to attend school until they are 16 years old, until Illinois makes that age 18. Whether they want to be there or not, they will be in a classroom. Where is the incentive for these students to do their best? Parents insist that they be pushed forward even if they don't successfully complete the year of study. So if I'm going to go on to the next level, why should I try?
Kevin March 26, 2012 at 10:44 PM
But "I know the truth" that is exactly what the Tea Party is all about, which is obviously where Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan are from. They THINK someone else is getting some benefit that they don't get, "benefits" that they NEVER would have settled for when times were good in the private sector. Truth be told, these two (and I hate to use such a modern, "hip" term) haters would never last a year in a classroom.
Kevin March 26, 2012 at 11:21 PM
I just pulled out my 2011 real estate tax bill and averaged out how much I pay for the three school districts in which I live (which includes the College of DuPage). It comes out to $250 per month. I ask you this. Is this excessive for the education of our youth? My car payment is more than that...and I can't write the car payment off of my income tax like I can my real estate tax. Man, if it wasn't for that $250 per month I could afford a Lexus instead of a Toyota! These schools are keeping me from my dream!
John Sullivan March 27, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Kevin, you make my case. If union labor is going to keep their jobs and keep getting raises unrelated to performance, why should they try? Where is their incentive to do their best?
John Sullivan March 27, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Kevin, argumentum ad hominem. Educator salaries are reported by the school district. Do you think they lie about the $200,000 P.E. teacher, the $190,000 Drivers Ed. teacher, the $225,000 Principal, or the $400,000 Superintendant with the $300,000 per year pension? In regard to your taxes, a good working average is that about 70% goes to schools and about 85% of that is labor. As for the education of our youth, we would like to have some. We pay more and more and get less and less. As for private sector/public sector, the private sector pays for 100% of the public sector. When the public sector makes more than their bosses, trouble is ahead and you will see in upcoming posts that teachers make, on a monthly, total compensation basis, 3-6 times their counterparts in the private sector. Stay tuned.
Kevin March 27, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Mr. Sullivan, your hatred for those we pay to educate our children has you so blind that you see what you want to see. What percentage or educators do you think are "coasting" through their career? I would bet that most of those who went into education because they felt it was an easy gig with summers off are long gone. Let me ask you this, do you blame the doctor when a patient dies if the patient doesn't follow the required regiment of drugs and other treatments? How do you propose to evaluate teachers in your world? Oh yeah, test scores. Those are an accurate measure of how well a teacher teaches. You would never see a 7th grade student marking A-B-C-D-C-B-A on a standardized test because they don't like the teacher! That doesn't happen in your utopia.
Kevin March 27, 2012 at 07:51 PM
No, but what you see on your right wing websites like "Family Taxpayer" or whatever it is called is not giving you base salary. They are giving you complete packages plus any add ons. I know enough teachers and have seen enough teacher salary schedules to know that they don't go upt to $200,000. The P.E. teacher is getting additional income by coaching three seasons, and likely is the school athletic director. How many good people do you think you are attracting to education by slamming educators? This isn't McDonalds where you say, "ah, this guy ain't cutting it, who's next on our list." Good teachers are not born, they are made and it takes a few years of tutelage until a teacher becomes what would be considered good. I will quote an excellent comment I read on another message board. "You get what you pay for. Compensate educators poorly, and your kids get a cheap education; compensate them well, and your kids get a good education."
John Sullivan March 28, 2012 at 02:03 PM
State and federal income taxes also find their way into your paycheck. However, you may have noticed that these are drying up and homeowners want their real estate taxes cut to a level commensurate with their fallen (and falling) home values. The upcoming crunch is not going to be fun for anyone. Ultimately, the health of the private sector determines the health of the public sector because the economy pays for everything. Unions can cause mispricings, but there is always mean reversion in the long run. If you don't believe me, ask an autoworker or a steelworker (if you can still find one around).
John Sullivan March 28, 2012 at 02:11 PM
I have a number of teachers among my family and friends, although for some reason that number seems to be shrinking, and their compensation is in line with what is on the databases. I can't speak for the others. Since the cost of education has been going up while the level of education has been going down over a twenty-year period, obviously we are not getting what we are paying for.
John Sullivan April 02, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Kevin, you make a point. Teachers do get better in the first five years. However, after that there is no link between seniority and student test scores. Still, they get paid more every year for the next 33 years. Why should someone get paid more than COLA for doing exactly the same thing?


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