An Open Letter to the School Board

Every parent should be outraged that teachers do not mind “pretending to teach.”

This letter was sent in response to the story, . It has been abbreviated in order to run in sections.

By now, the conviction should be forming in the minds of all school board members that a paradigm shift is upon them.  Declining student test scores, the reduction or abandonment of state and federal financial support, excessive educator compensation, and the looming possibility of a tax revolt should encourage board members to begin considering ways to improve student outcomes at half the cost.  We know that this is possible since it is done in other countries today and it was easily accomplished in this country (in real dollars) just twenty years ago.  Why not here and now?

In the business of education, teachers have become “non-performing assets”.  By this we mean that - whatever their pay is - the return on investment is negative.  Student test scores have been declining for decades.  As for principals and superintendants, it is difficult to determine if they are “non-performing”.   Due to the strength of the teacher unions, they have virtually no power to replace substandard teachers.  How can we hold them accountable to the taxpayers when their employees know that they cannot be fired, in any practical sense, no matter how poor of a job they do? 

The purpose of this is to call the attention of School Boards, and of those who elect them, to an upcoming collision of four forces – declining quality of education, exploding teacher compensation, disappearing resources to pay educators ever-escalating salaries and pensions, and increasing parent/taxpayer/student awareness and involvement.  The situation is now such that no one, in good conscience, could hire a single teacher under the conditions that exist today, when that action means a commitment of $20,000,000 of taxpayer dollars over a single teacher’s lifetime.(Appendix A)


Everyone agrees that education is hugely important to the quality of one’s life.  However, the more money that we have poured into education, the worse is the result.  It would take Byzantine logic indeed to conclude that the solution for declining student test scores is “more money for teachers”.  Actually, “more money for teachers” is only the solution to the problem of “politicians would like more campaign contributions and election support from teachers unions”. 

Education is said to be the only input into the economy that does not have diminishing returns. More and more, we are hearing that employers cannot fill jobs with the product of our educational system. We have read that only 25% of high school graduates can even pass the test to get into the military. A rather chilling unemployment statistic describes the condition of “Americans educated in America” losing jobs to “Americans educated in foreign countries”. 

When we see that only half of high school graduates in major cities can even effectively read, we think of hundreds of thousands of the young who are processed through our schools and will never be able to support themselves – yet they will have to be fed, clothed, housed, and medicated for another sixty years.  Then, there are the 50% who don’t even graduate.  Are we saying that only a fourth of these young will have productive lives?  What of their children?  Will they do any better?  Any parent would  expect that their kids might not mind going to school and “pretending to learn”.  However, every parent should be outraged that the teachers do not mind “pretending to teach”. 

—John Sullivan (brother of a resident.)

John Sullivan March 27, 2012 at 09:09 PM
I said "real wages", not nominal wages.
Kevin March 27, 2012 at 11:00 PM
So the raise that the CEO of McDonalds just got weren't "real wages"? The money that Matt Forte is seeking because he was "disrespected" aren't "real wages"? Let me tell you, I don't begrudge anyone for the amount of money they make. If they make it honestly (leaving out some of our friends in Arthur Anderson and Enron), then good for them. Teachers gave up salary for job security. Other people gave up job security for salary. Good for them. They made their choice, but now that the economy isn't as good as it once was, people like you don't want others to have things that you don't have. Teachers do not collect social security when their working career is over. People in the private sector do. In fact, teachers pay more into their pension program than people in the private sector pay into social security. Again, anyone could have gone into teaching, but they made their decision to take the money rather than any other benefits. Teachers have chosen the other benefits over salary and now you want to take those away from them. Go ahead. Drive good people out of education. Then I will REALLY fear for our nation.
John Sullivan March 28, 2012 at 01:40 PM
It really doesn't make statistical sense that there would only be 1-2% of bad teachers when there are so many excellent ones, especially when there is no effective method of removing the bad ones. Empirically, my personal lifelong experience with teachers is that about 10% are excellent, 20-40% are very good, about 50% are mediocre, and about 10% should be pushing a broom somewhere. One problem is that the excellent ones may leave, but the bad ones stay. Second, the excellent ones tend to work about 60 hours a week and the bad ones tend to work about 30 hours a week. Since they get the same pay, the excellent teachers only get paid half as much per hour of work as the bad ones do. This is not exactly a good incentive system.
John Sullivan March 28, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Kevin, you inadvertently bring up another point. On average, real wages have not risen in the private sector in twenty years, but that doesn't tell the whole story. During this time, there has been a huge shift of wealth and income from the middle class to the top 2% of the population. This means that the middle class would have to have a drop in real wages over that period. This is not a good omen for public schools because the rich don't need them and the middle class can't afford them. At last - common ground. I think you are wise to fear for our nation.
John Sullivan April 02, 2012 at 01:32 PM
The main problem with our educational system is that we are unable to drive the "bad" people out of education.


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