NORMAN — Arne Duncan wants you!
Picture that slogan on a poster. The secretary of education pointing outward like Uncle Sam, summoning the nation’s top-achieving college students to enter America’s classrooms as teachers.
Not very convincing, eh?
OK, the Department of Education’s new public service campaign, called Teach, is far more polished, but essentially it has all the honesty and appeal of “Join the Army and see the world.”
When will they learn?
Like such efforts in the past, Teach dances around some highly pertinent issues: salary, working conditions and the beatings the teaching profession takes in the political arena.
If we want to draw the brightest of our college applicants into the teaching profession, we have to be honest with ourselves about what it will take. Let’s start with money.
Compared to other high-achieving countries, U.S. teachers are not underpaid. But they are when compared to comparably trained American college graduates who enter other occupations; their salaries are 40 percent lower, according to research released last year.
Given the cost (and debt incurred) of a college education these days, a 40 percent difference is significant. American young people aren’t that bad at math. They can compute the impact on their future lifestyles.
Last year the federal government sought to infuse some respect for teachers with a $5 billion initiative dubbed RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching). Duncan said its goal was to make teaching “not only America’s most important profession but also America’s most respected profession.” School districts and states competed for the funding to boost the teaching profession’s profile.
Sorry to point out the obvious, but in America, respected jobs are offered the higher salaries.
Duncan understands that the countries that perform best in standardized testing draw their teaching staffs from the best and brightest students entering colleges and universities. And he would no doubt like to make that the case in the U.S. But it’s almost as if we dare not utter the word salary or acknowledge the role it plays in influencing the choice of a profession.