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Why Education Fails in America

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) publishes reports on a variety of economic factors including education in its member countries. It uses statistics on educational performance, class sizes, and teachers’ salaries among others to create an annual report that ranks the performance of educational infrastructures. Unfortunately, this report only adds to the bad news for kids in the US year-to-year.

In 2013, the US ranked 17th in reading, 31st in mathematics, and 23rd in science which puts it right at the middle of the pack of the 62 member nations. What is astounding is that in 2013, the US spent more than any other OECD nation per student in addition to spending more on higher education than any other nation. This however has not resulted in any change in the US’ international rankings. If anything, the trends show that the US’ performance, especially in math and science, has been decreasing substantially. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) found that the US ranked 31st in math literacy among 15-year-old students, well below the international average.

So what’s the problem? The media along with politicians and “educational experts” argue, on an on-going basis, that teachers are to blame. Programs aimed at “fixing” our educational infrastructure often point to stricter quality standards, more teacher accountability and “groundbreaking” changes to personnel issues such as preventing teachers from attaining tenured positions. I’m here to tell you all that is laughable.

I believe that the US has a tradition of passing the buck to teachers when it comes to the failing public school systems around the states. It’s a tradition that has not seen change since… I don’t know? Sliced bread? But is that who is really to blame? To get that answer all we really need to do is look in the mirror. All you parents out there, you should think long and hard about who it is you are directing your anger towards when your kid fails to get the grades you think they should be getting.

In California, as in most states, teaching is a thankless job. Not only do teachers have to fight to try to get books for their students, they also juggle managing classes that are too big along with parents that don’t get involved outside of yelling at them for doing their job. The really bad part is all the while they’re getting shit pay. To put all this into perspective, let’s take another municipal organization such as the police department. The starting salary for a Los Angeles police officer upon entering the academy is $57,420. Upon completion of the academy and with their first posting as a probationary police officer, the officer’s salary moves up to $60,552. The qualifications for being a cop? Graduating high school and being a permanent resident or permanent resident alien. I know, it’s tough. On the flip side, to get an elementary school teaching credential in California, you have to get your bachelor’s degree and complete a multiple subject teaching credential program at a college or university. Once you complete the necessary schooling, you are responsible for taking a basic skills assessment, passing the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (or CSET), completing a reading instruction course, a US Constitution course, foundational computer technology course, and a Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA). After doing all that, you need to get a Clear Credential by completing a Professional Teacher Induction Program all the while assuming you can find a school district to employ you.

So what is the starting salary for a school teacher in the City of Angels? Drum roll please… $45,637. What happens if you have a Masters or a Doctorate? You must make more money… Right? Let’s see, for years one through five, you are making a mind-blowing $75K with your Master’s in hand and $76K if you have a doctorate. After five years, your salary goes up $573. Yes, in five years you could spend your annual increase to get a pretty decent computer, assuming none of your expenses have increased and you can save that money in single month increments. Keep in mind, that’s after you went into debt to the tune of $125K to get that Master’s degree. Hopefully, you can last that long because statistics show the national turnover average is 50% in the first five years of teaching. That means that within five years, teachers realize that their career is not a sustainable one and they leave for greener pastures. Who can blame them?

I recently read an article written by former Virginia Teacher of the Year, Josh Waldron. In it, he describes his decision to leave his position to pursue a career in web design (seriously). In the five years that Josh spent teaching and enriching young minds, his monthly paycheck increased a grand total of $100. Those of you fortunate enough to have a teacher who cared enough to teach you math will know that’s a $1,200 dollar increase on an annual basis. A little bit of division leads us to the realization that what he got was a 2.6% hike from January 2009 through January 2014. The current annual rate of inflation in the US is 1.3%. That’s annually, or year-to-year. What this all means is that Josh, our educator of the year for the state of Virginia, earned less in 2014 than he did in 2009 because the value of the dollar has dropped far more than the amount than his paycheck was increased month-to-month. It takes a smart mind to educate children. Unfortunately, smart minds discover that teaching is a shit job very quickly.

So what do the best teachers in the US look forward to every year? Clearly, it’s not getting shafted financially. Or maybe it is the throngs of disinterested parents who show them zero respect? Better yet, the steady and continual increase in teaching requirements requiring off-the-clock preparation on a massive scale? The answer? None of the above. Teachers literally have NOTHING to look forward to. The teachers I know that have just started in this field all say the same thing though, “It’s worth it for the kids.” It was worth it for Josh too, until he realized that he would have problems providing for his own children if he kept catering to his students without thinking about his future. It’s a sad state and we have no one to blame but ourselves. If a teacher of the year has to maintain a vegetable garden to keep their food costs down, we need to rethink our system.

Alex S. Pak
A young professional with a passion for rhetoric. He was born and raised in Southern California where he attended high school and college. Alex focused his studies on the humanities and is a keen observer of the human condition. In is spare time, enjoys reading, watching movies, and partying like a rock star.

One thought on “Why Education Fails in America

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more and a rational sane person or at least anyone who has ever had a kid in public school will realize it’s not the teacher that is the problem. The problem is that education is “politicized” because of funding. Now, let’s remember just who it is that constantly calls for cuts in funding. These are the people who constantly call for cuts in funding of all social programs…you see where I’m going with this right? The best way to cut teacher pay is to demonize them and shift the blame to them for an education system that in K-12 has always been funded unevenly and a higher education system that has clearly gone off the rails in their quest to mirror our corporate culture.

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