When Celebrities Attack: Eggers Enters the Teacher Salary Debate (Late)

It's frequently embarassing when celebrity amateurs try and get involved on substantive policy issues (think Sting and Brad Pitt talking about the saving the Amazon and ending world hunger), and rarely enlightening or productive when they do (Bono & 3rd world debt relief might be an exception). You've got to admire them for their willingness to use their celebrity, but...

This is what comes to mind reading Dave Eggers et al's opinion piece in Monday's NYT: Opinion: Reading, Writing, Retailing, which laments the fact that teachers' salaries are so low they have to work at Circuit City over the summer (if not during the year). To be sure, Eggars is a smart guy and a good writer. He also has a tutoring program called 826 Valencia that has gotten a lot of favorable press.

But there's nothing in the piece we don't already know (besides a half-baked proposal that school districts should use their bonding power to pay teachers more), and -- pet peeve alert -- Eggers falls prey to using the tired and inaccurate argument that insufficient funding for NCLB is responsible for low teacher salaries.

It's a shame, because there's so much more that's going on in the world of education and teaching - districts training their own teachers rather than getting them from ed schools, polls showing teachers and the public have very different ideas about what's possible, lots of new attention on teacher retention and hard to staff schools. Across the board raises for teachers are off the table politically, practically, and financially. They may not even be good policy. But Eggers doesn't acknowledge any of this.

In the end, the piece comes off as nothing more than an infomercial for Eggers and a new book about -- yawn -- the sacrifices teachers make. Thanks, Dave.


Blogger Jenny D. said...

Okay, you';re on.

BTW, AA is Ann Arbor, not something else.

7:38 PM  
Blogger directress said...

I absolutely agree. A friend e-mailed me this article, and the links listed it as one of the most e-mailed New York Times article that week...

A slow Newsweek, I'm sure.

Meanwhile, this week's New Yorker magazine short notes a book release event at Cooper Union, featuring David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell, to benefit an organization called 826 Brooklyn. Did the progressive literati decide to take tutoring into their own hands without me noticing?

3:16 PM  
Blogger mrseal said...

Did you read the book by Eggers, et al? It's section four of that book that you should pay attention to before writing things like "across the board raises for teachers are off the table politically, practically, and financially." These raises are not "off the table," though they may be difficult to make happen. Then again, we're talking about significantly changing a system that has experienced very little change over the years, of course it will be difficult.

In fact, there are districts that are trying to make those raises happen and going through the difficult process. There are districts that are changing pay scales and instituting merit pay that's based on more than what the uninformed public thinks is merit (more than just standardized test scores). Helena, Montana, which Eggers and friends mention on page 2 of the NYTimes op-ed piece, is just one such school.

I'll grant you that the anecdotal evidence of the teachers highlighted is a tired story. Still, much of the general public really has no idea what it's like to live on a teacher's salary. Those anecdotes may put a face on the situation that would allow non-teachers a way to get inside this profession.

And just so you're clear on the real issues, the federally unfunded NCLB regulations are then funded by local school sites or districts. That's money taken out of the general fund that could otherwise go to increased teacher salary, though it wouldn't necessarily go to fund such action. To suggest, as you do, that NCLB has no bearing on how much money is left over to pay teachers is inaccurate.

3:42 PM  

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