Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Conservative War Against Teachers. Or How To Shoot At Your Own Foot.

US conservatives have an odd schizophrenic angle to the power of markets:  They are all-important (godlike, even), and must not be meddled with in finance, for instance, but when it comes to teaching professions those same markets can be totally ignored.  Indeed, the conservatives like a command economy there, as in "We command, teachers obey."

The point I've made before is that conservatives shouldn't completely ignore markets in their attempts to behead the political power of all teachers' unions.

To give you an example, cutting back on teachers' retirement benefits means cutting back on their total compensation packages.  In Chicago, for instance:

The district, which says it is wrestling with a $1.1 billion deficit weighted with pension payments, wants to save millions of dollars by having teachers pay more into their pension fund. The district wants to end a long-standing agreement that limits teacher paycheck deductions for pensions, the union said.

That CTU said the result would be a 7 percent cut in take-home pay for members. The union also says health care premiums could take another 3 percent under a district proposal.

What do you think a seven-percent compensation cut would mean for the supply of new teachers?  Remember that they must invest in a college degree which is not getting cheaper, even as the financial pay in the occupation declines.

Here's the answer:

The number of students interested in becoming educators continues to drop significantly—From 2010 to 2014, the number of ACT-tested high school graduates interested in education majors or professions decreased by more than 16%, while the number of all graduates who took the ACT increased by nearly 18%.
Those who express interest in teaching tend to score lower in all areas except English than those who express no such interest.

This is another case of short-sighted politically motivated dinners where the politicians happily eat the seed corn to make sure that the Democrats don't get today's bread.

The topic matters for women's employment.  Traditionally*, teaching has been one of the few areas which has allowed an easier combination of childcare duties with paid work (getting home at the same time as the kids, being at home during their vacations).  The lower pay, compared to other jobs which have similar college investment requirements, has been acceptable because of that flexibility.  But if the pay keeps going down further we will see a drop in the supply of teachers and the quality of the incoming teachers.

*In the bad-old days US women had three somewhat wide job paths into middle class earnings.  They were teaching, social work and being a secretary.  See what is happening to teaching, then read what is happening to secretarial jobs, and the importance of opening the IT jobs to more women looks pretty clear.