02-19-2017  1:16 pm      •     

Much criticism swirls around the educational reform act No Child Left Behind, from its under-funded mandates to its heavy emphasis on testing. Less examined is a structural development detrimental to our children's education: how teachers' salaries have been left behind. 
The disturbing numbers can be found in a recent study by the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute. The Teacher Penalty shows that teachers in Oregon and across the U.S. earn considerably less than other college graduates. Their earnings are also well below those of other professionals with similar educational and skill levels, such as accountants, reporters, registered nurses, computer programmers, members of the clergy and personnel officers.
How much less? Per week, Oregon public schoolteachers earn on average about 20 percent less than what other college graduates earn — worse than the nation's average teacher pay penalty of 15 percent. The penalty, the study found, decreases only slightly when teachers' health and retirement benefits are taken into account.
That means that each week the average teacher in Oregon makes about $250 less than someone else with a college degree. For Oregon teachers with a Master's degree, the pay differential is more severe, about $310 per week less than others with an M.A.
It wasn't always so. Back when John F. Kennedy was elected president, teachers on average made slightly more than those with similar education and work experience. Female teachers earned significantly more — almost 15 percent more — than women with similar education. True, the situation was no Camelot, as the higher pay in some ways reflected the limited professional possibilities for women outside the teaching profession at that time. Still, the pay comparison favored teachers.
Over the course of more than four decades, teacher salaries steadily lost ground. The downward trend did not halt even during periods of strong economic growth, such as the late 1990s. As one of the study's authors observed, teacher compensation seems "prosperity-proof."
The proof is in the pudding when it comes to the detrimental impact of the teacher pay penalty. According to some estimates, nearly 40 percent of all new teachers in Oregon leave the profession after five years.
And who can blame them, when on top of the inherent difficulty of the profession, the overcrowded classrooms and the questionable demands of No Child Left Behind, teachers must also cope with the fact that they are systematically devalued compared to their peers?
Few dispute that attracting and retaining good teachers is imperative if we are to improve the quality of education for our children. But all too often, the proposed solution is to institute some form of merit-based pay that will, in theory, act as an incentive for better teaching. Yet experiences in other professional fields suggest that merit-based pay schemes are a double-edged sword. Though they bring about some improvements in average performance, they also give rise to negatives such as goal distortion and corruption. Ultimately, there are many questions not yet asked or answered by merit-based pay proponents.
At some point we may find a workable merit-based system for education, but it is misguided to present merit-based pay as the solution in light of the long-term erosion of teachers' salaries. It's like skipping the nutritious main course and offering only a potentially unhealthy dessert.
If we want to attract and retain good teachers, we must make teachers' salaries competitive. Closing the pay gap won't be cheap, but it will be well worth it if we truly want to leave no child behind and make our schools among the nation's best.
 
Juan Carlos Ord"ñez is the communications director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. 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Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. 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