An interesting op-ed was published yesterday in Maryland Reporter.com, written by a professor who has formally reviewed a Maryland commission’s report on how to make schools better in the state. In the op-ed, James Shuls says we shouldn’t be so quick to draw conclusions about reports that more teachers take second jobs than people do in other professions.
Union officials are keen on using this statistic to call for increased funding for public education.
See for example MSEA president Cheryl Bost’s quote in The Baltimore Sun, “Far too many educators are struggling to make ends meet. It’s clear that Maryland needs to do more for our teachers and school staff.” While it’s not surprising that the union would take this tact, it is hardly the conclusion that we should draw—especially with this limited evidence.
Mr Shuls then goes on to cite a few pieces of evidence himself, just as limited though that evidence may be, to suggest that many teachers, including himself when he was a first-grade teacher, simply work second jobs to earn a little extra cash.
Undoubtedly, there are some teachers out there who are struggling for money (maybe we should stop forcing them to take out debt for useless master’s degrees), but the teacher working a legitimate second job for 20, 30, or 40 hours a week after school is hard to come by. By and large, they are working a job related to their teaching job. Others are like me, working to make some extra cash.
His views bring to mind the many criticisms of teachers’ unions that were volleyed around last school year during widespread teachers’ strikes across a few states. An Arizona Capitol Times article, for example, quoted the House majority leader, John Allen, a Republican from Scottsdale, as saying that teachers took second jobs not to pay bills but to buy boats or bigger houses.
How we got here
The Great Recession, I must concede, caused unrecoverable harm to education budgets in every region of the country. Maryland has laws in place that prevent a reduction in school funding, but tax revenues dropped through the floor here as they did in other states. Legislators and governors were desperate to slash spending.
Enter the public schools.
Maybe teachers used to buy classroom supplies for their students out of personal funds. Maybe schools had to hold bake sales to buy a new tuba for the band. Maybe there was considerable charity in public schools before the Great Recession.
But afterwards, teachers had to spend their own money to buy educational materials for their students—notebooks, writing instruments, even texts. Churches gave away backpacks. Organizations like Adopt-A-Classroom boomed out of nowhere, because the need was so great not only for extras but for educational tools, including books for the libraries and field trips.
President Obama sent a $100 billion stimulus to education in 2009, but that didn’t make it to the end of the Great Recession, and teacher pay across America, adjusted for inflation, was lower in 2016 than it was in 2000. (Many professions took a hit during the recession, and the change varied from state to state: Maryland’s teacher salaries were about 6 percent higher in 2016 than in 2000, while Illinois’s were about 7.5 percent lower.)
States did what they could. In my home state of Illinois, schools were paid at 89 percent of the formula funding for years, forcing many districts to dip into emergency cash reserves to make payroll or lay off teachers in droves. Thank goodness they had those second jobs as servers and bartenders, as Mr Shuls had!
In his conclusion, he writes, “This constant narrative that teachers are underpaid is bad for the profession.”
This opinion isn’t supported by any facts in his piece, but the definition of “underpaid,” often claimed by union leaders to their own discredit, is bad for morale and for teacher recruitment. But whether the narrative has any detrimental effect on the teaching profession or on the quality of education students receive is open for debate. I believe many other factors, some of which involve money and the cost of living, with which teachers’ salaries have evidently not kept pace, play a much more significant role in being “bad for the profession.”