When Evidence of Need Doesn’t Matter
“We teach our children every day not to accept the easy answers but to get all the information they need before they make a decision,” writes NEA-Tiverton President (and teacher) Amy Mullen in a letter to the Sakonnet Times (which is not online). What follows that opener is, not surprisingly, another iteration of the union’s talking points.
Mullen does, however, inadvertently point toward an interesting comparison that the school system’s union mindset tends to obscure:
I received a tongue-in-cheek 13 tactics of the Tiverton School Committee which focused around the committee refusing to listen or do the job they were elected to do. Teachers see the realities of this every day. Just look at the lack of substitutes. We don’t pay them enough so they go elsewhere. So now some classes go unsupervised, some are sent to study hall, some are covered by the principal, others are covered by teachers during their instructional planning time. What do we have to do to attract good subs? Well soon we will be saying that about our teachers.
One could note, of course, that classroom teachers are the largest line item within any given town’s largest expense category (education), that substitutes’ role is to relieve some of the pressure on teachers to be in the classroom come hell or high water, and therefore that money for substitutes would logically come from their oversized wedge of the pie. A way in which some districts have sought to attract subs is to free them from the discomforts of awaiting the 6:00 a.m. wake-up call, before which they’ve no idea whether they’re working, by hiring them as full-time employees, often on a track to become full teachers themselves. Given budget constraints in Tiverton, of course, that option would probably require the loss of a position or two in some other area.
What’s most interesting about Ms. Mullen’s look down her dark slope, though, is the marker by which we realize that we’ve got a problem when it comes to substitutes and financing of them: we don’t have enough of them to fill the demand. Mullen would like her readers to apply the sub-shortage principle to teachers, but there is no shortage of them. Rhode Island’s public schools are not struggling to find professionals to take charge of their classrooms. And that indicates that there is room to lower their employment packages — salaries, benefits, perks.
I do see a parallel between subs and teachers, although not one that Mullen would like for many people to consider: The pool of substitutes has generally been treated as a collection of volunteers and next-step-up interns, when really what districts ought to do is to treat them as professionals (perhaps with some number of the old style on reserve). The pay wouldn’t have to be much better, I don’t think; it’s the opportunity and the career track that matter.
Treating teachers as actual, individualized professionals, which would require the end of collective bargaining, might just lower their cost to tax payers and, counterintuitive as it may be, increase their quality.