Thursday, January 12, 2012

Got a job, an income, a home? Thank some teachers.

In today's edition, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof highlights in today's edition a "landmark new research paper" that concludes "the difference between a strong teacher and a weak teacher lasts a lifetime."

Having a good fourth-grade teacher makes a student 1.25 percent more likely to go to college, the research suggests, and 1.25 percent less likely to get pregnant as a teenager. Each of the students will go on as an adult to earn, on average, $25,000 more over a lifetime — or about $700,000 in gains for an average size class — all attributable to that ace teacher back in the fourth grade. That’s right: A great teacher is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to each year’s students, just in the extra income they will earn.

No matter who you ask, everyone can identify at least one teacher who provided the spark that led to one's vocations, avocations, deep personal interests or even lifelong career paths. I'm lucky -- I attended public schools in both urban and rural settings, and I can make a long list of the great teachers I had who influenced the positive directions I've taken.

Every small gesture a great teacher makes accumulate to become major influences. We are who we are because of who taught us, and what they imparted -- their knowledge, their manner, their character, their style, their humanity.

I bet fewer than a tenth of one percent of South Carolinians -- a paltry, sad number -- know the significance of Moses Waddel on our state's and nation's history, and he never served a day in public office. Reward yourself and Google his name.

Let's say that a legislature cuts education funding, and that forces teacher layoffs. What should a community do? As Krisof writes, the study has a recommended:

The study, by economists at Harvard and Columbia universities, finds that if a great teacher is leaving, parents should hold bake sales or pass the hat around in hopes of collectively offering the teacher as much as a $100,000 bonus to stay for an extra year. Sure, that’s implausible — but their children would gain a benefit that far exceeds even that sum.

Ask yourself: Would you be willing to hold fundraisers to keep great teachers on the job in your schools, if it meant your children might earn thousands more dollars over their lifetimes? Funny how your kids' earning potential puts things in perspective, isn't it?

While we're at it, ask yourself this, too: Would you be willing to vote for candidates who would make public education funding the highest priority of the state budget, if it meant your children might earn thousands more dollars over their lifetimes?

Even if that meant tossing out a legislative majority that enacts deep cuts to public schools and that celebrates its stinginess?


Our faltering education system may be the most important long-term threat to America’s economy and national well-being, so it’s frustrating that the presidential campaign is mostly ignoring the issue. Candidates are bloviating about all kinds of imaginary or exaggerated threats, while ignoring the most crucial one.

Mitt Romney, who after his victory in New Hampshire on Tuesday seems increasingly likely to be the Republican nominee, refers to education only in passing on his Web site. The topic receives no substantive discussion in his 160-page “Believe in America” economic plan.

Perhaps we need a candidate who offers a "Believe in Great Teachers" plan.

Some Republicans worry that a federal role in education smacks of socialism. On the contrary, schools represent a tough-minded business investment in our economic future. And, increasingly, we’re getting solid evidence of what reforms may help: teacher evaluations based on student performance, higher pay and prestige for good teachers, dismissals for weak teachers.

That, and not most of the fireworks that passes for politics these days, is the debate we should be having on a national stage.

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