Current Events

October 01, 1992 10 min read

Salaries Are Up But Not By Much

Between the 1990-91 and 199192 school years, the nation’s average teacher salary rose 3.6 percent to $34,213, according to the American Federation of Teachers’ annual salary survey. The union says it was the smallest percentage increase in 27 years.

Connecticut now has the highest average teacher salary, at $47,510, while South Dakota has the lowest, at $23,291.

Since the 1980-81 school year, teachers’ average pay has increased by 95 percent, the AFT report says, and in 13 states, it rose more than 100 percent. But union officials say the significant salary gains teachers enjoyed during the past decade are unlikely to continue, given the recession and the difficult contract negotiations now under way in districts across the nation.

The officials also assert that teachers are paid an average $1,900 less today in current dollars than they were 20 years ago when their wages are adjusted for the experience level of the average teacher. Today’s average teacher has 15.4 years of classroom experience, compared with 10.7 years in 1972.

Looking Inward, AFT Restructures

The American Federation of Teachers has adopted a plan that its leaders say will decentralize the union and give its various non-teacher constituents a more prominent voice and greater autonomy.

The plan, which was prepared by the union’s “futures committee,” was approved overwhelmingly by delegates to the AFT convention, held this summer in Pittsburgh. The new structure is designed to respond to changes in the 790,000-member union, principally the rapid growth in membership outside of its traditional base of public school teachers. In addition to teachers, the AFT now represents large numbers of paraprofessional and other school-related personnel, higher education faculty, nurses and health-care workers, and state and local government employees.

In recent years, tensions have emerged among these various divisions; members of some felt the union had not been paying enough attention to them. “What we are trying to do with this changing structure,” AFT President Albert Shanker said at the convention, “is to create new ways of dealing with the problems that we have.” The plan, Shanker added, is the result of two years of “no holds barred” discussions involving recommendations from more than 1,500 AFT members.

The delegates approved a constitutional amendment recognizing, for the first time, public and private school teachers as a constituent division, thus clarifying the distinctions between the AFT’s other divisions and its teacher members. In what was regarded as one of the most significant changes, delegates voted to create “program and policy councils” for each constituent division and to give each division a seat on the union’s executive council.

Internal reorganization wasn’t the only thing on the minds of the nearly 4,000 delegates attending the meeting. They also turned their attention to presidential politics. Shanker told his members that the effect of the economic recession on their profession was just one of several reasons to back Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas in his quest for the White House. The union leader also bashed President Bush for his support of private school vouchers and his threat to veto any legislation that would outlaw the permanent replacement of striking workers.

Clinton stopped by the convention to get in a few jabs of his own, accusing Bush of overstating how much the nation spends on elementary and secondary education and of misspending federal education funds.

The members of the historically Democratic union were an easy sell: They overwhelmingly passed a resolution endorsing the Arkansas governor.

In another, unrelated, matter, the union threatened to launch a boycott of Ikea, the home-furnishing retailer, if the company does not withdraw advertisements it placed in California newspapers in August. The ads, promoting prices for student furniture, proclaimed: “California hasn’t seen figures this low since last year’s SATs.” One union leader from that state called the advertisement “one of the worst cases of teacher bashing I’ve ever seen.”

Middle School Reform Uneven

In 1989, the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development released a much-publicized report that described a “volatile mismatch” between the needs of young adolescents and the structure and curriculum of the middle grades.

The document called for a number of changes: the creation of small “communities of learning” that allow adults and students to form close relationships, the elimination of student tracking and the promotion of cooperative learning, and the creation of a core curriculum that includes health education and community service, among others.

Now, three years later, a new study by the Council of Chief State School Officers has found that states are making “uneven progress” on that reform agenda. “We knew going into this we were going to find an unevenness of progress,” says Gordon Ambach, executive director of the CCSSO. “This is a report showing warts and all.”

In early 1990, the Carnegie Corp. of New York gave 27 states a total of $1.6 million in seed money to pursue the recommendations in the 1989 report. The foundation provided an additional $400,000 last year to help 15 states continue those efforts. The philanthropy hired the state school officers’ organization to guide state efforts and report on the progress.

The new study characterizes states’ actions so far as a “success story in progress.” Ambach estimates that efforts have produced improvements in 15 percent to 20 percent of the schools serving young adolescents in the states tracked. But lasting, widespread change, he says, is “going to take a long, long time.”

State efforts have taken a variety of forms. For example, in California, where middle grade reforms have been under way for some time, education officials have created an in-service training network for teachers that involves 250 schools; a key focus of the training is to encourage team teaching across disciplines. Massachusetts has also focused on teacher training. In Illinois, school officials began with research, talking with 600 educators, health experts, and community leaders and surveying 2,500 young adolescents.

Efforts in other states have met with considerable obstacles, such as a general lack of cooperation among agencies, money shortages, staffing difficulties, and teacher strikes.

Copies of the report, titled Turning Points: States in Action, are available for $15 each from the CCSSO, Office of Public Information, 1 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Suite 700, Washington, DC 20001-1431.

Peace Pact In New Mexico

For years, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association have battled over the right to represent public school employees at the bargaining table. It is an expensive rivalry, and many observers have suggested that the money and energy the two unions and their affiliates spend trying to win or defend members could be better spent.

The leaders of the New Mexico affiliates of the AFT and the NEA have decided to do something about it: They have declared a truce in their turf battles and have taken a step toward consolidation. Under the pact, each union agrees to respect the other as dominant in certain areas of the state.

The New Mexico Federation of Teachers has slightly more than 5,000 members, the NEA affiliate has about 6,000. The roughly equal sizes, union leaders say, made it easier for the two affiliates to cease competition and call for consolidation. “One organization is not afraid of being swallowed by the other,” says John Mitchell, president of the NMFT.

Union leaders say the agreement emerged from a spirit of cooperation that developed as the two groups recently lobbied the state legislature to pass a new collective-bargaining law for public employees. Without the pact, they say, the two unions probably would have hampered each other’s efforts to bargain under the new state law.

Before the pact was signed, the unions waged a bitter fight for representation in Albuquerque, and similar battles were threatened in Espaola, Las Cruces, and Santa Fe. “We were faced in the next year with conducting numerous costly representational elections if we had not reached an agreement,” Mitchell says.

The accord calls for each union to stop organizing in districts where the other is recognized as the representative or “has the clear organizational advantage.” It also calls for each union to refrain from publicly criticizing the other or making comments to the media that might undermine the other’s position.

The two affiliates also created a consolidation committee, consisting of an equal number of members from each organization, to explore the possibility of establishing a single teachers’ union in the state. Says Mitchell, “We hope to establish one strong, unified organization that maintains the organizational and philosophical integrity of both unions.”

Minnesota Court Upholds Union

The Minnesota Supreme Court has upheld the right of lay teachers at a Roman Catholic high school near St. Paul to bargain collectively with their employer. Administrators at Hill-Murray High School had maintained that they did not have to bargain with a newly certified affiliate of the Minnesota Federation of Teachers because the school’s religious affiliation exempted it from state labor-relations law.

Last year, an appeals court ruled that certifying the union against the wishes of the school’s officials violated freedom-of-religion guarantees in both the state and federal constitutions. The supreme court’s ruling reversed that decision, finding that neither constitution bars the application of the Minnesota Employment Labor Relations Act to religious schools.

Roger Peterson, a lawyer representing the school teachers, says the ruling serves as a “clarification of the teachers’ rights to meaningfully bargain a contract.”

Elected Officials Given Low Grades

The American public doesn’t think its elected officials are doing a very good job of improving the nation’s schools, according to this year’s Gallup Poll on education.

Congress received the worst rating, with 52 percent of the survey’s respondents giving it a D or F for its efforts to improve public schools; only 7 percent awarded it an A or B. President Bush received poor marks, as well; although 15 percent thought he deserved high marks, 46 percent gave him a D or F.

State officials fared slightly better. Nineteen percent of respondents gave their governors an A or B, and 14 percent gave similarly high marks to their state legislators. But roughly 40 percent gave their governors and legislators Ds or Fs.

For the first time in the poll’s 24-year history, respondents cited inadequate financial support as the top obstacle schools face. It tied for the top slot with drug use, both cited as the greatest problem in public education by 22 percent of the 1,306 participants in this year’s survey.

When asked to grade the general state of the nation’s schools, only 18 percent of the respondents gave them an A or B. They were far more favorable in their reviews of their local schools, with 40 percent giving them As or Bs.

The annual survey is commissioned by the education fraternity Phi Delta Kappa, which publishes the results each fall in its magazine. Among this year’s other findings:

  • Fifty-five percent of the respondents supported a 210-day school year. A majority supported a longer school year for the first time last year.
  • Seventy-one percent advocated using standardized national exams to measure students’ academic achievements.
  • About 68 percent said public schools should allow the distribution of condoms to students, with 43 percent saying condoms should be given to all students who want them and 25 percent saying that parental consent should be required. Another 25 percent said schools should not distribute condoms at all.
  • Forty-nine percent of respondents said they would pay higher taxes to fund preschool programs for children from low-income families, but 42 percent said they would not.

Bias Complaint Doesn’t Stand

When Holy Cross High School, located in a New York City suburb, decided not to renew Guy DeMarco’s contract, the 49-yearold mathematics teacher sued, arguing that the school was discriminating against him because of his age, in violation of federal law barring age discrimination in employment.

But U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt didn’t see it DeMarco’s way. In fact, the judge ruled that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act does not even apply to teachers at religious schools.

Applying the law to a religious institution such as Holy Cross “would give rise to serious constitutional questions and excessive church-state entanglements,” Judge Spatt wrote in his opinion. He noted that other federal courts have split over the question of whether the ADEA applies to religious institutions, but the judge found no congressional intent to apply the law to churches or religious schools.

Spatt said that requiring officials of a religious school to provide their reasoning for releasing an older employee “may subject its religious philosophy to government scrutiny.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 1992 edition of Teacher as Current Events