Teaching and Learning

May 30, 2001 8 min read
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Economic Boom Eluded Teachers, Surveys Suggest

New reports from the two national teachers’ unions suggest that educators have largely been left behind in the recent economic boom times, a trend they say threatens to exacerbate the problems many districts now face in filling teaching positions.

According to the National Education Association’s recent “Rankings and Estimates” report, the nationwide average salary for instructional staff members rose 3 percent in the 1999-2000 school year. During the same period, the group says, total personal income in the country jumped 5.9 percent.

The long-term picture painted by the document doesn’t look any better. Measured in constant dollars, average teacher salaries grew by less than 1 percent between 1989 and 1999.

For More Information

“Rankings and Estimates” is available from the National Education Association. “Survey and Analysis of Teacher Salary Trends 2000" is available from the American Federation of Teachers. And “The Essential Profession” is available from Recruiting New Teachers Inc.. (All reports require Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

“That’s really rather astounding, at a time when we are saying that we need more quality and a greater quantity of teachers in the classroom,” said Bob Chase, the president of the 2.4 million-member NEA.

Results of a recent survey by the 1 million-member American Federation of Teachers jibe with the NEA’s findings. According to the AFT document, the average teacher salary in 1999-2000 stood at $41,820, up from $40,540 the previous year.

Educators in some states fared much better. At $52,410, Connecticut’s average teacher’s salary ranked No. 1 in the AFT survey. Meanwhile, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington state boasted the biggest one-year increases in teacher pay last year.

But like the NEA, the federation shows educators generally losing ground over time. Ten years ago, teachers’ salaries were 21 percent higher than those of the average full-time worker in the United States. By the 1999-2000 school year, that advantage had fallen to 10 percent.

Both reports are based primarily on surveys of state education departments, and the comparisons with other types of jobs do not adjust for the fact that most educators don’t teach in the summer.

Nor can they show the effects of shifting demographics. Large numbers of retirements, for instance, pull down average salaries because they result in a workforce in which more teachers are at the lowest rungs of their pay scales. (The AFT shows the average beginning teacher’s salary increasing 4.2 percent in 1999-2000—about 1 percentage point more than the average for all teachers.)

A third report from a private group that focuses on teacher-recruitment issues hints at a public willing to ante up at least a little more for teachers. The poll by the Belmont, Mass.-based Recruiting New Teachers shows eight in 10 respondents said they were willing to pay another $10 a year in taxes to help bring teachers’ salaries more in line with those in comparable professions.

“I think it’s time for the federal government to take a look at what role it can play in improving teachers’ salaries across the country,” Mr. Chase said.

Some observers, though, see the need for a different solution. Because teachers of some subjects are in much higher demand than others, the answer is to differentiate pay according to teachers’ specialties, said Michael J. Podgursky, the chairman of the economics department at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

“There’s no question that districts are having a terrible time recruiting special education teachers and science and math teachers,” he said. “But at the same time, districts are in good shape in terms of elementary education.”

Textbook Discontent:

State textbook-adoption policies and the dominance of a handful of states in the lucrative school publishing market are undermining the quality of textbooks, argues a report by the Center for Education Reform.

“The result is an increasing trend toward texts that are long on visual gimmicks, short on factual information, and homogenized in content,” Jeanne Allen, the president of the Washington-based research and advocacy group, said in a statement. “And this result is having a trickle-down effect, weakening the classroom instruction by teachers who are more often than not reliant upon these books for a de facto lesson plan.”

The centralized system of adopting textbooks used in 21 states should be restructured to allow districts greater flexibility in selecting instructional materials, concludes the report released last week.

For More Information

“The Textbook Conundrum” What Are the Children Learning and Who Decides?” is available from The Center for Education Reform.

Districts in textbook-adoption states must spend most of their state instructional-materials money on texts selected by state committees. To make the list, the texts must meet specific criteria for content. The needs of the largest adoption states—California, Texas, and Florida—wield the most influence on the development of texts. And, the report says, after a succession of mergers, four companies—McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt, and Pearson—have cornered the market.

The report suggests that states implement such policies as allowing districts more say in the selection process, eliminating state textbook- adoption policies and committees, and creating rigorous assessments that force districts to select curricula and instructional materials that help students meet state academic standards.

Doing so, the report argues, would open up the market to smaller publishers and encourage the development of higher-quality and more innovative texts.

No Easy Math Answers:

Singapore’s math curriculum is widely acclaimed as a major ingredient in helping the tiny island nation excel on international exams, but it won’t be a panacea in U.S. classrooms, concludes a review by University of Washington researchers.

The Asian nation’s middle school curriculum does not “mesh well with American elementary-school-grade material” and has few resources to help U.S. teachers use the texts in their classrooms, according to the study produced for the National Science Foundation.

“Simply adopting the middle-grades Singapore curriculum is not likely to help American students move to the top,” the report says.

For More Information

The report Middle School Mathematics Comparisons for Singapore Mathematics, Connected Mathematics Program, and Mathematics in Context,” is available from the Univeristy of Washington’s Department of Applied Mathematics.

The best way to use the Singapore curriculum, it adds, is “as supplemental and enrichment material.”

After Singapore 8th graders topped the world in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study in 1995, U.S. schools looked in part to the country’s textbooks for answers. Several are using the books as the basis of their math curricula. (“U.S. Schools Importing Singaporean Texts,” Sept. 27, 2000.)

The Singapore curriculum also is popular among home-schooling families. It has proved to be so popular that Family Things, the West Linn, Ore., distributor of the products, has changed its name to and is marketing the books through its Web site.

The NSF contracted with Loyce M. Adams and several of her University of Washington colleagues in Seattle to compare the Singapore curriculum with new middle school programs designed to meet National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards.

Those programs— the Connected Mathematics Program and Contemporary Mathematics in Context—are better suited to American schools because they are in line with what is expected to be taught here, the report says. They do have a “major shortcoming,” it adds, because they emphasize conceptual understanding, sometimes at the expense of ensuring that students master basic skills. The U.S. books also might fall short in getting middle school students on track for higher-level math courses, such as calculus, before they leave high school.

The U.S. curricula are bound to improve since the math teachers’ group altered its standards to incorporate basic skills, the report says.

Mathematics Underground:

A band of anonymous supporters of progressive mathematics education has created a Web site to counter a recent tide of criticism aimed at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ standards.

“There are at least two sides to every issue, including the so-called ‘math wars,’” says the mission statement posted on www.mathematicallysane. com. “For too long, however, the public has heard primarily from the side of the traditionalists. has been developed to balance the equation.

“For too long, the case for reform has been unfairly characterized as ‘fuzzy math,’ ” the statement continues. “MathematicallySane has been created to provide an alternative—and more accurate—view of reform by making a compelling case that changes in our nation’s mathematics programs are imperative for our students’ future success and for the economic health of our nation.”

The site highlights research showing that curricula written to meet the NCTM standards have yielded growth in student learning, as well as analysis of the debate over whether to emphasize basic knowledge and skills or focus on conceptual learning. It includes links to other organizations’ analyses of the math wars, including NCTM documents that offer brief descriptions of the group’s standards.

“We have chosen not to reveal our identities because past experiences have shown that we would then be targeted as individuals,” one of the organizers wrote in response to an inquiry sent to the site’s e-mail address. “We want people to focus on the information provided on our site, not on us.”

The responder added that more than 300 people had signed up for MathematicallySane’s mailing list since the site was launched May 2.

—Jeff Archer, David J. Hoff, & Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

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A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 2001 edition of Education Week as Teaching and Learning


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