Friday, February 26, 2016

Stockman: Starve the Teachers

Writer Farah Stockman took to the pages of the Boston Globe yesterday to give professional educators a big fat punch in the face.

There's a great deal of battling over education going on in Massachusetts, with the grass roots and professional educators lined up against the various grifters and privatizers who have captured state offices. State Secretary of Education Jim Peyser worked previously for reformsters New Venture Fund, where he explained how to gut public schools for fun and profit. State Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester was the head of the governing board of PARCC, the test manufacturers profiting heavily from reformy testing programs.  Paul Grogan, head of the Boston Foundation, one of those cool foundations that allows civic minded rich guys a way to impose political pressure on serve their community, is a regular agitator for charters.

And then there's Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who pulled a bait-and-switch to get elected and now shills hard for cutting public schools off at the knees. Privatizers have launched legal attacks on the public schools, and profiteers have had vulture conventions in town to contemplate how they can get their hands on all that sweet, sweet public tax money.

The Boston Globe has long since abandoned any pretense of objectivity; they are reliably and regularly the sort-of-journalistic voice of privatization, of gutting the public school system in order to use pubic tax dollars to fund privately owned-and-operated charter schools.

Given all that, Stockman's piece is as unsurprising as it is dishonest.

Stockman uses a rhetorical structure that basically follows the "It would be wrong to hurt you, but I am now going to club you with this stick" format.

Stockman talking about program cuts to Boston schools: "These cuts are painful and real. I hope they get reversed... While individual cuts hurt, the school system itself has more cash than ever."

Stockman says that the school system is not starving, but has grown its budget tremendously. So why is the system facing so many tremendous cuts? One guess.


Teachers and their damned paychecks and benefits and salaries. Stockman throws around some numbers and I'm not in a position to check them, but I can google the source-- the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. BMRB is yet another group carefully named to sound like a benevolent public agency that is actually yet another business-run group advocating for business-friendly policies.

Stockman drops some numbers for specific money-grubbing teachers, making sure to identify them as "a librarian" or "a swimming instructor." And then, at the bottom of the article, she lists every single BPS employee who makes over $100K, because public shaming is an important part of her argument.* She lists those salaries so she can write, "If that's what starving looks like, where do I sign up?" Which is an odd comment-- you can sign up at a university for a teacher training program and then apply for a job with the district. Does Stockman mean to suggest that these teachers just fell into their jobs through some secretive, suspect system? Because if she'd like to sign up for one of those jobs, she totally could (in fact, she taught for two years in Kenya). Except that her actual point is that nobody should be able to sign up for those jobs at all.

"Don't get me wrong. Teachers deserve to be paid well," she writes, and as you might guess, that's a clear signal that she's about to explain why teachers don't deserve to be paid that well at all. Sure, teachers "hold the future of our country in their hands," but so do Navy Seals, who mostly make under $60 K. This could be an argument to raise Navy Seal pay, but that's not Stockman's point-- teachers make too much money. And not just teachers. Headmasters make really good money-- one as much as $162,378-- but the national security advisor earns only $10,000 more-- "without a generous summer vacation."

Why, she wonders, do Boston schools pay teachers so much compared to other places? She considers for a moment the possibility that this is actual Free Market economics at work, but rejects that explanation in favor of-- can you guess? -- unions!

You know who doesn't have unions? Those noble and wonderful charter schools! Charter teachers work longer hours and for less pay, and "of course, charters burn through teachers much faster than a traditional public school. But you don't have to negotiate with them for years to get an extra 40 minutes added to the school day." Stockman chooses not to make a connection between treating teacher like low-paid flunkies and rapid staff churn, nor does she suggest that rapid staff turnover might be bad for students. It's cheaper and easier-- what else do you need to know?

In fact, here's what Stockman calls charters' "greatest innovation"-- "teacher who are willing to work more for less."

Well, no. That is just unvarnished baloney. It discounts the charters that have tried to create a model based on teacher pay at the same level she finds objectionable in Boston, or the many charters where teachers have tried to unionize because they're tired of general low pay and mistreatment. It discounts the effects, particularly on low SES students, of a school that is destabilized by an endless parade of new (and inexperienced) faces. She might wonder what it says about a charter if their teacher pool is composed entirely of People Who Couldn't Get a Job Somewhere Else, or people who have been recruited with the slogan "Our Charter Will Never Require You To Teach Difficult Students." She might also want to factor in the huge administrative costs of charters that may keep teachers poor, but make sure their owners and operators get rich.

In the end, Stockman has taken a long, roundabout rhetorical journey to essentially say, "Teachers get paid too much because of their evil union; that's just one more reason that charter schools are better, and one more reason that the public schools should be gutted and replaced with a charter system." There would be many things to argue about, but at least it would be an honest argument in which she simply said what she meant directly instead of trying to pretend that she was being fair and balanced. If you're going to do a hatchet job, at least hold your hatchet out in plain sight.

* Since I wrote this piece, that list at the end of the article seems to have gone away. I have no idea why.


  1. I did not find a list of every employee making over $100,000 at the bottom of the article. If the statement that 40% of Boston public school employees earn over $100,000 (it is believable because the average salary in Boston was about $90,800 in 2013-14), the list would have to have 1,600 names if we approximate headcount with FTE.

    Source of data:

  2. Interesting. It was there when I looked at the piece earlier today, but it does appear to be gone now.

  3. I was dutifully writing my letter to the editor this morning when I too noticed the list disappeared. It had 2623 names on it. (I only know this because I referenced the list in my letter). It had not only teachers but all employees of BPS: teachers and other union members, as well as non-unionized employees like principals and school administrators, central office staff, and district leaders including the superintendent.

    As always, incisively written and admirably timely.

  4. Thank you for calling out all the players in this scheme, Peter. The Pioneer Institute, The Rennie Center, Mass Inc., the HGSE, The Boston Foundation, McKinsey have all been making bank for years as they planted their sleeper cells to destroy public education in the city where it originated (with an assist from the newspaper of record). Now, all the stars have aligned so that the plan can move forward. But we are not going quietly. Rage, rage unto the dying of the light.

    Christine Langhoff

  5. A list with 2,623 would have to include a large number of non-teachers if the 40% figure and the state department of education number (4,005 FTE teachers in Boston) are even close to being accurate.

    The salary spread in Massachusetts is pretty large. Concord Carlisle school district teachers average over $100,000 in the 2013-14 school year while Florida district teachers averaged under $40,000. My favorite district in Massachusetts has only a single teacher earning just a bit over $47,000.

  6. I think it was, "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

  7. Massachusetts and Connecticut are one of the highest paid and safe for teachers. Now check the rest of the country where some states average 30 thousand a year.

    1. Liz,

      The state with the highest average pay is actually New York, at $75,279. The lowest is South Dakota at $39,018. No other state has an average teacher salary below $41,000.