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Stupid in America -- Why your kids are probably dumber than Belgians
Reason ^ | January 13, 2006 | John Stossel

Posted on 01/13/2006 3:34:41 AM PST by JTN

For "Stupid in America," a special report ABC will air Friday, we gave identical tests to high school students in New Jersey and in Belgium. The Belgian kids cleaned the American kids' clocks. The Belgian kids called the American students "stupid."

We didn't pick smart kids to test in Europe and dumb kids in the United States. The American students attend an above-average school in New Jersey, and New Jersey's kids have test scores that are above average for America.

The American boy who got the highest score told me: "I'm shocked, 'cause it just shows how advanced they are compared to us."

The Belgians did better because their schools are better. At age ten, American students take an international test and score well above the international average. But by age fifteen, when students from forty countries are tested, the Americans place twenty-fifth. The longer kids stay in American schools, the worse they do in international competition. They do worse than kids from countries that spend much less money on education.

This should come as no surprise once you remember that public education in the USA is a government monopoly. Don't like your public school? Tough. The school is terrible? Tough. Your taxes fund that school regardless of whether it's good or bad. That's why government monopolies routinely fail their customers. Union-dominated monopolies are even worse.

In New York City, it's "just about impossible" to fire a bad teacher, says schools chancellor Joel Klein. The new union contract offers slight relief, but it's still about 200 pages of bureaucracy. "We tolerate mediocrity," said Klein, because "people get paid the same, whether they're outstanding, average, or way below average." One teacher sent sexually oriented emails to "Cutie 101," his sixteen year old student. Klein couldn't fire him for years, "He hasn't taught, but we have had to pay him, because that's what's required under the contract."

They've paid him more than $300,000, and only after 6 years of litigation were they able to fire him. Klein employs dozens of teachers who he's afraid to let near the kids, so he has them sit in what they call "rubber rooms." This year he will spend twenty million dollars to warehouse teachers in five rubber rooms. It's an alternative to firing them. In the last four years, only two teachers out of 80,000 were fired for incompetence.

When I confronted Union president Randi Weingarten about that, she said, "they [the NYC school board] just don't want to do the work that's entailed." But the "work that's entailed" is so onerous that most principals just give up, or get bad teachers to transfer to another school. They even have a name for it: "the dance of the lemons."

The inability to fire the bad and reward the good is the biggest reason schools fail the kids. Lack of money is often cited the reason schools fail, but America doubled per pupil spending, adjusting for inflation, over the last 30 years. Test scores and graduation rates stayed flat. New York City now spends an extraordinary $11,000 per student. That's $220,000 for a classroom of twenty kids. Couldn't you hire two or three excellent teachers and do a better job with $220,000?

Only a monopoly can spend that much money and still fail the kids.

The U.S. Postal Service couldn't get it there overnight. But once others were allowed to compete, Federal Express, United Parcel, and others suddenly could get it there overnight. Now even the post office does it (sometimes). Competition inspires people to do what we didn't think we could do.

If people got to choose their kids' school, education options would be endless. There could soon be technology schools, cheap Wal-Mart-like schools, virtual schools where you learn at home on your computer, sports schools, music schools, schools that go all year, schools with uniforms, schools that open early and keep kids later, and, who knows? If there were competition, all kinds of new ideas would bloom.

This already happens overseas. In Belgium, for example, the government funds education—at any school—but if the school can't attract students, it goes out of business. Belgian school principal Kaat Vandensavel told us she works hard to impress parents. "If we don't offer them what they want for their child, they won't come to our school." She constantly improves the teaching, "You can't afford ten teachers out of 160 that don't do their work, because the clients will know, and won't come to you again."

"That's normal in Western Europe," Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby told me. "If schools don't perform well, a parent would never be trapped in that school in the same way you could be trapped in the U.S."

Last week, Florida's Supreme Court shut down "opportunity scholarships," Florida's small attempt at competition. Public money can't be spent on private schools, said the court, because the state constitution commands the funding only of "uniform, . . . high-quality" schools. But government schools are neither uniform nor high-quality, and without competition, no new teaching plan or No Child Left Behind law will get the monopoly to serve its customers well.

A Gallup Poll survey shows 76 percent of Americans are either completely or somewhat satisfied with their kids' public school, but that's only because they don't know what their kids are missing. Without competition, unlike Belgian parents, they don't know what their kids might have had.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Government
KEYWORDS: education; educationnews; johnstossel; schools; stossel
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"Stupid in America" airs tonight.
1 posted on 01/13/2006 3:34:44 AM PST by JTN
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To: freepatriot32

Ping


2 posted on 01/13/2006 3:35:03 AM PST by JTN ("I came here to kick ass and chew bubble gum. And I'm all out of bubble gum.")
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To: JTN

Three myths of American education:

1. Education is the key to our future.
2. To get a good job you need a college education.
3. Teachers are underpaid.

Add those up and you get a public-education monopoly run by unions.


3 posted on 01/13/2006 3:39:13 AM PST by gotribe (Hillary: Accessory to Rape)
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To: JTN
Stupid in America -- Why your kids are probably dumber than Belgians

American parents bear a lot of the blame. Many have bought into the idea that self-esteem is somehow unrelated to self-respect, and have emphasized the former rather than the latter in rearing their kids. That true self-esteem can arise only out of self-respect, and that self-respect can arise only out of hard work and self-discipline, are facts that would appear to have escaped their notice.

So much the worse for us and our posterity...

4 posted on 01/13/2006 3:40:35 AM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: JTN
On the other hand, do we really want to emulate Belgium? I've heard many times about how European students out perform American students in pretty much every subject. Well what good has it done them? Their economies are going down the toilet and they ceased to be meaningful world powers long ago. If trends continue, Europe will be mostly Muslim by mid-century. Europeans may be well educated but they aren't exactly smart.

There are many things that should be done to improve education in the US. But please let's not emulate Europe. They are a dying civilization - better seen as a warning of what not to do than as a positive role model.
5 posted on 01/13/2006 3:43:26 AM PST by sassbox
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To: gotribe
3.Teachers are underpaid

Back a couple of years ago when I was in high school the teachers were about to go on strike because they were "underpaid". One teacher who was only about 32 who was against the union told us he made $50,000+, full medical and dental, as much vacation as students, 2 free periods per day, full pension, medical and dental until death, whole and term life insurance, and a paid funeral. 90% of people in the working world only wish they had that kind of package.

6 posted on 01/13/2006 3:44:44 AM PST by LukeL
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To: JTN
"Stupid in America" airs tonight.

It'll be watched by no one and nothing will change. I'm no tinfoil-hatter, but you almost have to assume that our education system is the way it is for a reason. It's pretty much designed to create generation after generation of mindless drones who will do exactly what they're told, exercise no creativity, and will not question authority.

7 posted on 01/13/2006 3:46:57 AM PST by garbanzo (Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.)
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To: sassbox
Their economies are going down the toilet and they ceased to be meaningful world powers long ago.

Their economies are in the toilet because their economies are more socialist than ours is. Their education system is better because it's less socialist. The lesson is clear -- socialism stinks.

8 posted on 01/13/2006 3:47:20 AM PST by JTN ("I came here to kick ass and chew bubble gum. And I'm all out of bubble gum.")
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To: LukeL

And the time-off package is ridiculous.


9 posted on 01/13/2006 3:49:07 AM PST by gotribe (Hillary: Accessory to Rape)
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To: JTN

This is awful. We have to spend much more money on education. They have the right idea in the new high school they built in my area, with it's indoor olympic size swimming pool, and plasma TV screens in the hallways.


10 posted on 01/13/2006 3:53:15 AM PST by Fresh Wind (Democrats are guilty of whatever they scream the loudest about.)
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To: gotribe; LukeL

I remember reading somewhere awhile back (though I don't remember where) that teachers actually make as much as or more than most professionals with similar educations when calculated on a per hour basis.


11 posted on 01/13/2006 3:53:17 AM PST by JTN ("I came here to kick ass and chew bubble gum. And I'm all out of bubble gum.")
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To: JTN
Stupid in America airs every night.





12 posted on 01/13/2006 3:53:43 AM PST by G.Mason (Did the illegal worker in that burger place, spit on it before, or after he pick it up off the floor)
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To: snarks_when_bored

Today's parents were educated in the same system that is the problem. You need to go back 40 years to find something that resembles decent education and even then it was not nearly as rigorous as at was 40 years earlier than that time.


13 posted on 01/13/2006 3:54:05 AM PST by David Isaac
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To: JTN
the NEA and the Dims should rot in hell for what they are doing to our children.

(BTW, my kid are brilliant and the average Belgian couldn't hold a candle to them....in spite of, not because of, their public school education.)
14 posted on 01/13/2006 3:55:01 AM PST by Vaquero ("An armed society is a polite society" Robert Heinlein)
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To: G.Mason

"Stupid in America airs every night."

BINGO!


15 posted on 01/13/2006 3:55:44 AM PST by Vaquero ("An armed society is a polite society" Robert Heinlein)
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To: garbanzo

The term "tin-foil hat" was created by those same people. I do not believe it is possible for education to have regressed as far as it has, while nearly everything else has been PROGRESSING, purely by accident.


16 posted on 01/13/2006 3:57:15 AM PST by David Isaac
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To: JTN
Marked for some commentary after work.
17 posted on 01/13/2006 3:59:21 AM PST by Harmless Teddy Bear (Proud member of the Free Republic Humility Club. We are twice as humble as you are.)
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To: gotribe
Three myths of American education

There's only one important myth of American education, which does not exist anywhere else in the world.

That is the myth that all, or virtually all, young adults are capable of tenth-grade level work and beyond.

This is manifestly false and has resulted in the erection and maintenance, at huge cost, of giant holding pens for 15-18 year olds, and the debasement of academic values and evaluation systems for all.

Free universal public education must end at age 14.

18 posted on 01/13/2006 3:59:45 AM PST by Jim Noble (Fiat justitia, ruat coelum)
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To: Fresh Wind
They have the right idea in the new high school they built in my area, with it's indoor olympic size swimming pool, and plasma TV screens in the hallways.

Some of the holding pens are really nice.

But they're not schools.

19 posted on 01/13/2006 4:00:56 AM PST by Jim Noble (Fiat justitia, ruat coelum)
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To: David Isaac

Agreed.


20 posted on 01/13/2006 4:01:26 AM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: JTN

someday...somewhere...somehow...someone needs to run the NEA through the RICO wringer and prosecute accordingly......


21 posted on 01/13/2006 4:04:09 AM PST by mo
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To: JTN
My daughter taught in three different states - Georgia, Connecticut, and Tennessee.

She said of all three systems that the biggest obstacle to improved education was the teachers union.
22 posted on 01/13/2006 4:04:47 AM PST by Rhetorical pi2
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To: LukeL

3 advantages of being a teacher...June, July and August.


23 posted on 01/13/2006 4:05:37 AM PST by toddlintown (Lennon takes six bullets to the chest, Yoko is standing right next to him and not one f'ing bullet?)
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To: JTN
Well, there are some smart Belgians out there.


24 posted on 01/13/2006 4:06:28 AM PST by Larry Lucido
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To: Larry Lucido

LOL


25 posted on 01/13/2006 4:07:45 AM PST by cyborg (I just love that man.)
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To: Jim Noble
But they're not schools.

That's the same school system that gives kids Hardy Boys books as reading assignments. In my day, we were reading Shakespeare, Dickens, Melville, and others of their ilk (not that we wouldn't have prefered the Hardy Boys!)

26 posted on 01/13/2006 4:09:56 AM PST by Fresh Wind (Democrats are guilty of whatever they scream the loudest about.)
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Comment #27 Removed by Moderator

To: sassbox

If you think that running a country on educated folks is to expensive try having it run on jerks.


28 posted on 01/13/2006 4:25:26 AM PST by globalheater (we need more thoughts then opinions)
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To: sassbox
I agree with you, Sassbox. One must concede the obvious truth that European kids are much more rigorously educated. I agree, also, that great education may not add up to a great society.

We have all been trained to believe that education is a pure and great good that can never be over done. I've had some pretty serious second thoughts about this lately. I pay a lot of attention to French culture and to their very competitive and rigorous educational system. French people are very educated, but they have a dying culture. (I am not engaging here in cheap French bashing -- there is a lot there that I admire.)

Intellectual activity is only one sphere of human endeavor. Someone (some country) will always be ahead and some other will be behind when we rank ourselves on educational attainment. I don't think it is a healthy thing to become obsessed with the necessity always to ratchet up and up the goals and standards of education. It can be life enhancing, but, for many, it is crushing, dispiriting, when the real world needs lots of people who don't especially need to know any calculus or have a knowledge of ancient Greece.

I say all this in a very tentative spirit. I don't exactly have a plan. For me, personally, life is in large measure about learning and understanding. But I do feel that we are unreasonably pressuring everyone to fit into that mould. All the while, these educated people are chosing not to have enough children to reproduce their numbers. This strikes me as the ultimate definition of social decay.

29 posted on 01/13/2006 4:28:06 AM PST by LK44-40
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To: sassbox
There are many things that should be done to improve education in the US. But please let's not emulate Europe. They are a dying civilization - better seen as a warning of what not to do than as a positive role model.

Because our public education system is a socialist monopoly, I'm afraid we're already emulating Europe.

30 posted on 01/13/2006 4:28:54 AM PST by Uncle Vlad
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Comment #31 Removed by Moderator

To: JTN
"If people got to choose their kids' school, education options would be endless. There could soon be technology schools, cheap Wal-Mart-like schools, virtual schools where you learn at home on your computer, sports schools, music schools, schools that go all year, schools with uniforms, schools that open early and keep kids later, and, who knows? If there were competition, all kinds of new ideas would bloom."

Why can't we grasp this? Why can't the American people see that a garden designed and maintained by the "state" is profitable only to birds and fertilizer companies. Birds because insects and weed seeds will prosper, fertilizer companies because the poorer the harvest the more the state demands. Until we submit such social fallacy to the tines of free market forces we shall continue to reap our well deserved harvest of blooming idiots.

If we don't have the constitution to deal with squawking birds and turd haulers, then we'll soon have no Constitution period.

32 posted on 01/13/2006 4:31:20 AM PST by Mobilemitter (We must learn to fin >-)> for ourselves.........)
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To: JTN
In fairness, the hours they spend in the classroom are only a portion of their day. Many teachers spend evenings and weekends preparing and grading lessons as well as participating in extracurricular events.

My sister was an award-winning teacher in the gifted program in Alabama. Her life revolved around her students, and like many teachers, she spent a lot of her own money to supplement supplies for her classes. She ended up burning out and quitting the profession. The kids weren't the problem. Lack of parental support was part of the problem, but the main problem was dealing with the school administration.

33 posted on 01/13/2006 4:32:41 AM PST by Chanticleer (Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. Lewis)
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To: JTN

This from the country whose only notable achievement is the Belgian Waffle.


34 posted on 01/13/2006 4:33:25 AM PST by jimbo123
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To: globalheater
If you think that running a country on educated folks is to expensive try having it run on jerks.

We call it the Senate

35 posted on 01/13/2006 4:33:28 AM PST by CzarNicky (The problem with bad ideas is that they seemed like good ideas at the time.)
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To: Jim Noble
That is the myth that all, or virtually all, young adults are capable of tenth-grade level work and beyond.

It certainly is possible! Just keep lowering the standards for 10th grade level work!

36 posted on 01/13/2006 4:35:23 AM PST by Chanticleer (Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. Lewis)
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To: JTN

Comparing 300 million Americans to 40 million Belgians is stupid. We have a larger sample OBVIOUSLY we will score worse.


37 posted on 01/13/2006 4:37:02 AM PST by MNJohnnie (Misuse of the Commerce Clause is the root of all Congressional evil)
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To: jimbo123
This from the country whose only notable achievement is the Belgian Waffle.

No, no, no! Belgian chocolate is wondrous! Amazing what they can do with cacao, milk and sugar.

38 posted on 01/13/2006 4:38:59 AM PST by Chanticleer (Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. Lewis)
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To: Fresh Wind

My daughter brought home a book list to choose a book from, on the list were: Bastard Out of Carolina, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Deliverance and lots of other books consisting of mostly deviant sexual behavior. (I blew a gasket over this list).

Later on, she told me she was doing a report on The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter. I said, great, you're finally reading some classic literature. No, she told me, they watched the movies in class. *sigh*


39 posted on 01/13/2006 4:39:41 AM PST by tuffydoodle (Shut up voices, or I'll poke you with a Q-Tip again.)
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To: JTN
Their education system is better because it's less socialist.

I am not sure what that means. What most European socialist governments offer is govnerment funded choice, so there is no monopoly, though there is socialism - the taxpayer pays regardless.

40 posted on 01/13/2006 4:40:39 AM PST by AndyJackson
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To: Chanticleer

Okay, chocolate and waffles. But beyond this, Belgium is pretty much worthless.


41 posted on 01/13/2006 4:42:34 AM PST by jimbo123
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Comment #42 Removed by Moderator

To: JTN; Lando Lincoln; quidnunc; .cnI redruM; Valin; King Prout; SJackson; dennisw; monkeyshine; ...

Nailed It!

This ping list is not author-specific for articles I'd like to share. Some for the perfect moral clarity, some for provocative thoughts; or simply interesting articles I'd hate to miss myself. (I don't have to agree with the author all 100% to feel the need to share an article.) I will try not to abuse the ping list and not to annoy you too much, but on some days there is more of the good stuff that is worthy of attention. You can see the list of articles I pinged to lately  on  my page.
You are welcome in or out, just freepmail me (and note which PING list you are talking about). Besides this one, I keep 2 separate PING lists for my favorite authors Victor Davis Hanson and Orson Scott Card.  

43 posted on 01/13/2006 4:45:24 AM PST by Tolik
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To: MNJohnnie
We have a larger sample OBVIOUSLY we will score worse.

I hope you are being fasceitious, because if not, your knoweledge of statitistics is that of someone taught by someone protected by a teacher's union. If you randomly sample, once your sample size gets above about 30 or so the mean of the distibrition in IQ could maybe change 2 or 3 points with the next 300 million samples.

44 posted on 01/13/2006 4:50:14 AM PST by AndyJackson
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To: JTN
This article correctly points out problems with our educational system in the USA. Public education has been dumbed down. In the 6th grade, our geography class could name every country in the world on a map. I don't think students study geography that way any more.
Also, teachers have no power to discipline troublemakers.
Another problem this article dodged. What is the average IQ of American students. Read "The Bell Curve," and you can understand that our total student population is probably dumber than the Belgian population.
45 posted on 01/13/2006 4:57:34 AM PST by GeorgefromGeorgia
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To: JTN

Bump


46 posted on 01/13/2006 4:59:30 AM PST by Darnright (Remember that a lone amateur built the Ark. A large group of professionals built the Titanic.)
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To: jimbo123

Why to be so defensive? US scored 25th out of 40 countries tested. We are not talking about mambo-jumbo tests, but math, language, science.

Instead of bashing Belgians (full disclosure: never been there, don't have any relatives from there) we need to improve ourselves.

Our achievements in the future in the technological world do depend on knowledgeable workforce. You can run a successful business on street-smarts, but you can't run a technologically heavy business just on street-smarts: you need professionals who know what they are doing.

And anyway, who cares about Belgium. John Stossel is talking about our own stagnating schools. I think he is absolutely right in promoting choice in education and fighting against stifling teachers unions.


47 posted on 01/13/2006 5:02:41 AM PST by Tolik
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To: MNJohnnie
They are also a comparatively wealthy and heterogeneous society. That definitely gives them a big advantage over us as well.
48 posted on 01/13/2006 5:10:00 AM PST by Theoden (Fidei Defensor - Deus vult!)
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To: snarks_when_bored
American parents bear a lot of the blame.

I agree that is the root of the problem.

A friend of mine, single mother of three, is home schooling her kids. Her oldest, 16, has just been accepted to Harvard on a scholarship and the next oldest, 14, is currently taking college level classes and also is shooting for Harvard. This lady lives in rural Tennessee and does not come from a big money family, either.

49 posted on 01/13/2006 5:12:23 AM PST by Thermalseeker
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To: JTN
I remember reading somewhere awhile back (though I don't remember where) that teachers actually make as much as or more than most professionals with similar educations when calculated on a per hour basis.

That was based on the absurd notion that a teacher requires no preparation time, no grading time, no extramural professional development/continuing education, no personal funds to buy classroom supplies and instructional materials, etc. The problem is that the very low-quality teacher who doesn't properly do his job (by putting in out-of-classroom time, etc.), should be fired, but isn't. The problem is not the compensation side being too high--I nearly completed a masters in education, but the salary would have been half what I get as a professional--but rather it's the lack of weeding out the quality side.

50 posted on 01/13/2006 5:31:21 AM PST by Gondring (I'll give up my right to die when hell freezes over my dead body!)
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