charlie, you’ve made a serious attempt to respond to me, and I respect that. And there are things with which I agree with you: for example, the primary responsibility for educating children belongs with the parents, whether they do it themselves or find someone to do it for them. Just reading to your children greatly improves their grades. (We have on the order of 10,000+ books in our home, so obviously we’re true believers on that score!)
And you are right in that teachers in Catholic schools are often more poorly paid relative to public school teachers, and many go there because of the culture or the discipline or some combination.
However: teachers are not well paid. Nor do they get the summers off. That is a myth. In fact, they get nine months pay for a full year’s job. Furthermore, schools are so squeezed that most teachers must beg for equipment or buy it themselves or both. Short work days? I beg to differ. They are in the classroom from perhaps 7:30 to 3, but that doesn’t count grading papers, scoring tests, writing those same tests and assignments, putting together a curriculum plan, meeting with parents, attending school events, keeping up on your certification, and taking on additional responsibilities as required by your principal.
Here’s some data I dug up on average salaries:
Countrywide, the median for an elementary school teacher – the required level of schooling, remember – is $40,488. Not exactly wealthy these days. I well remember attending Harvard Graduate School of Education (median age of student = 35) as a punk a year out of college, and being impressed that these people were mortgaging their futures to get a Master’s degree they would need a decade to pay off at teachers’ salaries, if you’re lucky. (You don’t get a lot of financial aid for masters’ degrees; they’re revenue-generators for the university. You take out loans. My one-year EdM cost me more than all four years of Harvard College.)
Even in Massachusetts, a relatively well-off and highly education-focused state, median-pay public school teachers are paid below the median pay for the state, and it varies from community to community. What’s more, schools have done tricks like hiring teachers only part-time, so they don’t have to have the same pay or benefits.
And while it would be nice to have one parent stay home to engage with education, the majority of American families today are two-income homes – not because they are greedy, but because they need those two incomes to deal with the cost of living. It simply isn’t realistic to assume that someone will stay home.
Your utopian view of volunteer teachers also falls down on one important point: accreditation. Vocation isn’t enough; we have to have qualifications as well.
Don’t get me wrong - I think parents should volunteer, and interestingly my wife and I are doing exactly that this week, presenting on areas of our own expertise at our daughter’s high school (not even to her class!). But I don’t see that as a viable alternative to a professional cadre of teachers.
Now how we get that professional cadre…that’s a good question. I don’t know if the system is unfixably broken, but it definitely needs serious change –we’re in agreement on that, too.
I know I’m raising questions rather than offering answers; I just think the problems are very large, and I haven’t been hearing good solutions to them. I read whatever I can on it.