Saturday, September 17, 2005

How Valuable Are You?


I was driving around listening to the radio when I heard Al Franken doing an interview with very interesting fellow. His name is Matt Miller and he's written a book called "The Two Percent Solution: Fixing America's Problems in Ways Liberals and Conservatives Can Love".

In short, his thesis is that American education is failing in the inner cities/low income areas because we expect teachers to be "missionary teachers". That is, the only people who will take these jobs are people who are passionate about teaching and "doing good". He also contends that a) there aren't enough of these people, and b) they aren't necessarily the best qualified. He contends that we should select these areas of educational impoverishment, and pay teachers in these areas huge salaries thus attracting the best and brightest to teach there.

The book sounds interesting as does his thesis. But this isn't exactly what I'm posting about. Listening to Miller reminded me of a beef I've had for a long time, and is along the lines of Miller's ideas.

We live in an economy that is principly capitalistic, with a smatering of socialism (more capitalism, less socialistic lately). Capitalism puts the almighty dollar front and center of societal values. You want to know how we, as a society, value something look at how much it costs......what's the price tag?

This bedrock principle of capitalism is fine, as far as it goes. Competitive incentive is important and supply/demand is a relatively efficient mechanism for markets.....including job markets. But it's important to recognize that these principles are not perfectly regulating. Or are they?

I did something I've been meaning to do for some time, and took a look at how we in our society reward people for their chosen work. I contend that salary numbers are direct reflection of what we value in the U.S. I found this information on the U.S. Dept. of Labor web site. The number in parenthesis is the average annual salary for each occupation in 2004:

All Occupations (37020)

Athletes and sports competitors (86690)
Construction managers (78690)
Landscape architects (57680)
Registered nurses (54210)
Sales representatives, services, all other (53940)
Elementary school teachers, (45670)
Meeting and convention planners (42490)
Gaming supervisors (41570)
Sheet metal workers (38760)
Carpet installers (36860)
Mental health counselors (36000)
Meter readers, utilities (31260)
Fitness trainers and aerobics instructors (31170)
Telephone operators (30220)
Travel guides (29750)
Production occupations (29280)
Psychiatric technicians (27940)
Refuse and recyclable material collectors (27810)
Door-to-door sales workers, news/street vendors (27790)
Preschool teachers, except special education (23940)
Telemarketers (23490)
Healthcare support occupations (23220)
Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants (216100
Teacher assistants (20400)
Child care workers (17830)

Admittedly, I did not choose these at random. But take a look at this list. Look at the average salary nationwide, and where other salaries fall. Where do we put the welfare of children...especially the youngest children who's development matters the most? Let's also take a look at a couple of comparisons. We seem to value athletes over everything, telemarketers over nursing aides, everything over child care, landscape architects over teachers, and on and on.

And how about qualifications? I won't go over the entire list and the discrepancies. But I will take one area I know too well. To become a mental health counselor (in CA) requires four years of college, 2 years of graduate school, a minimum of 2 years (3000 hours) of supervised internship, and (until budget cuts recently), written and oral exams with a pass rate of around 40%. Compare that to, oh say, a meeting/convention planner. Or how about a sales rep?

Now I'm not trying to demean any other occupation, but it appears to me that we have our priorities out of whack. It makes Matt Miller's thesis all the more plausible. And if you believe that, it also answers some questions about the origins of some major problems we face such as declining education, poor health care, juvenile crime, and lousy mental health.

Or are they major problems? I guess we have to put our money where our mouth is or it's just gripping. Maybe these are our true priorities. It's sad to think that's true, but perhaps it is.

2 Comments:

At 9:03 AM, Blogger Lizzie Liz said...

I agree with you to an extent. Yes, you can see what we value by what it costs, but just tacking on a larger salary to teachers doesn't guarantee we get better teachers. Instead we get greedy people who have a high enough degree to qualify going after a job they aren't passionate about.

I don't know about every one else, but I appreciate that most of the teachers I had were actually concerned about me learning, not just that they are pulling in $75,000 a year as long as they sit in the class room and are involved in x-number of extra curricular activities after school.

We should pay teachers more. And probably other professions too, but in doing so we will have to really step up on the quality control of who we're paying. As soon as a job gets to be a big money maker everyone wants to do it. The thing is, doctors have to go through Med School and years of residency... actuaries have to past test after test to prove their knowledge of their field. I could go on and on, but the point is that teachers only have to get a BA in Elementary Education where they do a lot of craft-like things and so on.

Trust me; my roommate was an Elementary Ed. major in college. The amount of work she did was immense, but the type of work was near the same as scrap booking. But she knew what she was getting into. She knew that she'd start off making $28,000 a year. She knew after a couple of years she'd start on her Masters of Education only to bump that up to 34, but she loves it. I suppose what I'm getting at is that there isn't just a cookie cutter solution of paying teachers more.

And that's all I've got to say.

 
At 1:17 PM, Blogger Greyhair said...

You make some good points. And I'd like to note that Miller, in his book, DOES emphasize that "millionaire teachers" would have to accept some sort of merit system/accountability, and pay commensurate with performance aspects that they don't currently have.

I do disagree a bit though with money = quality. I really think it does make a difference in attracting motivated people if the pay is better.

For example. If it were paid well, I would have chosen the field of child care worker in a second. But who ends up doing childcare currently?

 

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