January 7, 2023

John Merrow: “Deja Vu All Over Again”*

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John Merrow is now retired after a distinguished career as an education reporter. In a recent post, he recounts a recent restaurant visit, at which he discovered that his waitress was also a First Grade Teacher.

For me, this was deja vu, because nearly 40 years ago my very first report for the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour introduced viewers to teachers holding down part-time jobs while also teaching full time.  We filmed it in McMinnville, Oregon, and I still recall the high school English teacher who worked after school in a 7-11, where he often encountered his students, now his customers. That was in 1984.

The young woman last night and the man from Oregon are hardly unique.  Overall, about 20 percent of teachers hold second jobs during the school year, accounting for roughly 9 percent of their annual income. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teachers are about three times as likely as other U.S. workers to moonlight.  (Another study provides a precise number, 17%.)

However, if you factor in part-time jobs within the school system, like coaching, teaching evening classes, or even driving a school bus, then an astonishing 59% of teachers are working part-time to supplement what they earn as full-time teachers, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

There are other depressing statistics to note.

Teacher salaries have not kept up with inflation.  An NEA report released in the spring of 2022 reports that teacher salaries, adjusted for inflation, decreased by around 3.9% during the last decade.

And according to the newspaper Education Week, “Teachers are also working under a “pay penalty,” an economic concept meaning they earn lower weekly wages and receive lower overall compensation for their work than similar college-educated peers, according to the Economic Policy Institute. That penalty reached a record high in 2021, with teachers earning 76.5 cents on the dollar compared with their peers.”

Merrow sees that as part of a larger picture.

What we are experiencing is the slow death of public education.  And, should the system die, the autopsy will not say “Accidental Death,” because the attacks on public education are deliberate.  One of the attackers’ strategies is to starve the system by cutting spending and diverting dollars to vouchers, private schools, on-line academies, and for-profit charter schools.  The right wing takeover of local school boards is another piece of this concerted attack.

The unrelenting attacks have taken a toll.  In 1999 only 13% of adults were ‘completely dissatisfied’ with public schools; today it’s 23%, according to the Gallup Poll.  In 2022 only 42% of adults said they were either ‘completely satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with public schools, a large drop from nearly 50% in 2001.

Read the full post here. 



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