Outrageous Teacher Pay?

How does teacher pay compare to other professions, and in big school systems across the country?

The Chicago Teachers' Union strike may be over, but it has reignited the broader debate over education reform. Behind Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s negotiation stance is that underperforming schools are caused, at least in part, by underperforming teachers, and improving those schools requires better teachers who work harder and are easier to fire. Bad students just need better teachers, the thinking goes. It’s was part of the policy stance behind the attitude of former Washington, D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee, and was popularized in the hit documentary, Waiting for Superman.

The Chicago Teachers’ Balancing Act

The paradox of unions is that they are at once armies and democracies—an oxymoronic construct that means they can seldom be as efficient as a top-down organization, or as expansively deliberative as, say, an idealized New England town meeting. There no ideal equipoise for a union—some, in which member participation has atrophied, can be essentially autocrat; some are more democratic (although democracy can impede growth if members insist on making the union devote resources to servicing their needs at the expense of organizing new members). The better unions try to balance their dual roles, and that looks like what the Chicago Teachers Union did Sunday night.

Chicago Chooses Sides

Read the commentariat, or just subject yourself to the deafening consensus of enlightened opinion, and you have to believe that the beleaguered parents of Chicago’s schoolchildren are fuming at their city’s teachers' union, on strike now for a full week, and backing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s efforts to shape up the school district.

Why We Strike

The Prospect talks to one of the thousands of teachers at the picket line in Chicago.


Frank Menzies started working in Chicago public schools in 2000 and is now the director of instrumental music at Jones College Prep, where he oversees the orchestra, concert band, and jazz group. He’s also the school’s head bowling coach. Menzies is a member of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and one of the roughly 29,000 Chicago public school teachers that have been on strike since Monday.

Why did you vote to go on strike?

Many of the members in the CTU didn’t really want to do it, but we have understood that this is one of the mechanisms that is in place for union membership to try to bargain for a better deal. We are definitely in favor and desirous of a fair contract.

Is Chicago the Next Wisconsin?

Whatever the outcome of the teachers' strike in the Windy City, it has big implications for the future of labor nationwide.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual and school officials say only so much money can be squeezed out for teachers’ salaries. More important, they want major changes to fix schools that they say are failing the city’s kids. On the other side of the table, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has its doubts about the finances and frets about protecting its rank and file. It especially doesn’t like the way charter schools are opening and public schools are closing, wiping out its members’ jobs.

That’s the much-reduced nub of the dispute between the Chicago Teacher Union and city officials, which has drawn 26,000 teachers into the streets and thrown the nation’s third largest school system into a tizzy. Outside Chicago, you can find the same mega issues pumping up like storm clouds in school districts across the U.S. This is why what happens here could be an omen for school districts, stirred on by a heap of forces ranging from deeply deflated budgets to educational reformers’ complaints to dissatisfied parents to charter-school activists and ultimately to anti-union advocates.

Battle of the Romney Plans

(Flickr / caniswolfie)

Consider the Detroit area, including suburbs like Sterling Heights, Grosse Pointe, and Warren, whose segregation presented such challenges to George when he was governor and then housing and urban development secretary.

Thirty percent of students in the Detroit area are now African American and 39 percent are “economically disadvantaged”—that is, eligible for free or subsidized lunches. In Detroit, 88 percent are African American and 85 percent lunch-eligible. Virtually all are from households with income of less than $22,000 a year for a family of four.

Let's Not Make Sally Ride a Gay Icon

Let’s remember her for what she cared about most—women in the sciences.

(Wikimedia Commons/National Archives and Records Administration)

A single line in Sally Ride’s obituary has caused a lot of fuss over the last day—the fact that she spent the last 27 years of her life with another woman. It’s a bit of a shame that the buzz of the public revelation has taken away from what it seems Dr. Ride would have preferred her legacy to be: pushing young women into careers in math and science.

A Student-Loan Solution We Should Be Talking About

(Flickr/Philip Taylor PT)

Tuesday, Senate leaders said that they had reached a deal to freeze student-loan rates at 3.4 percent—rather than allowing them to double on July 1. It's welcome news for the millions of students in this country who rely on such subsidized loan rates to help pay for school. But the deal doesn't get at the overwhelming national problem of student debt, which, at more than $1 trillion, now exceeds credit-card debt in the country. 

The Return of President Sullivan

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)

After two weeks of sustained activism by faculty, students, and alumni at the University of Virginia, the Board of Visitors reinstated President Teresa Sullivan by unanimous vote. As I wrote last week, she had resigned after the Rector of the Board—Helen Dragas—covertly gathered votes to force a resignation. This sparked a backlash that consumed the U.Va community, and forced Dragas to back down from her previous position–as evidenced by the fact that she also voted to reinstate Sullivan.

Why Does The Atlantic Hate Women?

The picture alone filled me with dread: a baby in a briefcase. (Do go look at Jessica Valenti’s hilarious compilation of images from this genre.) That sick feeling only increased when I got to the hideous ­headline: “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”

School for Success

Capital Idea, an innovative long-term job-training program in Austin, helps lift the working poor out of poverty.

Students trail into the Austin Community College classroom in ones and twos, taking seats in pale plastic chairs behind long narrow tables. Some wear scrubs, fresh from shifts at the hospital, while others are in street clothes. A few are middle-aged, but most are in their late twenties or early thirties. The only man in the room wears shoes so battered the soles have almost separated. It’s just days before spring exams begin, and a few of the students discuss an upcoming test.

Will Texas Voters Care About Billions in Education Cuts?


Last year, during the biennial legislative session, Texas House Republicans approved a budget with a crippling $10 billion in cuts to public schools over the next two years—this despite warnings from educators that the results would be catastrophic. Several state senators fought to make the cuts only harmful rather than damning. In the end, Texas public schools lost $5.4 billion in the two-year budget, an unprecedented cut that's left districts and classrooms struggling to provide basic services.

Schools of Doom

Why, after a decade of reform, is American education still in crisis?

(Flickr/naosuke ii)

After 30 years—some historians might say 100 years—of rhetoric about the “crisis” in American education, it’s getting hard to come up with new ways to frighten the public about the state of American schools. So maybe it’s understandable that the Council on Foreign Relations chose a foreboding title for its March report: “U.S. Education Reform and National Security.” The message is even blunter in one of the chapter titles, “The Education Crisis Is a National Security Crisis.” The council points to a slew of subpar standardized test scores as well as to the surprising fact that 75 percent of young people don’t qualify for military service.

I Went to School for This?

A broader approach is needed to give students with debt the same opportunities their parents had.


For those who make the investment, college graduation is supposed to signify the transition from training for life to living it. But for many young adults in the class of 2012, this year’s ceremony will be more like an anticlimax. According to a new analysis of government data by the Associated Press, more than half of young college grads are either not working or working in jobs that don’t offer them enough hours, enough pay, or the promise of a future career. 

The AP reports: