I recently received an email from a friend which touched on several "myths" about the American education system. The article was based on statistics gathered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (not a misspelling, the organization originated in France).
The organization has 34 member countries and is celebrating its 50th year. It began in Europe to help administer the Marshall Plan after World War II. I give you this information as after receiving the email, I checked the information at the organization's website.
One thing addressed in the email was the misconception that teachers get paid enormous salaries, get plenty of vacation and are protected by greedy unions.
In a survey of 38 developed nations, the report discovered that teachers in the United States spend between 1,050 and 1,100 hours a year teaching. In only two other countries, Argentina and Chile, did teachers work more hours. That fact only takes into account the hours teachers spend in the classroom, not total hours teachers spend planning, grading papers and completing paperwork. When it comes to the total number of hours worked per year by primary school teachers, the U.S. comes out on top (or bottom) of the survey.
In other countries, teachers do earn less than other workers with comparable education, but the difference is not that large. In the U.S., the difference between the salaries of teachers and the salaries of other workers with comparable education is huge.
No offense guys, but we would rather pay someone to throw a ball in public for one year more money than we pay someone over the course of 20 years who nurtures, influences and teaches our children.
In Scandinavian countries, the most promising of high school students are recruited and their college costs paid for so that they may become teachers. The profession is honored, teachers are given time to plan and improve their lessons and techniques and they are compensated for their work on a scale similar to those who work in business with similar educations.
The U.S. also falls behind other countries in preschool education. The average age for beginning education in other OECD countries is three years old. The curriculum for these children is defined and qualified teachers are in charge of the students. There is no nation-wide curriculum sanctioned for preschool children in the U.S. and no method for certifying teachers of preschool children. In OECD countries, 84 percent of pupils in that age group attend programs in public school or government private institutions while the figure is 55 percent in the U.S.
The U.S. ranks 25th out of 36 countries in the number of 3 year olds in primary education, 28th out of 38 countries for 4 year olds and 29th out of 39 countries for children 5 to 14 years old.
At the other end of the spectrum is higher education. Thirty-eight percent of expenditures on higher education comes from public sources (the government), and 62 percent comes from private sources (students, parents and scholarships from private groups). In all other OECD countries, 70 percent of the cost of high education comes from public sources.
The last time my sister and I took a trip, we met a family from New Zealand. The mother was a teacher. She did not decide to teach until she was in her 20s. She was able to attend a local college and the government provided tuition and paid for her books.
She now teaches school and helps support her family without the specter of college loans hanging over her head.
What are we telling other countries when nation-wide and state-wide our governments are cutting spending on schools and libraries, but we are willing to spend monies on boondoggles like (at the national level) Solyndra and (at the state level) expensive sports stadiums. On the local level, county cuts have hurt our library, and we voted to allow seniors to be exempt from school taxes (as far as I am concerned, a huge mistake that should be revisited).
Recent events in the news demonstrate that the local Chamber of Commerce is well aware of the importance of public schools when recruiting businesses. I would challenge its members to think about ways they and other citizens can put their talents to good use in improving local schools. Simply helping a teacher for an hour a day with bookkeeping details would free up some time for that teacher to improve lessons plans.
Paula Travis is a retired teacher from the Newton County School System. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.