Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Muskegon Right to Get Butts Off Beach

Kudos to our neighbors to the north.

Muskegon is looking at the possibility of banning smoking from city beaches, according to an article in the Muskegon Chronicle.

They say they removed more than 4,000 butts, and that cigarette related trash is significantly more than food trash. Which proves a theory I have: since smokers don't care about their own bodies, they are slobs when it comes to public places. They treat the beautiful beach that belongs to all of us as if it is their personal ashtray.

I say go Muskegon. And may Grand Haven follow suit quickly. I know, some will complain that smoking is being banned all over the place and that the beach is outside, for goodness sake. Right, but if smokers can't handle the responsibility of properly discarding their smoking trash, then they shouldn't have the right to smoke on the beach.

Snuff said.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Some Facts Enlighten Discussion About Teacher Pay

Recently, the Tribune published an editorial from another newspaper that was critical of teacher pay. That editorial prompted several angry letters to the editor. So angry in fact, that the editor had to respond to those letters.

Teacher compensation is clearly a sensitive issue. But the debate usually devolves into symbols and assumptions. For example, commenting what kinds of cars teachers drive could be an indication that they are paid better than some suspect. But it could also mean that the teacher has a spouse with a good job that allows them to afford a premium vehicle. Or maybe some teachers chose to go into more debt and get a car they really can’t afford on a teacher’s salary.

Similarly, in this debate there are many assumptions. Teachers assume they work harder than people realize, but it may be they don’t realize how hard others work by comparison. Also, many assume teachers are poorly paid because that claim is uttered so often. But few ever really explain how a teacher’s pay compares to that of other jobs.

So it was interesting timing that we had this debate again in our local paper in the same week that the Manhattan Institute issued a report called “How Much Are Public School Teachers Paid?” You can read the full report for yourself online at www.manhattan-institute.org.

The focus of the report is to add some facts to the constant assumptions underlying the debate. The organization did a national survey of compensation of teachers and other professions on an hourly basis for more meaningful comparison. In other words, comparing annual salaries doesn’t make sense because teachers have more time off and often work on nine-month contracts. While teachers might argue that they work very hard during those nine months, often taking work home, the study considered that. They note that those in many other professions also take work home. I can attest to this point personally. Before I became a full-time professor I worked as a professional journalist and public relations professional. I would concede that hours worked in any job is not confined to time in the office, but overlaps considerably to the home, evenings, and weekends. The data in the Manhattan Institute report includes total hours worked for perhaps the most truthful salary comparison we have.

So, what do the numbers tell us when pay is compared in this equitable fashion? Here are some highlights straight from the report:

• According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average public school teacher in the United States earned $34.06 per hour in 2005.

• The average public school teacher was paid 36% more per hour than the average non-sales white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty and technical worker.

• Full-time public school teachers work on average 36.5 hours per week during weeks that they are working. By comparison, white-collar workers (excluding sales) work 39.4 hours, and professional specialty and technical workers work 39.0 hours per week. Private school teachers work 38.3 hours per week.

• Compared with public school teachers, editors and reporters earn 24% less; architects, 11% less; psychologists, 9% less; chemists, 5% less; mechanical engineers, 6% less; and economists, 1% less.

• Compared with public school teachers, airplane pilots earn 186% more; physicians, 80% more; lawyers, 49% more; nuclear engineers, 17% more; actuaries, 9% more; and physicists, 3% more.

• Public school teachers are paid 61% more per hour than private school teachers, on average nationwide.

• The Detroit metropolitan area has the highest average public school teacher pay among metropolitan areas for which data are available, at $47.28 per hour, followed by the San Francisco metropolitan area at $46.70 per hour, and the New York metropolitan area at $45.79 per hour.

From these facts, I’d like to make a few observations about the issue of teacher pay. One, I would stress that teachers should be well paid. I don’t even have kids in school. But as a citizen, I believe in the importance of quality education. Kids who receive a good education in K-12 will be more fun for me to teach when they get to college. Also, good education provides more labor for our local economy, and these jobs in turn lower crime rates. So, with education being such a vital social and economic factor, we should compensate teachers well for the influence they have.

Secondly, teachers ARE paid well. As the statistics show, when figured on an apples-to-apples comparison, teachers do very well compared to other professions. So I now have a factual basis with which to disregard any whining from teachers about not being fairly compensated. Especially when you figure that teachers in Michigan are among the highest paid in the country, and that the benefits package on top of salary is the envy of most workers in any profession.

There are many related issues in the debate about education. But the facts above speak for themselves with regard to teacher pay. I’d suggest all sides stop arguing based on impressions, and start with an honest admission of the facts.

Class dismissed.