Thursday, November 24, 2011

What Are Teachers Worth?

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Capitalists build their wealth primarily through the exploitation of workers. They do this by paying them as little as possible while squeezing as much work out of them as they can. In effect, they pay their workers less than the value of the goods and services they produce. The greater the difference between workers’ salaries and the value of these goods and services the greater the profits. This simple fact helps explain why, even though worker productivity has been steadily increasing over the past 50 years, the purchasing power of their income and their leisure time have been stagnant or declining.

This principle is fairly obvious in the private sector, where goods and services are sold on the open market. It becomes a little hazier in the public sector, where workers are paid by the government out of tax revenues. Yet even here, the work that is done is done to help maintain the property and profits of ruling elite (i.e., the 1%). The workers are still providing services to consumers. Teachers, for example, have the responsibility of helping to ensure that some children grow up with the skills required to become the future managers, administrators and bosses, while the vast majority gain just enough skills to become their employees. Nurses help keep people healthy enough to stay on the job or return to work after an illness or injury. If too many people are home sick for too long, productivity starts to decline, as do profits.

The question is, how do we calculate the value of these services?

The value of a good or service can be estimated based on what people are willing to pay for it. With education, for example, people typically pay between $10,000 and $20,000 per year to send their children to modest private schools, and considerably more for the elite ones. For a teacher working in small privates school classes of 20 students, this comes to $200,000-$400,000 per year. For those of us working in one of California’s bloated classrooms of 35-38 students, this comes to $350,000-$700,000 per year.

One might argue that tuition (or public school funding) must cover numerous other costs in addition to teacher salaries, like rent, supplies, maintenance, administrative costs and salaries of nonteaching staff. The same argument is often made with regards the private sector (e.g., the costs of raw materials, rent, investment costs and the value of the owners’ willingness to risk his money). However, in both cases, nothing gets done and no profits are possible without the workers who produce the goods and services in question. These other costs are often nominal compared with salaries. But most importantly, it is the bosses’ ability to pay workers less than their labor is worth that allows them to grow their capital and earn their profits. A business owner can invest in property or machinery, but without employees, the shelves remain empty. Likewise, in a school devoid of teachers, learning is limited.

Technically, a school could be run entirely by the teachers and support staff, without any administrators at all. It could be run collectively, with workers’ councils making operating, as well as pedagogical decisions. However, it is not just site administrators that could be downsized. Most districts are quite top-heavy at their district headquarters, with superintendents and numerous assistant and associate superintendents, all garnering six-figure salaries. Schools that are run by the workers have no need for all this management. Even a small district of only five or six schools may have 2-3 administrators at each school site, plus another 3-5 working downtown, at a cost of $2-5 million.

Another significant but unnecessary cost to public schools that has little to do with children’s education and wellbeing is accountability. Schools spend millions on standardized tests, curricular support for the tests, and software to analyze the tests. Not only is this a huge waste of money, it is money that could go to teacher remuneration. Instead, it is used to manipulate and control teachers, forcing them to work longer and harder in hopes of raising test scores, taking time and energy away from teaching as well as organizing and advocating for better working conditions.
Pizza is a Vegetable (from Flickr, Mike Licht,
Educational bureaucracies, in general, divert large sums of money away from education, as well as educators’ salaries. But they do open the doors for numerous private sector entrepreneurs to grab a little piece of the action, like multibillion dollar text book and processed food giants. Thus, instead of well-paid teachers and well-fed students, we get overworked, burned out teachers and malnourished students who get their daily dose of vegetables from the tomato paste on their pizzas.

1 comment:

  1. Granted, Most School system are Top heaviy in administration. People say teachers can't be fired, try firing an incompetent administrator.

    However, there is a huge supply of teachers, who are willing to work for the current wage. Once a teaching slot is filled, if a better , yonger canidate comes along, too bad. The children loose out to the established teacher regardless of lack of ability or even the damage they can do. My wide will be going to go back to school to study education because of the qualitiy of life, benfits and security it offers. You ought to see the degrading BS she hs to put up with as a sales rep. She will catch up too current income level in 7 years with less stress and pressure. The working nights weekends and holidays are par for the course.

    Fortunitly she knows enough administrator who respect her organization and abilities she will have access to a job.