LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Myths of public education

In order to truly understand some of the rhetoric surrounding the state of public education, the funding of public education and/or the results of public education, a prudent person should have some factual history and data.

In order to truly understand some of the rhetoric surrounding the state of public education, the funding of public education and/or the results of public education, a prudent person should have some factual history and data.

First, the NEA began in 1857 as a professional association to provide a common voice among the states regarding public education. It was originally named the National Teachers Association (NTA). On the east coast, several states had the American Federation of Teachers which was organized specifically for collective bargaining and unionization of teachers. Teachers could voluntarily join NEA until 1998 when it joined the AFT for the sole purpose of moving the entire teaching profession toward unionization. Then, in 2006, the NEA joined the AFL-CIO and allowed/forced members to join state and local labor federations.

Additional national historical facts:      1969+/-           2009+/-
Number of Public School Teachers      1,710,000        3,380,300
Average Teacher Base Pay                 $8,626             $51,254
Average U.S. Pay (all occupations)     $6,887             $43,460
Number of NEA members                  ~770,000         ~3,200,00
Percent of Teachers with
Master’s Degree or more                    23.5%              56.8%
High School Graduation Rate as %      77%                 68.9%
Average Student/Teacher Ratio           25.8:1              16:1
Average $’s Spent Per Student           ~$4,200           ~$12,018
(In comparable $’s)
Average Reading Score (17 yr old)      285/500            285/500
(National Standardized Test)

Washington state’s figures are overall somewhat worse than the national average in that student achievement has actually decreased as well.

Clearly, there is no correlation between the unionization of teachers and an improved quality of education … in fact, quite the opposite is true. The only thing that unionization has done for education is raise salaries, pay for advanced degrees, decrease teacher/student class sizes and increase the bottom line of the NEA/AFL-CIO. And, that decrease in class size has not contributed to a higher quality of education either.

What it has not done is improve high school graduation rates (and population figures show an increase of over 2 million more 18 & 19 year olds). Graduation requirements have been softened to artificially inflate graduation numbers and even that doesn’t work. Reading scores are still flat. Verbal SAT scores have decreased as well, and it’s no surprise that most companies are screaming for employees with even basic skills.

Legislators, whether state or federal and whether Dem or GOP, pass and expand spending for education regardless of student results in order to make sure they never “vote against public education.”

Voters will simply have to take more responsibility and demand a return on investment in order to salvage public education.


Catherine Paxton


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