Pass the Salary

Just in time for the holidays, a reform groaner for the groaning board

Reader: if your holidays are anything like mine then you are looking forward to consuming an entire box of Asti Spumante engaging in a vigorous back-and-forth about education policy with your extended family. But with so many great ideas out there for improving our failed and failing public schools, how to settle on just one??? Fortunately our friends at the Teacher Salary Project have done some extensive menu planning for us and have prepared a veritable buffet of topics to discuss at the table. Unfasten your eat belt, reader: it’s time to pass the salary.

Teacher turducken
Shall we begin with a canapé of context? The Teacher Salary Project starts with an idea that everyone in the whole family can get behind: teachers are *rilly* important, especially the excellent ones who are putting kids on a path to 21st century outstandingness. Except that the salaries that teachers are make are anything but excellent which causes excellent teachers to leave and excellent would-be teachers to avoid the profession entirely, depriving 21st century bound kids of their prospective excellence. Sounds great, right? Alas, the Teacher Salary Project fits squarely into a category of holiday fare I’ve come to know and love as *reform turducken*: one reformy idea stuffed into another and into another, all clad in an innocuously glistening exterior.

Raise your tip jar
But how to get your loved ones to talk teacher salary turkey? The Teacher Salary Project has thought of everything, starting with a toast—to teachers and their excellence and to the excellent salaries they should be earning. Then you’ll want to back up your toast with talking points and fact-based research helpfully tailored to compliment whatever political demographic you’ll be breaking bird with this Thanksgiving. Got a table full of conservatives? No problem—give them the great news about the two GOP governors who are leading the way to raise teacher salaries out of the swamp from which they just finished lowering them. Are they still hungry? Toss em a little red meat in the form of this study by Hoover Institute economist Eric Hanushek that found that great teachers increase students’ future earnings. What do you mean, is there more? Of course there’s more—like this McKinsey report on attracting and retaining top grads to a career in teaching.

Tasty tidbits 4 all
Well convincing the red state relatives was easy enough. Now, once you’ve retrieved your back-up wine box from the Subaru it’s time to work your magic on the moderates at the table. 

Mention that for a small state to move salary scales to professional levels, it would cost the same as a single day in Afghanistan. Seconds, anyone? How about the news of places that have raised salaries through slashing administrative costs, early retirement packages, or bonds? Or offer up this tasty tidbit from Public Impact that shows states and districts how to raise teacher salaries by 20 to 130 percent with the money they have now.

Wow—that does sound like a tasty tidbit! Good thing the moderate wing of your family is tripped out on tryptophan or somebody might have a pesky question or two, like how does everyone get a bigger piece of pumpkin pie if the pie stays the exact same size? And is that whipped cream extra fluffy or just packed with merit? Perhaps it’s the Asti Spumante writing but the Joyce and Gates-funded Public Impact and its husband/wife *thought leader* team (who just happen to sit on the board of the Teacher Salary Project) sound awfully familiar.  Why, is it time for another toast already? ¡To the Opportunity Culture! ¡Long may she reign!

Are you going to eat that?
By now you should be picking up on a theme—and it’s not just my, ahem, unhealthy interest in turkey-shaped-cakes. Peel back the Teacher Salary Project’s shiny skin—the documentary film, the involvement of writer Dave Eggers (of whom I’m a big fan)—and the *meat* of the campaign has a familiarly reformy flavor that has little if anything to do with raising teacher salaries. In fact the hater at the table (OK, it’s me) might point out that the entire thrust of our years-long-reform-a-thon is to figure out how to pay the majority of teachers less so as to free up dough for extra *stuffing*: the ever-expanding schmorgasboard of gizmos, test-preppery and achievement gap closure devices that our students so fiercely and urgently need. And don’t forget the gravy. A reformer can’t live by stuffing alone!  

And now for a totally gratuitous video about the making of a turkey cake:

Happy holidays from EduShyster! Send tips, comments and turkey cake recipes to


  1. The cakes are outrageous.

    In addition to “dough for extra *stuffing*: the ever-expanding schmorgasboard of gizmos, test-preppery and achievement gap closure devices that our students so fiercely and urgently need”–you might want to mention a super-important Excellence expense: when you’re turning one of those giant alienated schools where they teach eight different languages and play 20 different sports into half-a-dozen Small Schools of Choice it takes more principals, and principals do not come cheap!

  2. I give thanks today for smart (and snarky) people like you, Edushyster, who are exposing what ed reformers are stuffed with. As the legislative chair in my school in Illinois, I encourage all of my colleagues to read here. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. I give thanks to my great readers, especially those who put down their wine boxes long enough to drop me a note and send the gift of turkey! Wherever you are today, enjoy the holiday and be sure to back up your claims with evidence 🙂

    Jennifer aka “Ed”

  4. You know I love you, Ed, but you’re breaking my heart with this one. I’ve had Dave Eggers’ book on my shelf for at least 7 years. It’s so well argued, rational and supportive of teachers that I passed it on to my union president. And Matt Damon’s mom and his Boston accent will be damn depressed to know that he’s joined forces with the evil opposition over at Opportunity Culture! Could they have been snookered? Say it ain’t so, Ed!

    1. I know–I know! I’m a huge fan of Dave Eggers and his 826 project and don’t question his intentions here at all. It isn’t just the Opportunist Culture folk that are the problem here, though, but the incredibly narrow definition of “excellence” as test score increases. That doesn’t jibe with what I know about Eggers either. I’m getting together with a writer friend this week who knows Eggers and will see what he thinks. Stay tuned!

  5. What a tasty meal! No GMOs, I hope?
    Just thought I’d add a little post-dinner “digestive” as they do in Europe–a strong shot of some bitter, high-alcohol elixir meant to quench those raging stomach acids or at least make you forget about them for a while.
    It turns out that our friends at McKinsey and Company who served up such wonderful advice on attracting and retaining top-notch teachers (rather than what we’ve been getting thus far, I presume) include Andrew Moffitt, husband of pension-fund whiz-kid Gina Raimondo! He’s a senior consultant of that august corporation: and, guess what? his compensation is nothing short of princely or, if all goes as planned (fingers crossed, teachers!), teacherly:
    Happy Holidays, and let the good times roll, while pensions *and* teacher salaries sky rocket, thanks to Gina Raimondo, Andrew Moffitt, and hosts of other ed-reformers and pension schemers. Nothing says turn public monies over to private interests quite like this combination.

  6. I’ve been thinking seriously about finding a way to “offset” the pension losses due to “reforming” our COLAs. Either I get a job online or I move to a less expensive place such as Hot Springs, Arkansas or Custer, South Dakota. Big Corporations aren’t the only ones who can pick up and play elsewhere. My wife and I might enjoy a change of scenery; we can vote with our feet, sell our house and keep the profits for reinvesting in a state that appreciates people with education and doesn’t penalize them at the end of their lives- ( she was a public school teacher too) . This pension “whammy” affects both of our pocketbooks! Maybe, it’s time to say adios to this pension stealing government which can’t understand Article XIII- section 5 of the Illinois Constitution. I’m doing research on this idea starting now!

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