VERN’S VIEWS: The real value of teachers

The Jan. 15 Austin American-Statesman published a piece by New York Times writer Nicholas Kristoff about the value of good teachers. He opens with: “Suppose your child is about to enter the fourth grade and has been assigned to an excellent teacher. Then the teacher decides to quit. What should you do?”

His point is a strong teacher has much more of a lifetime impact on a child than a weak one. A good fourth-grade teacher makes students 1.25 percent more likely to attend college and 1.25 percent less likely to become a pregnant teen, he says.

A great fourth-grade teacher, research shows, produces adults who earn, on average, $25,000 more over a lifetime than those students emerging from a poor fourth-grade teacher’s classes. An average class size will mean the overall lifetime gains will be about $700,000.

That’s just from the fourth grade. Extend that premise throughout a child’s education, and the earnings numbers more than double per person. The research was done by economists at Harvard and Columbia universities.

Conversely, a very poor teacher has the same effect as a pupil missing 40 percent of the school year. So why would we tolerate a poor teacher?

By letting a poor teacher into the classroom we create an inherent inefficiency, so starting at the beginning is the way to avoid or minimize this situation.

It isn’t hard to see that prolonging the stumbling education system is a most serious threat to our national economy and the well-being of our country.

It’s frustrating the presidential campaign is mostly ignoring the issue.

None of the Obama administration’s plans or ideas, and none from any of the current slate of Republican candidates, addresses this issue with much energy. Until we the people stand up for our children and their education, what we’ll get is more of the same at best, and most certainly a continued deterioration.

Why, for example, do politicians cut libraries and school funding first before cutting anything else when budgets get tight? If we don’t educate our children to increasingly high levels of excellence, we guarantee that our nation will soon become a second-class nation — or worse. It already shows in comparative international test scores where the gap between foreign students and ours is growing at an increasing rate.

One dramatic example of the conservative attack on education is highlighted by an MSNBC blurb that decries the criticism of the G.I. Bill as “welfare." It was the G.I. bill that let our returning veterans go to college and quadrupled our college graduates in just one generation, to say nothing of the huge economic expansion it engendered. That’s not socialism or welfare. That’s progress and growth for all classes of worker.

We must change the role of the teachers’ unions to ensure excellent teachers enter each classroom. But we have to pay these people wages similar to their equally educated peers in the private sector.

Why aren’t we willing to do that? It’s for the future of the country, after all.

Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company. "The Voter’s Guide to National Salvation" is a newly published e-book from Turner. You can find it at www.barnesandnoble.com/ebooks. He can be reached by email at vtgolf@zeecon.com.

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