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Guest Column
Pay good public school teachers $100,000 and fire the bad ones | Column
I’m a Pinellas teacher, and I’ve got some thoughts on fixing the teacher shortage and improving public education.
 
Public schools in Florida are short of teachers.
Public schools in Florida are short of teachers.
Published Dec. 15, 2022

In the holiday spirit of sharing, with a healthy sprinkle of capitalism thrown in for merry measure, let’s talk turkey about the critical teacher shortage and fixing our broken K-12 public education system once and for all.

Chris Fulton teaches Cambridge Literature/General Paper classes at Tarpon Springs High School. He has been in the classroom for more than 23 years.
Chris Fulton teaches Cambridge Literature/General Paper classes at Tarpon Springs High School. He has been in the classroom for more than 23 years. [ Provided ]

Corporately run charters aren’t the answer; nor is doling out taxpayer money to parents so they can send their kids off to private school. While the pair of “school choice” concepts are promoted as being mutually inclusive solutions, the reality is both are logically impractical on a large scale and would increase disparity between America’s haves and have nots.

The good news is that fixing the overriding problem with public education is simple: Get rid of lousy teachers and hire great ones.

Tenure’s a racket, and inferior teachers pay dues to a union for protection like they would to the Mob. It’s an incestuous arrangement that can only be alleviated by negating a union’s primary raison d’être — collective bargaining. Without that leverage, unions become irrelevant.

So here it is: Pay every public school teacher in America, regardless of subject area, grade level or experience, a yearly salary of $100,000 with guaranteed 3-percent yearly cost-of-living increases and perky health care and retirement benefits, then let the pink slips rain down because in no time there’ll be a giant cherry tree of potentially fantastic teachers from which to pick. Bright, dynamic individuals who would have otherwise never considered a career in the classroom will be trampling over one another to get in.

For any teacher currently making more than six figures, their base salary would remain the same; for teachers at “bad” — read that, “lower socioeconomic” — schools, an annual 10% combat pay bonus. Principals would be afforded the unilateral capability to hire and, with just cause, fire. If their school underperforms, they’re out. Next. Get some real skin in the game, no more built-in protections, so school administrators and teaching staff can sweat job security for a change.

District administrative functions would necessarily be handled by local superintendents and school boards and a diverse, well-qualified, non-partisan panel — the National Council of Educational Standards has a nice ring to it — would establish uniform curricula and testing. Federal and state oversight of public K-12 education would be taken out of the mix, as would politics. All districts, all schools, all teachers get to be on the same page without having to worry about book bans, revisionist history, or any other agenda-driven garbage being imposed or legislated in by sanctimonious yahoos.

Makes for a nice bumper sticker: Just Let Teachers Teach.

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Teachers would be placed on a standardized annual contract, then evaluated holistically based upon progress monitoring of their classes and input from students. That’s right, students. Because every kid at every school knows who the effective and ineffective teachers are — it’s not like it’s some big mystery. And they’re always happy to dish regardless of whether they personally like their teachers or not.

The cost? Well, there are three-million and change public school teachers in the U.S. with an average annual salary of about $65,000, so ... hey, I teach English — somebody else do the math! I’m guessing a dedicated 1- to 2-percent increase in the federal tax rate ought to cover things. Between that and not wasting money on inane professional development and unnecessary resources and personnel, easy peasy with plenty of cash left over to ensure optimum teacher/student ratios.

Too pricey? Look where inaction and continuing to define insanity has landed us. It’s no wonder there’s a severe shortage of conscientious educators with solid subject area knowledge who can engage and connect with kids; like anything else, we’re getting what we pay for and it’s painfully obvious we’re not paying enough. How much, exactly, is the future of our country worth?

And while we’re on the topic of cleaning up this unholy mess, let me add that year-round school proponents have it right — it would help keep kids more academically oriented. A four semester 10-weeks on, three-weeks off format would work all the way around. Students and teachers would get meaningful, reasonably spaced breathers to decompress and school districts could stagger schedules, making booking vacations cheaper and less stressful. After a year or so of adapting I’ll bet most everyone, especially kids, would appreciate the change.

So there you have it (big show of dusting off hands) ... not so hard after all.

Chris Fulton teaches Cambridge Literature/General Paper classes at Tarpon Springs High School. He has been in the classroom for more than 25 years.