Readers Respond

Monday, May 22, 2006

Letters to the Pilot

Teacher promises

To the Editor,

Now that lawmakers have had a chance to catch their collective breath after session adjournment, thoughts start to turn to the issues that will greet us when we reassemble in January...

Our public and private schools have always ranked highly in national

comparisons and we need to keep them there. But we've been coasting on our reputation for too long and it's coming time to change course.

After reneging on a promise made several years ago to move teacher pay to the national average, legislators made a three-year commitment to improve salaries. That was encouraging, but the challenge will be to continue that progress in the succeeding years. This is not a wish list item; it's a "must do."

The Iowa Department of Education reports a 21% drop in student teachers at state universities in the past two years and a 23% decline in new teacher licenses since 2000. Those are alarming numbers. It means that

Iowa students are simply choosing not to be teachers anymore.

It's not like there is a lack of opportunity to teach in Iowa. As baby boomers approach retirement, there will be a lot of turnover. About 2,000 of Iowa's 13,000 high school teachers are eligible to retire right now.

We've got to be sure that the teachers who replace these veterans are bright, motivated, well-trained and well-paid.

There's no question that graduates can go to Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin and make more money on average than in Iowa.

And if graduates can earn a lot more money in insurance or accounting or nursing or whatever, they won't become teachers.

Some would base teacher pay on "performance." We're going to give that concept a trial run in Iowa, but I expect it to be brief. I don't think it works. It's just too difficult to quantify what separates a good teacher from an average one. And the last thing we need are teachers gearing their classes toward performing well on some standardized test.

(If I had to set a similar performance standard for legislators, I wouldn't know where to start.)

I hear from critics that teachers are already some of the best-paid

people in rural Iowa. And my response is always: so what? Shouldn't teachers be well-paid?

It's not all about teacher salaries. General support for public schools hasn't been keeping pace. While we've been patting ourselves on the back for 4% annual increases, per-pupil spending continues to decline in national ratings. We have to do better.

More parental involvement in schools and better access to school information, as well as smaller class sizes are needed, for better discipline of students and more one-on-one time.

- Patrick J. Murphy, Dubuque