Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Value of Education -- and Teachers

A pharmacist friend in Jasper, Alberta said that she was appalled at the seemingly light sentences given to abusers who kill children while someone murdering a police officer gets a life sentence.

Her take on this disparity was, "How do you know that if this child grew up he wouldn't become a policeman?"

An interesting and provocative take which I recalled when thinking of the value of education and our teachers who seem to be under attack these days as overpaid (whoever though a teacher could be accused of that?) and greedy.

First, the facts.  Here's what the Kenosha Unified School District, the state's third largest, pays teachers.  Hardly outrageous salaries, even with benefits.

We all know that generally speaking high school graduates make more money than those who dropped out and college graduates usually make more than high school grads.  That increased income, of course, turns around in our economy and helps pay the taxes that keep essential government services afloat.

More important, however, is that teachers in a child's life can mean the difference between success and failureHow do you know that this first grader won't become the scientist that discovers a cure for cancer?  Or become the CEO of a major corporationAnd, as the bumper sticker says, "If you can read this, thank a teacher."

So, if our teachers contribute to the success of these future scientists and corporate wizards -- as well as those who are just ordinary folks in our communities who are the nurses, restaurant owners, physicians, police officers and firefighters -- then maybe they deserve better compensation because of their importance to society and our communities.  Of course, our strained budgets don't permit this to happen but at least our teachers deserve to keep what they already have as well as our respect for the work that they do.

Here in Wisconsin, we have an excellent state university system -- which Governor Walker and some politicians want to dismantle -- as well as an educated workforce and a fairly good technical college system that needs some juice to remain competitive in today's rapidly changing world. 

Despite some lapses in central city environments -- after all, teachers aren't miracle workers for kids who come to school without parental and community support -- our educational system does a pretty darn good job.  We don't top or come near to the top of the college test scores every year without some credit going to our schools and teachers.  (And who do we compete with for the top honors?  Iowa and Minnesota -- our neighbors who also have made education a priority public policy.)

So this begs the question of why Wisconsin doesn't do more to promote quality education as a business incentive.  Our neighbors in Iowa -- which has the nation's highest literacy rate -- got that a long time ago.  The Des Moines area capitalizes on attractiving clean industry in the form of banking, insurance, finance and high technology.  Why isn't Wisconsin -- and more specifically, Kenosha -- doing more to attract these industries and jobs? 

The manufacturing glory days are long behind us and hitching our wagons to falling stars isn't all that productive for the state's economy and finances.  Education should have been a marketing tool a long time ago and should be now -- except that shortsighted politicians want to dilute its viability, not just in terms of dollars but also in terms of respect.  Further, the state's political instability doesn't lend itself to attracting high tech industries and workers.

Our state's future depends on education -- and those who are smart enough not only to realize it, but to capitalize on it.

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