After maybe four decades of improved wages and benefits, teachers - in both public schools and state universities - find themselves under considerable attack because of how much they earn and their pensions. Over that period, the standards to become a teacher have been raised substantially as have the requirements to remain one.
As the compensation has risen, so has the caliber of individuals who want to become a teacher. No longer is it a fallback career for the least talented who attend college. No longer are colleges of education the least intellectually demanding or least academically rigorous programs on university campuses.
The cutback in support from Republican state legislators and, in Ohio, the voters' refusal to sustain quality public schools make it far less attractive for young people to consider teaching as a career. When state Republican legislators in Columbus use a cleaver to reduce the level of support, they're saying they don't value education. Low taxes carry a high price.
With the transformation of the NEA and AFT into labor unions, teachers bargained collectively for improved pay, benefits and working conditions. As with other public sector unions, negotiators often agreed to accept lower salaries in return for improved pensions. Today, office holders decry the agreements their predecessors of yesteryear reached, saying the taxpayer can't afford them and the pensions are more generous than retirees in the private sector qualify for. One of the benefits of an office holder approving a labor contract a municipal government or school board can't afford is knowing he is unlikely to be around to face the voters when the bill comes due.
Teaching remains a challenging and demanding profession. Those who downgrade teachers and point to a seven-hour workday and nine-month year interrupted with holidays and spring breaks ignore and dismiss the preparation these teachers put in, the papers and tests they grade. They also minimize the considerable time teachers put in as coaches and advisers to extracurricular activities for which they receive less than minimum wage (average about five cents per hour).
Depending on the polls or ratings, the U.S. schools are anywhere from 21st to 37th best in the world. If the Republicans continue to shortchange our public schools and universities, if we continue to make it unattractive for bright young people to enter teaching, the U.S. will pay a huge price as we watch our ability to compete globally decline.