Governor Katie Hobbs talked a great deal about education in her recent State of the State Address. She was correct to say, “The reality is, we don’t have an educator shortage, what we have is a retention crisis.” However, she was wrong to blame the teachers’ exodus on “uncompetitive salaries.”
The idea that teachers are underpaid has been exaggerated. As a teacher for 32 years (1966-1999) in mostly district schools, I agree that teachers’ base salaries appear low especially for the first couple of years in the profession. However, as teachers gain experience, they can easily add to their income by taking coaching assignments, becoming department chairs, teaching summer school, and/or advancing to a higher step on the salary schedule by attending classes at a university or community college.
The perks in Arizona K-12 schools are quite amazing: comprehensive health and life insurance coverage, at least 10 days of paid leave per year that can be carried over to the following year, seasonal time off, job security and minimal oversight protected by teachers’ unions, quite generous retirement checks up to death from the Arizona State Retirement System, as well as the same Social Security benefits as people in other fields. Moreover, a teacher can reap incredible profits, as I did, by enrolling in a 403B program for teachers, that can eventually be turned into an IRA as a nest egg reserved for their senior years.
The many teachers I have met and talked to – who had decided to leave – did not complain about their salaries. They told me that they found it impossible to teach because they had no recourse regarding frequent unruly, obnoxious student behavior in the classroom. Evidently, administrators offer little or no assistance regarding this problem. Whereas all educators used to believe that no student had the right to interfere with another student’s right to learn, such a principle is considered untenable in Arizona district schools today.
Parents are pulling their children out of these schools because, without proper discipline, academic achievement is impossible. It is no wonder that U.S. News reported that Arizona scored dead last of all the states in overall achievement at the end of the 2020-2001 school year. This was based on preparedness for college, high school graduation rates, math and reading test scores, and preschool success.
Both teachers and parents are turning to charter, private, and homeschooling due to the lack of discipline and other serious problems that pervade our schools. Hopefully, Governor Hobbs will take to heart the truth about why K-12 schools are losing teachers, as well as students, and adjust her education policy accordingly.
By Johanna J. Haver, author of Vindicated: Closing the Hispanic Achievement Gap Through English Immersion and former member of the Maricopa County Community College District (2015 to 2019).