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I recently traveled to the White House for a special online summit featuring Arne Duncan, the Education Secretary, and other top White House officials. As I listened to the discussion about how to make sure our kids get the best possible education, I remembered a documentary shown at last year’s NBC News Education Nation summit.
The film called American Teacher focused on how little we pay our teachers and how difficult it is for teachers to afford to teach. That’s right – afford to teach. For many, they make too little to stay in the classroom.
I was so outraged that I took to Twitter and said it's obvious we needed to pay our teachers more. Let's just say I was stunned by the response. So many negative comments. The overriding sentiment: teachers have summers off and get off at 3p, why should they be paid more?
Maybe because they are the biggest investment we can make in our world. The better the teachers, the more educated our kids, and the more educated our kids, the more likely they are to graduate college and be ready for a career in an increasingly competitive global economy.
Hello!!!! 15 countries have passed us by when it comes to graduation rates. We're now ranked 16th (out of just 26 nations!) when it comes to 25 to 34 year olds with a college degree, and are losing more than 1,000,000 kids to the streets each year, according to Duncan. “Do we have a jobs crisis or do we have a skills crisis? I am actually more and more convinced that we have a skills crisis,” said the secretary. “How we significantly elevate the teaching profession itself,” said Duncan, by attracting and retaining the best teachers, “is arguably the biggest gift we can give to the country.”
"Great teachers should make a lot more money," he added.
Hear more from Duncan about how we can help transform the teaching profession here:
What it will take is nothing short of a cultural shift in our country and I’m just as much a part of that shift as anyone else. I remember when my six-year-old recently said she might want to be a teacher. Outside, I said, “Fantastic.” But inside, I thought, “Yikes, I hope she chooses another path.” We need to get to a place where no parent ever thinks that.
How do we do it? Currently, the Department of Education is having conversations with the teachers themselves -- part of a national project called the Respect Project, where teachers are the ones looking at everything from how we support teachers to what’s their career arc.
"How do teachers take control of the profession to make sure they are very high quality, that they are held to high standards and that there is in fact a great teacher in every classroom,” said Steve Robinson, a former teacher who joined then Senator Obama's office seven years ago and never left. He's now a special assistant to the White House Domestic Policy Council.
“I think that what makes the conversation very difficult is the story that we are paying more but we’re not getting more, year by year it’s more expensive to educate kids but the results are basically flat," he added.
That’s why Robinson says we have to change what education looks like – and change the conversation. Pay is part of that, he said, but so are teacher evaluations.
“Today we don’t know in our classrooms which are the teachers that are most successful and which are the weakest," said Roberto Rodriguez, special assistant to the president for education policy. “Until we have that data, we don’t develop the systems we need to make sure our most talented teachers” are in the classroom, he added.
My daughter just finished kindergarten at a New York City public school. It was a year in which her reading, math and writing skills exploded and her love of learning, which began in nursery school, only deepened. I single-handedly thank Ms. Goodman and Ms. Alex -- her teacher and assistant teacher -- for her tremendous progress. As I told them in end of year notes, my husband and I feel so lucky they were leading our daughter’s classroom.
We hope to feel that way every year for both of my daughters and believe the more we support teachers – through pay, professional resources and career opportunities – the more Ms. Goodmans and Ms. Alexes will a) want to join the profession and b) stick with it.
What can budget cuts mean to a school district? The loss of a favorite teacher! Watch more here: