Nicholas Kristof, in his recent New York Times op-ed column, "The Value of Teachers," references a recent Harvard University-Columbia University study that suggests that a fourth grader who lands in the hands of a good public school teacher will earn $25,000 more over her lifetime than a fourth grade schoolmate who ends up next door in a bad teacher's classroom.
As a parent, taxpayer, and a public school teacher this shocked and infuriated me. What if my daughter landed in the good teacher's class while my son got stuck with the bad fourth grade teacher? Though I am an English teacher I did the math.
If both my children graduate from college, which is likely since both their parents did, and both my kids begin working at age 22 and retire at age 62, what did that good fourth grade teacher really mean in my daughter's life.
Well, $25,000 spread out over 40 years comes to $625 per year or $1.71 per day. In other words, that good fourth grade teacher allowed my daughter the economic advantage of starting every day buying one tall cup of drip coffee at Starbucks, while my educationally disadvantaged son had to begin all the days of his adult life by flipping the switch on his Mr. Coffee. Poor lad.
This same study, that tracked one million students, suggests that a good fourth-grade teacher makes a student 1.25 percent more likely to go to college. I bet a bad high school teacher could triple that score by screening Animal House to all his incoming male students.
Sad that Mr. Kristof is joining a pool of writers who are creating a new American stereotype: the bad teacher, that shiftless government employee waiting for his much-delayed trial in the Rubber Room while he collects 100 percent of his salary and is protected by his all-powerful teacher's union. He is a burned-out government employee who doesn't care about his students, but is only in it for the easy ride, the long vacation, and the comfortable pension. In the past few years The Bad Teacher has made multiple appearances on the front pages of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and played a starring role in the documentary Waiting for Superman.
My non-scientific study tells me that those writers, filmmakers, politicians and school board presidents who echo Mr. Kristof's black-and-white caricature of American's public school teachers send their kids to private schools where, I promise you, there are a few bad teachers, too. Why, I'd ask, are they never under fire?