Chicago teachers remain on strike as a new school week begins.  Via Media offered a roundup of news and commentary from last week, with the suggestion that the strike means a fracture in the blue social model that Democrats pin their election hopes on.  It's true, as this Reason commentary suggests, that the troubles of the Chicago Public Schools, and struggling big-city schools generally, will not be cured by a new labor contract, or more testing, or a visit from a unicorn jumping over a rainbow, until the schools have an easier time inculcating middle-class habits in their students because the parents reinforce the code of the schools, rather than the code of the street.

In economics, there is a concept called "compensating differential," in which, ceteris paribus, more onerous jobs carry higher pay, in order to equalize returns for risk.  The canonical sweatshop or Orwellian coal mine or Dickensian factory is able to expose workers to greater risk for lower pay because of a lack of resource mobility.  That mobility is present in the common schools, and, unsurprisingly, districts with more resources that offer better working conditions get better teachers.  (D'oh!)  Two negotiating seasons ago, I noted the consequences to Milwaukee of neglecting that effect.

In the intervening years, however, people have begun to lose sight of the importance of ceteris paribus conditions.  One important consideration in compensating differential analysis is that the jobs offer different risk profiles to workers of equal quality.  Schoolteachers, thus, are offering their human capital for use to school districts or to other employers of that capital.  Think knowledge workers or symbolic analysts, or possibly middle managers.  At one time, teachers might have enjoyed greater social status relative to middle managers: that, plus flexible hours during the summer, might have explained lower teacher salaries.  But now, Digby argues, the status differential has reversed.
We are at a point at which teachers are clearly seen as the biggest assholes in the world who should be happy to work in terrible conditions and be willing to be fired when kids don't thrive in that environment. I could never have imagined that when I was a kid. Seriously, teachers used to be considered the backbone of our culture and one of the foundations of the middle class. Now they are "retrograde and ridiculous" according to the privileged chattering classes who can't even be bothered to inform themselves of the real issues.
Cleaning up the working conditions requires a cleaning up of the popular culture, particularly in the poorer quarters of the country, but a reversal of the status hierarchy is going to drive people out of teaching and into middle management, or anywhere else where there's a Dilbert moment every day, but the pay is better and the backtalk less vulgar.  Michael Paarlberg makes a similar point.
There was a time when teachers were lauded as local heroes: overworked, underpaid pillars of the community who could – with their credentials – earn more elsewhere, but chose to pursue a career sharing the joys of learning with kids. Politically, they were untouchable, up there with cops and firefighters. Endorsements by their unions were prized by politicians hoping to run as "the education candidate".

Then, at a certain point, teachers' unions woke up to find their favorability rating hovering somewhere between al-Qaida's and herpes. This didn't happen overnight, but a confluence of state budget crises, urban blight and suburban flight, a well-funded school reform movement and private charter school industry created the need for a scapegoat,
There's more to it: the schools have also been de facto laboratories of untested theories dreamed up in the Colleges of Deaducation, and the teachers' unions have introduced the rigidities of seniority and job descriptions that worked so well in Big Steel and the legacy auto companies, which diminish the respect the public may have for what was once a respected calling.  And perhaps Chicago's mayor is driving a harder bargain in order to prevent Illinois from being in play in the Electoral College.  That's right: gasoline at $4 a gallon plus no appreciation in house prices plus rising tuitions plus the twentysomethings back with mother and dad plus the kind of settlement that wins the union's approval just might turn downstate swing voters to the Republican side of the ticket.

And somewhere, we have to consider the proper universe of comparison.  You don't compare the equilibrium teacher with the most successful football coach, or the most visible talking heads.  Angus at Kids Prefer Cheese has the explanation.
Freddie rails about people who want the best and brightest to go into teaching but then think teachers get paid too much.

But here's the thing. It doesn't make sense for society to have the best and brightest go into teaching. We don't need geniuses teaching in elementary school! The opportunity cost is just too high (and yes I know the studies showing a good kindergarten teacher affects lifetime earnings).

Nor does it make sense to (as Freddie does) compare Ezra Klein's salary with the average Chicago teacher salary. Ezra is a blogger. A very good blogger. He has risen up to his current position based on his skill at entertaining and informing people. Certainly the average (or at least the median) salary of a blogger is quite a bit below the average (or at least the median) salary for a Chicago school teacher.

But Ezra is a super-star and is compensated accordingly. Would Freddie and the teachers unions accept this kind of pay-scheme? Big money for superstar teachers, peanuts for the crappy ones.

In higher education, salaries generally differ according to field and accomplishments. Assistant professors of economics generally make more than assistant professors in philosophy even inside the same institution. Holding field constant, better published and better cited professors generally make more than lesser published and cited professors.

Would the teachers unions allow science teachers to be paid more than english teachers?
The "Freddie" he refers to is a Balloon Juice poster who observes, correctly, "If you think that people should be willing to teach for less, than shut your mouth and go apply to teach in Chicago yourself." And here we get to the heart of the But apparently, the latest argument about teacher compensation comes from people who never heard of Adam Smith or Charles Dickens and simply believe Teacher. Pay. Is. Too. Darn. High.
Every year there’d be a fight in the town over the school budget, and every year a vocal contingent would scream that the town was wasting money (and raising needless taxes) on its schools. Especially on the teachers (I never heard anyone criticize the sports teams). People hate paying taxes for any number of reasons—though financial hardship, in this case, was hardly one of them—but there was a special pique reserved for what the taxes were mostly going to: the teachers.

In my childhood world, grown ups basically saw teachers as failures and f***-ups. “Those who can’t do, teach” goes the old saw. But where that traditionally bespoke a suspicion of fancy ideas that didn’t produce anything concrete, in my fancy suburb, it meant something else. Teachers had opted out of the capitalist game; they weren’t in this world for money. There could be only one reason for that: they were losers. They were dimwitted, unambitious, complacent, unimaginative, and risk-averse. They were middle class.
And thus, we have some of the commentariat in the Via Media roundup suggesting that the Chicago teachers are being greedy, because they make more money than the average Chicagoan.  But to get the kind of teaching that could raise the incomes of average Chicagoans, the average Chicago Public Schools student will have to be a lot better behaved.  And there's a lot more at stake than understanding that mustard is not yellow and pizza is not cut in pathetic little squares.

Unfortunately, though, the same economic ignorance is being manifested in Lake Forest, where another teacher strike is in progress.
Some parents appeared displeased by the picketers, but a few students turned out in support.

"You make three times more than the average citizen in Chicagoland," a woman yelled. "What is the lesson for all the students today?"
Negotiators demonstrate better understanding.
New teachers would make less money over time than teachers under the current structure, officials said.

“We are fearful if we, as a faculty, accept a contract that says new teachers will earn less over the course of their career, our district will no longer be able to compete,” said teachers spokesman Chuck Gress. “A teacher could work here two or three years … and then look elsewhere.”
Better pay, better working conditions. D'oh!  One suspects that the parents are upset because the play value is diminished.
A field hockey game Wednesday against North Shore rival New Trier High School was canceled, and Friday night's football game against Lake Zurich is among coming events in question.
I believe that's called crying with your mouth full.  The reality check, however, for people who disrespect the life of the mind and valorize the jock culture, might come only slowly and painfully.

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