Equity vs. Equality
If there is an overarching problem that plagues all of public education, it is rooted in the misbelief that equitable and equal mean the same thing--particularly with regards to teachers. It is perfectly reasonable to stand for equitable rights and opportunities for all people, but equity is not always synonymous with equality. According to Webster's Dictionary, equality is rooted in the idea that two things, ideas, or quantities are the same; not changing for each individual. Whereas equity refers to fairness or justice in the way people are treated. The contrast between the two terms is so minute that it can appear this is an argument about semantics. However, this is a BIG little difference. In public education, the erroneous interchanging of these two terms has led to a problem that may be crippling STEM education.
Competitive Pay vs Equal Pay
The problem with confusing equitable with equal is that this confusion has significantly impacted teacher recruitment and retention. It is clear that teachers who demonstrate content mastery is a nonnegotiable component regarding the potential for student success. Teacher competency in most humanities and the arts is rarely an issue of concern. Typically, teachers in those fields posses expert level content knowledge and their professional development predominately should be used to improve their pedagogical framework. However, STEM fields are consistently staffed with teachers who lack the content mastery that is critical to successful teaching. The question is why is there such a disparity? I believe the issue lies in the current equal compensation model (undoubtedly promoted by teacher unions). It is ridiculous to operate on the belief that education can lure highly skilled talent away from corporate careers by offering a salary scale with no opportunity for growth, that values length of tenure over quality of performance. I am not proposing a that performance based model, that primarily hinges on quantitative data, would be effective. Instead, I am proposing that policy makers consider the notion of equitable compensation.
Consider the following 2014 median salary earnings for individuals with a Bachelor's degree (according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics):
My friends who teach humanities and arts know that I do not downplay the importance of their subjects (see, My Mom Isn't an Engineer and That's Ok). I am a proponent of the values of creative thinking, spatial awareness, and communication that are inherently developed through these fields. Instead of diminishing those fields, this is a call to attract top-level talent in all fields by using a sliding compensation scale that considers industry commensurate wages in the formula. In other words, a computer science teacher's base salary should be more than an English teacher (with similar experience) because it is equitable in terms of competitive wages. There is no reason we should expect people to take half or even a third of the competitive pay they could garner outside of education. History teachers cannot make much more, if any, outside of education without changing their credentials. However, competent computer scientists can make more than double! As a result, educational recruiters have a MUCH easier time recruiting competent history teachers. When they pitch teaching to computer scientists, chemists, and mathematicians, who do you think they are most likely to attract? Far too often it's the college student who begrudgingly moves into education not because it is her passion, but because she was not accepted into a doctoral program or she did not demonstrate the requisite skills to move into a career of her choice. As a result, administrators are left scraping the bottom of the STEM barrel, trying to convince STEM washouts that they could be successful in the classroom. This is a travesty that must be addressed.
Don't Shoot The Messenger
This post is not intended to be an indictment on all STEM educators. I am one and I know many who are phenomenal at their craft who not only are excellent educators, but who also are absolute experts in their fields. Rather than an indictment, this a call to rethink the compensation structure and to speak frankly about observations regarding barriers in STEM education. Having spent ten years in the classroom, this post can sound like sour grapes. It can be read as though I am bitter about my socio-economic status as a result of low teacher pay. This is not accurate. I consciously left a lucrative career in information technology to get into education because I felt called to do so. It is a ministry and service that I highly value and would certainly do again if given the chance to restart.
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