Our Financial Plan for the Next Ten Years

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Quite often, I mention that my wife and I are pretty diligent about planning ahead. We have frequent conversations about the future and we’re pretty much in agreement with what our financial plans and goals are over the next several years. I thought I’d share some of those plans and goals with you.

Known Future Events
These are some specific future events that we know are coming down the pipeline.

Fall 2011: Our oldest child starts kindergarten, which will mean a reduction in child care costs. He’ll be able to come directly home from school on the bus. We have a small educational fund for all three of our children that will help to pay for things like musical instruments, lessons, and other such costs.

Fall 2012: Our middle child starts kindergarten, which means yet another reduction in child care costs.

2015: Our first “big” family vacation, something we hope to make annual after that. We would very much like our children to have significant exposure to other cultures and have considered living in another country for several months. Our plan is that we’re already putting $100 a month into a “travel fund” that largely won’t be touched until this point. Minor family trips (such as a weekend trip to Chicago) are paid out of pocket and not out of this fund.

Fall 2015: Our youngest child starts kindergarten, which further reduces our child care costs.

2015-2016: Both cards need to be replaced at roughly this point. Our vehicle with low mileage is the one that’s used for Sarah’s commute due to the outstanding fuel efficiency. Our vehicle with high mileage gets a lot less use. If the usage vectors continue, both will cross 175,000 miles in 2015. Our plan for this is that we’re already saving $300 a month for car replacements. When it comes time to replace one or both of these vehicles, we’ll evaluate our savings at the time. Ideally, we can pay cash for both vehicles and get late model used options for both.

Unspecified Future Events
These are events we’re planning for in the future, but the timeline on them depends on a wide variety of factors. We’re not limited by a date or by our children growing older or anything here.

Retirement savings: We contribute roughly 10% of our annual income to retirement accounts.

Education savings: We contribute roughly 4% of our annual income to education savings. We don’t intend to pay for our children’s entire education.

House payoff: Our mortgage is our lone outstanding debt at this point. Our largest financial objective right now is to get that mortgage paid off, so we’re dumping extra into each month’s payment. Right now, we’re hoping for a payoff in 2015 or so.

Country home purchase: Once our home is paid off, our focus will be on buying land and building a home on that land to our specifications. We hope to do all of this in cash (or possibly with a home equity loan on our current home that would be paid off with the sale of said home). Our target for this is 2020 or so.

Four Things to Take Home
So, what’s the value in mentioning these things?

First, communication about money and goals is a key part of our marriage. It is a frequent topic of conversation. Because of that conversation, we’re able to be in sync when it comes to our goals and our plans for reaching them.

Second, we save first and spend later. Rather than simply spending all of our paychecks, we contribute money to our various established savings goals and then spend what’s left over. That means that, in terms of the “average American,” we live well below what we bring in. However, our finances for the future are quite secure.

Third, we are aware of big future expenses and plan for them. We have no interest in ever returning to a car loan, so instead we make “payments” to a savings account. We do this for other things, too, such as large family vacations. When you live your life on credit and loans, you give an awfully big chunk of what you earn to the bank, which is silly, especially when you know such expenses are coming.

Finally, by establishing target dates for things, we can make good investment choices. Our target date for retirement is far off, so we can invest in stocks pretty hard. Our target date for other things is much sooner, so we either have all of that money in a savings account or have only a small fraction of it in stocks.

It’s all about having your money work for you towards goals that you want to have. The more you do that, the easier life becomes.

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125 thoughts on “Our Financial Plan for the Next Ten Years

  1. Trent, when you say “We contribute roughly 10% of our annual income to retirement accounts” is that before or after taxes income? In other words, is that 10% of your gross or 10% of your net income?

  2. Rockledge – Does it matter? Trent has decided on an amount that he projects will be sufficient for his and his wife’s retirements. There aren’t solid “rules” for this – figure out what you’ll need to retire and plan accordingly. If that means 10% of your gross income, 10% of your net income, or 300% of your mortgage payment, or the amount it would cost to buy a burrito every single day, that’s for you to decide.

    I love talking to my wife about our future! Evening walks around the neighborhood are particularly good for this.

  3. Very sound advice and examples. The only thing I would disagree with is the amount of savings (10%). I have always thought 20-30% savings is more adequate… even after paying extra on the mortgage (which I agree with completely).
    When future finances and events are well thought out and planned there are very few “emergencies” in life…which leads to happier and stress free living.

  4. fun article! we usually do this type of chatting over dishes & making dinner. we’re also getting married in like two weeks so it’s fun to talk about and plan the future <3

  5. I’m curious on the house payoff vs. country home – why not make regular mortgage payments now and save the extra mortgage cash for the country home? Particularly since you mentioned the option of a home equity loan on the current house to pay for the country home, wouldn’t diverting extra mortgage payments now get you into the country home sooner with roughly the same result?

    What am I missing that makes paying off the current home before saving for the new one a necessity?

  6. My husband and I would also like to give our son, currently 2, exposure to other cultures. Have you found any good resources discussing the best ages and strategies for traveling internationally with children? I know people do it as soon as their children are born but I’d like to wait until he can appreciate the trip.

  7. Just curious about your travel fund. Seems like you’re putting a great deal of money into this fund (good for you!!!). Do you intend to use the entire fund to pay for your next family trip, or do you expect it to cost less than what’s in the account?

    The reason I ask is that it seems like the amount of money you’ll have amassed between now and then could pay for a very (very) extravagent trip, or many budget trips. I’d recommend budget travel if you want to expose your children to other cultures…and that’ll free up more money to go more places. I look forward to reading more about your travel plans.

  8. This is a great snapshot and well put together, when I think about my next ten years all I can think about is “get out of debt”. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to think similarly!

  9. #5 Sarah – As you apply extra towards paying the mortgage, a greater percentage of each monthly payment goes toward reducing the outstanding principle. The current property can be paid down while saving for the next, it doesn’t need to be all toward one or the other.

  10. The timeline to move puts your oldest child in the 8th or 9th grade. At that point he will have long-standing friendships, and you will encounter resistance to a move. That’s fine if you expect it, or move nearby.

    You will also be about half done with your child rearing, so a bigger house may not make sense at that point- bigger may be more house than you need- if you are building custom. It does not sound like you plan to downsize when the kids leave. Unless you plan so you can convert and rent out part of the house as you get old, to pay for the property taxes.

    Hubby and I went unconventional. We paid a lot for a great school district, but we rent a home- it’s much cheaper here. Our first and only house will be after our kids go to college- a small, one-story rural ranch. If you plan to live in your house forever, make sure you have a bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom all on the first floor. I know many elderly people who have had to move from their lifelong home as they can no longer climb stairs.

  11. I am thinking along the same lines as Kristine. The time to move is not when your kids are Jr High and High School age. Most of our friends that wanted to get out of Southern California did so when their kids were pre-school or elementary school age. I know of a few people that waited a little longer, and some came back because their children never fully adjusted. By the time our kids reached high school age, virtually all of our friends decided to stay put in Southern California…even during the recession and when job losses occured. For those who lost jobs, this would have been a great time to leave the state as most bought homes in the 80′s and still have equity. However virtually everyone we know (and I am thinking of at least 10 couples) made it a point to try to find a new position within Southern California so as to not up-root their teenage children.

    I also agree with what Kristine said about 2020 not being the time to build a bigger house. My kids are now starting to leave the nest and I can’t wait to downsize. I don’t want to spend my “empty nest” years cleaning and maintaining a large property. What you want when your children are young versus what you want when your children are teenagers are completely different things. Condo life is starting to look very nice to me at this point.

    If I were Trent, I would re-think my strategy and even incur a little extra debt to achieve their dream of a home in the country now…not in 2020.

  12. Great idea! Since we just got married, I think a financial calendar is a great idea to come up with, including debt repayment, buying a home, and our first child. It’s hard to tel though because of possible raises, and inflation being factored in.

  13. Sarah #5. It is pointless to save money in a savings account instead of prepaying on the mortgage. A savings account’s pitiful interest is taxed by voracious governments. Prepaying on a mortgage saves thousands of dollars in interest which doesn’t have to be paid ever, resulting in savings which is tax free. The earlier you begin prepaying on a mortgage, the more you save, as payments the first third of the mortgage are mostly intererest, with minimal principle.

  14. Those of you worried that Trent’s 10% savings for retirement is too low can relax. Recall that Trent’s wife is a public school teacher. That means they’ll be able to begin collecting a gold-plated, inflation-indexed, guaranteed-for-life pension as early as age 55 (depending on when Sarah started). They’ll be just fine (so long as the rest of us keep paying our taxes).

  15. You mentioned recently that you plan on covering 1/3 of the cost of your children’s college education. I’m curious how you think that’s going to work. I don’t know how much money you make, but let’s estimate that 4% of your income works out to roughly $1000 per year per child. Over 18 years, that’s $18,000 per child, plus whatever gains you earn on that money. I think you’d have trouble getting that to cover 1/3 of a college education now, let alone in 15 years when your kids are actually in college.

  16. @Steven:

    I actually thought Trent’s Travel budget was a little lean. $100/month, for a 5-person family vacation 4 years from now is only $4,800. How do you get 5 people to an overseas culture (I’m assuming he’s not talking about Disney World) for a week or two for less than $4,800? Heck, my wife and I spent our last vacation in Hawaii, and that cost $3,500, and there were only 2 of us. Add 3 more round-trip plane tickets and some more food, and I can easily see the cost escalating to Trent’s figure.

  17. Trent, those are great plans, I love that you focused on the point that it’s important that you constantly review your goals and progress with your spouse. I think it’s great that you’ve got such a clear picture of your medium-term financial future.

    I think kids can make the planning much more complicated. For my wife and I, our 10-year plan is pretty straightforward. Take a big trip every year (saving $700/month in our “travel” fund), save up for a replacement car ($400/month), and pay off the mortgage by 2015. Aside from the mortgage, that’s actually our 50-year plan, too (adjusting for inflation).

  18. @Johanna: Using your income estimate, let’s say Trent is saving $1,000/year/child, or $83/month/child. Let’s say it grows at 5%. That means that as each child turns 18, there will be around $29,000 available. If that’s supposed to cover 1/3rd of their schooling, that means he expects their college to cost around $87,000 in total, or $21,750/year for 4 years.

    While you may be right that that might not cut the mustard in 18 years, I think that’s way more than enough for a decent state college *today*, isn’t it? It’s not Harvard or Princeton, but what’s wrong with state schools?

  19. @Kevin: Um…did I say anything was wrong with state schools? I don’t think I did. I admit, though, that I did not look up the cost of attending state school in Iowa before I wrote my earlier comment, and indeed, $21,750/year would be plenty to pay for expenses at Iowa State University today.

    But Trent isn’t sending his kids to college today. College costs are increasing much faster than inflation, and have been for some time.

    Also, I think it’s very interesting that in the very same comment thread as you speak derisively about public school teachers being paid by tax dollars, you’re now singing the praises of public universities, which are also funded by tax dollars. What’s that all about?

  20. @Johanna: I’m critical of the generous defined-benefit pensions, not the quality of the institutions themselves.

  21. Kristine & Julie – as I was growing up, and again as my daughter grew up, we moved repeatedly. (I went to school in at least 6 different districts -& have lived in 6 more cities since then; she attended in 5 school districts.) Learning to make new friends and build relationships is a great skill, though not always painlessly accomplished. Yes, moving to new towns at older ages, particularly once you get into high school, is difficult, but my siblings, daughter, and I benefited long-term from a variety of social, educational, and geographic experiences and have wide networks of friends.

  22. Yeah, $4,800 for a large trip seems a little low for a family of 5, but Im sure it depends on where you go. I know some countries like Thailand or Brazil can be MUCH less expensive than the U.S., especially Hawaii!

    As far as how much he’s saving for education/retirement/next car- sounds good to me. 4% for education may not sound like much, but its a LOT more than most families save, plus the kids can help pay their own way. I did.

    And if Trent pays off his house in 2015, he’ll have a LOT less money flowing out which he can then put into other things.

  23. I don’t know how much Trent’s wife contributes to her retirement plan, but I contributed a mandatory 8.5 percent. Also, no Social Security for me. I did, however, have to pay Medicare tax.♦

  24. Kevin- do you know how much elementary school teachers in Iowa actually make? Their salaries are usually low and the compensation is a pension and decent benefits. And, most teachers, like Dee, also contribute to their retirement and do not pay into Social Security, so they won’t collect SS unless they work at another job post-retirement and pay into it for x amount of years. I really wish people would stop whining about pensions unless they look at the entire picture.

  25. Michele,

    Governmenal employee pensions are crippling the state of California, we well as many city governments. Public employee salaries are public record and I have viewed the salaries of all of the high school teachers at the school where my sons attend. About 1/3 of them make well over $100,000….with many at $130,000 to $150,000. They get the summers off plus several weeks during the school year. Then they get to retire with a guaranteed annual income of $80,000 to $100,000 per year. The amount of pension received is simply unrealistic and unsustainable. Private industry was forced to abandon defined benefit pention plans years ago. Private sector employees are now virtually 100% responsible for providing for themselves in retirement. If they are lucky, they may get a $3,000 to $4,000 in a 401(k) match. It takes quite a few years of 401(k) match to equal the same amount that a public school high school teacher will be given in one year of retirement. I am the daugther of a retired public school teacher/administrator and he is the first to acknowlege this issue and how unfair the situation has become. I am proud that he is able to see the situation objectively.

  26. Julie, I’m not going to make statements about California, about which I know very little (though I do know that the cost of living in much of the state is through the roof, making higher salaries a necessity, and that many, many things are crippling the state’s budget, including stuff like the three strikes and you’re out law and the consequent surge of prisoners). However, if you think those are normal salary numbers for teachers in this country, you’re completely mistaken. My mom, for instance, a public school teacher nearing retirement, makes well under half that and will receive a pension that doesn’t actually approach her current salary. She also i an experienced and well-trained professional with a master’s degree. She didn’t make her career choice to get rich, which is fortunate because . . . she’s not.

  27. valleycat- I agree with you. But kids who have never moved, and are deeply rooted in the community, being uprooted as teens, is not the same as moving a lot all along, and you have already learned how to adjust. This would instead be one grand adjustment, possibly harder, but possibly not. We moved 3 towns away just before my oldest started highschool. It took 2 years for my kids to adjust. But it was for better schooling, and completely worth it- even my kids agree!

    It would be hard for teens to move from being suburban all their lives to rural, just when they want to branch out and socialize more with friends. They will be much more isolated, right when the moody hormones hit.

    It will also probably mean a doubling of time in the car to take the kids to and from school activities and friends’ houses, at least until the oldest can drive.

  28. Trent – I wouldn’t count on the reduction in childcare costs. Instead you will see it eaten up by other activities your kids will be doing. Gas alone of running 3 kids around is going to significant.

  29. Well, I looked up the database of Iowa teacher salaries, and if I’m reading it correctly, there are precisely zero public school teachers in Iowa who make more than $100K. A tiny fraction of them make more than $70K – almost all of those are people with multiple decades of experience.

    And to anyone who seriously believes that teachers are underworked and overpaid: If teachers have it so good, why don’t (or didn’t) you become a teacher?

  30. I think I like the idea of this. I have put together some idea of how I want the next few years (5-10 years) but have not written it down. I think this would be a good thing to do with my new DH.

  31. @ Kim-you’re right. While child care costs drop off once children are in school, the spending curve will swing back upward with a vengeance as they get involved with sports, music, dance, 4H, boy/girl scouts, camps, not to mention lap tops, cell phones, video games, “mall” brand clothes, birthday party bashes and eventually cars and insurance.

    Our 3 kids did mostly school sports, band, 4H and did not get a car for their 16th birthday, rather the old family truck for teen transportation needs. Even with our modest budget for the kids and their expenses, it really it us hard. Buying 4H lambs at $200-300 each for 10 years (we averaged 4-6 lambs a year for 10 years), softball uniforms at $130, car insurance for teens at $1,000 a year, etc really did a number on our planned budget. Thank God I found a used alto sax for the youngest at $200 instead of the $1650 we would have paid through the school. Kids require truly creative finance.

  32. In CA, the public school pension programs are funded by the contributions made by the employees and/or districts plus the investment income from the money that is collected over the years. If any other public monies go toward public retirement, it’s a miniscule part of the CA total budget expenditures.

    Non-teacher education staff in CA max out at the proportion of their ending pay equaling 2.5% x # years of service, but it starts at 2% @55 and then gradually increases to 2.5% at around 63. Teacher retirement calculations are similar – so if you work as a teacher 30 years you would get about 75% of your ending pay and no social security; the employer may or may not pick up the cost of continuing health benefits depending on the contract.

    Also, as far as getting to take off summers, most teachers work summer school where it’s offered (most CA districts are dropping summer school). And, yes, they get summers off & other breaks off during the year, but they are not paid for those days so that argument is misplaced. Also, teachers are required to continually take additional coursework or get advanced degrees to maintain their credentials as requirements change and their credential comes up for renewal – & those costs are not borne by their employer nor is additional time off allowed to do so. I for one do not begrudge a single dollar teachers make.

  33. I just wanted to chime in about the second vehicle. Since Trent works from home, maybe the 2nd car isn’t even necessary. If I were him, I’d try to do without it for a month, and see how many times it’s REALLY needed. Bike, walking, and public transportation can be good alternatives to a car. And for those trips that really need a car, it should be possible to time them to use the other car.

  34. I worked in the same district as Trent’s wife (the same school, actually), and I can assure that no teacher in the district is making over $100K per year. The salary schedule tops out at $70K. Now, with benefits included, *most* of the administrators in the district are pulling in $100K+ salaries, but none of the teachers are. It should also be noted that while the IPERS retirement fund is very generous, the payment of teacher pensions is in no way bankrupting the state, and I would hazard a guess that teacher pensions in CA are also not responsible for the bankrputcy of that state. (Administrators, possibly, but I couldn’t say.)

  35. Do a search for this link and the video on the college bubble that approaches. Amazing. I realize it is presented by goldbugs but worth watching if you have kids or not. I am just glad that our kid is out of college(but not working in what he majored in.)

    college-conspiracy-the-student-loan-scam-and-college-bubble

  36. A few responses to a number of posters….

    $70,000 in Ohio and then 75% of $70,000 for the rest of your life after you retire (plus tax free medical benefits) is a very nice standard of living considering the average value of a home in Ohio is probably about 1/4 of the price as a home in California.

    The only people I know who are even talking about retiring before the age of 65 – 70 are public sector employees….so obviously they made enough money via both salary and guaranteed retirement to have such an option.

    City after city in California is struggling primarly due to the pension burden of public sector employees and even our new Democratic governor is calling for pension reform.

    I find it interesting that public workers get so defensive over this subject. Nobody is knocking their work, the difficulty of their job, etc. They typically give the argument about how tough and thankless their job is and thus they deserve a generous retirement. There are plenty of jobs in this world that are stressful, difficult and thankless and a public school teacher is just one of many.

    I don’t know of a single teacher friend who has taught summer school…possibly because most are women and would prefer to be home with their children.

  37. Direct quotes from the Democratic governor of California:

    A CalPERS brochure from 1999 predicted, “CalPERS fully expects the state’s contribution to remain below the 1998-99 fiscal year for at least the next decade.”

    But that didn’t quite work out.

    Davis said the financial assumptions that led to him signing massive increases in state worker pensions were wrong and should be undone.

    “The evidence seemed to suggest the state was wealthy enough to afford it,” he said. “It was part ideology and part math, and the point is the math was wrong, big-time.

    “Pension reform is essential. You just can’t afford the benefits that have been promised because all the actuarial studies turned out to be wildly optimistic,” he said. “We have no choice now, and if I was governor, I would be doing exactly what Arnold is trying to do, which is require people to contribute more to their pensions.”

  38. I still don’t understand why suddenly teachers’ salaries are bankrupting states.

    The highest paid teacher in district is at $73,000 and that’s after 2.5 decades of experience. Starting salaries are around $35,000-$40,000. Hardly living the high life for a job that requires at least a 4 year degree.

    I fully admit I haven’t researched this, but I’m betting companies didn’t get rid of define benefit retirement plans because they couldn’t afford them. Corporate profits are at an all time high and CEOs earn more than they ever have.

  39. Amy G, you are so right! There is a drop in expenses in primary school, but it climbs every year to unprecedented highs as they hit high school. I too, thought it would get less expensive, but have found the opposite. We only give our kids money for valid school related activities that are of great value to them academically or will significantly enrich them (drama, sports, relay for life, model congress, etc.) It costs us about 3K/year for each child. A single model congress trip, when they both go, costs us about 900.

    Our daughter just won the Senior Symphony Concert Band Award tonight, is semi-professional, but will likely never play again. Why? We were lucky enough to be able to rent a bassoon from her school. To buy a decent one costs 5K-6K. Not every school rents instruments.

    Definitely do not factor in a long term reduction in child costs as a crucial factor in your finances- it’s a faulty assumption. The respite is shot term. But it’s one of those things- you can’t really believe it till you live it.

  40. @almost there- yes, I have read several places that the next big financial crisis will occur when there is an epidemic of defaults on student loans, much like the epidemic of foreclosures.

    Right now, in the US, more money is owed on student loans than on credit cards. It’s staggering. I can’t remember where, but I read it is expected to happen in about 4 or 5 years.

  41. @Ryan (#39)

    “I still don’t understand why suddenly teachers’ salaries are bankrupting states.”

    The salaries aren’t the problem, Ryan, it’s the pensions. Please pay attention.

    “The highest paid teacher in district is at $73,000 and that’s after 2.5 decades of experience. Starting salaries are around $35,000-$40,000. Hardly living the high life for a job that requires at least a 4 year degree. ”

    Right. Lots of jobs pay that amount with a 4-year degree.

    The difference is that in those OTHER jobs, once you turn 65 and leave, you’re completely off the books.

    But with a PUBLIC sector employee (like a teacher), the employer has to keep paying you at least half your salary, increasing with inflation, for the rest of your life.

    That’s expensive.

    “I’m betting companies didn’t get rid of define benefit retirement plans because they couldn’t afford them.”

    I recall when GM was going through its bankruptcy, that something like $2,500 of the cost of even their cheapest car (the Cobalt) was just to cover the pension liabilities.

    Think about it. Companies with defined-benefit pension plans had to pay salaries not just to their workers, but to EVERYBODY WHO EVER WORKED THERE.

    And you don’t think that impacted profits?

    “Corporate profits are at an all time high”

    Uhm… what?

    Did you happen to check the stock market yesterday? It seems investors didn’t get the same information you did about corporate profits being at “all time highs.”

    That’s not just meaningless hyperbole, you know, Ryan. When you say stuff like that, it’s trivially easy to disprove with real numbers.

    “CEOs earn more than they ever have.”

    The CEO is just one person. Maybe you should investigate how much it costs to provide an inflation-indexed, guaranteed for life stream of income (starting at $55,000) for ONE teacher.

    Hint: It’s in the millions.

  42. @almost there: Thank you for giving a really good example of the kind of stupidity I was talking about earlier. The goldbugs rant about how the government should not be in the business of funding higher education, but there’s no mention of the obvious way the government does just that – through state schools. In fact, some of the examples they gave of out-of-control tuition hikes *were* at state schools, and were the result not of out-of-control spending by university administrators, but of cuts in funding from the state. You’d think that the anti-government types would consider cuts in state spending to be a good thing. “Get your government hands off my state-school education,” indeed.

    They do make the good point that when nobody has any incentive to limit student loans to students who can actually pay them back, then the cost of college is just going to go up and up and up.

  43. @Kevin: If it’s so “trivially easy to disprove with real numbers,” then why didn’t you provide any real numbers? You know as well as I do that one day’s activity in the stock market doesn’t mean a goshdarned thing.

    So: What are “corporate profits” currently, and when have they been higher than they are now? You said yourself that it was trivial to provide the numbers, so I’d like you to do it.

  44. #30 Johanna
    How about…To all the teachers that feel you are seriously overworked and under paid.. why don’t you JUST QUIT.Possibly, because it would be very very hard for them to find a job in the public sector with their education level and experience ( especially elementary school teachers)that would provided the same pay AND benefits they currently enjoy.
    Yes, teachers are needlessly overburdened in the classroom, however they are not underpaid.Many jobs have a 30k starting point and require a 4 year degree.. a much stronger degree then elementary education.
    I personally did not consider a public school teaching career ( as you suggested to all) because in its current state it is a horrible job.. dealing with public bureaucrats, misbehaved children you can not discipline, parents with blinders on their eyes and higher administration that is only politically motivated and throw in a complete lack of creativity..( you can only teach what you are told to teach) and I would say NO amount of money could tempt me into that field.
    Until a teacher’s work environment changes and becomes more conducive to actually educating and enriching children and the deadbeats that are just there for a paycheck, pension and the summers off are eliminated no amount of salary increase will improve our education system…It’s should be about the children receiving the education they deserve, not increasing a teacher’s salary just because their work environment stinks.

  45. Many jobs have a 30k starting point and require a 4 year degree.. a much stronger degree then elementary education.

    What? You think there are elementary school teachers who don’t have a four year degree? Not in any U.S. public school I’ve ever seen; many even have masters degrees, or are required to be working towards masters degrees.

    And, in fact, a huge number of public school teachers do quit. Retention in the field is really, really low, often averaging only a few years. This makes it very difficult to keep quality teachers in the system and the pay, difficult working conditions, and lack of social respect (as evidenced by this thread) are all reasons for that.

  46. @DOT: First of all, I’m not a teacher. I thought for a while about becoming one, but my mother (who was a teacher and is now retired) talked me out of it.

    Second, I’m not arguing that teachers should be paid more. Maybe they should be, but right now I’m arguing *against* the people who think they should be paid *less.* See the difference?

    Third, I am *certainly* not arguing that increasing teacher pay is some kind of magic bullet that will solve all the problems with our public schools. In fact, that has so little to do with anything I actually did say that I’m afraid I have to suspect you of deliberately changing the subject.

  47. Ryan,

    Companies DID get rid of defined benefit plans because they could not afford them. These plans were generally the result of negotiations between large corporations and labor unions and often were based on flawed actuarial data and inflated (unachievable) earnings rates on investments. Just like our social security system, they didn’t end up funding themselves and they could only continue if by increasing the burden on current workers or increasing taxes. This is socialism at its finest.

    And I am always amazed by comments about the big corporations and their record earnings, as though the big corporation is the enemy. Record earnings generally flow down to the workforce and the general population overall in some manner, either through salary and increased hiring, increase in stock value or dividends paid to investors. All profit isn’t kept by some greedy CEO. Many readers need to take a class on Capitalism 101 and stop believing all the junk they read about the evils of the big corporations and their CEOs.

  48. Katie..A much stronger degree than elementary education.
    Wouldn’t that imply that the degree needed is stronger than the DEGREE of elementary education.
    And yes, there are 1,000′s of substitute teachers in our elementary schools without degrees, some with only GED’s, many that work the entire school year, 5 days a week in the same classroom.
    Johanna.. So what exactly did you mean when you asked Trent’s readers the following question in your #30comment.. “And to anyone who seriously believes that teachers are underworked and overpaid: If teachers have it so good, why don’t (or didn’t) you become a teacher?”
    I just reread all of your comments and could not find where you stated an argument of … “*against* the people who think they should be paid *less.”
    So, no I do not see difference you are implying.

  49. @Katie:

    “You think there are elementary school teachers who don’t have a four year degree?”

    I think DOT meant that there are plenty of jobs with a 30K starting salary that require a 4-year degree that is much harder to earn than an Education degree. “Physicist” and “Elementary Teacher” may both require a 4-year degree and start at $30k-$40k, but I think it’s obvious that the Physics degree requires much more work and intelligence to obtain.

    @Johanna:

    “provide the numbers, so I’d like you to do it.”

    Sorry, Johanna, I don’t answer to you. Maybe if it wasn’t a completely off-topic red-herring, I’d be a little more compelled to back it up, but even if his claim were true (that corporate profits are at record highs), it’s completely irrelevant to the issue of whether or not public servant pensions are too generous. They are, regardless of how private corporations may or may not be doing, profit-wise.

    Again, my issue isn’t with teacher pay. It’s their generous pensions I object to.

  50. I can’t think of any public school teachers I know that quit and went to another profession because of the low pay. I do know a few private school teachers that quit and moved to public school because they needed more money and the benefits. I also know quite a few public school teachers (women) that quit to raise a family. This may seem stereortypical, however I think it is fairly accurate to say that the type of woman that decides she wants to work with children generally is the same type of woman that wants to stay home (at least for a few years) and raise her own children. Thus it seemed to be fairly common for my children to have a teacher that got pregnant and left to raise her family. In fact, with my 3 kids, I can remember this happening at least 6 or 7 times with their teachers in both elementary and the upper levels. Perhaps this explains the lower retention rate.

    Two of my close friends are teachers that did job sharing through most of their kids early years and now they are back working full time because they will get full retirement if they work full time for 5 consecutive years. I find this type of arrangement especially troublesome as both of these friends will retire on more than $60,000 per year although both worked part time for more than 15 years. This type of arrangement is very common in California.

  51. @Johanna:

    “I’m arguing *against* the people who think [teachers] should be paid *less.*”

    Johanna, how do you respond to the fact that per-student funding has skyrocketed (roughly tripled) since the 1970′s, yet standardized test scores remain virtually unchanged? How come we’re spending so much more per student, and not seeing the results?

    It doesn’t seem to be manifesting in grossly-disproportionate teacher salaries. Adjusted for inflation, they may be a little higher than they were in the 70′s, but certainly not triple. I wonder if expensive pension liabilities factor in there somewhere, maybe? If so, then isn’t it unconscionable for teachers to be draining all that extra money out of the system, and leaving the students out to dry? We’re arguing for more and more increased funding for education, but it’s all getting swallowed up by lavish pensions, while students are forced to continue to make due with outdated textbooks and crumbling schools. Are taxpayers getting value for their money?

  52. Kevin,

    Thanks for stating the obvious. I get tired of hearing how being a teacher is the most “difficult job in the world” and thus the life long pension is somehow “earned.” There are many difficult jobs. Some require a much higher IQ, long hours, travel away from home, etc.

  53. @Kevin: ““Physicist” and “Elementary Teacher” may both require a 4-year degree and start at $30k-$40k”

    You can get a job as a physicist with a 4-year degree? That’s news to me. Every physicist I know either has a PhD or is working on one.

    “I think it’s obvious that the Physics degree requires much more work and intelligence to obtain.”

    I don’t think that’s obvious at all. I’ll be the first to admit that elementary education requires all kinds of skills that I just don’t have (and conversely, my job in physics requires skills that most elementary-school teachers don’t have). I wonder why the skills require to do physics are respected as “intelligence,” whereas the skills required to get information through to a bunch of six-year-olds is not. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that physics is a male-majority field whereas elementary education is a female-majority field.

    “Maybe if it wasn’t a completely off-topic red-herring, I’d be a little more compelled to back it up”

    And maybe if you didn’t have such a very long history of saying that things are “obvious” or “trivial” when they’re not even true (see above), I’d be a little more inclined to take you at your word, but as it is…

  54. Please forgive my grammatical errors. Must be all my physicsy intelligence getting in the way.

  55. I can’t think of any public school teachers I know that quit and went to another profession because of the low pay.

    Go talk to students at the local law school – you’ll meet plenty of them. Are we really more productive as a society directing bright, intelligent young people into law than teaching (nothing against lawyers; I am one and I love my job, but still).

    Of course, those teaching position they vacate DO get filled; all jobs get filled these days. But we’re not keeping the most qualified graduates in the profession, by and large, except for those who are willing to make a hell of a lot of sacrifices because they feel it’s their calling.

  56. @Johanna:

    “You can get a job as a physicist with a 4-year degree?”

    Of course you can. Not every single Physics grad goes on to do their Masters.

    “That’s news to me.”

    That doesn’t make it untrue.

    “Every physicist I know either has a PhD or is working on one.”

    I know a few who chose not to pursue further accreditation, and others who pursued their Masters while working. Which means they got a job somewhere, with just a plain-old Physics degree. Of course, their salary will increase once they finish their Masters, but in the meantime, they’re making $30k-$40k/year. Just like a new elementary teacher. But without the pension. And with a much harder degree. Just like DOT said.

    “I don’t think that’s obvious at all.”

    Wow. Are you seriously going on record as claiming that attaining a B.Ed. is just as difficult as obtaining a B.Sc. in Physics? Really? Teaching macaroni art is just as hard as quantum physics? Finger painting is on par with Special Relativity?

    Are you serious?

    “I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that physics is a male-majority field”

    *Groan* Oh gimmie a break, Johanna. Playing the feminist card yet again just makes you look desperate. Not everything is about the big, bad men oppressing the poor helpless women, you know.

    “they’re not even true (see above),”

    Fine. Pepsi’s profit was down 5% in February. Happy?

    Next time do your own Googling, instead of relying on a big, strong man to do it for you.

  57. Pre-tax “corporate profits” for the first quarter of 2011 were 1,700.2 billion dollars. This is a “record high” in absolute terms, but of course such figures are not adjusted for inflation; it may be that corporate profits have actually been higher in real terms. I am not particularly interested in whether or not this is true; if you are, you should begin with the data provided by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

  58. Katie,

    Do you know this to be true and do you have some type of experience or statistic that would support this? I highly doubt that you will find many public school teachers in California that are quitting to go to law school.

    My father was the superintendent of a local school district until he retired (one of those evil administrators that are robbing the school districts of all their money) and he is still on the school board. He will confirm that he doesn’t have any teachers leaving at this point, except possibly to stay home with families. But if he did, there are MANY people waiting in line to fill those lousy public school teaching jobs.

  59. Playing the gender card is not necessary, Johanna.

    I just thought for a moment of all the teachers I personally know. There are 12.
    I would being willing to bet my life that 6 of them could NEVER obtain a Physics degree, not because of lack of interest, but due to lack of intelligence that could never be obtained. 4 are a little ify, but most likely could but with very little interest at all in the field and the other two could do it with no problem and would probably enjoy it. Coincidentally, they are the two best teachers I have ever known.( for Johanna…one male,one female)
    Just a 10 minute survey taken in my mind.. not very scientific.. definitely not a true reflection of all teachers or physicists so don’t take too much out of it or over analysis it. The Physics/Education degree thing made me think of it and thought I would share.

  60. @Kevin: “I know a few who chose not to pursue further accreditation, and others who pursued their Masters while working. Which means they got a job somewhere, with just a plain-old Physics degree.”

    Okay, but did they get jobs *as physicists*? And if so, where, and doing what? I am genuinely curious about this.

    “Are you seriously going on record as claiming that attaining a B.Ed. is just as difficult as obtaining a B.Sc. in Physics? Really? Teaching macaroni art is just as hard as quantum physics? Finger painting is on par with Special Relativity?”

    Are you seriously going on record as claming that elementary education is all finger painting and macaroni art?

    “Not everything is about the big, bad men oppressing the poor helpless women, you know.”

    Well, no, not everything is. But sexism and gender roles actually do have a lot to do with how we regard teachers in our society. It wasn’t all that long ago that teaching was one of the only jobs that an intelligent, educated woman could reasonably expect to get. This is not irrelevant, but I don’t expect you to understand why.

  61. Do you know this to be true and do you have some type of experience or statistic that would support this? I highly doubt that you will find many public school teachers in California that are quitting to go to law school.

    I have the same evidence you have for people not leaving except to raise families, which is personal experience.

    I’m not sure what the point of people waiting to fill the jobs is. There are people waiting in line to fill every job right now; unemployment is at 10%. When we’re talking about teachers, the question is, are we getting the right people – i.e., people who are well-qualified, dedicated, and will do a good job. And there is objective evidence that speaks to this – the people who are going into teaching right now tend to be lower in their college classes, have lower test scores, and otherwise not measure up academically. (I know objective academic measurements aren’t everything, but they aren’t nothing, either, when you’re looking at large groups of people.) Bright young people are not entering teaching or staying in it if they do enter (look at Teach for America, an extremely competitive program, most of whose alumni don’t stay in the education field).

    The fact of the matter is, the pay and benefits package in teaching isn’t sufficient to attract the best graduates. Lowering it isn’t going to do that either; it’s going to make the problem worse. If you want to make the argument that we shouldn’t be worried about attracting smart people to teach children, make that argument, though I think it’s a losing one. Don’t try and make the argument that teaching is somehow the one profession in the history of the universe that (a) can’t attract top people despite (b) overpaying and underworking them.

  62. @DOT: Now think over all the physicists that you know. How many of them would last a week teaching third grade? (I am not all that interested in whether they could get the necessary degree – the important question is whether they can actually do the job.)

    The fact that it occurred to you to ask “Could the teachers I know do physics?” but not “Could the physicists I know teach?” suggests that you’re already assuming that physics is somehow “above” teaching in some objective sense.

  63. @Johanna: The one masters-less physicist I’m still in touch with works for the National Research Council, in Canada. He works for the government.

    Ironic? :)

    I don’t know what his job role is specifically, but he works with an aviation group doing aerodynamic research of some sort.

  64. The one and only physicist that I know would be an excellent teacher.. teaching physics. I would imagine that supervising macaroni art and finger painting my not interest him too much.

  65. I am with Kevin on this one too. I think teachers are very highly regarded in this society. In fact, I think they might be too highly regarded. It is this excessive high regard that results in poor policy such as tenure (a job for life regardless of perfomance), excessive pension (this for life too), etc. I have known some great teachers, and I have known some very poor teachers. I have known some that are very intelligent and some that are obviously not. (generally at the elementary school level) Yet we are afraid to criticize them because criticizing a teacher is TABOO. You get the same response you get when you comment on immigration policy or any other controversial topic. You are immediately labeled a racist, a sexist, or some other unflattering title merely because you have a different opininion.

    Johanna, I get the feeling that that you basically believe that every job is “equal” in the grand scheme of things and that we should all be paid relatively the same salary….

  66. FWIW: The only way a teacher in Sarah’s district would be able to make $70K is if they both have a PhD and have taught in the same district for the entirety of their teaching career.

    I’d also like to point out that, as Johanna said, effective elementary education takes a lot more intellectual ability than “making macaroni art”. To hear it demeaned in such a way is insulting.

    And on a personal note: I *could* get a physics degree (4 year) with little trouble. I don’t have the interest, but I certainly have the intellectual acumen. I had also planned on going to law school, with grades and LSAT scores that were high enough to guarantee my admission to the law school of my choice (though it wasn’t an Ivy League school). I chose to pursue graduate school in education and classics because I’d had the opportunity to teach (elementary kids, actually, though I’ve most recently taught high school) and I loved it. I’ve considered leaving the education field because I could make a higher salary (with better insurance benefits) in the private sector. This isn’t a comment on teacher salaries/retirement benefits, but more to point out that yes, teachers do leave education for the private sector for reasons of salary/benefits. I’ve also known people who moved from the private sector to education for its other, less tangible, benefits. But when asked why they teach, I’ve never heard anyone say “For the pension”.

  67. @DOT: Say it with me now: Elementary education is not all about finger painting and macaroni art. For goodness sake.

    @Julie: “I get the feeling that that you basically believe that every job is “equal” in the grand scheme of things and that we should all be paid relatively the same salary….”

    I have no idea how you get that feeling, because it’s not true. I haven’t even said anything about the relative salaries of teachers and physicists. What I am saying is that people have all kinds of natural skills, and we call some of those skills “intelligence” and others not, and I’m asking people to reflect on why that is. (I don’t actually think sexism is the whole explanation, but I do think it’s a big part of it.)

    This is not some radical theory of my own invention. As I recall, Trent has posted videos in his Saturday inspiration posts about different kinds of intelligence.

  68. I made the comment about many people wanting the available teaching jobs because others have insinuated that people are leaving teaching in droves to pursue a career that pays more.

    I really don’t think paying an elementary school teacher more money is going to solve the problems we face in elementary education. As Trent speaks about so frequently in this post, most young people initially pick their major in college based on their interests…not just the earning potential of the job. And I firmly believe that the full compensation package offered to teacher is not too low. They generally work 75% of the year compared to a private sector employee, and their job stresses are no greater than a variety of other professions. I am sure every profession could give you a list of why their job is the most difficult…however most don’t have a massive union who can propogandize the entire country to pass along their message.

  69. I also think someone should state another obvious…which is the fact that many women pick teaching as a career mainly because it affords them the opportunity to be off of work when their children are off of work.

  70. #69 johanna
    Elementary education is not all about macaroni art and finger painting. I never claimed it was. If you believe I did you made an erroneous assumption.

  71. Teachers only get PAID for the time that they work. The don’t get paid for summers unless they work summer school. (They may, for cash flow purposes, choose to have checks reduced during working months so that they can still take a paycheck during summer, but that’s not the same thing)

    Also, it’s such a myth that criticizing teachers is taboo. I am not a teacher (and not even related to one!) but I constantly come across the same criticism that’s been expressed in this post — that their job is easy, that they only have to work 3/4 of the year, that they’re overpaid, that they’re lazy and just in it to work for the pension, blah blah blah. It’s not taboo, it’s ridiculously common and it doesn’t reflect the reality of what teachers go through at all.

    Also, even though it’s fairly irrelevant to the discussion (because honestly, depending on your type of brain, a Physics bachelor’s isn’t particularly hard to earn, the harder stuff really is at the Master and Doctoral level – although that’s really just a reiteration of Johanna’s point that there are different kinds of intelligence that receive different weight of importance in our society) BUT according to the American Institute of Physics (which has a chart of how Physics as a major compares to other majors based on 2009 data,) the typical starting salary of a Physics major is 40-65kk. The typical starting salary of a secondary education teacher is 32-41k. So ““Physicist” and “Elementary Teacher” may both require a 4-year degree and start at $30k-$40k, ” is technically accurate but distorts reality.

  72. @Julie: Why should a man not be just as interested as a woman in spending time with his kids when they’re off from school? And what does wanting to spend time with your kids when they’re off from school have to do with how important your job is, or how much money or respect you deserve for doing it?

  73. Your comments are starting to get ridiculous johanna.
    I’m signing off this thread, someone else can replay to #75.

  74. @Johanna:

    “Why should a man not be just as interested as a woman in spending time with his kids when they’re off from school?”

    Boys and girls are different. As much as we might wish and like to pretend that we’re all exactly the same on the inside, it seems to me that women are just wired with a stronger mothering instinct than men.

  75. Another point worth considering in the teacher/physicist comparison: I think the path toward a career as a research physicist is better at weeding out people who are bad at physics than the path toward a career as a teacher is at weeding out people who are bad at teaching. Sure, university physics professors get tenure and can’t be fired, but to even get to that point, you have to jump through so many hoops that people who aren’t really, really passionate about physics generally give up along the way. On the other hand, there are unfortunately a lot of people who become teachers who aren’t very good at teaching.

    But shouldn’t it be the other way around? If, somehow, someone who was bad at physics were to become a physicist, there wouldn’t be much harm done. Maybe they’d put out some inconsequential papers that everyone would ignore. But a bad teacher has an effect on every class of children they teach.

    So maybe I could be a teacher in that I could get the degree, get a job, and not get fired, but I don’t think that’s the right standard to be using. I would not be an especially good teacher, and that’s what matters.

    I’m not proposing any particular solution here to the problem of how to attract and retain more good teachers (would that I were) – just pointing out something to keep in mind when making the comparison.

  76. DOT @ #73: Um… did you then not write the comment under your name at #66, which was in response to a question about teaching third grade? Or did someone else hijack your computer for a few minutes?

  77. It seems as though public education needs to be opened up to competition via vouchers or some similar type of system. An outstanding teacher should be able to earn a competitive salary. Let’s reward them. And maybe we should freeze the salary of the poor teachers, along with their ability to recieve retirement for life. Or better yet, we should just fire them. The bad physicist isn’t going to last long at his job, so why keep the bad teacher? Unfortunately the NEA is keeping any type of reform from happening. While maybe this wasn’t their original intention, unions now take away the incentive to become the best and instead promote the status quo…socialism at its finest.

    It also seems to me that women are wired very differently than men…and I am very thankful for and celebrate that fact.

  78. Tracy,

    Your salary data could easily be skewed by the fact that most physic type jobs will generally be found in larger cities, which tend to have a higher cost of living and thus a higher salary.

  79. yes, Allie I did write that.
    I stated that my friend would probably not find interest in macaroni art and finger painting. I did not claim that “Elementary education is ALL about macaroni art and finger painting”. That was just your assumption.
    However, it is definitely a part of it.. and I have two beautiful pieces of framed elbow noodle art hanging in my office to prove it. One from each of my children made 18 and 16 years ago respectively made while they were in the 2nd grade.

  80. Some of this would be hilarious if it weren’t tragic. Some of it is hilarious even though it is tragic, in particular Kevin’s splendid assertion that women have “a stronger mothering instinct than men”. Perhaps when Kevin obtains his Ph.D. in finger painting, he will have deduced that girls have a higher tendency than boys to be daughters.

  81. @DOT: Fine, let me restate myself: Elementary education is not even mostly about macaroni art. As I recall, when I was in elementary school, we had art class for one hour per week (so, 3% of the time we spent in school), and only a small fraction of that had anything to do with macaroni.

  82. @Julie it could be but it’s not. The site also break down the kinds of jobs and the employers who hire more than one.

    It’s not rural, but extremely common for it to be in a midwest/southern state and it’s actually *less* likely for it to be in a highly urban place like NYC with an extremely high cost of living (and an extremely high need of teachers due to the population) The kinds of facilities need *room* and they can’t find that room in large cities. Even when they are near them, they are usually found on the outskirts and provide low cost commute options. (Granted, I am primarily familiar with those in aeronautical engineering and I know that they’re hired in other fields as well, but the patterns persist)

    For example, Boeing is a major hirer and they are located primarily in the midwest and south, in low to middle cost of living areas. So is NASA – again, not high cost of living areas. Or Los Alamos Research Center.

    And they used median, not average, in order to negate ringers on either side (teachers in extremely rural areas, physicists in DC patent offices)

  83. Not to knock elementary school teachers, however I guarantee you that there is more than one hour per week spent on “fluff” such as macaroni art. I pulled two of my sons out of public elementary school and home schooled them for 5 years specifically because of the way school time was allocated. We were disappointed with the amount of time spent on the fundamentals. Thus, while working full time, my husband and I home schooled 2 boys through elementary school(with a tolder at home too) We were fortunate that our jobs allowed us to work in the evenings and often at home, so we were able to devote the necessary time to their education. The basics took us less than two hours per day. They had plenty of time left over for other interests and have both exceled in sports and musics. And (not to brag) but for the critics of homeschooing, my sons were well socialized, have over a 4.5 GPA in high school and the oldest son was just accepted to one of our military academies…which was possibly the most difficult college or university to get into in 2011.)

  84. “We were disappointed with the amount of time spent on the fundamentals.”

    “The basics took us less than two hours per day.”

    So you’re saying that the public school was spending even less than less than two hours per day on fundamentals?

    And why is macaroni art “fluff” again (whereas music apparently isn’t)? Sure, macaroni as a medium makes it sound silly, but visual arts are important.

  85. I didn’t say they spent less than 2 hours per day on fundamentals. I said that we could cover all of the necessary material (Science, Math, English, History, Reading, etc) in 2 hours per day. By the way, the schools in our city, even the elementary schools, have an “emphasis” and unfortunately our neighborhood school had an emphasis on the arts. This means that they spend much more time on the arts than the schools in your area might. I think it is ridiculous for an elementary school to have an arts emphasis…or any emphasis at all. Sure, the arts are importan. But should so much emphasis be placed on the arts in elementary school when our education system as a whole if failing miserably in the areas of math and science?

    We were discussing why the physicist might choose to teach physics versus elementary school, where there is an hour per week devoted to macaroni art project. In the field of teaching…especially elementary school… I would think that some might consider about half of the elementary school day about the same as glorified babysitting. Younger children have a difficult time being at school for 6 to 7 hours per day and thus it is necessary to spend much of the day keeping them entertained and under control. Boys have an especially difficult time sitting at school all day…as they aren’t wired the same as girls. A 6 to 7 hour school day for children under age 10 wasn’t designed with the best interest of the child at heart. It is, however, consistent with the theme that the government is better able to care for and educate a child than the parent.

  86. Johanna,

    PS…Music taught in a elementary public school setting to children under age 10 is also “fluff.”

  87. @Kevin #52:

    How do you respond to the fact that per-student funding has skyrocketed (roughly tripled) since the 1970′s, yet standardized test scores remain virtually unchanged? How come we’re spending so much more per student, and not seeing the results?

    Adjusting for inflation and other factors, per-student funding in public elementary and secondary schools rose in real terms (using the “2007 dollar” as a basis) from $5,639 in 1980-81 to $10,041 in 2006-07 (source: the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Institute of Education Sciences, in turn part of the US Department of Education). That isn’t “roughly tripled”, but it is close enough to “roughly doubled” as to be accepted as an increase sufficiently dramatic to be worthy of remark.

    At least, it would be worthy of remark were the reasons for it not blindingly obvious. Between 1980 and 2007 there have occurred at least two phenomena that have rendered the education of a child progressively more expensive: the rapid expansion of technology and the “information revolution” into the realms of education (it costs more to teach a child using computers than it does to teach the same child using books); and the rapid increase in the costs of the real estate on which that child’s school is built.

    We don’t spend more per child on education because we’re paying the pensions of his school’s retired teachers. Instead, we spend more per child on education because educational media and educational establishments cost more money.

    Moreover, Kevin’s question is to this extent wholly unworthy of remark at all: it is a curious fact, for which education-providers have long and vainly sought an explanation, that there is almost no correlation at all between the amount of money that a state (whether a state of the Union or a nation state) spends on educating a child and that child’s ability to pass a “standardized test”. The District of Columbia currently spends more money on its children than anyone, yet its children are stupider than Montana’s by a distance. Norway, whose standard of living is the envy of the world, has thicker kids than Singapore, whose isn’t. But the ability to pass tests is not necessarily where one would look for the “results” of an educational system.

    Even if it were, one would scarcely expect to “see the results” in the way that Kevin does. It is a safe bet that the amount of money spent by Usain Bolt in training to run 100 metres fairly quickly exceeds by a factor of millions the amount of money spent by Jesse Owens in the same endeavour. Yet Bolt has shaved only about 0.7 of a second off Owens’s time, a gain of rather less than ten per cent – such a “productivity improvement”, if achieved by publicly-funded running machines over a period of eighty years, might indeed cause people to wonder where their tax-dollars had gone. If, that is, they had been educated in Washington and not Montana.

  88. David,

    Can you support your statement about technology being the reason for the increased spending? I live in Southern California and my kids haven’t been provided with computers. They still have those old fashioned books…many of which are falling apart due to years of use. In fact they are provided with far less resources of every kind compared to what I got when I was in public school. I have to buy their paper, pencils, crayons and everything else they need for school except for their textbooks. I even had my company donate several hundred dollars worth of office supplies to the teachers as apparently the school didn’t have enough money for pens, highlighters, staples and post-it notes for the teachers to use. This was in response to a note sent home to all parents about the need for such supplies due to lack of funding for the necessities. Yet the teachers still won’t contribute more to their own retirement….

  89. David,

    I have to confess….I do know of a district that will be giving out computers. My father’s school district is made up of 2 cities. One is about 70% white and the other is about 80% hispanic. The hispanic elementary school children will be provided with new computers for the school year starting in Sept 2011. The other city will not receive anything.

  90. @Julie

    “hey are provided with far less resources of every kind compared to what I got when I was in public school. I have to buy their paper, pencils, crayons and everything else they need for school except for their textbooks.”

    Hmm, I’m not sure of the situation where and when you went to school, but 20+ years ago, that was the case in all four school districts I attended – parents/children always had a list of supplies they had to get and it included all of the paper, pencils, crayons, etc they would need for the year – the schools never supplied those.

    Also, I don’t believe that David was referring to children being given computers, but the fact that most school districts are trying for a ‘computer in every classroom’ and/or a computer lab in the school to teach children with. A friend of mine is a network administrator for a school district – a position that wouldn’t even have existed 20 years ago, without even taking into account the hardware he supports.

    Lastly, “office supplies to the teachers as apparently the school didn’t have enough money for pens, highlighters, staples and post-it notes for the teachers to use. This was in response to a note sent home to all parents about the need for such supplies due to lack of funding for the necessities. Yet the teachers still won’t contribute more to their own retirement….”

    Teachers often have to pay for all of those supplies out of their own pockets – and supplies for the children that can’t afford paper/pencils/etc.

    Lastly, your comment at 93 is horrifyingly racist.

  91. Tracy,

    Your last comment made me laugh out loud…mainly because I knew it was coming. Please tell me exactly what I said that was racist. I am merely stating the facts, and they are 100% accurate.

  92. *shrug*

    It’s racist because you are implying in your comment that the reason the children received the laptops is because they are getting special treatment *because* they are hispanic – the fact you mentioned the race several times is evidence of that when it’s probably immaterial to the reason why that school was given computers (which far more likely had to do with parental income, high school graduation rates, test scores or some other similar reason).

    Unnecessary facts regarding racial identity inserted for the sheer point of causing discord is, in fact, racist. It doesn’t matter if the facts are true if they’re totally irrelevant.

  93. Tracy,

    I am still laughing at the racist comment and the fact that you so eloquently proved the point that I made earlier today.

    I attended elementary school 35 to 40 years ago in the same district that my father was the superintendent of, although he was a teacher at the time. He worked in this district because he is bi-lingual and our family has always had a soft heart for this hispanic community. He even moved us all to Mexico for one year when I was a toddler.

    I remember one of the big thrills of starting school being the new box of fat crayons and colored pencils that we received. We all got exactly the same thing. We also received original workbooks. My kids often receive copies of workbook pages now. This is also ridiculous in the grand scheme of things. I mean really…how much would it cost to provide every kid a box of crayons.

    My father has been in public education for more than 50 years. He served in a variety of positions prior to superintendent, including elementary school teaching and teaching high school language. I can tell you stories of waste and bureaucracy that you would find difficult to believe. One example would be when he was given the task, more than 20 years ago, of setting up a computer lab in one of the adult schools so the adults could gain computer skills (for free) in the the evening. He got quotes from the school’s approved sources and found that he could save a small fortune by purchasing components and assembling them himself (at home…in the evening…without getting paid) This was back in the day when a desktop could easily $2,000. Instead of being commended for his thrift and saving the district nearly $100,000 in one year, he was chastised for not spending his full budget.

    Technology has been around in the schools for a long time, although maybe it used to be in the form of expensive movie projectors, films, audio/visual aids and ditto machines. (Do you know what those are?) I think it is a huge leap to say that the increase in the cost of education per student is due to the increase in technology in the classroom.

  94. @Julie (#89-90): Well, you’re entitled to your opinion about what and how children should be taught. In your case, it sounds like homeschooling was the right choice, so I’m glad it worked out well for you.

    I agree with Tracy about the race issue, though.

  95. Tracy,

    Could it be possible that the current school board members, who are mainly hispanic, might be racist? Or is it only possible that I am the racist one?

  96. And…did you really make the “I can’t be racist because some of my friends are Mexican” argument?

  97. I have no clue if the board members were racist. I do, however, know that YOU are the one who made a point of pointing out race as the cause, even though there’s no evidence of that.

    And while I’m not sure what point you think I’ve proven. Although I find it interesting that you’re now talking about all the waste and bureaucracy and problems with administration – and yet you still think the TEACHERS are the ones to blame who should be penalized? That’s some cognitive dissonance there.

  98. Johanna,

    Thank you. I am grateful for the fact that options existed for my family and that we were able to take advantage of them. Of course this wasn’t an easy path to take, but it was well worth it.

  99. Tracy,

    Did I say race was the cause? I don’t recall stating a cause. I just left out some of the data because I thought you would assume all other factors…if not mentioned… were equal. (Actually I didn’t really think that)

    There are financial needs in both communities and there are schools in both cities with low test scores. It is the decision itself that has appeared to be racist, and thus the district is having some serious conflict.

  100. Please, you implied race was the cause when you mentioned it three times in a short post. Trying to say otherwise now is just silly. Heck, you even just admitted that you did it on purpose. Just because you’re trying to be clever doesn’t mean it’s not racist.

  101. #91 David,

    Have you ever heard of Mello Roos? In 1982 California passed laws so that buyers purchasing homes in new communities would be charged an extra amount of property tax (which often averages $3000 to $5000 per year) to help pay for new schools and infrastructure. The double whammy is that these taxes aren’t even deductible for Federal Tax purposes.

    Thus, in California, many…of not mosts schools built since 1982 have been paid for directly by our taxpayers and should not be included when calculating the increased cost of educating our children.

  102. @Julie #92:

    Can you support your statement about technology being the reason for the increased spending?

    Excellent question, to which the answer is “up to a point”.

    I have it on goodish authority that “US school districts spent a total of $6.45 billion for technology for the 2001-02 school year” compared to, on no authority at all but my own guess, a total of next to nothing for every year in the 1970s.

    The source of that figure is a body called Quality Education Data, of whom I have never heard and who may for aught I know be staffed entirely by body-snatchers, thimble-riggers, accordion-players, Republican Senators and other villains of the deepest dye. Still, even if it is and even if the figure is therefore vastly inflated, it still “provides evidence” that schools in the United States spent in 2001 and continue to spend in 2011 a chunk of money on technology. Since if your evidence is to believed (as anyone’s at the sharp end should be) the schools spend nothing on books, anything they spend on technology at all is bound to be an increase.

    One of the reasons I trust the figure, though, is that it was accompanied by a prediction of decline in future spending on technology that (more or less) mirrored a decline in the rate of acceleration of per-student funding for the next decade. But this may have been a fluke, as of course may any statistic.

    Of course, you need to deduct from that figure the amount that schools would have had to spend on books (and, apparently, macaroni) instead, in order to conclude that spending on education is increasing in real terms for some reason other than a conspiracy to allow all retired public-sector workers to winter in Florida, while private-sector dentists are able to derive vast profits from the consequences of Kevin and DOT gnashing their teeth.

    Tracy is quite correct – I don’t mean to refer to the giving of computers by schools to children (though alarming reports from the states of Maine and Massachusetts, where such an experiment was tried, have already reached my ears). Instead, I refer only to the use of technology as an educational medium within schools, and the cost thereof.

    Not that I think it’s a bad idea – I think it’s essential. But I also think that it has been a greater contributor by far to the rise in per-pupil funding than the payment of pensions to retired teachers.

    I should perhaps say here as some kind of disclaimer that I am not any of: a citizen of the United States of America; a professional in any form of education; a statistician; a physicist; a parent; a financial adviser; or an accordionist. If as a result none of you considers me fit company for conversation henceforth, I understand.

  103. David,

    You also mentioned the rising cost of real estate when calcuating the increased cost of educating a child. In California it is common practice for a developer of a large community to “donate” land for a school. This is often a requirement of the planning commission…not just an act of generousity.

    I close for the evening with another quote from a California Democrat.

    The numbers in the big picture are almost too large to comprehend. A recent Stanford University study projected the state’s unfunded long-term pension liability at more than $500 billion – about seven times more than all outstanding voter-approved bonds, from stem cells to water projects to high-speed rail.

    “I’m a Democrat – I believe in workers,” former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg said in an online chat with Chronicle readers last week. “The folks who are receiving the pensions are paying for their kids’ tuition and form the middle class of this country. That being said … the current pensions are not sustainable and California must reform its pension system … those will be tough choices, but we have to make them.”

  104. I had not heard of Mello, nor indeed of Roos. But I have heard of California, and I venture to suggest that anyone who bases a view of what happens in the world on what happens in California ought in the interests of public safety not to be allowed outside California, save that they can go as far due west as they like. This may be racist, but I cannot help that.

  105. What is all this bunk about teaching not requiring a high IQ? Former Mensa Board member here. I was in charge of millions in fashion, then at a top publisher as Creative Director (Worked 12-14 hours day, and painted for exhibits on weekends.)

    Now I teach high school computer art, advanced drawing and painting (our kids end up at Pratt, Cooper Union, Chicago Art Institute, etc.), and even taught elementary art for a year. (Just try to remember the names of the 450 kids you teach very week!). Teaching is harder.

    You have to problem solve every other minute- it’s not for pansies. Emotional Intelligence is essential. Time management and people skills are critical. This in addition to being a proven expert in your field. Many of the teachers at my school have PHDs. We publish; we present at conferences. We offer AP physics, robotics, AP computer science, computer art that includes pro video editing software skills and 3D, latin, environmental science, music production, and a host of top level AP courses.

    A master’s degree is required. (I have 2.) Plus 150 hours of pro development, out of the employees pocket, every 5 years, to stay licensed. (The equivalent of a college course ever single summer.) That’s several thousand off the top each year- even if you are only part time. And you often teach slightly different courses each year, creating new lessons over the summer. You engage hormonal sugar-hopped-up kids 20 at a time, not rational impulse-controlled adults.

    My daughter is going to MIT, and her IQ tests at 173. Her public school teachers taught her almost everything she knows about bio-engineeering, so they must have pretty high IQs too! (not even the same district) She is in awe of some of them, and we have found them to be both expert and professional.

    The “those who can do, and those who can’t, teach” is BS. Many teachers do both. Yes, there are crappy teachers, as in any field. And the educational system is funded in a way that maintains the current class structure, instead of using our resources to nurture the brightest regardless of zip code, as done by some of our best global competition.

    But I can tell you where money is wasted. Inefficiency. I have to order all my supplies a year in advance. Down to the paper clip. There is no such thing as reimbursement or petty cash, so there is “safety” ordering to make sure we do not run out of staple items, and then kids have to bring in incidentals that pop up. We end up with too much of one thing, not enough of another.

    If I want to book a computer lab for a non-computer class, I have to walk the length of the building 3 times back and forth to check every single lab and sign up in seperate notebooks. Meetings are announced, and activities promoted on paper, instead of online.

    For over 10 years I was used to MS office meeting reminders, online conf room sign-ups, automatic inventory control ordering of supplies, and instant repair of tech issues so work was not held up (time is money.)

    By comparison, public schools are downright primitive. If I want to order pizza with club funds for and end of the year party- I have to fill out 3 separate forms, have the club vote on it, the treasurer sign it, I sign it, and the district treasurer must sign it. I’l also need a W-9 for myself, and the whole process takes over a week. Is it any wonder teachers spend their own money on their classes? People are not required to respond to e-mail in a timely fashion, and I can walk half a mile to find a copier that is fully functional. If a company ran this way, it would be out of business.

    When money is being wasted, it is rarely on staff, It is usually inefficient systems. As far as the pensions go, all industries offer incentives to get quality employees. If the product is important to us, then do what you must to get the best workers. And honestly, my brother was a garbage man, and made more than I do now. And he will get a better pension package. I’d focus more on Superintendents that are in bed with the BOE, and getting less top-heavy.

  106. Since California is the 8th largest economy in the world, it makes sense to pay attention to what is happening in this state to make sure it doesn’t happen in yours! Consider yourself warned that many other states are heading in this same direction.

  107. Pensions are supported by the younger workers wages via taxes. The lower wages go, the less the young are able to afford the pensions of their elders.

    The lower wages go, fewer people will retire early. Sounds great, but what this does is make the younger workers under or unemployed, and even less able to pay for those pensions.

    The people screaming about the un-affordability of pensions are mostly middle class. Why? The middle class has less money now. Much more is concentrated at the top tiers. the middle class will feel the pinch of downturns more than ever.

    Big money corporations and power-players are quick to point out that eliminating/cutting pensions is the panacea. Why? Because a race to the bottom, regarding worker expectations of reward, benefits shareholders.

    Because if you don’t have a pension, why should public employees?

    How about twisting that around…

    Why do public employees have pensions, and we don’t? If we did too, then we would not have to worry as much about our financial future, we’d spend more money and grow the economy, and we would feel more comfortable weathering a recession without gutting the incentives that will keep our kids globally competitive.

    Can corporations afford those pensions? Why not? The did for decades, during the 70s recession, and survived. They can afford to grow our top tier to an all-time high level of wealth compared to the middle class.

    Pensions for all I say! The alternative? What if we drastically cut everyone’s pensions? Extended family households, retirement a luxury for the rich, and our most talented abandoning public service in droves. Is that what we want?

  108. 111.. Not sure if your post is serious or not, but in case it is for real, what about the fact that more than 1/2 of Americans don’t work for those greedy large corporations. I work for a 200 million dollar firm that employs 150 people. If we give them a defined benefit retirement plan the next step we would have to take would be to cut their salary commensurately. Or maybe we could lay off about 20 employees. We can’t print money nor are we able to impose a tax on anyone to pay this added burden.

    Also, we can’t ignore the fact that the average life expectancy has increased by about 8 years since 1970. Can the corporations now raise the retirement age by 8 years…which is what we also need to do for social security?

    Defined benefit plans really weren’t around very long. They had a life span of less than 40 years and were generally only offered by very large companies or companies that were unionized…and the government. Private industry realized fairly quickly that they weren’t feasible, at least at the exhorbitant rates initially promised (70% of salary for life….?)

    And I scream about the cost of public pensions for the sake of my children…not for myself. I am sickened at the thought of the debt burden that we are passing along to our children.

  109. @Ryan 37 and Johanna 44,

    Johanna, interesting that you demand proof from Kevin when he disputes Ryan’s claim of “all-time high” corporate profits, but don’t expect any proof from Ryan.

    Corporate profits have been higher for roughly 80-85% of the last century, if measured as a ratio to the price of the stock,. The current S&P 500 price/earnings (P/E) ratio is about 23.5. That means it would take 23.5 years of today’s earnings to earn back the price of the stock. Basically, if you bought a share of stock for $100, it would earn $4.25 a year. (That’s not necessarily what would be distributed to you as a shareholder, because earnings must also be used to pay down debt and to invest in new facilties or equipment and in R&D.)

    In fact, this may be an overestimation of corporate profits, because I think that those companies with losses are all treated as having zero earnings, so their losses don’t offset the earnings of other companies within the S&P 500. And over 60,000 businesses filed for bankruptcy last year, compared to less than 20,000 in 2006.

    So, no, corporate profits are nowhere near “all-time highs” if measured in any meaningful way.

  110. Point taken about smaller companies, and the losses being set a 0 profit, and thus misleading. But I lean toward socialism similar to Sweden anyway, so that is a while other huge conversation, about how to restructure things so the most people possible enjoy the highest quality of life, regardless of company size, town of birth, etc.

    Raising the retirement age is entirely logical. It should be set at a very small percentage of time left based on average lifespan at the time of your birth, and adjusted every 5 years for the newly born.

    A middle class is fairly new concept that popped up during industrialization, and it may end up being shortlived.

  111. @AnnJo: Kevin claimed that his position was “trivially easy” to support with “real numbers,” but he didn’t supply any real numbers. I was asking him what real numbers he had in mind. That’s all.

    And while I certainly agree that the P/E ratio is a meaningful and useful quantity, are you really claiming that it’s the only meaningful measure of corporate profits? If so, why?

  112. #114 kristine..Why should there even be a retirement age. Why should we have social security or pensions? Shouldn’t it be MY responsibility to save enough to live on.
    If I had the 6.5% of my paycheck my employer is required to deduct from my earnings and the 4.2% I am required to contribute to Social Security I could do a MUCH better job of saving and investing than our government.
    Give me back MY money and make ME responsible for my standard of living. If I save this amount and a portion of my earnings during my working years and live lean I may then quit working for money ( or not) when I am comfortable. If I chose not to save it.. well than it will be my own fault when I am couch surfing with friends at 80. I want to be responsible for my financial life.. and not rely on the government or employers to tell me how much they are going to give me and at what age.

  113. Johanna
    Why is it important to you to know if AnnJo is really claiming that the P/E is the only meaningful measure? So you can get your thrills and claim she may be wrong. You only asked that question for your own amusement. If you are going to question someones statement why don’t you state the facts upon why you believe it is incorrect or why don’t agree with it and quit playing games.

  114. @Maria: “Why should we have social security or pensions?”

    Because, in the richest country the world has ever known, it is unconscionable that anyone who has worked hard their entire life should be left destitute (“couch surfing with friends,” really?) when they become too old to work. Even if it is their own fault.

    “If you are going to question someones statement why don’t you state the facts upon why you believe it is incorrect”

    OK. I thought this was obvious, but I’ll spell it out: It seems to me that the total dollar value of corporate profits – not as a ratio with anything except perhaps some measure of inflation – is a perfectly reasonable and meaningful measure of corporate profits. If AnnJo thinks otherwise, I am curious to know why.

  115. @115, Johanna, maybe Kevin had something useful to do with his time. My point wasn’t that you asked Kevin to support his claim, but that you didn’t ask Ryan to support his, implicitly choosing who had the burden of proof in alignment with your own bias.

    No, I don’t claim the P/E ratio is the only meaningful measure of corporate profits. Other reasonable ones would be ROI and ROA, but I’m not aware of that data being available for the S&P 500 over a long historical period, or maybe earnings relative to long-term Treasury yields adjusted by a risk premium, but that would take far more time to compute than I have available, and besides, who decides on the risk premium?

    What is NOT a reasonable measure is something like total dollars of earnings unadjusted for inflation or for inputs necessary to create those dollars, and that’s the only measure I usually hear in the anti-business spin cycle.

    Thanks for the defense, Maria, but people at opposite sides of an ideological line SHOULD challenge each other on rational grounds. I’m always optimistic that Johanna’s intelligence just needs a little more info or logical analysis to work with and it will overcome her reflexive liberal assumptions.

  116. I would encourage everyone to read the book “Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto. Teachers are only the scapegoat…the problem with schools is larger than you think. Looking at all the comments about “how easy teachers have it and how little they actually work” it seems that many people have bought into the distraction and misinformation that is being “reported” by the government-run media.

  117. @AnnJo: “What is NOT a reasonable measure is something like total dollars of earnings unadjusted for inflation or for inputs necessary to create those dollars, and that’s the only measure I usually hear in the anti-business spin cycle.”

    Erm…and *you’re* accusing *me* of reflexive assumptions and bias? “This is a number that liberals use” is no evidence of its unreasonableness (or, for that matter, its reasonableness).

  118. I didn’t see Johanna @118 before I posted 119, so I’ll add:

    Johanna, in a country with a rising population and/or a rising money supply, both of which we have, one would expect, all other things being equal, that corporate profits expressed in total dollars would always be higher today than yesterday, much less than 10 or 20 years ago. That’s why a statement that corporate profits are “at an all-time high” if profits were measured that way could only be met with a response of “So what?” No useful conclusions can be drawn from that factoid.

  119. David said : “US school districts spent a total of $6.45 billion for technology for the 2001-02 school year”

    There are about 50 million school children in the US so that comes out to around $130 per student roughly. Plus some of that spending is for administration uses not classroom.

  120. So there are, jim, and so it does, and so it is. All I mean to say is that this cost of $130 per student is (in part) what has led to the increase in per-student spending; that increase cannot be explained (wholly or even partially) by pension payments to retired teachers, as Kevin would have us believe.

    As to the other debate: it is true that “Corporate Profits Reach All-Time High” is a headline of questionable worth (but unquestionable veracity) if that “all-time high” is measured in unadjusted “total dollars”.

    But it is equally true that anyone who says “actually, corporate profits haven’t reached an all-time high if we measure them in terms of price-to-earnings ratio, or return-on-investment, or return-on-assets, or mumbo-on-jumbo”, is talking undiluted hogwash.

    Still, as the recent crisis has amply shown and as anybody with any sense already knew anyway, undiluted hogwash is the lingua franca of the financial community. Hence it is not particularly surprising to find AnnJo fluent in it.

  121. Kristine, As a Mensa member who was never a board member, I’d have to say congrats on being so accomplished. However, it’s said that those who graduate with a teaching degree tend to have lower ACTs/SATs than most other degrees (except journalism). So, while a higher IQ is great to have in a teacher, it certainly isn’t typical.

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