"Community Schools, Thriving Students." That's what the Oakland Unified School District web site says right on the front page. This is a change from the past few years when we were touting the fact that Oakland was "the State of California’s most improved urban school district over the past eight years." We're still shouting that from our Linkedin page.
We. What do I mean "we?" I mean that I am a part of that organization. Actually, I'm more than just one part: I'm a parent of an OUSD student and a teacher. My wife is the president of the Oakland Tech PTSA, and my son has attended Oakland public schools from kindergarten to his senior year in high school. We are consumers and producers. We reap what we sow. That is why I am so very pleased to know that graduation rates have increased across the district right along with our Academic Performance. Test scores are a great indicator of how we are doing, but it's that graduation thing that I'm most impressed with. We are taking kids from the ABC's to the ACT, and that's a good thing.
Students are thriving, and that's a great thing. Now, to be clear, I did not take a job in teaching because I believed it was my ticket to the fast lane. I did not expect to have to rent storage units to house the pallets full of cash that I would be making. That's more of a Walter White kind of thing. It should be noted, while he was a fictional character, Walter chose a career path of methamphetamine kingpin over that of public school teacher. In New Mexico, where the salaries are below the national average. Not like they are in California, where we are quite simply rolling in the dough. It's what you might expect from the most improved urban school district with thriving students.
And yet, teachers continue to flee our district for other opportunities. Some in education. Some outside the halls of academia. Most of the time, when a teacher leaves their job, it's not because of the salary. You don't tend to spend that many years in school and not figure out that millionaires are not forged in classrooms. They leave for a myriad of other reasons, but mostly because they are "unsatisfied." Most of them are new teachers, with less than five years of experience. Who fills those vacancies? Newer teachers with even less experience. As dedicated as fresh recruits can be, they will still end up going home at the end of a hard week and wonder if the job they are ready to turn around in a couple of days and do it all over again. After five years, for half of them, the answer is "no."
Would paying anyone more money actually make a difference? I think it might. I would like to live in a community with thriving teachers. I would like to believe that the improvements we have made over the past eight years aren't some randomly generated bump in a curve, but rather momentum being gained over time. Momentum that will not be slowed or stopped by an exodus of experienced teachers. The last raise we got was a year ago, amounting to one point five percent. Because of the economic windfall that blew California's way last year, that was bumped up to a whopping two percent a few months later. For starting teachers, that amounted to seven hundred eighty dollars. A year. Sixty-five dollars a month. Take that, you hard-working, thrive-inducing improvement makers!
I'm not in it for the money. But it would be nice.