Fixing Congress #3 (Yeah, this means Naked Politicians)

It occurred to me again today, as it often does, that Congress has to be the only public entity whose members decide their own pay, decide their own pensions, decide their own healthcare, and give themselves a nice healthy budget to hire staff to isolate themselves from the people they pledged to represent. Harrumph. Nothing new, there.

One bright light gleamed from today's paper: Senator Chuck Grassley is again off holding town hall meetings in his home state of Iowa. He pledged to meet with citizens in each of the state's 99 counties each year - a promise he has kept since 1980. No staff interposes. He stands up and answers questions thrown to him from constituents. If they throw guff, he catches that. That willingness to meet and answer to the people ought to be a common characteristic in Congresspeople. Unfortunately, the experience is more likely to involve filling out an online form with a limited message section, applying one of the labels helpfully supplied to indicate the type of issue (although if your communication doesn't pigeon-hole into a preset category, you're a square peg in the round hole), and waiting for a form letter response from an anonymous staff person. Whoopee.

In light of the first paragraph and the complaint in the last part of the second paragraph, above, you will pardon your Congresspeople for believing themselves "elites."

How can we counter that mindset? How can we emphasize that these people serve at our pleasure, to do our work, and are supposedly accountable to us?

Since a lot of the stupidity on the Hill relates to pecking orders, dominance games, and over-weening self-importance, it occurs to me that making provisos that tend to break down dignity might serve also to break the log jams. My first fantasy along this line was, "What if each candidate for Congress, House or Senate, had to submit to having a set of mug shots made while standing in the nude? Pot bellies, droopy boobs, sagging buttocks, and all? What if the mug shots were posted in all U.S. Post Offices for a month prior to the election? Maybe with a sign, like WANTED - FOR CONGRESS? "  You would really have to want to be elected to go through that indignity. We might actually get people who wish to serve and not BE served.

Ah, dream on, Mark. The problem with that scheme is that Congress would have to vote it in.

OK, so, second try - How about requiring each candidate for Congressional office to supply a signed affidavit from a town or county officer (NOT state and NOT city officer) that the candidate completed 80 hours of community service in the previous 6 months? Such service would have to be hands-on, low-level work: child care worker, cleaning graffiti, cutting grass, and the like. The usual person who does that work would shadow, supervising to be sure it was done right, and would continue to be paid normally while the candidate served for free.

Now, here we have a possibility. Community service is aligned with the public office the candidate aspires to, and so shouldn't generate objections. It forces the candidate to get dirty, take advice, and actually rub shoulders with real people who do real jobs. The candidate can picture glorious photo ops ("Senator Bunko ladles it out at the local soup kitchen") while the public gets to see his/her character when required to spend 2 weeks at such a job, not the paltry hour politicians play-act in them now. Does he still smile when the Dugges baby needs changing again?

And what's more, doing this every election means that incumbents are never totally divorced from their constituents. With office budgets of $1.3 - 1.9 million (Representatives) or $3 - 4.7 million (Senators)*, they can hide behind their staff most of the time. I think anything that forces them to reconnect with "non-elites" back home will help their general mindset and keep them aware of their constituents as people, not merely voters.

* Source: Congressional Management Foundation


Fixing Congress #2

It occurred to me, upon further reflection, that there are other ways of forcing Congress to approach its job differently. Term limits, alas, are just not going to gain sufficient traction, because the power of seniority is enjoyed by the states which have career politicians ensconced in Washington. (My own state, South Carolina, enjoyed the duo of Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms in the Senate for decades. Their longevity in office gave our poor little state an influence it could not wield otherwise by its population or contribution to the national economy. This is not healthy.)

So, okay, how about this: Set a mandatory retirement age.

As I write this, President Obama's 2nd Inaugural address is still fresh and being discussed. The pundits are writing about the narrow window Obama has for getting the things done that he hopes will be his legacy - about two years before he begins to be treated as a lame duck.

I recall my own Congressman, Bob Inglis, was treated as a lame duck from the moment he arrived in Washington, because he announced he was voluntarily term-limiting himself.

The difference between a lame duck and someone with a viable capacity to make deals is the indefiniteness of the latter person's future tenure. The power system in Congress first reflects whether you are of the majority or minority party, and secondly your seniority. The implicit assumption about every member (unless they personally say otherwise) is that they want to be re-elected, indefinitely. Unless they are so wobbly in their district that re-election is questionable, they can continue to be power brokers that "improve" with age. (Harry Reid nearly lost last Fall, but was lucky to have the Republicans oppose him with a weak candidate with a mouth that needed some self-censoring. Still, the Senate Majority Leader retains his post and acts as the gatekeeper for anything the Senate does - or doesn't - do.)

The effect of not having term limits or fixed retirement age is that power builds with seniority, and these people acquire the sense of truly being elites, instead of the representatives hired by the people of their states to conduct business in their name. There is an awful lot of posturing aimed more at satisfying egos than getting useful things done. With a Congress full of careerists who have no intention of returning to the civilian economy, we get "kicking the can down the road." No one ever wants to treat major problems like the Federal entitlements realistically. They will anger constituents who are adversely affected by the necessary changes and thereby endanger their re-election prospects. It's no surprise that this happens. It's a predictable outcome of a system that rewards Congressional membership with high salaries and unreasonably generous benefits. No one is ready to kill his own golden goose.

In the general corporate world, you have ages at which you are permitted to retire with benefits, and you often have mandatory ages for retirement. Companies recognize that an infusion of new blood is needed from time to time, and that if opportunity to advance is restricted because key office-holders don't wish to bow out, the best and brightest up-and-comers will go elsewhere. In other words, well-run companies have formal processes aimed at succession planning. Every key role needs a person fully trained and experienced enough to step in if the holder dies, retires, or moves on to greener fields elsewhere.

These succession plans are largely absent from the body politic. Getting elected is a scramble to get your name known by people who are mostly uninterested in the nitty-gritty of politics. This is usually translated to needing money from the minority of the populace that does notice and care. Nothing qualifies someone for running for Congress like the ability to reach into other people's pocketbooks. And nothing solidifies that ability like the accretion of more power with seniority.

So I propose to disrupt this unhealthy reality with a mandatory retirement for Congressmen.  As some people who work for a living might be tempted to "public service" after retiring from "work", this age might be reasonably advanced. To pick a number, suppose we said "no one shall be accepted as a candidate for Congressional office, Senate or House, who shall have attained his or her age of 70 upon the day of election." Poof. No House members older than 72; no Senators older than 76. (Exception: this wording does not restrict appointments to seats vacated partway though a term, but does mean such a place-holder will bow out at the next election.) And now, we have a new class of lame ducks - people who cannot win another election due to age. I believe lame-ducking the senior-most members of Congress will permit upstarts with less invested to have more say. Perhaps the seniority system will be partially overturned if younger members realize they can break ranks with their party's leaders, because those leaders will not be able to work against them forever. I believe any change that tends to de-penalize working with the opposing party to reach compromise is a good change.

I don't believe the People's business is handled well by career politicians. I consequently believe term limits is the best solution. But failing that, I propose we oust office-holders when they have reached an age that the corporate economy would generally agree is fair and reasonable. We then will have more of a conversation about ideas, instead of the ingrown powers conferred by senior committee chairs. We will refresh our body politic with fresh viewpoints more frequently.


Fixing Congress

I've long been a fan of term limits. When people aspiring to office know, going in, that they're coming out and going back to "real life" after a maximum period, there is less incentive to spend all their time working to be re-elected, and there is less influence that outsiders can wield with contributions.  This doesn't force officials to do the public's business, but it does raise it in the chain of priorities.

Of course, term limits for Congress are a hopeless battle. Even though certain states have managed to institute limits, there is no way that states with long-serving, powerful Congressional members are going to willingly give up the influence that accrues to members with seniority.

I saw this first-hand with local Congressman Bob Inglis. I met Bob twice while he was as yet a relatively unknown person challenging a well-known incumbent. I liked his policy philosophy very well, and his unilateral promise to limit himself to a discrete number of terms made him appear very honorable and earnest. Bob won his seat. His problems began immediately. With the knowledge that he wasn't going to scrabble and scratch backs for favors to help with his re-elections, he was immediately marginalized in committee assignments. Knowing he would not accumulate significant seniority, the power brokers refused to let him play with the big dogs.

It occurred to me today that there may be another, less onerous way of overcoming the bitter partisanship that plagues Congress than by sweeping them all out the door every few years.

You see, each time one of the parties gets big majorities in one or both Houses, it tries to institute rules that will favor it and disadvantage the other party. To my mind, this inevitably leads to such egregious behavior that eventually the electorate decides it's had enough. The pendulum swings the other way, and the majorities tip to the opposing party, which seems virtuous next to the crooks & thieves that have finally raised the public's ire.

After about eight years with the new masters of Congress, it's time to swing the pendulum again.

So, my idea is this: Remove the parliamentary rules and processes that freeze out the minority party.

It's amazing to me that a) the two Houses work under different rules, and b) both have a host of methods for managing legislation designed to bottle up the minority party.  The committee chairmen, who usually are the most senior members from the majority party,  can refuse to take a bill to the floor. The Senate Majority Leader and the House Speaker can both set the business in their chambers so that bills they don't support are never brought for debate or vote. In fact, they can refuse to accept offered amendments from the minority party.  Even if, for appearances sake, they allow the other guys some voice, they can make sure that their ideas go nowhere by enforcing "party discipline" against them. Since most Congresspeople want to spend nice long careers at their jobs, they are loath to cross the leaders. And there are other leaders charged with making them see the light, if they show signs of straying; why do you think the "Whip" got named that? The Senate even has procedures that let single members put anonymous holds on legislation for reasons they are not compelled to state. So when the electorate wants to know why the Senate is doing nothing on an issue, they can't even find out who is blocking it!

It's only major legislation that is closely watched by the electorate that has a chance of a revolt by the back-benchers. Being accountable to your constituents is not that easy when they're actually paying attention to how you're voting.

Result: Issue after issue voted along party lines on bills that are crafted with the ideas and input of only the party in power.

It's (I think) true that over the long-term, America is about 45% Republican and 45% Democrat and 10% truly independent and persuadable. To pass bills that ignore the input and ideas of one party is disenfranchising a huge minority of the country's citizens.

Right now, Obamacare is an article of faith among Republicans that it is a socialist vision with a huge price tag we can't afford. It's equally an article of faith for Democrats that Obamacare must be in place to provide health care to the "needy" (however that is defined).

If you get Congresspeople alone and off the record, you will find that both sides think there are parts of this 2700-page bill that we really need, and some that we'd be better off voiding and starting over. Few exhibit unalloyed happiness about it. The reason we have this is the determination Congress felt, when Democrats controlled both Houses, that we needed to move this bill written by anonymous staffers, and do it without fighting skirmishes over pieces of it with the Republicans. So it was rammed through with no Republican input... or votes.

Can anything be so vexing to a Congressperson as to be unheard because of party affiliation? But, absent some quantifiable leverage such as the House's control of the debt ceiling, there is no input sought or accepted from Congressional Republicans right now, on anything.

And I have perfect confidence that when the pendulum swings back, and Republicans are the majority party again, they will do their damndest to ignore Democrats while pushing their agenda.

The solution is to remove the devices, dodges, processes, practices, and maneuvers that are codified in the chambers' rules that prevent the minority party from being heard - that make compromise so tough. When (or if) we go back to civilly listening to the other side and candidly admitting that they might have some useful ideas too, we might stand a chance of getting the peoples' business done. And when BOTH parties stand behind painful compromises that address our pending fiscal crises, Congresspeople might be able to resist the inborn feeling they need to run for cover.

Come on, Congress. Clean up your act. Compromise. Get the deals done. Stop acting like children. Maybe then you could have a reason to feel as you do - that you're better than the rest of us.


Parents Can't Get No Respect!

Have you noticed how hard it is to find well-mannered young folks with deference to authority?

On our daily walk, my wife and I were discussing some incidents we had observed. Most recently, she had been working with a group of preschoolers for which she is a volunteer reader. Certain members of her group repeatedly attempted to tell teachers what to do and when. They showed absolutely no patience for delayed gratification.  I don't think that's uncommon anymore.

Maybe it's an artifact of the modern two-earner family, where parenting is squeezed in-and-around job responsibilities and whatever social enjoyments young parents may be able to keep up.

Maybe it's an artifact of the modern one-parent household, where a single parent attempts to act as both, as well as maintain a job and a home.

But I've got another idea: maybe it's an artifact of modern humor!

When my kids were small, Brenda and I read to them constantly. One of their favorite series was The Berenstain Bears. I remember grouching that anytime the little bears needed a bad example, all they had to do was observe their dad. Papa Bear eternally exhibited heedless behavior which Mama then had to gently correct and thus show the young bears how they should behave, in situations ranging from keeping a tidy room to withholding negative judgments on bears who were not well-liked.  As a dad myself, I didn't like the use of Papa Bear as a frequent negative example.

Now, I've not studied the topic scientifically, but... after talking on our walk, I came back, unfolded the comics in today's paper (which in our town are a measly single page!), and wrote down this list of daily comic strips that routinely portray the family father as the clueless, shiftless, feckless, thoughtless, or silly one of the family: Blondie, Marvin, For Better or Worse, Dustin, Sally Forth, Baby Blues, Hagar the Horrible, Snuffy, and Zits. If you want to include mothers of that description, some of those and perhaps one or two more would qualify.

Why do we find parents (especially fathers) behaving badly (or uncool) funny?  When did that trend start?

And what are we teaching kids about having respect for their parents?


Trim the 1%

Incensed about the "1%?" Think they own too much of the money and don't pay enough tax? Stop paying them!

While certainly not accounting for all of the moneyed class, the sports stars you idolize are included in it. Their fortune is totally due to the voluntary transfer of wealth from the sports-consuming public to them. They play games you played for free as a kid. But through your purchase of tickets, branded merchandise, endorsed products, and cable TV coverage, they get billions every year.

It's so crazy that even non-players get rich. Dabo Swinney is something of a minor god here in northern SC (in spite of Clemson being squashed in the Orange Bowl). I haven't heard a word in the media regretting his salary and bonuses, which run somewhere around $2 million. Per. Year. Heck, the coach of Boise State just got a RAISE of $375K. The members of the State Board of Education in Idaho, who granted the raise, almost certainly don't make that kind of money themselves. Seven people could comfortably have been employed for that much money, but the Board regarded it as important to get Petersen up to $2 million. Like Swinney.

Need I point out that Swinney and Petersen coach teams of AMATEUR sportsmen?

As a very sad postscript to this story, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) put out a press release in January, 2011, grading Idaho's four public universities which the State Board oversees. Here is part:
It offers a Pass or Fail grade in four key areas: what a college education costs, how the universities are governed, what students are learning and whether the marketplace of ideas is vibrant.
Cost & Effectiveness: F
Governance and Board Accomplishments: Pass/Incomplete
General Education: F
Intellectual Diversity: F
The report finds:
• Undergraduate tuition and fees in the state of Idaho have been outpacing inflation in recent years and taking an increasing bite out of the average household’s income. Meanwhile, retention and graduation rates remain below national averages.
So, Idaho - you're getting failing grades on your colleges, but, by God, you're getting a hell of a football team! Hope you like the trade-off!

In the pros, you get people like Albert Haynesworth, whose $100 million contract made him think he could dictate the defensive scheme to his coach and ended up suspended for the season. Oh yeah, and this is the guy who in 2006 removed an opponent's helmet and stomped on his head.  Now, there's a winner of a 1-percenter! When pay scales are based on satisfying a player's ego as a top practitioner of his position, there is NO upper end except the amount the consuming public wants to pay for its sports addiction. And salving monster-size egos is not a reasonable method for income distribution.

Think your "Occupy" movement will transform matters? Your "Occupy Stadium/Arena" movement is part of the problem! Want to reform the 1%? Start by pushing sports idols out of it; if we can do that, then we'll go after the bankers!


Tax Me!

It's becoming clear to me that there are reasons, good reasons, why we have massive deficits being run up by the Federal Government.  Quite frankly, over time, it has been trying to become the candy shop for just about every demographic... and we, as a nation, have been noticing and changing our behavior.

Is it reasonable to think that you can call for drastic budget cuts and NOT run into interests that have been relying on government help/largess/handouts/bailouts?

Programs (and people) that have the ability to fund themselves have been lulled into accepting government dough for so long that their own budgets are built from the bottom up on HOW MUCH the government is going to give them.  They count on it. And when it looks like it won't materialize some year - they squawk, loudly.

Politicians are human and want to be the nice guys who come with baskets of money, making people happy.  They do not want to be the guys to say, "Sorry, the cupboard is bare."  Then they would become the Bad Guy, and legions of people would yell for them to cut someone else's funds, because, by golly, what WE do is too important to touch!

The local paper frequently carries hot-tempered letters to the editor that deride politicians who just-don't-get the benefits of some program that is being considered for cutbacks.  "Johnny will never learn to read if you take dollars out of this program, and kids are the future, right?"

I confess to having a leaning in that direction myself, when I read what space programs NASA would have to abandon or never launch to meet its projected cuts.  Mea culpa.

So what is the answer?  Let's take this question aside from the usual political process of "kicking the can down the road" (think: Social Security).

The answer, according to people of a certain mindset, is to shake down the rich.  "Tax cuts for the rich!" was one of the most toxic phrases tossed around Washington during the Bush administration.  The people who averred we should tax them more ignore (at least) two important points.

Forbes says the world has 1210 billionaires.  The world, not America. They have a total net worth, collectively, of about $4.5 trillion.  Here's a sobering exercise: go visit http://www.usdebtclock.org/ and watch for a few seconds.  If you emptied their vaults, confiscated their yachts, and took even the last fine Havana cigar from every one of these rich people, you haven't come halfway to paying down the existing Federal debt. We're going to post more than $1 trillion of red ink just this year!

So the first point is: the "rich" don't have enough money to fix the problem.

I would bet that the vast majority of "boomers" (of which I am one) were taught by their parents to stand on their own two feet, to make their own decisions, to accept responsibility for themselves. We learned to want never to appear "needy" - requiring someone's charity just to make ends meet.

The government has been busy undermining that.

For Tax Year 2009, reported in April, 2010, 47% of American earners paid no Federal income tax... or actually received a tax "rebate" (rebate? for taxes not paid?).  According to consulting firm Deloitte Tax, a family of four with two kids under age 17 owed no Fed tax for incomes up to $50,000.  The center cut of the middle class - that is, the middle 20% of households - had incomes ranging from $35,400 to $52,100. This illustrates that even very solidly middle-class earners had no Fed tax liability.

I'm not forgetting payroll taxes for Social Security and MediCare. I'm just talking Federal Income Tax here.  Now, how and why did we reach this point, where nearly half of US households do not contribute to the general pot that funds much of our government? Our legislators are responsible.  They have cut taxes to curry favor, AND they have handed out money for causes they consider "worthy" to curry more favor or to salve their charitable  inclinations.  And everyone who has benefited from this largess has gotten used to it.

I'm under no illusions. The country cannot afford to provide benefits that are not paid for by revenues. (That's why Congress annually raids the Social Security Trust Fund and replaces real money with IOUs. A metaphor I heard recently makes the import of this action clear: If I owe you $10 and you ask for payment, do you care whether I reach in my left or right pocket? What if I label my left pocket "Social Security" and my right pocket "General Revenues"?  No, you just want your $10.  If all I have is $6, I've gotta get a loan somewhere for the rest, because the IOUs from my right pocket that were "paid" to my left pocket can't be used to pay you.  And that's exactly what the country is doing.)

Point Two is that the combination of tax reduction and benefit increase which has resulted in our colossal debt has rendered many of us otherwise patriotic and responsible citizens dependent on the government continuing business as usual.

I realize that after doing taxes this year, we're part of the problem. As a household with two retired people and one college student, by totting up one pension, one Social Security benefit, various dividends and bond interest, occasional work as a Census employee and a commercial audiobook narrator, and capital gains on 401K funds cashed in to provide living funds, we barely creep into the center cut.  And our tax liability this year? Zero.

So the TechSmiths get all the advantages of the Federal government, including defense and highways and... you name it... and they aren't paying for a bit of it. Since our earned income is very low, we've paid next to nothing for Social Security this year... but we're receiving a benefit. (I know that we paid into the fund all those years we worked.)

I'm saying that although our income is not especially opulent, we have money to meet our obligations, fund charities as we wish, and could afford (with good management) to pay taxes. I know that because the government deducted $3,500 from our various income sources and we made-do without it. Then we filed our taxes and got it all back.  Woohoo! Party!

But should I exult in a nice refund? I expected to be taxed and I wasn't.  I feel I should have been taxed: my family consumes services and they have to be paid for.  Why shouldn't I pay?  But I'm like you - just one citizen. If I let the government keep the $3,500 it won't hold back a tenth of a second on the Debt Clock. It's only if all the people like me, in their millions, each pay the $3,500 that we can arrest the Debt Clock (for a little while, at least.)

So, TAX ME!!  I deserve it!


Another Reason We Fail to Educate

OK, we've all discussed the usual culprits out the ying-yang: Not all kids are adequately prepared for school,we're trying to mainstream too many special-needs kids, parents don't stay connected with their kids' schooling, "No Child Left Behind" makes everyone teach to the test (and doesn't award 'E' for effort), the teacher's unions make it impossible to fire poor performers, there's never enough money provided by government... Did I miss any?

Here's a new wrinkle that occurs to me: we're preventing our teachers from leaving.

Without an explanation, you could read any of a number of things into that, but here's where I'm coming from - Many people find out "when they grow up" that they really want to be doing something else. Maybe their profession was a poor pick from the start, or maybe, their interests have ripened and matured and lead in another direction.  Or they retire early, and then discover they want to try something completely different, just to keep their hand in, make some money, and stay relevant.

I've seen this in my own family. My mother trained as an RN and worked half a career at it. Then she went back to school for a library science degree and was a school librarian until she retired. My dad was a civilian engineer in the Engineer Research & Development Laboratory at Ft. Belvoir, VA. He retired early, and a couple years later satisfied an old itch to try surveying by taking a job in a county surveyor's office, until he died just before he turned 61. I spent a career in chemical research and manufacturing, retired early, and am now seeing about starting a second career in recording audio books.

I know lots of the movement between jobs/careers is driven by technology advances and market forces. How many lamplighters or trolley conductors are employed these days? And how many textile mill workers have had to retrain as something else as a result of the industry disappearing offshore?

But how about teachers? Teaching is the ultimate portable profession, because everywhere you go, short of the South Pole (and maybe there!) people are needed to teach/instruct/train/educate other people. So teaching is a good choice if you want to work in a specific place, or want to work wherever you find yourself. It mates well to a spouse with an itinerant profession, like the military, or one that restricts its practice to only certain places, like mining. And although we improve classroom technology with smart boards and such, we still rely on humans to carry much of the load of teaching.

"Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." Forget that old saw! Plenty of capable people take up teaching for the reasons above, or because they love working with kids, or - any of a bunch of reasons. But here's our little gotcha: when you decide to become a teacher, we make it darned tough to change your mind.

While the rest of the country was enduring downsizing, re-engineering, and the change from the traditional pension to 401K's - we insulated our teachers from most of it. If they were bright enough to survive X years of teaching at the early end of their career, they were swept into systems of tenure or into teacher's unions where only the direst circumstances would threaten their jobs. They were promised and awarded valuable benefits that had virtually disappeared from the working world outside of government. Work thirty years and get a pension. Get health care for life. Get opportunities for massively increased pay, if you choose to work more after retirement; I know where you can pick a year's salary for 30 days work post-retirement (I have a family member who enjoys that perk).

Most thoughtful persons agree that we undervalue teachers with respect to pay. As direct shapers of the next generation of workers, teachers have a huge impact on our country, yet we usually don't pay them as if they did. Part of this is explained away by the fact we continue to live with the vestiges of America's agricultural past, where children had to be released from their studies in the summer to help their parents get the crops in. In spite of our urbanized present, we still stick (largely) to this old practice of making education a 9-month-a-year endeavor. There is no doubt that students AND teachers like and appreciate a 3-month break from seeing each other. But paying a 9-month salary means that too many teachers need a second income in the family to live at a middle-class level.

We've added and kept the end-of-career perks noted above to retain teachers in the profession. My opinion is that we can no longer afford to use that device to aid retention. Various states are already flirting with reneging on their contracts with teachers (NJ comes to mind) because they are unsustainable. The accumulated promises far outweigh the money set aside to pay them. (Why? That's politics - and perhaps the focus of a future post!)

Why don't teachers worn out by the succession of education "initiatives" like "No Child Left Behind", worn out by budget cuts for basic supplies they feel compelled to purchase out of their own pockets, or just plain worn out from all the abrasion of dealing with unruly, parents-don't-care kids, leave and take a "real job" somewhere else? Why, when teachers feel a need to start a fresh career doing something else, do they suck it up and stay?

It's because we have too thoroughly given them incentive to stay.

They have "so many" years toward their thirty that they feel they can't afford to throw away all the promises. Even when the promises may well turn out to be hollow.

Remember the beginning of this post? People often change course, make a fresh start, rejuvenate their flagging enthusiasm with a mid-life career change... except in teaching. Teachers are trapped by the promises. Even if they desperately want "out!" of the classroom, those promises stick their feet to the floor. And there is no corresponding incentive to draw in mature workers from the outside, so it is imperative that experienced teachers be retained.

What is my solution?
  • Make teaching a year-round job, so that it commands a 12-month salary. (Do that any way practical! Do away with summer vacations, if necessary, or stagger school sessions on a 4-session per year schedule so that teachers can work even if the students get 3 months off.)
  • Evaluate teaching at all the various levels against productive work in the private sector. 
  • Establish a competitive market salary for someone doing equivalent work at an equivalent level of experience and personal education.
  • PAY at the competitive salary rate.
  • GIVE BENEFITS in accord with private norms.

This will allow the free flow of talent out AND IN to teaching. Retraining to take up a new profession is normal, so you can still expect a midlife changer to get education credentials to become a teacher. But paying the 12-month salary makes teaching a desirable profession for someone who is tired of the routine in industry or commerce. And getting seasoned people who have invested half a career in another field gives new emphasis in schools, because these people have seen what works and what doesn't work.

That's it in a nutshell, folks. We get better, more motivated people in charge of our kids' education when we put teaching on a par with other professions, and don't stack on inducements that only kick in after 30 years!