Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thomas Friedman's Tax Cut for Teachers: Almost a Great Idea

If you don't know who Thomas Friedman is, you have quite a bit of catching up to do and you can begin with his website. In addition to his must-read monographs including The Lexus and the Olive Tree, The World is Flat and his latest, Hot, Flat and Crowded, Friedman's body of work includes an Op-Ed column for the New York Times. I happen to read his column regularly and I highly recommend it for educational leaders.

Several days ago I settled in with my laptop for my usual Friedman read on the NY Times website and discovered a column that brought a big, but temporary, smile to my face: Tax Cuts for Teachers. Thomas Friedman hasn't forgotten about us! I won't give away all the details of the article - you should read it. I will say, though, Friedman does pitch a stimulus idea certain to make teachers almost everywhere in America smile: "One of the smartest stimulus moves we could make would be to eliminate federal income taxes on all public schoolteachers so more talented people would choose these careers." This idea, I believe would serve not only as an economic stimulus for a hardworking and deserving sector of the American workforce but also possibly as an educational stimulus by keeping teachers in education or by attracting qualified professionals into the teaching field.

Mr. Friedman, here's my problem with your idea. The only teachers who would smile about this idea are those in public schools because you have omitted from your plan some of the best teachers in the nation, independent school teachers, who also happen to be grossly underpaid, even by standards in the teaching profession. Independent schools typically strive, and often struggle, to pay their teachers between 70% and 90% of the local public school district salaries. If we can agree that public school teachers aren't paid enough, surely we can agree that independent school teachers also are underpaid. Furthermore, independent schools, like public schools, would love to keep the best teachers and attract additional highly-qualified professionals.

Perhaps, Mr. Friedman, this line in your column is the result of an oversight, a simple errant omission. On behalf of independent educators and independent schools, I hope so. If a valid argument exists for proposing the tax cut for public school teachers only, I certainly would be willing to entertain the argument. I'm sure independent school teachers also would be interested in the argument.

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