On Sunday, the New York Times ran a piece from local-boy-makes-better Thomas Friedman, in which he called for an end to the federal income tax for teachers.
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. I’d also double the salaries of all highly qualified math and science teachers, staple green cards to the diplomas of foreign students who graduate from any U.S. university in math or science — instead of subsidizing their educations and then sending them home — and offer full scholarships to needy students who want to go to a public university or community college for the next four years.
Philip Greenspun, the former MIT computer guy and educatior, takes Friedman to task today.
Were we to implement the tax break immediately, 100% of the benefits would flow to existing teachers because no new ones will be hired until September. Friedman implies that these existing teachers are untalented because they are paid so little (topping out at just over $100,000 per year after 22 years, or age 44 for the typical person who starts after college) I don’t think he believes that the untalented will do a better job without the distraction of paying federal income tax, so perhaps he is holding out hope for five years from now. In September 2009, a truly talented young person, hearing about this tax break, will decide to go to a teacher’s college to pursue a Bachelor’s in Education. In September 2013 that person will have graduated and be ready to work. Assuming an average career length of 30 years, by 2014 fully 3 percent of our schoolteachers will be the talented ones attracted by the tax break and taxpayers will only be wasting 97 percent of their money by paying the untalented legacy schoolteachers extra.
Neither mentioned a dilemma that I didn’t think about either, until I was out at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington a few weeks ago. Gary Gillin, the Dean of Communication & Enrollment and Amber Luinenburg, the campus marketer, were giving me a tour of the campus, which featured some well-equipped labs for plant research. We also discussed the the nursing program.
In both cases, I remarked about the demand for both in today’s economy; biofuels and nursing are growth areas.
“You have to have the passion for whatever career you’re going to go into,” both stressed to me. It was a light-bulb moment then, as it was when I read Friedman’s column.
The dilemma? How do you attract people to an industry as important as teaching without making it about the money? And what is the point at which the passion for what you do becomes secondary to the monetary benefit you derive from doing it? Is it possible to provide a financial incentive without ending up with people who are only doing something for the money?
Somewhat related: Be sure to read Elizabeth Baier’s excellent story today on highly-educated immigrants who came to the United States, only to start from scratch. On the one hand, we want talented people to go into particular careers. On the other, we present significant obstacles to the ones who want to.