Many Long Island taxpayers are now in need of classes on stress management and yoga themselves after they found out, thanks to an exhaustive story in Sunday's Newsday, that schoolteachers are banking big raises by taking those "professional development" courses, as well as classes on golf, wine and other subjects not crucial to teaching children.
Although the details vary, public school teachers on Long Island generally get raises between $2,000 and $2,500 annually for every 15 credits they earn from courses approved by district administrators. But many teachers, it turns out, earn the credits with courses that are unrelated to their careers or seemingly bogus.
The story revealed that teachers have earned professional credits for visiting railroad museums, learning "Golf Basics," taking "I'm so Stressed I Could Scream," reading articles online, enjoying 10-day trips to Australia and Costa Rica, and more. And about two-thirds of Long Island districts have no cap on how many "courses" teachers can take in a year. One Roslyn teacher finished 22 courses in a year, while a Connetquot teacher zoomed through 10 in a month.
Taking such courses to increase one's pay is both an attack on the taxpayers and a vicious slam against those teachers who take the right classes to become better educators. Much of the blame falls on administrators who blindly approve practically every course teachers submit, no matter how silly or unrelated it is.
Teachers deserve raises when they pursue education that can make them better at their jobs. In fact, teachers deserve raises when they get better at their jobs, whether it's because they took more classes or simply improved. But teachers do not deserve raises for gaming the system with courses that are meaningless or outside the scope of their professional responsibilities.
State law requires educators to obtain a master's degree within five years of beginning to teach, and they get raises as they move toward that goal, and when they achieve it. Separately, teachers hired since 2004 must complete 175 hours of professional development every five years. That requirement is often watered down by districts counting staff meetings for at least part of that time -- though at least those don't lead to raises.
Lots of teachers take courses that help them teach. They should be rewarded, just as those taking silly, senseless offerings to boost their paychecks should be jeered. But the education establishment has created this "one-size-fits-all" system of tenure and pay, and in this case the unions' and educators' reputations are being hoisted by their own petard.
The easiest way to draw a line is to reward teachers who earn advanced degrees in their fields, but not to award raises every time 15 credits are earned. More complex, but also reasonable, would be creating an approved list that lays out what kinds of continuing education courses will help teachers earn raises. But the scams have to stop, for the sake of the students, the taxpayers and the devoted teachers who get painted with the broad brush of callousness earned by their colleagues.