Working Overtime

by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, February 17, 2011

I am the son of teachers. My dad was a professor of psychology for 35+ years at Michigan State University. My mom was a Grammy-award winning choir director who taught at all levels of education. Growing up, I never was deprived of much. As public sector employees, they earned a reasonable salary and received reasonable benefits. They were home when I went to school, and they were home when I returned. Plus, they had summers off (though dad often taught summer courses).

So, I am quite intrigued and dismayed by the recent action of the Wisconsin governor toward public sector employees, and, in particular, school teachers.

Some may think that public sector teachers are getting rich off taxpayers. But, let's look at what compensation public sector school teachers do and do not receive.

Unlike most private sector employees, there is no promotional ladder to climb that promises higher compensation and benefits. A human resources professional can go from a specialist to a generalist to a VP of HR. An AP History teacher in 1995 will still be an AP History teacher in 2005, 2015, and 2025 (if they are still teaching). There is no corner office one can strive to achieve. He or she cannot aspire to the Senior Executive VP of AP History.  At best, there will be negotiated salary increases from year to year.

Unlike some private sector employees, school teachers receive no double digit percentage raises for excellent performance. Kids score higher on the statewide test or on the ACT, the teacher is not going to be showered with incentives.

Unlike some private sector employees, school teachers receive no profit sharing when the school district does well.

Unlike some private sector employees, school teachers do not receive stock options that could blossom down the road. There is no IPO money available for the local high school.

Unlike some private sector employees, school teachers are not offered a 4-5 digit signing bonus to teach 4th grade science.

Unlike some private sector employees, school teachers do not receive significant perquisites at their workplace. My grandma's neighbor use to work at Stouffer's and her refrigerator was stocked with the latest food stuffs. Another friend worked for Chrysler and would get significant discounts on the latest automobile. School teachers don't get a discount on pens or erasers. There are no free Post-It Notes. Postal workers do not get stamps at a 40% discount.

Certainly, those who choose the teaching profession because they are passionate about what they do. They are not expecting an extravagant compensation package. However, a social contract developed over several decades that basically said please take care of our children, and we will provide you with quality health care and a strong defined benefit plan (which was a common benefit offering in the private sector as little as 30 years ago).

That social contract is in danger of being broken.

What is a school teacher really worth? Who will choose to teach your children as those rights earned over decades of negotiation are challenged and eroded?


by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In my efforts as professor, I have always been interested in the effect altering class policies and changing incentives has on student behavior. I fiddle around with changing attendance policies, the grading scale, the number of exams, the point values of exams to see the impact on how students approach the class.

For the past few semesters in the statistics class I teach, I've asked students to fill out a survey telling me things such as the name they liked to be called, their e-mail, etc. One question I've asked recently is "what specific goal is your grade for the class?" Assuming that students are not exactly thrilled about taking the subject, and assuming the students have the foresight to know it is a tough subject, I've expected an array of answers crossing the spectrum of the grading scale. However, the Lake Wobegon effect has held true, and the students have responded with very high opinions of themselves. Last semester, some 65 students answered, on average, a goal of 3.77 on a 4.0 scale (while the final average grade was a 2.77....I'm sure there were quite a few disappointed souls).

This semester is no different. Once again, the average grade goal was 3.77. In one section 23 (of 31) students had an A for their goal, with another 4 stating an "AB." In the second section, 18 (of 28) listed an "A" as their goal with another 8 listing an "AB." Only one student across two sections listed a grade below a "B."

I added a new question this semester, asking students, "What specific grade do you expect to receive in this class?" immediately after the question about their grade goal. Were students confident in their stated goal, or did they have high aspirations, but knew they realistically might not achieve them? 86% (51 out of 59) thought they would receive the grade they set as a goal.

So, the results beg a number of questions:
1. Is there a student grapevine? When I was choosing classes as an undergraduate, I would ask around about which professor to take, and how difficult he or she might be. Whenever I return exams, students always compare their scores to the person next to them. Are students sharing this information outside of the classroom as well? Do students really know how difficult the class might be?
2. Should we be managing expectations of students? Should I publish the average grade of previous semesters in my syllabi each semester, so that students know what grade they are likely to earn? Should the average grade be published when students register for classes (along with teacher ratings)? What other efforts should be made to temper student expectations?
3. What role does external or internal locus of control play?

I'm sure there is a study in here somewhere.

Waiting for the Siren's Call

by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, February 1, 2011

These are heady times in our little hamlet called Green Bay. The excitement is palpable as our football team is playing in Super Bowl XLV. Everywhere you turn, people are dressed in green and gold and conversation inevitably turns to what will happen in this weekend's game.

However, some are taking this weekend's festivities a bit far. At least one Green Bay organization is experiencing a significant number of personal and family illness days being submitted for Friday, February 4, 2011, and Monday, February 7, 2011. Amazing how people can anticipate being sick several days in advance.

With 85-90% of TVs in this area expected to be turned to the Super Bowl on Sunday, it is understandable that absence might be a little higher the day after, especially if the home town Packers emerge victorious.

So, how does your organization handle absenteeism on the day after the Super Bowl? Will cases of personal and family illness be subject to verification by a doctor?

Confession: I will be attending the game and flying back from Dallas on Monday. So, count me as absent.