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Excuse me, your values are showing

Last week’s sports pages were full of reports about salary settlements with some of professional football’s top quarterbacks. Former NC State player Russell Wilson, for instance, became football’s second-highest-paid player, signing an $87.1 million four-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks. Closer to home, Charlotte Panther’s quarterback Cam Newton will have to make do with a mere $60 million over the next four years.

The news reports reminded me of a recent comedy skit that went viral on the Internet. In it, two comedians pose as reporters covering the national teacher draft day and reporting on salaries paid to free agent teachers lured by signing bonuses and generous salaries to other districts.

If you let your imagination run rampant, picture news stories reporting that all three major TV networks are carrying live during prime time the first 10 picks of the National Teacher Draft Day. North Carolinians are thrilled that the first college grad to be drafted was Jane Doe, a calculus major from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She’s graduating with a 3.95 grade point average, and while in college she tutored 15 at-risk, inner-city high school students in Durham. All went on to become National Merit Scholars and all will enter college in the fall. As a member of the top ten draft picks, Doe will be guaranteed a signing bonus of $500,000 and a starting salary of at least $1 million. 

Imagine it gets even better when CNN announces that it is running a special on how Raleigh’s Enloe High School scored a major victory when they managed to sign John Doe, last year’s National Science Teacher of the Year to a contract giving him a $1 million signing-bonus and a salary of $4 million a year for the next four years. Doe has been teaching in Scarsdale, New York, a wealthy suburban school district outside of New York City. In a joint statement the principal of Enloe High and the superintendent of Wake County announced that they intend to build a world class science program that will rival any in the country and that they are scouring free agency rosters around the country to attract more top-notch science talent to Wake County.

Absurd you say? That’s what makes it a great comic skit. At the same time a pro football quarterback can command $20 million-plus a year, North Carolina lawmakers are struggling to get teacher salaries up to $35,000 a year.

Also, at the same time North Carolina has eliminated scholarships for college students willing to become teachers, this fall ACC schools, including Chapel Hill, NC State, Duke, and Wake Forest, will begin giving scholarship athletes spending money on top of their free room, board, and tuition. The spending money is designed to improve their college experience.

In North Carolina and across the country our actions make crystal clear what values we hold dear. We lavishly reward the athletes who provide us with sports entertainment we value so highly. On the other hand we are unwilling to spend even modestly on those things we value little. Until, or if, our values change, teacher draft days, signing bonuses, and high salaries will continue to be fodder for comedians because they are so completely unrelated to our reality, or to the reality of those who teach in our schools.

John Dornan

Education advocate. International traveler. Photographer. Reader.

John Dornan was the founding executive director of the North Carolina Public School Forum, serving from 1986 to 2011. A native of Pennsylvania, Dornan’s career spanned a variety of positions related to education over 46 years.