The Gender Gap Might Really Be The Arts Gap

There was a great study reported on by Huffington Post this past week, which you can find here. Basically, the results of this study illustrate the disparity in women’s earnings based on their high school GPA, which indicate a clear trend and illustrate a gender gap.

The problem I have with this study is that it dangerously provokes the notion that one’s career pay should be directly tied to their abilities as a student in school. It’s almost as if the article is suggesting that the entirety of a person’s abilities are represented by their GPA, which of course couldn’t be more wrong. You can’t compare the salaries of males and females based on their high school GPA and use it to highlight the existence of a Gender Gap. The two statistics have basically nothing to do with each other.

I use this phrase a lot, but let’s stop kidding ourselves. Men and women are biologically different and they are raised differently. Let’s also stop kidding ourselves by telling our children that good grades means a good college, which means a good education, which means a good job. The process is far more complicated than that, and it’s actually funny that this study has tried to boil it down to one’s high school GPA. The highest paying jobs are not ones that girls are typically encouraged to explore from a young age.  Forget about pay grade, just think about sheer numbers: the number of women in technology, science, and business are far lower than their male counterparts. The fact that women aren’t in these fields has nothing to do with inequality or their high school GPA, it has to do with how we raise and encourage our girls. Since these are frequently high paying jobs, of course women don’t make as much across our population.

I think it’s valuable to explore the field of medicine, since females have a heavy presence in medicine but are the most populous by far in nursing and family care than surgery or specialized diagnosis. Why? What makes more females go into nursing than any other sector of medicine? Med school applications in 2011 were split evenly between men and women, and enrollment was actually slightly in favor of women. What are we doing differently with this industry, that is clearly heavily science related, that we’re not doing in any other area? I think it’s because the ways women are naturally talented regarding the nurturing and care for the human body is something that is heavily valued in the healthcare industry. Not only are women financially rewarded in this industry, but they’re also morally rewarded. It also doesn’t hurt when a woman says from a young age that they want to become a nurse or physician, she is also heavily encouraged. If the same girl were to say that she wants to become a scientist or start her own technology company, the reaction would likely be different.

We can also examine the entertainment industry, specifically in music, where the playing field couldn’t be more even. Women have tremendous success in the music industry, and while some might argue it has a lot to do with sex appeal, I don’t buy that at all. Women are naturally more expressive, compassionate, and emotional than men are. These are key traits to anyone’s artistic expression which could explain why women are so successful in many artistic fields, including music. Of course, most artists, male AND female, make far less than their counterparts in business and finance. Superstar celebrities aside, art is a hobby to the grand majority of talent, not a career.

See, I think the Gender Gap is a convenient way to talk about a much larger problem in American society: the deplorable lack of respect for the arts. Despite the continuing effect of incredible marketing campaigns, creative uses of social media, and superb branding, our country continues to devalue the work of talented artists. Some great art and design is taken for granted by many people, especially in the culinary and software industries. Maybe it’s not women that the Gender Gap exposes as unfairly treated, but the skills and talents that women naturally possess more of. There’s a reason the “starving artist” is a stereotypical image of a creative type, and it has little to do with gender.

In an era where we see art programs being taken away in high schools across the country, I only see this problem getting worse, not better. Many will argue about the difference in pay between men and women of the same career, which I think will even out within the next 50 years: keep in mind women only entered the workforce en masse in recent history. Certain personality traits do have an impact on salary, like aggressiveness, but I believe that between better education with this issue and better training for women entering the workforce, this will change. What won’t change, however, is our society’s value proposition of the arts. Many shrewd businesspeople approach art with the notion that, “if it doesn’t make money, it’s not worth a dime.” The thing is, marrying art and technology in a successful way have created some of the biggest businesses of the 21st century, and eventually people will realize that it doesn’t take someone named Steve Jobs to understand how valuable this is.

Questions For Zuckerberg’s $100M Waste

In case you’re not aware, the New Yorker recently wrote an article regarding Mark Zuckerberg’s $100M donation (Business Insider summary linked here) to Newark and its failure to actually do anything useful. You should check that out before reading below.

It’s important to understand when you’re defeated. The climate change naysayers have experienced that feeling in a big way this past week, seeing the report from the national climate assessment and the inevitable 10 foot sea level rise in as little as 200 years. Hopefully, they will put their egos and fake science behind them and realize that they’re doing more harm than good by clinging to what can no longer be considered a belief. I see this event as one of these moments for education. Mark Zuckerberg, who had completely great intentions and ideas, gave a medium sized city $100M to fix its schools. In three and a half years it’s vanished.

As far as I’m concerned, and trust me, I have my qualms against some teachers, but the people working in the classrooms of this District are completely excused from any fault regarding this issue. They do not allocate the funds, they do not have say over their use, and thus they are not responsible for the disappearing fortune. The blame for wasting $100M fall squarely on the heads of the administration, with some side blame falling to the feet of the third party organizations receiving funding.  So let’s explore some hard questions we need to start asking about our schools that some of these administrators could answer.

Why does the District feel it needs to spend so much money on consulting?

People always complain about spending money on consultants, third party professional development, and guest speakers. It’s easy to complain. A more important question is why do schools feel like they need to? There are only three answers: pressure, incompetence, or corruption. I’m an optimist and maybe a little naive, so I’m not going to talk about number three. The first two factors, however, are real. Schools feel pressure from outside sources to succeed, so they turn to outside sources to get them there. There will always be pressure for one reason or another, so this will not go away. Schools must learn to deal with this pressure appropriately.

The issue of incompetence is one that can be remedied. It’s a sad state when the administration of the public schools in all of Newark feels it does not have enough expertise within the organization to the point where it also feels the need to hire $20M worth of consulting. Part of the problem may be that the talent doesn’t exist to be hired, but I don’t buy that. Even if it didn’t exist, a homegrown solution, one that is conceived within the District for the District, will have infinitely more pull than one composed by a third party. Take teacher evaluation, one of the tasks consultants were hired for by Newark. If a group of outstanding teachers from within the District were asked to develop an evaluation system for the teachers within its walls, and this proposal was taken to the administration in charge of the schools, then a few things start to occur. First, this system by nature is better than one written by a third party, since it’s tailor-made for the specific needs of Newark. Second, the District hired PR specialists to aid in what I’m sure is negative press regarding the District and its infusion of cash; these people would no longer be necessary due to the incredibly positive press that would be generated by a teacher-created system.

It’s important for schools to realize this and take the example from the rest of the world. Apple doesn’t bring in third party designers for their products: they are the experts. If a school district doesn’t believe it has an expert in multiple areas it needs help with, the answer is not to hire consultants for $1,000 per day, it’s to hire new staff. We need to, as an entire educational field, start becoming the experts ourselves.

Why do schools pay consultants such a ridiculous amount of money?

I do not have a price list for services rendered, but the article cites that some consultants charged $1000 per day of work.  That is absolutely ludicrous. Teacher’s are offered a per diem rate of between $120 – $280 for things like curriculum design, committee participation over the summer, and what not, depending on their school district. Why on earth are we paying consultants between five and eight times this amount? Surely, a school can find something more useful to pay a teacher to do for a week over the summer than whatever a consultant would be doing in one day. Is the best use of $20M truly on consulting? Absolutely not, but administrators are more likely to listen to marketing pitches from consulting firms than insights from actual educators. It’s almost as if the consulting firms waltz into the offices of administrators and swindle them into believing that they deserve $1000 per day, and then drag their work out over an extended period of time to take further advantage of them. Wait a second…that’s exactly what happens! Schools really need to learn to say no to these people and hold them accountable for the work they’re hired to do, just like schools need to learn to hold their own staff accountable for what they do; teachers and administrators.

Why are we spending money on things like buying out teacher contracts?

Let’s not forget where part of the other $37M went – buying out teacher contracts. There are three universal things that every single educator would agree upon makes for a better learning situation: teacher to student ratio, parent involvement, and a safe school environment. We can’t buy the last two but we can certainly buy the first one. I could do infinitely better if all of a sudden there were 7 students in each one of my classes. Imagine if a Newark teacher had the time to follow up at home, something notoriously difficult with city schools, or really get to know a kid and help him or her find out what they’re good at? This is not universally possible with 26 kids per class, so I find it ridiculous that an enormous chunk of this money was spent on buying out teachers when it could have been spent on hiring more.

How will this district be held accountable for their actions?

Schools need to start asking this question more frequently. How can folks be held accountable for their performance? Surely, the superintendent of this school district must be fired, right? The mayor? The superintendent’s cabinet? Someone? I’ll tell you what, if I wasted a $100M dollar investment for my company, I’d fire myself for my own good. I don’t think I’m the only person in a leadership role that would do that. Unfortunately, schools don’t even have the capacity to fire ineffective employees, let alone ineffective leadership.

How come nobody in charge of spending this money actually does anything?

At some point, someone has to get dirty. Let me explain how this process works: superintendent allocates funds for development of initiative A at school. District administrators in charge of initiative A then outline a plan for implementation at school. School administrators then receive plan and develop plan to adapt it to school. Plan is distributed to teachers who may or may not follow it, are not accountable for following it, and usually have no reason to care about it. Superintendent and/or district administrators observe implementation of plan for a day or two, say some words of praise about it, and never return to the school.

This is simply not good enough. It’s insane. If a superintendent or administrator really wants to implement a plan at a school, he or she should be in charge of personally seeing to its completion. The handoff system we have in place is not only not productive, it breeds indifference, incompetence, and by the time the plan is actually implemented, it suffers from the telephone effect and is likely a shadow of its original intent. The level of disconnect administrators have with their various initiatives and programs is mind boggling. Film directors are involved at almost every level of detail within their movie, Zuckerberg coded most of Facebook himself before he was more useful doing other things, and even chiefs of fire departments go into burning houses. People in charge of schools? Basically nothing. I’m not sure why it’s tolerated.

 

There are many important questions to ask and consequences to impose surrounding this tremendous waste of money. I would be lying if I didn’t say I sincerely hope everyone in charge of spending that money is fired. It’s simply unacceptable to throw away $100M with no consequences. In the bigger picture, however, we need to start asking these uncomfortable questions about our administrative structure in education. Any system that can waste this much money is clearly not in the best interest of our students, even if they all have good intentions. Good intentions don’t produce results, as beautifully exemplified by the $100M waste.

 

Badass Chick of the Year

I like to highlight awesome ladies in science and technology because the girls in my classes really need role models. They need them badly. If men in the science and tech industries are harangued by stereotypes, the women have it worse, and even more so when you look at media coverage of the biggest IPOs, announcements, and tech products. Each year, I pick one lady to highlight as the “Badass Chick of the Year”, a spinoff to the Z-100 radio station’s “Badass Chick of the Day”. Admittedly, most of this usually falls to Marie Curie, who was awesome, but I was happy to find one in the programming area for my computer science classes.

This years award goes to… (drumroll please) …

 Lyndsey Scott: Underwear model and…Software Developer?

I thought my professional combination was strange, but this one makes mine look pedestrian. Lyndsey Scott is not only an underwear model and a software developer, she’s a damn good software developer. I’ve interacted with her on Stackoverflow numerous times: her insight to problem solving is typically concise, informed, and efficient. What I love about Lyndsey is she’s turned her second passion, development, into a valuable trait for her modeling career. She’s able to develop her own websites and encrypt her photo assets, amongst other technologically important things.

I know many are about to ask, “do we really want to encourage our girls to become underwear models?” The answer, perhaps not so obviously, is “only if they’re truly passionate about it,” but that’s what Lyndsey represents. She pursued both of her passions, modeling and programming, to extremely successful and lucrative ends. Just this last piece is the true definition of success: pursuing one’s passions to lucrative and successful ends, be it financially or emotionally. To me, a role model is anyone who has identified one of their passions and within five seconds of talking to them, you immediately know it. For girls, this is incredibly important, since high school is a time when young ladies are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure. While young men generally have their time of self discovery towards the end of their high school or beginning of college careers, the girls generally develop sooner, and high school is the time when they come into their own. Demonstrating real ability to stay true to oneself and follow one’s passions is of vital importance in my opinion, and that’s why this highlight exists. This, combined with the obstacles facing women in the tech industry today, is more than enough to warrant selecting Lyndsey Scott as the badass chick of the year.

NC Tenure Abolishment: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

First, have a read about the abolishment of tenure in North Carolina.

The Good

Teachers, let’s be real. Tenure is a ridiculous benefit to our job that in all honesty does not incentivize us to strive towards excellence. Let’s all admit it together. Almost every compensation package in the world has a structure that rewards success, except ours. If we want to be taken seriously, this benefit needs to go, and it needs to be replaced by something fair in its stead. Figuring out what that is will be a long struggle, but an important one for our profession. The first step, however, is to accept the fact that tenure will be phased out over the course of the next many years, and that this, while being a scary thing for everyone personally, is actually a good thing professionally.

The Bad

The replacement implemented by this plan in North Carolina is absolutely ridiculous. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about the abolishment of tenure, saying that if the country wants to abolish tenure, that’s fine. But then they have to pay teachers like they pay everyone else. Teacher entry pay is fine, but our ceiling is severely restricted. You can’t become rich on a teacher salary. In exchange for that possibility, many people willingly trade it for job security. Without job security or the possibility to accumulate wealth, nobody in their right mind would want to become a teacher. The goal of the abolishment of tenure is to attract top end talent to the profession and reward teachers who strive for excellence, not to drive people away. This plan will achieve the latter.

The replacement in North Carolina is an exchange of four year contracts worth, *gasp*, $5,000 in additional pay. I’m not a mathematician, but that amounts to a little less than an extra pay check each year.  Forgive me if I’m a NC teacher and I’m not exactly jumping for joy. This is an unacceptable replacement.  I like the idea of awarding contracts of varied lengths to teachers, and I think if tenure is going to be removed, this is a good place to start. $5,000 additional pay over four years, however, is basically insulting. They need to rethink that one.

The Ugly

The uproar here is going to grow, and it’s already begun. Some districts in NC are suing the state for forcing them to implement this requirement, and I can’t say I blame them. This frequently happens every time a new set of standardized exams are rolled out *cough* Common Core *cough*, but this is different. Nobody’s wallets are influenced by common core standards, and teachers’ wallets are already restricted. This is likely to get worse before it gets better. It’s a progressive move, but the exchange proposed here is an insult to teachers, and it does not accomplish the goal of abolishing tenure, it accomplishes the opposite.

Here’s a different idea: play on the teacher retirement plans. We’ll concede tenure, but match our retirement plan contributions. Allow us to contribute more into the pension fund in exchange for a greater payout on retirement. Many companies match percentages of employee contributions to 401(k)s, why not schools? This would allow teachers a greater shot at wealth accumulation they are trading by not joining a different profession, and it would spread out the payroll costs since it wouldn’t require up front investment from the schools. Also, teachers fear that schools will fire them right before retirement so they don’t get their pension, which is a valid concern, since it happens. We need to punish this if it happens, because it’s not right. A teacher’s reward for decades of service should not be unemployment. Perhaps you structure the deals so that there’s a minimum contract term for teachers over certain ages with certain amounts of experience.

These are just some thoughts on what is an imminent change in our profession. There are a lot of kinks to be worked out, as demonstrated in North Carolina which is proposing an unacceptable solution, but they must be worked out. Tenure hardly makes sense from a performance-based perspective, and while it’s easy to be concerned because we’re comfortable with it, it’s hard to declare it beneficial for the teaching profession.

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