The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Politics

March 2, 2013

Education secretary deserves failing grade for claim on "pink slips" for teachers

(Continued)

The administration has been on thin ice with some of its claims about the impact of the sequestration cuts. Duncan’s assertion that “as many as 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs” also appears to be hyperbole.

An aide to Duncan described it as a “rough back-of-the-envelope calculation,” derived by dividing the average pay and benefits of a teacher — $70,000 — by the amount — $2.8 billion — that needed to be cut in education programs.

But that amounts to false precision. A good chunk of that $2.8 billion has little to do with teachers. Teacher salaries vary greatly across the nation and within districts. School districts and states may find many ways to juggle funds or reduce expenses to avoid losing many teachers, which is what has happened during previous periods of financial stress.

The American Association of School Administrators released a report, based on a survey, that estimates that “at least 37,000 education jobs” would be lost through sequestration. That at least is based on something more than a rough calculation.

But note that the group refers to “education jobs,” not teachers. We have previously found that 67 percent of education jobs could be broadly defined as being held by teachers or teaching assistants. That would translate into a reduction of about 25,000 teachers, based on AASA’s survey data.

There is little debate that across-the-board spending cuts in education funding will cause pain for some schools and states. But there is no reason to hype the statistics — or to make scary pronouncements on pink slips being issued based on misinformation.

Indeed, Duncan’s lack of seriousness about being scrupulously factual undercuts the administration’s claim that the cuts are a serious problem.

Duncan made this claim not once, not twice, but three times. Let this be a teachable moment for him: Next time, before going on television, check your facts.

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