There they go again.

Thousands of teachers descended on Raleigh a few days ago to air their grievances before the General Assembly. Foremost among the protesters’ demands, as you might expect, is a significant increase in compensation for educators and support staff.

According to recent polling on the matter, most North Carolinians agree with the teachers. In a High Point University/News & Record poll three weeks ago, 75% of respondents expressed the belief that public school teachers are paid too little. In fact, 60% of respondents said they would agree to a tax increase in order to “raise teacher pay to the national average in five years.”

A few days later, a liberal organization called Public Policy Polling revealed the results of its own survey, in which 69% of the respondents expressed the belief that teacher salaries in North Carolina are too low.

I was not called to participate in either poll, but I have a few thoughts on the matter.

To begin with, the timing of the protest was not ideal. May 1 was not a scheduled day off for students. The N.C. Association of Educators chose to conduct the rally on a school day, which prompted disgruntled teachers and staff members to request the day off in order to attend the protest. Consequently, most school systems in the state canceled classes with short notice. Rarely mentioned is the inconvenience inflicted on thousands of parents of young children — parents forced to either take the day off work themselves, or scramble to arrange child care.

Mark Jewell, the president of the educators association, said, “We will never apologize for advocating on behalf of our most precious citizens: our children.”

But it is far from certain that the group’s highest priority is children. We rarely hear the organization lament — or strive to do anything about — the mediocre academic performance of public school students. The educators association’s objective is — and always has been — to increase funding for public education (and to increase teacher salaries). It has often succeeded in acquiring additional taxpayer money, but academic performance remains stagnant.

The purpose of public education is not to provide high-paying jobs but to teach children the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic. By any objective measure, our public schools are failing about half of the students. Why should we reward teachers for lackluster results?

Speaking of academic struggles, the unfortunate truth is, those who choose to teach are a far cry from the “best and brightest.” Syndicated columnist Walter Williams recently spoke to the issue: “The major selected by the most ill-prepared students, sadly enough, is education. When students’ SAT scores are ranked by intended major, education majors place 26th on a list of 38.”

According to the National Education Association, average teacher pay in North Carolina is about $54,000 a year, which ranks 29th in the nation. I suspect that most people, if told they could work 10 months a year doing something they love, and make $54,000, would leap at the opportunity. Most would be content, if not elated. Very few, I suspect, would be protesting.

For the sake of comparison, the average pay for police officers in North Carolina is $47,000 a year, and the average for firefighters in the state is $37,130 a year. One could conceivably argue that teachers deserve more money than cops and firefighters, but that’s a steep hill to climb.

The educator association’s protest has drawn token criticism from some people on the right, which Jewell responds to by asking, “Why is it a left-wing agenda for kids to have a textbook?”

Why is it a right-wing agenda to expect kids to be able to read, write and understand basic math?

Charles Davenport Jr. is a News & Record columnist. His column is published the first and third Sundays of the month. Contact him at cdavenportjr@hotmail.com.

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