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Monday, September 27, 2010

We Don’t Need No Education

Unfortunately, cable and network stations have been on a run, presenting the EDUCATIONAL PROBLEM that faces America. And if you like, as I do, to watch MSNBC (sorry, Dan, no FUXNEWS for me) to get really pissed off with politicians or with the hosts of the show Mika, Joe Bellino Calves, Brzezninski, Willie, My Dad Got Me This Job, Geist, or Joe, When I Was in Congress, Scarborough, any of the scurrilous republicans who come on to present their non-ideas, or the occasional know-nothing democrats, you have seen a parade of educational big wheels, like Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, who the best I can figure never spent one minute as a full time teacher in a public school, Joel Klein, New York’s Chancellor of Schools, who the best I can figure never taught one second in a public school, beginning his work career as a law clerk and then starting his own firm, and Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of DC Public Schools, who is all of 41 years old, spent 3 years teaching in Teach for America (which advertises being a source of well-trained teachers {Rhee was trained as a government wannabe not as a teacher} and gives bonuses of 5300 dollars for each year served beyond pay and benefits), has her BA in government, Cornell, her MA in public policy, Harvard, and a salary of 275K. No shit, our national educational leader and the leaders of two major cities, have a combined teaching history of 3 fucking years. And they are on news telling me how public education ought to be. In all this conversation, which of course is politically motivated due to upcoming elections (politicians really don't care a whit about public education or it would not be in the mess it is in), there are themes that seem to be pressed by the likes of Scarborough: teachers’ unions are to be blamed for poor education for supporting tenure and not supporting performance bonuses; and Duncan: teacher-evaluation should be linked to student achievement thus national, single-test assessment is necessary and valid. Both theories are spurious and both Scarborough and Duncan exhibit an abyss of ignorance about public education.

The point about teachers’ unions is not quite as simple as the simple-minded Scarborough wants to make it. As far as I am concerned an organization is not a union unless it has a right to strike. According to the Alleghany Institute for Public Policy’s white paper, thirty-seven states have laws which prohibit teachers from striking. Plus strikes by teachers have steadily decreased since 1975 and Pennsylvania accounts for sixty percent of all strikes in the nation. There are two major teachers’ professional organizations in the United States: the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) which arguably represents mostly teachers in urban areas in states where strikes are permitted and the National Education Association of Teachers (NEA) which is represented in all 50 states. Fundamentally, both groups are lobbyists for the millions of teachers who go to work every day. Both groups provide as part of their dues liability insurance and legal representation. In the two states in which I worked, the NEA was the main association, and it was a pure lobbying group and a main provider of legal assistance for teachers enduring contract disputes, wrongful firings, and or liability actions. But in neither state is the NEA a union. In neither state do teachers have any rights to increase benefits, pay, or working conditions. Those powers are vested solely in the state, county, or local boards. In effect, and for nearly 30 years that was my experience, teachers assemble bargaining teams from their ranks and go in supplication for benefits, raises, or improved job conditions. I was on about a dozen negotiation teams during my time as a professional and at no time did I find a board’s team willing to say that their teachers were doing an excellent job and therefore, deserved a sizable increase in salary or benefits. At the state levels, where I did not negotiate, similar bargaining occurred with similar attitudes. In Maryland and in Delaware the entire power to fund and to determine work place environment rests in the hands of appointed boards, in the former state, and in elected boards in the latter. I was always on record as being opposed to striking even if law permitted it. (What a schmuck I was; states with right to strike have higher salaries across the board than most states which do not). However, -empty-headed Scarborough’s main shtick is that unions are to blame for all the ills in public education because their tenure-policies hurt really great younger teachers from working great things in the classroom in favor of legions of older, lazy, tenured teachers. I got news: tenure-programs are not perfect. What is? Tenure-programs DO protect good teachers from being terminated for political reasons and from being fired because districts can plop inexperienced teachers in classrooms for far less money. To Scarborough's silly supposition that young, fantastic teachers are being denied jobs by unions: one learns to teach by getting the fundamentals of teaching from a good undergraduate program, from years of experience, and from meaningful graduate work and well-planned, germane seminars and training sessions, and by letting the art of teaching happen. Yes, I suppose there are lazy teachers; why not, there are lazy doctors, lazy lawyers, and lazy politicians (who lazily make way more money). But I will assert that what I saw in my last five years of teaching was that the older teachers had by far, by way far, better work ethic than the new guys and gals coming into the profession.

OK, let me write about state testing: what a fucking joke and what a waste of tax dollars. Duncan and his ilk want to link teacher-evaluation to student performance. In fact, this morning, he claimed that many states used to have laws that teachers’ evaluations could NOT be linked to student evaluations then bragged that NO states today had such laws on the books. I am not going to bother to research the law issue because all this air about assessment-driven-instruction, assessment-based-instruction, and assessment-based-teacher- evaluation is ONE huge pile of horse-shit. First, let’s not forget that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was a brain-fart of that mental giant, George W. Bush, whose first Secretary of Education was a fellow Texan, and school superintendent who was guilty of cooking the books so that his city would appear to be improving its test-scores when it actually was not. Second, NCLB was a series of unfunded mandates from the federal government lead by republicans who preach states’ rights and smaller federal government (OH! THE HYPOCRISY). Third, NO assessment expert or company will admit and most deny that ANY single test can measure the worth of a student. Fourth, with school-districts’ populations constantly shifting, very often the tests do NOT measure the same children twice in a row. Get it? For a fact, in many districts, especially the poorer ones, the shifts in enrollment are so drastic as to be statistically significant in apprehending the results of that test. Fifth, no law exists to my knowledge, that holds parents responsible for their children’s’ behaviors, study-habits, nutrition, work ethic, and/or school supplies. How in the hell can a reasonable person begin to suppose that a teacher can be held accountable for or evaluated on how well a student performs on a single test? Yet, every year, all states are required to give such tests, report them to the federal government, spend countless hours disaggregating data, spend scads of money bussing students to summer schools and paying teachers to pump them up for the next test. And today, we have a moron, Arne Duncan, never a teacher, insisting that teachers’ evaluations should be linked to student-test-scores; Joel Klein, never a teacher, bragging about how charter schools are improving NYC’s educational picture but not telling that in those charters students are hand-picked and that the average student to teacher ratio is 13 to 1; Michelle Rhee educated in government, three years a pretend teacher, who, despite data proving otherwise, wanted to link monetary bonuses for teachers to how well that teacher’s students did on a single test. If you can’t see what’s wrong with all this, then you are a phony, conservative, small-government republican or a piss-in-your-pants democrat.

I will tell you, one more time, how to fix all this. Get laws passed that require all elected officials, including school board members, to take their state’s achievement tests and report their scores locally and nationally (OH! PLEASE, IMAGINE SARAH PALIN’S SCORES). You will then know for sure why all government is so absolutely fquwacked-up.
Here’s a challenge for next time: how much of your local, public school budget is paid for by federal dollars?

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