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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Education Narrative (rough draft)

There is an education narrative being rammed down the people’s throats by the powers-that-be. Prominent citizens like Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush and their proxies are telling it. Like most snake oil salesman they weave a smooth tale using cherry picked facts and figures and enticing sound bites and blurbs to get their way and in doing so have made teachers and their unions the boogey men of the story. Watch out parents they shout as they like wise make enticing promises.

The truth however is they are using cherry picked stats and figures to try and convince, make that to try and scare Joe and Judy public into believing the narrative that their children are getting a substandard education and that the future of America is at stake and that it is all teachers fault. If we could just get rid of five percent of the bad teachers we could have dramatic improvements but the teachers unions are trying to protect bad teachers. We want to give vouchers to all parents so they can have school choice but the teachers unions are against them. We want to reward the top teachers with merit pay, how can the unions be against more money for thier best members but they are. Our education ranking in the world has steadily dropped over the last quarter century it must be because we have bad teachers. Why can’t we be more like Finland? On and on they go. Well friends not since a snake convinced a naive young girl to take a bite of an apple has their been such a masterful con job been perpetrated.

Until the recent recession you couldn’t give a teaching job away as there were always openings. Does anybody remember how they were advertising in Canada and India to find teachers, does anybody remember the push to get people from the business world to enter the classroom? I do. Of course we want our best and our brightest in the classroom but you know what else we want, we want the willing to be there to. Are there teachers that should be replaced, yes of course there are just like there are people in every profession that would serve it best by not being in it. Unions however are not protecting bad teachers they are just making sure that teachers get due process and in my home town that only kicks in after they have proved themselves for three years. That’s right at any time during a teachers first three years at the end of one they can be let go. But say we did somehow identify and get rid of the worse five percent, not the five percent the admin doesn’t like because they more often than the worse suffer the consequences of speaking up or being innovative who would we replace them with?

Another stat the ant-teacher mongers like to throw out is that education draws just under a quarter of our top graduates that means the most of our kids are being taught by someone other than a teacher with a high grade point average. First I am not sure if straight G.P.A. should be a factor but why is this a bad thing. Are 23 percent of the nations top grads entering law enforcement, or medicine or business or any other field? I don’t think so and if the stat is right that means over a fifth or our supposed best and brightest are choosing education over the thousands and thousands of other careers out there. But instead of celebrating that it’s used as an indictment against teachers. Teachers can’t win at the top, not enough of the best grads enter education and they can’t win at the bottom, the unions are protecting bad teachers.
Then they compare us to industrialized countries like Finland that have zoomed past us in the international industrial rankings. This to must e the teachers and their unions fault they scream protecting all those bad teachers and resisting reforms. They don’t tell you that if we factor out kids that live in poverty our ranking zooms all the way to second and about the countries they are comparing us to. It’s true that Finland draws the vast amount of its staff from the top third of college graduates but the ed deformers fail to mention that teachers in Finland are paid substantially more than their American counterparts, there classes are very small, they play a role in policy and curriculum and are one of the most highly unionized groups around. Comparing teachers in both countries is not like comparing apples and oranges it’s like comparing apples to a five-course meal, with America being the apple.

What about vouchers? How can people who really care about children and education be against them after all they give parents the choice to do what they feel is best for their children. Sounds pretty seductive right especially in Florida where they are promising parent five thousand five hundred dollars. The problem is charter schools and their private school counter parts despite the fact that they can pick and choose who they allow in and don’t have to play by the same rules as their public school counter parts haven’t been found to do any better, in fact for the most part they are found to do the same or worse. Furthermore the universal voucher system will amount to welfare for the well off program as it siphons much needed money away from already cash starved public schools. We don’t get to pick our police, our fire department, our military our meat inspectors and so many other things but for some reason the powers-that-be will have you believe it is better to abandon public schools.

You want proof unions are against education reform those spinning the anti-teacher narrative ask. Well look at merit pay, how can they be against merit pay for the nations best teachers. The thing with merit pay is like school choice it sounds very enticing but like school choice often becomes no choice merit pay can be very misleading. The one-year I received merit pay I knew there were a dozen teachers better than me that didn’t. The one-year I didn’t receive merit pay I knew there were a dozen teachers worse than me that did. So often it comes down to whom the principal likes or whatever perception he has but worse than that it there is no relationship between those who receive merit pay and their children doing better.

The anti-teacher narrative has more holes in it than a colander but somehow it is gaining traction and teachers have gone from valued members of society to borderline pariahs holding the country back. Teachers who I remind you the vast majority work many untold and un paid extra hours, who donate their time and resources to other peoples children as often theirs wait in extended day or in front of the television why they take home papers to grade or work on lesson plans. Teachers who give so much and frankly throughout time have received so little have become the bad guys of the narrative while the policy makers, politicians absentee parents and children raised without a sense of respect or a willingness to work get a pass.

Furthermore it’s worse. Do you know where Mayor Bloomberg and Jeb Bush and many of those selling the anti teacher story sent their children? They sent them to private schools, which tout teachers experience and smaller class sizes as selling points, two things the ed deformers have recently been minimizing. Jeb Bushes family and Bill Gates have made millions and stand to make millions more on the education reforms they are selling (standardized tests and virtual, computer based, schools). Also do you know how many of the people selling the teachers union bad, teachers substandard story have been teachers and actually been in classrooms? Well of Florida Governor Rick Scott’s education team only one is a teacher and he works at a virtual school. Of the leaders mentioned in the opening only Michelle Rhee was a teacher and she came up through Teach for America which some have renamed Teach for a while because of the staggeringly high amount of participants who serve their two years and then leave. This is who is writing the education narrative, those that have had nothing to do with teaching and those that would seek to profit off of it.

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