One of the blogs I read daily is written by a real education reformer, Diane Ravitch. Today she cited an article in Huffington Post that describes a teacher shortage in Kansas and what caused it. Many conservatives and pseudo-education reformers (Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown, Secretary Duncan) argue that education promote choice through charter schools. They point to unions as a cause of poor education outcomes.
What’s happening in Kansas tells a different story. Teacher pay in the state is low, hours are longer, and the legislature has made it easier to fire teachers. The result is exactly what any sane person would expect. Teachers are retiring as soon as they can. Others are changing careers, and college students are choosing majors other than Education. Schools will be forced to rely on substitutes to cover classes.
In the past, I’ve asked who will want to teach if the pay is low, there is no union protection, and working conditions are poor. Market forces work in career choices just as they do in purchasing. If teaching is a difficult and disrespected profession, fewer and fewer people will pursue careers as teachers. Kansas proves this point. I expect we’ll hear similar stories from other states very soon.
Laura Clawson of Daily Kos reports some of the latest news regarding “education reform.” Charter schools in New York City are not meeting the needs of special education students. 17 charters have closed in Columbus, Ohio. Meanwhile, Michelle Rhee, a lobbyist for the charter industry and former school superintendent in Washington D.C. bends the facts to claim that schools in Louisiana are outperforming schools in Connecticut. Beyond Clawson’s reporting, anyone who reads the Chicago Sun-Time will see that many charter schools in Chicago are connected to insiders who are making money as contractors, landlords, and administrators.
At its root, “education reform” is all about busting teachers unions. Many politicians of both parties love charters for this reason. What they don’t consider is that young people will not pursue teaching as a career if it doesn’t offer decent pay, benefits, and security. Executives claim they need high pay to attract and retain the best and brightest. Why don’t we apply the same logic to teachers?
On this said day, when the mayor of Chicago has closed nearly 50 schools, Daily Kos links to a great profile of education reformer Michelle Rhee. The former head of Washington D.C. schools, Rhee makes strong decisions that seemed based on belief rather than fact, especially the belief that teachers’ unions are the biggest problem facing public schools. Instead, she favors an unproven market model that depends on charter schools. There is no clear evidence that charter schools perform better than traditional public schools. In other cases, as Diane Ravitch documents in The Death and Life of the Great American School System, reforms have clearly failed, only to have billionaires pour more money into some new model as well as funding union-bashing PR. Is this reform really about children or busting unions?
I frequently cite Laura Clawson of Daily Kos for her great reporting on workers’ issues. Here is a link to her overview of the week’s labor news. The first story is especially troubling. A group of “education reformers” are trying to influence a school board election in Los Angeles. Why? They want to chip away at traditional public schools and teachers unions. I recommend this story and everything else Laura Clawson writes.
Common Dreams has reposted an article in which Diane Ravitch examines Michelle Rhee’s impact on education “reform.” I use quotation marks because anyone who has read Ravitch’s great book The Death and Life of the Great American School System understands how most reforms seem to have one goal: Destroy the public school system.
Ravitch takes Rhee to task for her alliances with politicians who are transferring funds and resources from public schools to charter and private schools. Rhee’s primary argument centers on blaming teachers for poor performance. Ravitch answers that the former Chancellor of Washington D.C. schools is basing her argument on “urban myths,” claims that do not stand the kind of research Ravitch has done throughout her career. It’s easy to blame teachers. Ravitch will not take that easy path, which is why I trust her.
Writing in Common Dreams, Jesse Hagopian analyzes the standards used to evaluate teacher performance in Washington D.C., where 241 teachers were recently laid off for “poor performance.” This article is further evidence that we need to look behind the “bad teacher” myth and focus on administrators who want to bust unions. Corporate media loves education reformers like Michelle Rhee, Ron Huberman, and Arne Duncan. Where is the proof that they are making schools better? They certainly are making it easier for charter schools to exist. Who is profiting from that “reform?”