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.
I've blogged in the past about how politicians in both parties say they want good teachers and then do everything possible to drive educators to change careers. The latest example of this trend is found in my sweet hometown of Chicago. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have opted not to extend a contract with its teachers that would have given them a raise of 3%. Instead, CPS has said it will ask teachers to take a 7% cut in pay. Mayor Emanuel is quoted in today's Chicago Sun-Times that teachers are "working hard" and that schools are achieving "incredible results." At the same time, the mayor cites "serious fiscal challenges" as a reason for CPS' actions. Teacher's union president Karen Lewis call this action an "insult." There is good chance that the teachers could be forced to go on strike again.
For me, the real problem in this story is how it will affect teaching in the future. If we really want the best and brightest students to go into teaching, we need to think about how they react to stories like this. What intelligent, ambitious student would pursue a career that would cut the pay of people the mayor calls hard working and successful? Politicians and citizen need to ask themselves a difficult question: Do we care about saving a few dollars in taxes or educating children?
Today’s Chicago Sun-Times reports that Governor Bruce Rauner is recommending that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) use bankruptcy as a way to solve a $1.1 billion debt. If we only look at the debt, this solution might seem logical. It’s done all the time in business. No one seems to care when retired employees lose part of their pension. I hate this solution because it is a form of wage theft. In this case, I’m outraged by what the governor’s real motive seems to be.
Bankruptcy would let CPS terminate its contract with teachers. It might even let school administrators and the mayor avoid negotiating a new contract. Rauner claims to be a man of the people in saying that the people should decide if teachers have collective bargaining rights. His real goal seems to crushing one of the city’s strongest, most prominent unions.
What didn’t the governor say? He never addressed the question of recruiting and retaining good teachers. Conservatives often point to “bad teachers” as the cause of poor student performance. If that is true, the governor’s solution would seem to a blueprint for making education worse. Teaching is a very difficult job. Teachers’ salary is not that good given the pressures and hours that are required to do a good job. Take away the pension and union protections, who will want to pursue a career in teaching? We need to decide whether we are serious about having schools staffed by good, professional teachers. If we want good teachers, they need to paid well and treated as professionals.
I often praise the writing Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos because it offers a window to the world of lives of real workers. Today she writes about a teacher, Amy Murray, who has written an open letter to parents that gets at the heart of the challenges faced by educators. Murray asks parents to think about the students in her class who are not their children and understand their challenges. She outlines a range of factors that impact academic performance and classroom behavior.
As Clawson puts it, teachers face a tough “balancing act,” which we should remember whenever any critic of education rails against “bad teachers.” Teaching is not simply a matter of presenting a subject of knowledge that can be evaluated by tests. Now, more than ever before, teachers have to deal with factors that have nothing to do with reading, writing, and arithmetic.
I urge you to read Amy Murray’s letter and judge for yourself.
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?
With little public notice, Chicago Public Schools has put out a call to open new charter schools. Recently the system closed 50 schools, which meant the loss of many teacher jobs. The system also cut school budgets, which led to more job loss.
Most charter schools are non-union (None are represented by CTU). While some of these schools do a good job educating students, they offer teachers little job security or respect. The highest paid people in the charter system tend to be chief administrators who often make as much or more than the head of CPS.
My worry is that – over time – the quality of teaching will go down. It’s a difficult job in the best situation. If pay is cut and benefits are minimal, who will want to make the sacrifice needed to be a teacher? Why will the smartest people chose teaching if other professions offer more reward?