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?
Writing in Huffington Post, education historian and public school advocate Diane Ravitch condemns the Vergara decision, which endangers teacher tenure in California. The judge based much of his ruling on popular notions presented by education reformers. Ravitch argues that no student will benefit by this decision. The real winner will be the “reformers” who want to break teachers unions.
The problem I have with the reform movement and its attack on teachers is that it is making teaching, which is already a difficult job, even harder. Tenure on the K-12 level simply gives the teacher the right to due process. Once this is taken away, principals will be able to target teachers for any reason. The Vergara decision, along with the growth of charter schools, will make fewer young people want to pursue a career in teaching. Who would want a difficult job with lower pay and fewer protections? That is what the reform movement is trying to achieve. Thankfully Diane Ravitch and her allies are fighting to preserve teaching as a profession.
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.
Common Dreams reports on a survey of teachers that found them dissatisfied with their career and the way they are being treated in a time of reduced job salary/benefits and services for students. The survey, sponsored by MetLife, finds that teacher are facing more and more obstacles to teaching while fewer resources are available. One union leader says more teachers will leave the profession. Is that a surprise?
“Education reformers” (a.k.a. union busters) have been attacking teachers for several years. Now teachers are facing flat (or, here in Chicago, reduced) wages and worse working conditions. Who would want this job? The reformers beat their chests and proclaim that their working in the best interest of children. How can that be if their actions are making teaching a profession no one in their right mind would want to pursue, especially in challenged schools?
In a related article, Diane Ravitch gives Secretary of Education Arne Duncan a taste of his own medicine. Duncan, one of the reformer-experts who has never been a teacher or principal, touts evaluation as the key to success in education. Ravitch evaluates Duncan’s performance and finds it a complete failure. She writes, “Do Duncan’s policies encourage teachers and inspire good teaching? No. Duncan’s policies demean the teaching profession by treating student test scores as a proxy for teacher quality. A test that a student takes on one day of the year cannot possibly measure the quality of a teacher.” She evaluateDuncan’s performance in several other areas and finds it equally dismal.
We need to support teachers while challenging the reformers to prove that their experiments are helping children, not filling the pockets of parasitic corporations that are feeding off education through charter schools, testing, and tutoring programs. We do need good teachers. We need to pay them well, get out of their way, and let them teach.