Monday, September 13, 2010

Teacher, I don’t understand!

Let’s begin this discussion with an item that I’m sure I’ve posted before. So what; I’m convinced that it’s perhaps the most telling expression of the problem we have in our government education system in the modern era (whatever that is.)  It will set the stage for what follows.

“When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.”

Albert Shanker - President of the United Federation of Teachers [1964-1984] & the American Federation of Teachers [1974-1997]

Have you followed the recent news from New Jersey?  The new Governor there has asked the teachers’ union to agree to a one year salary freeze.  Not a salary reduction, a one year salary freeze.

The union response?  Not on your life.  He also asked that they contribute $15 a week to the cost of health care for their entire family.  The union response?  This is the "greatest assault on public education in the history of the state."

According to published reports, the discussion turned so toxic that there was “even an email where a county teachers union leader asked that their members "pray for the death of the governor."

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., where the government school system has been a total catastrophe for decades, the reception to an admittedly tough but determined school chief, who has been turning things around, is to drive her and the mayor who hired her out of office. 

From published reports, it appears that protecting school employees, no matter how ineffective they might be, is a higher priority than a good education for the students, most of whom need all the help they can get, the unions be damned.

You can read the details here: D.C. Schools  You might not feel like reading the whole thing, so here’s the heart of the story:

Rhee's approach has forced people to confront choices and made those choices clear. In the education world, hard decisions are too often sidestepped with platitudes about consensus and common goals.

During the most recent contract negotiations, for instance, the teachers union sought to preserve tenure and seniority rules that were clearly not in the best interest of students. Rhee forced the issue, and in the end the rules were changed rather than papered over with half-measures. The result was a landmark contract.

The record on urban education reform makes plain that there is a fundamental choice between harmony among the various adult interests and rapid progress on school improvement.

Talk about counter-intuitive…talk about cognitive dissonance…talk about who comes first, the students or the teachers….  It seems pretty clear to this reporter.

Now to our local circumstances.  In a letter to The Ostrich on Friday, September 10th, by Bob Morrison, the following sentiments were expressed.  Bob, as best I can recall, is a former School Board member, a PhD, and claimed to be a holder of high office in the  national education bureaucracy.

Herewith,we present his offering, with our response in italics:

“Comment must be made about the Sept. 1 article in The New York Times concerning teacher evaluation.”

I tried to find the NY Times article, but was unsuccessful.

“First, traditional classroom observations and resultant evaluations work.  They must be done at least four times per school year.  Each observation must be preceded by a pre-observation conference between teacher and administrator and followed by a post-observation conference. Each teacher can be evaluated in this way every four years, or more often if needed.” 

So in other words, tell Ms. Hornsby that we’ll be observing her next Wednesday, and here’s what we’ll be looking for.  And educators have the nerve to complain about “teaching to the test??”  What about “teaching to the observation?”

Second, “value-added” analyses of test score results of each teacher have not been shown to be reliable ways to evaluate teachers.  There are too many variables involved to base, even in part, evaluations on student test scores.

So what reliable ways to evaluate teachers do we have, Bob, and what would the teachers themselves recommend, other than the platitudes of swooning, slobbering “schoolies?”

Third, teacher evaluations should never be used to determine teacher salaries.

And there you have more than half the reason our government education system is in such continuous decline….teachers have no personal stake in its success.  So if evaluations, which is to say performance and merit, and hence value, should never be used, what should ‘always be used’ to determine salaries?

Fourth, we must never forget that teacher evaluations are designed to help teachers improve and thus improve student learning.

Hard to believe that, Bob, given the foregoing.  You’re falling back on the “trust us, we know what’s best” strategy, even though the various ‘reforms’ over the years include Head Start, Pre-kindergarten, all day Kindergarten, and now even talk of a grade 13 for pre-college kids.  All with little or no advance in student success.

In other words, how do we take you folks seriously?

Maybe we aren’t supposed to take them seriously.  These are the same people and the same cultural influences that think it’s perfectly fine to build a $500 million plus school in a state that is going bankrupt, and using it as a vehicle for artistic expression, at public expense, or more correctly, funded by borrowed Chinese dollars.

So the next time I hear someone say “it’s for the children,” I’m going to ask them to provide three reasons why I should believe that assertion. 

Because I can provide billions upon billions of reasons why it’s not.

And contracts on top of that.

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