Thursday, May 2, 2013

Breaking News: Maine Teachers Union, BCU Throw in the Towel


We’ve got lots to say about the unfolding situation surrounding DOE issuance of grades for government schools in Maine.  So we’ve got two choices.  Spend a couple of days drafting witty and insightful commentary on all aspects of the news and reactions, noting the various delicious ironies that apply.  Or, we can simply resort to a briefer ‘headline clip’ style to make sure that our readers are updated with the basics as quickly as possible.

We’re going with the latter approach so we can get our list out of our job jar and onto Other Side front pages.  So fasten your seat belts; this will be a fast ride.

Kosinski, writing for Maine Teachers Union, publicly declares parents are at fault, not the schools.

You might remember the name of Brunswick resident John Kosinski from this recent post, in which we described the role of he and his wife, Sarah Singer, in setting up the BCU as a front for union interests in local school budget deliberations.

Not surprisingly, he had a release all ready to go on the MEA web page responding to the DOE school grading.  You can read it here:

His summary is this:


The Governor’s grading system is deeply flawed. Not only does it use a measuring stick that is biased and incomplete, but it oversimplifies the extremely complicated process of educating children into a sound bite. However, hopefully what policymakers can gain from this ill-conceived and poorly executed public relations gimmick is that there are deep socioeconomic divides in Maine that have tremendous influence on our children and our public education system. These divides deserve greater scrutiny and interrogation as we proceed to make all public schools in Maine successful.

Let us summarize his full release:

  • Sure the scores and grades are discouraging, but we have nothing to do with it.
  • Ordinary citizens are too out of touch to understand.
  • Dedicated, organized, and extremely competent education professionals are powerless to overcome socio-economic destiny. 
  • Stop believing that a good ‘public school’ education is the great socio-economic equalizer. 
  • It’s parents’ fault for not earning higher incomes. 
  • Government needs to make sure everyone has the same amount of stuff and money to spend. 
  • Otherwise, there’s nothing teachers and the schools can do to yield better results and outcomes.

New York Times Provides Escape Mechanism.

Lucky for the teachers union, the beloved ‘gray lady’ provided timely material for focusing attention on school performance anywhere but on the government school establishment and the teachers unions.

Remember those documentaries that were released a few years back?  “Waiting for Superman?”  “The Cartel?”  “The Lottery?”  Remember “Stand and Deliver?”  Remember Michelle Rhee and her attempts to improve the Washington DC school system, probably the most socio-economically deprived student body in the entire US?  And how she ended up being canned to placate the teachers union, who didn’t like being held accountable?  Remember “No Excuses?” 

All of these embarrassing counters to conventional union and establishment wisdom are “flawed, mean-spirited, vindictive, politically-motivated, destructive fabrications.”  Don’t believe us?  Just ask John Kosinski or Paul Perzanoski.

BCU “Imagine and Invest” Theory Debunked.

Kosinski and Singer organized Brunswick Community Unionists last year around the slogan “imagine our future, invest in our schools.”  Hundreds signed their ‘petition,’ joined up to their Facebook page, and posted signs around town before the budget referendum.

BCU membership is verklempt over the grades issued by DOE; just take a look at their Facebook page.  They should be even more verklempt over Kosinski’s statement described just above.

Why?  Because it completely discredits their primary thrust – that spending more money on schools will make things better.  He says teachers can’t fix things, because how the kids do in school is pre-determined by the standard of living parents provide for their kids.

Accordingly, we expect BCU to shut down operations in the next few days, and to be silent in upcoming budget hearings and public meetings.

“Equity:” Moral Imperative for HBS School Discredited.

The primary rationale for building Harriet Beecher Stowe School was a moral imperative for ‘the community’ to provide ‘equity’ for our elementary students.  At the time, Longfellow, Coffin, JA, and Hawthorne were seen as being socio-economically reflections of their neighborhoods, and therefore providing unbalanced education opportunities for their separate student-bodies.

Michelle Small, a school board member at the time, and various others wrote publicly how combining the elementary grades in a single school would overcome the problem, and this is how we ended up with a single school for 3-5 (now 2-5).

But as you can see, Kosinski’s MEA statement and the NY Times item point out that putting kids in one elementary school doesn’t mean anything.  Each child still carries with them the socio-economic baggage of their family circumstances.  Equity of school environment has nothing to do with their success, and teachers are powerless to overcome the deficits.  So stop asking for teachers to do better.

School Department, Unions Clueless on Established Data Records; Perzanoski, MEA ‘shocked, shocked’

Not to belabor the point, but the grades issued yesterday do not break any real new ground.  They simply aggregate pre-existing statistics from established data bases into a single letter grade for each school.  All of the component data was collected at schools themselves, and by definition, was well known to the school departments and the teachers union. 

Expressions of surprise, shock, or being demoralized result more from having the public see the data in a form that is comprehensible, and that can be used to compare schools and measure progress.

(Do you suppose Sally Sellit is revising her sales pitch today?)

Claiming that the system is ‘punitive and arbitrary’ and a ‘public relations gimmick’ is a ‘political’ reaction to being faced with reality.  And suggestions that perhaps its time for accountability to enter into the equation.

BTW, if you want to research the grades yourself, start here:

We spoke in a recent post about remediation rates for students entering the U Maine and Community College systems.  The grading report for Brunswick High School states that 30% of BHS students enrolling in those systems were “required to take ‘remedial’ courses in reading and/or math.”

That seems a bit startling to us, but what do we know?  What we know is this…the 30% figure is hardly a ‘political’ or ‘punitive and arbitrary one.’  It is data from the education establishment funded with our taxes.

When we have more time, we’ll try to link you to the source of the documents we have in our possession.

Ironically, now that we think of it, the reaction from Kosinski and the union, and Perzanoski, is akin to that of Barry Mills to the NAS study released last month on what Bowdoin teaches.  “Mean-spirited, vindictive, hatchet job, by those who don’t understand, only for political gain.”

Good News for Brunswick Property-Taxpayers.

Now that Kosinski, the MEA, and the NY Times have made it clear that school success is not determined by how much the department spends, but by the family situations of the students, we should hear an end to the constant prodding to spend more, more, and then even more as the only way to raise our school performance to excellent, or maintain already achieved excellence, depending on which claims you have bought into.

Cold hard truth: “Free people aren’t equal; equal people aren’t free.”

This may come as quite a shock to those at the MEA who believe:

that there are deep socioeconomic divides in Maine that have tremendous influence on our children and our public education system. These divides deserve greater scrutiny and interrogation as we proceed to make all public schools in Maine successful.

And those who agree with them as well.

All of the foregoing makes you wonder about socio-economic inequalities in the context of Bowdoin College.  A highly selective school, very expensive, that prides itself on the great achievements of its alums.  Juxtapose the underlying factors in all of that with the foregoing discussion from the union and the NY Times blog.

MEA: “Stand In Solidarity”

We thought we’d end this post on a ‘high note.’  As we were checking the MEA site for the Kosinski statement, we came across this item from the MEA President.  Our guess is that it was written before the DOE school grades issue broke.

“Thank you for all you do for your colleagues, communities and students. MEA members are amazing activists who make a difference in the lives of thousands of students and Maine residents each year.”

“We shape Maine’s potential by helping our students be successful in academics, social situations and civic involvement. We educate our community members of all ages as we strive to safeguard everyone’s future.”

The above thoughts seem to fly in the face of Kosinski’s statement, at least in our view.  Unless you’re of the mind that any success in school results from teachers, but any lack of achievement does not, because it’s the parents’ socio-economic circumstances that are at fault.

“I don’t have to tell you that we are in difficult times. Every affiliate of the MEA has more than our share of problems with which to contend. How will we make it through? Imagine the power of 24,000 MEA members standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity!”

“Our retirees are living on less and less even as costs increase. COLAs have been frozen by the legislature in the past and for upcoming years. Future increases will be capped at 3 percent instead of 4 percent, and the increases will be applied only to the first $20,000 of annual retirement income. And remember Maine’s educators who contribute to MePERS will not collect the Social Security they may be due because of WEP/GPO.”

We don’t know about the rest of the state, but here in Brunswick, we have ample proof that teachers get generous raises every year, by contract, regardless of system performance or their own. Their raises are even bigger when you consider that taxpayers absorb 90% or so of the cost of their benefits, and any increase in the cost of those benefits.

These are ‘difficult times?’  Compare your income and benefits growth in recent years and let us know.  As for us, we’re retired, and our retirement income has not had any 3% or 4% increases provided by someone else.  Nor did we ever, ever receive any salary increases that were contractually mandated.

So allow us a brief moment of pettiness.


Go look for tears of sympathy elsewhere, MEA.  We’re all out here.

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