Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pry the cold, dead fingers of the GOP off our public schools

It's very odd that the Democratic leadership waited until after the GOP foreign and economic policy had all the positive effects of a 50 megaton nuke before they said those ideas MAYBE don't work.

I don't know what a comparable implosion would look like in public education, but will it take an equal decimation before Democrats say Republicans either don't know what the fuck they are talking about when it comes to education or that they are intentionally trying to destroy it?

The cornerstone of the GOP attack is the endless cycle of testing. If the same approach was used in health care, a nurse would come take your temperature every fifteen minutes, the doctor would be given no money to treat you, and if you didn't get well, the doctor and nurse would be fired and you would probably die.

The "teach to the test'' nonsense is also a form of micromanaging that tends to chase smart, creative people out of the public schools. Why bother to get a degree when they just want someone who can read a script like the guide on a tour bus?

Their other brilliant idea, merit pay, sounds great to anyone who has never worked in education. In some jobs, like sales, being paid on commission makes sense, but for teachers, there are too many variables: a very good teacher might be given or even ask for the kids who need the most help and therefore make the least progress. Should that teacher be paid less than someone who takes on only average to above average kids?

Also, merit pay would mean administrators get to decide who gets rewarded for their work. Most administrators are shitty teachers who promoted themselves out of the classroom by taking a few night classes. Smart, creative teachers will not be good suck ups, nor will they stick around if that is what is required to be compensated for their jobs.

Probably the worst innovation of the right is treating education like a business. As we have seen this fall, corporations can't even run their BUSINESSES like a business. Why should we let then import that failed model to schools?

What is really galling is to see someone like Obama's pick for education secretary aping one of the ugliest tactics of business, mass layoffs, without realizing that when business does that, it has nothing to do with adjusting the quality of the product--it is a bookkeeping trick to goose the stock price.
If you layoff teachers en masse, people will not want to come work in your district because administrators will rightly be seen as arbitrary and malicious.

Wouldn't it be nice if Democrats in Congress and even the White House had the courage to get ahead of the curve instead of acquiescing to GOP scams until they explode, and THEN getting around to doing what's right?

If they had ever bothered to ask teachers what they need to succeed, they'd get some pretty simple answers, most of which wouldn't necessarily cost more money:
  • smaller classes sizes, and the more troubled the community, the smaller the classes.

  • more autonomy for teachers. If you want to attract and keep smart, creative people, give them room to work. If you overly-script and micromanage the job, eventually you will attract exactly the kind of people who are good at that: mindless automatons. That's not how I would describe the best teachers I had growing up, would you?

  • An effective system to deal with dangerous and disruptive students. If administrators limited themselves to this one function, they might actually help instead of hinder the education process. This is why private schools appear to be more effective than public ones--disruptive students can be ejected, and the threat of being permanently removed makes borderline kids behave.
  • Make sure most of the money makes it into the classroom, not district offices for layers and layers of worthless bureaucrats or into the pockets of politicians' cronies for software, building, and consulting contracts that teachers haven't asked for.
Will Democrats flush the steaming turd of GOP education reforms down the toilet BEFORE they drag down the public schools with them, like they did with foreign & economic policy?

Contact Obama at
and tell him to dump the GOP education reforms and put students and teachers first, not corporate plunder.

If you are a teacher, and belong to the NEA or AFT, contact them and tell them to get way, way more hardline on these so-called "reforms."

If you are a teacher and NOT a member of your union, become one and make noise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The eduational system in the U.S. needs a complete ovehaul. The brightest kids rise to the top, but so what? The cream ALWAYS rises to the top, but since this "cream of the crop" is receiving substandard education, the next generation of U.S. engineers, professors and scientists will not be able to compete well with their Asian and European counterparts. Right off the bat I can name one area where the Asians and Europeans are better educated, and that is that most of them are bilingual, or are at least basically coversant in a second language. Can you say that about most American college graduates? Also, American schools are HORRIBLE at teaching science and math. I was terrible at math until I graduated, then learned up through trigonometry ON MY OWN. I discovered I was actually GOOD at math! Why wasn't this uncovered during my TWELVE YEARS of public education??? Like I said, the U.S. Public Educational system needs a complete, major overhaul.