The basic problem with the socialists and communists who are running today’s teachers unions, and by extension the politicians and school systems, is they are attempting to convince the public that overcoming human nature will make everyone equal. And while it may sound good, it is pure bullpucky. Especially when those that call themselves intellectuals or the “enlightened ruling elite” attempt to govern “unexceptional and interchangeable population units” (also known as ordinary people) for their own self interests.
- Basic fact one: someone will always be on top and in charge due to strength, native advantage, education, connections, finances, etc.
- Basic fact two: there will always be competition to determine who can amass the best, the best mate, the best food, the best lodging, etc. Life is about competition.
- Basic fact three: those who want to grasp and control the levers of power will do or say anything to secure their advantage or opportunity.
So let’s look at the following liberal op-ed piece which occurred in the leftist New York Times; while bearing in mind that the teachers unions fear that parents will demand a student’s performance and grades will be used to evaluate teachers. Where non-performing and under-performing teachers will be terminated, to the detriment of the union and their implicit pledge to protect all teachers against the “system.”
When ‘Grading’ Is Degrading
IN his speech on the night of his re-election, President Obama promised to find common ground with opposition leaders in Congress. Yet when it comes to education reform, it’s the common ground between Democrats and Republicans that has been the problem.
For the past three decades, one administration after another has sought to fix America’s troubled schools by making them compete with one another. Mr. Obama has put up billions of dollars for his Race to the Top program, a federal sweepstakes where state educational systems are judged head-to-head largely on the basis of test scores. Even here in Texas, nobody’s model for educational excellence, the state has long used complex algorithms to assign grades of Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable or Unacceptable to its schools.
If not for the powerful teachers unions and their ability to corrupt politicians, competition between schools would have raised the education level of students at all levels. Unfortunately, that means non-performing teachers would be eliminated, funding would be directed at top performers that benefit society instead of dumbing down all students to the lowest common educational denominator and spending more on underperforming students who may be intellectually incapable of mastering hard academic courses required to prepare for college. Because educators believe everyone should go to college, they have all but decimated the trade courses which could turn out productive adults who often earn more money than their college level counterparts who major in rather useless subjects such as gender studies.
So far, such competition has achieved little more than re-segregation, long charter school waiting lists and the same anemic international rankings in science, math and literacy we’ve had for years.
This is intellectually dishonest. There is no reason that one can assume that the poor, minorities or non-English-speaking students lack the native intellectual capability to succeed. It is a matter of motivation and proper teaching skills – not electronic babysitting with computers which can teach skills but not motivation. There is also the issue of discipline and parental involvement. Teaching students life skills beyond how to deal with condoms and subjecting them to consequences of their actions does not seem to be a primary concern at this point in time. Yes, there is a degree of re-segregation, based on geographic factors and the manipulation of funding for political benefit. Yes, there is a waiting list for charter schools because the ordinary schools are abysmal – primarily due to union-protection of inadequate teachers and enforced discipline. As for rankings, children can’t compete because they are taught not to compete. In the socialist-dominated school systems, individual excellence is not recognized and it is the collective that take home the “participation awards” for just showing up at an event. All issues of the lack of leadership, not the student’s intellectual prowess.
The “AHA” moment when the truth emerges …
And yet now, policy makers in both parties propose ratcheting it up further — this time, by “grading” teachers as well.
What productive society does not hold those in power responsible for their results? Of course, in collective societies based on socialism and communism, we see the collective triumph over the individual – where it is the overall problem of the “system” when failures occur, not any particular individual. Unfortunately, when failures aggregate, they become bigger failures. So it is important to deal with the individual failures to perform as the consequence will be a lower overall failure rate.
It’s a mistake. In the year I spent reporting on John H. Reagan High School in Austin, I came to understand the dangers of judging teachers primarily on standardized test scores. Raw numbers don’t begin to capture what happens in the classroom. And when we reward and punish teachers based on such artificial measures, there is too often an unintended consequence for our kids.
This is bullpucky. The reason we continue to see decades of unprepared, uneducated children when using so-called “standardized test scores” is that the tests themselves are dumbed down as per the teachers unions and the politicians who do not want parents and others to know what they have done to the school system while racking up job security, salaries, perks and benefits that are not found in the private sector. Perhaps, we could do a better job by taking industry practitioners, give them a basic teaching course, and replace the teachers who teach theory devoid of practice and reality. The only unintended consequence for our children is that the politicians and teachers have allowed this travesty to exist over decades. Producing students who require a calculator to add numbers, a computer with Google and cut-and-paste capability to research and write reports. A decade of technologically proficient students who are functionally illiterate and lack the ability for critical thinking.
I went to lunch recently with a fine history teacher, Derrick Davis, who is better known in my neighborhood as the basketball coach at Reagan High. He has a particularly wide vantage on the decline of Reagan High, which opened in the 1960s as the pride of the city, complete with consecutive state football championships, national academic recognition and a choir that toured Europe.
When he graduated in 1990, the yearbook still showed a significant number of white faces mixed in with larger black and smaller Hispanic populations. Parents could see from the annual state report that 82.4 percent of 11th graders passed all the standardized tests, just a tenth of a percentage point below the district average.
In 1994, the state education agency started applying its boilerplate labels, which became shorthand for real estate agents. Reagan High was rated “Academically Acceptable,” the second-lowest grade. Families of means departed for the exurbs, private schools and eventually charter schools.
Even so, returning as a teacher, Mr. Davis had high hopes for No Child Left Behind, the federal education reform legislation enacted in 2002 with bipartisan support led by President George W. Bush and Senator Edward M. Kennedy. The law turned a powerful spotlight on the second-class education being provided for poor kids in places like East Austin. Finally, the truth was out. In that sense, Mr. Davis believed at the time, “No Child Left Behind was the best thing that happened to us.”
But that was hardly the case: instead of rallying a new national commitment to provide quality public education for all children, the reform movement led to an increasingly punitive high-stakes competition for standardized test scores, school grades and labels. Within just a few years, Reagan High fell to “Academically Unacceptable.”
In 2009, I watched the teachers at Reagan High raise test scores just enough to stave off a closure order, working against a one-year deadline. Teachers “taught to the test” and did their best to game a broken system.
Another intellectually dishonest deliberate manipulation of the truth. A “fine history teacher” who is the basketball coach? What does this say about the school? Should one be questioning exactly what is in those politically correct history books? Should we be questioning why a school failing to educate its children has a winning physical education department? Perhaps it is because they motivate the players – not the students. Perhaps it is because lesser players do not get to play first string or in critical moments. Perhaps the athletic programs unwavering excellence with everyone understanding the rules and doing their best. Where scores are not able to be politically manipulated – and at the end of the game you know who the winners and losers are. Which players are heroes and which ones are zeroes. With the zeroes unlikely to play in the next game. What bullpucky. What is winning in athletics is not what is winning in academics – and yet they are the very same thing. Optimizing resources, motivating players with varying levels of talent to become better.
It is an indictment – a criminal indictment – that teachers should be able to game the system to get higher test scores. That administrators should be able to game the system by lowering testing standards to increase overall scores. And it is criminal that the teachers unions are all about managing their pension funds for their own self-serving interests rather than doing good for the students they profess to care about.
As for the coach, perhaps he should not be a teacher – but a teacher of teachers. Teaching about real world competition and how the system demands excellence. That everyone is not equal, but everyone can support the team.
Most of all, though, their efforts focused on something more difficult to quantify. I watched Coach Davis revive the basketball team, dipping deep into his own paycheck and family time to inspire the school with an unlikely playoff run. I watched the principal, Anabel Garza, drive around the neighborhood rousting truants out of bed, taking parents to court and telling kids their teachers loved them. I watched a chemistry teacher, Candice Kaiser, drive carloads of kids to cheer on the basketball team, attend after-school Bible study and make doctors’ appointments. I watched the music director, Ormide Armstrong, reinvent the marching band as a prizewinning funk outfit that backed Kanye West.
It is highly inappropriate for telling kids their teachers loved them or assume the role of their parents in making doctor’s appointments or taking them to bible study. And while all of the stories about extracurricular activities are nice, where is the fundamental revolution in the teaching world that will produce educated students instead of happy dummies.
Together, they gave families a reason to embrace a place long dominated by tension, violence and the endless tedium of standardized test drilling. They improved the numbers. Mostly, they did it through passion, intelligence, grit and love.
No longer “Academically Unacceptable,” Reagan High has started to reclaim its proud stature, though it still serves a disproportionate number of poor families. Mr. Davis still works there. So do Ms. Garza, Ms. Kaiser and Mr. Armstrong, all trying to build a sustainable public school for our neighborhood.
More union bullpucky. It doesn’t matter that the school is in a poor neighborhood, it matters that the school’s administrators and teachers are not capable of making a difference – probably because they are not required to exert themselves to keep their jobs and earn their salaries. What is a sustainable school? A school that exists for some reason other than to provide jobs for union members and associated others? If a school is not performing, it should be abolished or re-staffed.
Still, the most significant obstacle they face is the very same myopic policy suggested by Mr. Obama’s erstwhile opponent, Mitt Romney, in the weeks before the election: we grade our schools, he said, so parents “can take their child to a school that’s being more successful.” As for the parents, teachers and children who can’t make that choice, they’re left to salvage what remains.
A dose of reality. Unions, administrators and teachers think they own the students. That the funding that is calculated by the ADA (Average Daily Attendance) belongs to them. And they fear anything which would reduce their student population – even if it would provide children with a better education. That’s it in a nutshell. It’s about money and the political power to keep the dung heap warm in the winter – with no-cut jobs, guaranteed cushy salaries and benefits not found in the private sector. Parents should be able to place their children in performing schools. Non-performing teachers should be fired and non-performing schools be re-staffed. And if a school is not financially viable, bulldoze it into a park.
About the author …
Michael Brick, a former New York Times reporter, is the author of “Saving the School: The True Story of a Principal, a Teacher, a Coach, a Bunch of Kids, and a Year in the Crosshairs of Education Reform.”
As a former staff reporter and sportswriter at The New York Times, Brick should understand excellence in sports and be calling for that same level of diligence and commitment in the school system instead of writing pro-union “don’t grade the teachers” tripe. However, it appears that this is part of the continuing publicity for his book – also about Reagan High School in Texas.
Bottom line …
We do not need to reform the damn school system, we need to blow it up and start again. We do not need evolutionary reform of a broken system, we need a revolutionary rebirth of the system. With the first step of tossing the teachers unions on the ash-heap. Reclaiming the local school boards from those who are punching their political tickets to advance to the next political office. It is time to help children instead of saying we are helping children.
We need to set standards and guidelines. Fire teachers who “teach to the test” and exclude the regular curriculum. We need to regress to books that actually taught reading, writing, arithmetic, history, critical thinking, civics – without all of the politically correct nonsense and activism. We need students who can compete in the world, not students who are given a pass by adults seeking to keep their cushy position without continuing to perform at superior levels. Fire the damn unions and fire the worst teachers – and there will be a wake-up call in America and a revolution in teaching. Devoid of their union’s ability to corrupt politicians, teachers will perform or be fired. It is as simple as that.
As for enforcing discipline, let us note that the infrastructure based on coddling students – from life-coaching to disaster psychologists – also needs to be pruned and reformed. Sending mental health counselors to a school when a student dies in an auto accident deprives them of working out their own roles in the world. Their mortality. The consequences of their own actions and the actions of others. The ability to turn to their peers for aid and comfort. To compete with their peers so that everyone works at a higher level. And for those who claim that some will fall through the cracks – that, my friend, is life. You don’t spend billions turning non-academics into college graduates when they want to work in a trade. Not everyone fits the mold.
It is time to remove political influences from education – and educate our children.
Reference Links …
Grading Schools Isn’t the Answer. It’s the Problem. - NYTimes.com
‘Saving the School’ by Michael Brick is a 'great story of grit, character and struggle'