Sunday, April 4, 2010

Food Fights on the Internet....

Ok... so it's been over a month since I last updated this blog.  Since my last post I've gotten quite addicted to posting to "reader comment forums" on various Internet news web sites.  So bad is my addiction, I'm seriously considering entering a 12 step rehab program.

Often times, I feel like the participation in these forums amounts to a Internet "Food Fight".  Regardless, I thought I'd share parts of the discussion from my latest foray.

It all began from reading a news story on the "Livingston" news web site.  The story was regarding the contract negotiations in a school district in my county.  Keep in mind I didn't really have a dog in that fight as my son is not a student in that district and I am not a teacher in that district either.  However, being a teacher, I feel a duty to defend my fellow educators whenever I feel they are being unfairly attacked.

It all started when I read a couple of  simplistic solutions including:

Fire all the union teachers and hire in new happy to be employed teachers at 45k per year not the average 64k per year salary union teachers are making now. This would also allow for schools to hire more teachers and assistants making smaller class sizes. Problem solved. (From WOWYOUTHINK)
I for one see no reason that the younger teachers should not be used as the primary and the prima donnas be given walking papers.(From julll)
To which I replied:
Sorry, but your post is another example of an uneducated, simplistic "solution".

Your "solution" mirrors the thinking of politicians and so-called experts that assumes students are mere widgets on a educational assembly line and teachers are interchangable robots.

And if I may refer back to the orginal proposal of firing the 64k "union" teachers and replacing them with 45K "new happy to be employed" teachers, why not go a step further? Why not then replace the 45K "happy" teachers with 40K "super happy" teachers? But don't stop there... let's replace those 40K teachers with 30K teachers.

After all... anyone can teach since experience and creditials mean nothing, right?

I'm still eager to hear the professions and salaries of people commenting about teachers here so I can make similar arguments and recommendations about their jobs.
That in turn garnered this response from another reader: (steeplechase1)
Your "solution" mirrors the thinking of politicians and so-called experts that assumes ... teachers are interchangable robots.
The union demands that every teacher be treated exactly the same regardless of specialty, ability or level of enthusiasm. Hence 'interchangeable' - blame the union for that.

Michigan public schools are not doing a good job compared to other states/countries, and a big part of that has to do with how they manage talent. (unions, tenure etc.)

They overpay for liberal arts and elementary teachers and then can't afford good or even average science, business or math teachers, because those skills are in high demand and cost more. Businesses pay more for certain skills and less for others. Schools should be doing the same thing.

Finally - you don't need to be a watchmaker to tell the time. Time's nearly up on this broken business model. Schools have to change, or Darwin will take over.
 Alright! Game on! So my reply to "steeplechase1" required a bit of pondering and some research but I eventually composed the following response:

Thanks for a civil reply containing logical points that have some merit.

However, (as you might predict) I take issue with your logic.

First,  I didn’t offer a solution.  I was challenging the idea of firing all the veteran teachers and replacing them with cheaper teachers as overly simplistic.

Secondly, “the union” did not create the system that treats every teacher the same regardless of their specialty, ability, etc.  This system was in place long before there were teacher unions.

Teacher unions understandably are leery of merit pay schemes after witnessing the failure for funding in such examples as the Tennessee Teacher Career Ladder and now the elimination of merit pay in many states for National Board Certified Teachers.  Those are two merit programs that did have support of teacher organizations.

However, the carrot of merit pay is one of the first to be cut during times of tight budgets.  And now the new idea of determining teacher pay with President Obama’s Race To The Top Scheme through “value
added testing” has too many flaws to mention here.

Next, I challenge your notion that Michigan Public schools are not doing a good job compared to other states.  If you examine the average ACT scores by states that require all high school juniors to take the test, Michigan ranked 2nd in the nation in 2009 and was within 0.7 points of the top state, Colorado.  In addition, if you examine the National Assessment of Educational Progress, (which is the closest thing we currently have to a national test) you will see that Michigan’s test scores are not significantly different than the average national score.

Furthermore, you really can’t make a fair comparison of an elementary teacher to a secondary math or science teacher as elementary teachers set the foundations for future learning.  I realize there are reports in the mainstream media regarding a “shortage” of math and science teachers.

However, I challenge that “shortage” notion.  If you examine the shortage patterns, they mainly exist in poor rural and problematic urban schools.  Schools that provide adequate teacher salaries, attractive facilities and minimum support systems have little trouble attracting applicants for math and science vacancies.  

What schools do have trouble with regarding math and science teachers is retaining them beyond their second or third year.  This is almost always due to a lack of classroom support for those teachers, not the lack of pay.

Finally, I take issue with the constant comparison of schools to business.  Schools are unique institutions and cannot be compared to other “business models”.  Politicians and experts keep trying to do that and they keep failing.

We do agree on one thing.  Schools do need to change. But until the policy makers really give experienced, classroom teachers that work in the trenches on a daily basis a substantial say in school policies, our society is doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes.
 Like I said... I think I need a 12 step rehab program.


MisterRogers said...

I think I fixed the problem with my comments section.

David Legg said...

Nice job of laying out the facts. Most people only believe what they hear on right-wing talk radio, but to confound the problem, only keywords and buzzwords register. They hear a buzzword term like "failing schools," and immediately believe that all schools are failing, without attempting to look at the facts. The fact that American schools are NOT failing has been buried for decades. Even the Sandia report from two decades ago made this clear.

Nancy Flanagan said...

I agree with every single one of your points. I have zero confidence that anyone at the Livingston Daily will genuinely dialogue with you, but IMO, you've hit the main points.

I especially like your targeting the "how much should teachers make" issue, as that's what almost all "teacher quality" talk eventually boils down to: follow the money. It's the whole reason for Teach for America's existence: hire smart people who will agree to exit in two-three years. Entire payrolls can drop down by large percentages. The corollary principle that must be adopted is that veteran teachers, as a rule, are ineffective.

Now--anyone with a brain knows that there are tons of terrific veteran teachers out there, teaching up a storm--plus some folks who burned out and need to retire and go into real estate. For the Livingston Daily blowhards, the mantra is: Sure, there are a few good teachers, but most are whiny slackers. Replace them.

In the end, it's about percentages.

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