Those weren’t the days, my friend…

When socializing with colleagues, the topic of conversation often turns to public education policy. A curmudgeon in the group invariably makes reference to “the good old days” marked by rote recitation of the times-tables, a time when all children were little engines of on-demand knowledge acquisition, and all teachers found a way to convey critical knowledge.

There is only one problem with the argument.

As so aptly clarified in Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error, such a period of educational attainment is but a figment of the collective imagination. Still, the halcyon days of our past remain a popular myth and are employed as a standard justification for leaving education appropriations as a percentage of the Gross National Product (GNP) right where they have been stuck for decades, somewhere within shouting distance of six percent since World War II. 

Unfortunately, our Oz-like tendency to examine the past through rose-colored glasses is hampering efforts to provide adequate resources to prepare ALL children for the demands of the Age of Information.

As little as fifty years ago, a quarter of our children dropping out of school merited hardly a shrug of concern. Unfortunately, today’s drop-outs need no longer apply to the legitimate alternatives of that time.

The military has always required foot-soldiers for the skirmish line, but the equipment and weaponry of today are more advanced. Unlike the the days of old, marginally-literate high school drop-outs will find it a challenge to enlist in their service of choice.

Back then, the industrial sector welcomed former students to the workforce with the promise of a living wage for work that was often tedious and frequently hazardous. Today, those factories, when not relocated overseas, are automated and mechanized. Now, factories require writers-of-code and programmers for the robotics.

Our society continues to evolve, and technology is proving to be a double-edged sword creating careers for the highly-skilled while rendering many other trades obsolete. In a few short years, we will deal with the arrival of autonomous vehicles on our roads… How many truck, taxi and bus drivers will be put out of work? Who will create the training and the opportunities to replace that lost gainful employment?

The national goal of optimizing education for every child is a paradigm shift for this nation. “Reaching every child” is a laudable goal, but 21st Century schools will never simply arise from the 19th Century agrarian calendar, the 20th Century model of a school-day based on the assembly line, or stagnant funding streams. Our appropriation of education resources has t00 long favored the economic elite while turning a blind eye to the plight of the disadvantaged; that, too, must change.

Essential to our progress as a society, this ideal could be phrased no more eloquently than by the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman, when she said, The future which we hold in trust for our own children will be shaped by our fairness to other people’s children.


[The original version of this piece appeared in the Prince George’s Sentinel on July 15, 2015.]

No time for a retreat from Maryland’s commitment to children!

“An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Enacted in response to the report of the Thornton Commission, the Bridge to Excellence Act  promised equity of educational opportunity for all children in the state of Maryland. During the coming session that opens so close to the holiday in honor of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., let us implore both houses of the Maryland legislature to give serious consideration to the 620 page report of the Kirwan Commission which outlines the need for an increase of $2.6 billion to be invested in children.

Ultimately, how our state chooses to address the educational needs of all children concerns us not only as citizens, but as immortal beings. Our fates are wrapped up in the fates of the most powerless among us, those who cannot vote. To paraphrase Dr. King, we cannot become all that we might become until all our children become all they are destined to become. 

True equity & adequacy of educational opportunity for all children is in both the spirit and the letter of the Bridge to Excellence Act. The conclusions of Dr. Alvin Thornton’s celebrated commission made it clear. Dr. Thornton once said “We know the characteristics of successful, well-resourced schools; we simply allow lesser schools to exist.” It must be noted that the Free State still allows “difference” to be made legal in the schoolhouse and it would honor Dr. King’s memory if that could be remedied.

Because, long ago, “class size” was ruled not to be a “working condition” in the state of Maryland, neighboring school systems may avail themselves of different staffing ratios that create vastly different learning environments for children. There is no equity when my school system can only afford to hire forty-seven teachers per thousand students and your jurisdiction is able to afford sixty teachers per thousand. Teaching thirty-to-forty economically disadvantaged students will never be the same job as teaching twenty, or fewer, affluent students with access to a superfluity of resources at home.

Nor is there adequacy when my school system must choose between gasoline for the school buses or books for the media center while your school system manages to budget for both. Maryland has allowed such margins to exist for decades and the cascade of effects all roll down on teachers and students. The response of teacher burnout and teacher turnover in the understaffed and inadequately-equipped jurisdictions yield adverse effects on student achievement. That is difference made legal. 

Six decades after Brown vs. the Board of Education, it is simply unconscionable that too many children-of-color and children-of-poverty attend schools that are ill-prepared to deliver the services mandated by the state, the nation, and our stipulated moral values. Sadly, business model accountability measures threaten to deliver only a stick where carrots are required. In ‘The Purpose of Education’ Dr. King wrote, “Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.” 

It is no longer a mystery that the most effective schools tend to be blessed with greater resources – both human and material – the only mystery is why our political structure cannot achieve consensus on how to make those resources available to every child in every school. This despite the mandate of Article 8 in the Constitution of Maryland “The General Assembly, at its First Session after the adoption of this Constitution, shall by Law establish throughout the State a thorough and efficient System of Free Public Schools; and shall provide by taxation, or otherwise, for their maintenance.”

The passion that helped fill the streets of Annapolis in support of the Thornton recommendations must be rekindled, and we must call on our legislators to have the courage to stand for all children in all zip codes. Article 8, too, is a constitutional promissory note, not unlike the one alluded to by Dr. King in his most famous speech. Maryland has made strides in moving toward equity in the schoolhouse, though to be truly just on the moral plane, a thorough-and-efficient system of free public schools must make “sameness” legal for all children and the time for social justice for children is always “right now”. 

 


[The original version of this Viewpoint appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Journal during January 2008. It has been revised for “timeliness”… ]

There is more to school than reading, writing or math

In his Remarks on the Youth Fitness Program in 1961, John F. Kennedy proposed that, “The Strength of our democracy and our country is really no greater in the final analysis than the well-being of our citizens.” That was more than fifty years ago, and the healthcare paradigm in this nation still reflects a preference for a pound of medical intervention over an ounce of preventative measures for illness or injury.

The decades-long trend of increased childhood obesity, and the chronic maladies associated with it, should cause alarms to sound across this country. Even President Kennedy’s proposed minimum of “fifteen minutes of vigorous activity daily” was inadequate to the task of raising fitness levels. Our failure to address this issue will likely result in a generation of adults needlessly dependent on an already-strained healthcare system.

The ancient Greeks maintained that strong minds are improved by strong bodies.

Basic survival requires the presence of clean air, pure water, nutritious food and shelter from the elements. In order to thrive, the offspring of sentient creatures also require access to time for “play” that nurtures survival skills and general fitness. Feline “play” is ultimately a rehearsal for the hunt. For human beings, “play” is crucial to the awakening of imagination and intellect. 

Both structured and unstructured play time are absolutely essential to the physical, social and intellectual growth of children. Adequate time for play is critical to their physical and mental well-being. Thirty minutes a day at aerobic threshold is a bare minimum to maintain health. So, why are we still stuck with a fifteen-minute minimum recess for children in a place called “school”? Do we have a crisis in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? Or, might it be that children simply have insufficient outlets for pent up energy? 

We no longer allow children the time to be children. The time comes soon enough to set aside childish things…

For starters, in the dozen years since the enactment of the pernicious No Child Left Behind legislation, school schedules have been compelled to strictly narrow the curricular focus to reading and math skills. Schools are devoting ever more of the school calendar to test preparation and test administration because their very survival depends on achieving “acceptable” results on standardized assessments.

Instructional programs, especially in schools serving the socio-economically disadvantaged,  have therefore experienced reductions in enrichment programs, physical education, recess, and even nap-time for pre-Kindergarteners. Such regimentation ignores the needs of the whole child.

In the current climate of test-based accountability, it will be no small task to allot time in the school day to provide an opportunity for children to achieve the recommended minimum of 30 minutes at aerobic threshold required to maintain optimal human health. So far, only a handful of states have achieved that goal.

We ignore national goals for physical fitness at our own peril.

Further Reading: It works in Texas!


[The original version of this Commentary appear as There’s more to school than Reading, Writing & Math in the Prince George’s Sentinel on July 01, 2015.]

Ready to be a teacher? There will be a quiz…

Welcome to the hot seat. So, let’s play Who Wants To Be A Teacher?

You know the rules, of course. There are no free calls or lifelines. Here is your piece of chalk. You are on your own

Answer fifteen straight questions correctly and you will win the grand prize of a Teaching Certificate. This certificate will guarantee you the privilege of struggling against impossible odds for three decades to win the hearts and minds of the 5,700 children likely to enter your classroom.

Now, let’s answer the first question for which the prize will be the much-coveted reduced-interest-rate on your mortgage. If you miss at any time, you will revert back to the consolation prize of a ream of paper. So, let’s get to the first question!

 “A person described as a Jack-of-All-Trades is also characterized as a Master of …”

A. Nun
B. One
C. None
D. Education

There is a lot riding on this. So, think it through carefully.

The contestant wavers. “A” and “B” are obviously the distractors. It seems a fairly sure bet that item “C” is the answer, but our contestant knows some teachers and item “D” remains a troubling possibility.

The audience is in suspense as the contestant wrings her hands and wipes her forehead and fervently wishes she could call a friend or poll the audience.  

So, let us discuss her quandary.

Teaching is not just one job. Classroom instructors hold a panoply of part-time jobs that require them to engage in frenetic multi-tasking simply to survive.

Teachers are part-time clericals, part-time security guards, part-time detectives, part-time counselors, part-time administrators and finally, by sheer necessity, part-time instructors.

“Part-time clerical?” you ask. From Advanced Placement to Special Education, most teachers drown in a morass of paper: endless corrections with no hope of reprieve, data-entry, Individual Education Programs, letters of recommendation, requests for daily individual progress reports, quarterly progress reports and gradesheets (and the computation thereof!), to name but a few.

Other professionals staff out various tasks; teachers carve time out of their evenings and weekends to do it all themselves.  

“Part-time security guard?” you ask. The assignment of insufficient support personnel in the building leaves teachers with the responsibility of being in the hallway before school, between classes and for some portion of their so-called “planning” period supervising children in passage. Instead of organizing as one class departs and preparing for the next to arrive, potential instructional time is lost at the beginning and end of every class because keeping a lid on the pressure cooker in the hallway is a much higher priority in most schools.

“Part-time detective?” you ask. Because much of the information in the school database is obsolete within months of being acquired, it can take weeks to make the “required” parental contact prior to administrative intervention for attendance or behavior problems. Negotiating the labyrinth of disconnected phone lines, prior employment, changed addresses and serial guardianship can be a daunting task, especially in schools where 30% of the student body rotates between the ninth and the twelfth grade.

“Part-time counselor?” you ask. Go ahead and scold your students about missing assignments only to discover that one is living in a homeless shelter, or that another is living in a home for unwed mothers with an ailing six-month infant and no health care. Just luring some of these children into the schoolhouse constitutes a daily miracle as they confront the onset of adult consequences during adolescence. How does the school deliver meaningful supports to such students when teachers routinely have 190+ students and guidance counselors may advise 480 students?

 “Part-time administrator?” you ask. The administration, too, is consistently understaffed. Teachers are enlisted, therefore, to help manage the school. Ostensibly, this serves to train future administrators, but such time would be better-spent planning lessons if better instruction were the primary function.

The inevitable desire to see increased academic performance leads teachers to accept unpaid committee assignments and underpaid department chairmanships that invariably consume far more time than foreseen.

 “Part-time instructor?” you ask. Invariably, it is instructional priorities that suffer as typical teachers struggle to satisfy the myriad responsibilities that comprise their workday. Do you want your child’s teacher perfecting a lesson plan, providing feedback on some written work, OR standing in front of the school counting the school buses as they arrive? Which of these sounds like an optimal use of the talent pool?

The time has come for teachers to perform the task for which they are trained.

In most cases, teachers just want to teach. Teachers need the time to plan & deliver instruction and, then, assess whether learning has taken place. If the improvement of learning outcomes is the goal, then respect the act of teaching by severely reducing, if not entirely eliminating, non-instructional duties.

The community must find a way to furnish adequate human resources in support of teachers and children.

Much ado has been made in recent months about the projected teacher shortage. That much-discussed shortfall of educators is a figment of our collective imagination.

There is no shortage of persons certified to teach in this nation. There is a shortage of people willing to accept a 60-hour workweek for a 35-hour paycheck.

Former teachers do not disappear from the face of the earth. They quit the profession for just cause after dispassionately examining the ratio between heartache and reward. Teachers come into the classroom for the opportunity to teach children, and they leave because they are systematically denied the opportunity to excel at their chosen endeavor.

Our children deserve more than a frazzled Jack-of-All-Trades in their classrooms. They require the focus of a Master-of-One-Trade and until such time as the primary functions of teachers are delivery-of-instruction and assessment-of-student learning, we must anticipate a dearth of contestants for any game show called “Who Wants to Be a Teacher?”


Further Reading: The situation has not improved… :

Further Reading: Teacher Retention in Georgia?

Number of Future Teachers Reaches All Time Low

[The original version of this “Viewpoint” appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Journal on December 19, 2001.  The photo is from the game show “Who wants to be a Millionaire”]

Fear and Loathing in the American Classroom: Debunking the the Myth of the Teacher Shortage

Exodus 5: 10-11 — “And the taskmasters of the people went out, and their officers, and they spake to the people, saying, Thus saith Pharaoh, I will not give you straw. 
Go ye, get your straw where ye can find it: yet not aught of your work shall be diminished.

Human willingness to endure suffering has limits. When subjected to an unreasonable workload, those who labor will eventually seek any alternative to ceaseless toil. The burden of national expectations — the edict to leave no child behind, for example — have been placed squarely on the shoulder of educators with predictable results. Educators pose the question, “Where are the increased human and material resources to meet this vastly expanded goal for our Public Schools?” Our society has mostly responded with Exodus 5: 11, see above

Recently, the media have shared the concerns of school systems struggling to recruit educators into their classrooms. Nationwide, teacher preparation programs also report insufficient enrollment to furnish the replacements for the looming wave of baby-boomer retirements. Do the math: educators are leaving the profession faster than we can prepare their replacements. 

These stories are becoming a rite of autumn as schools open, and the trend is no longer sustainable. 

Late each spring, thousands-upon-thousands of teachers — most of whom are effective practitioners in the classroom — pack up their materials one last time, raise the white flag of surrender and tender letters of resignation. The issue is most apparent in regions with high concentrations of poverty; it is not uncommon for such schools to experience a complete turnover of the faculty every few years. Dr. Richard Ingersoll established long ago that in excess of 50% of teachers do not make it to a sixth year in the classroom.

It is true that not all teachers leave the profession. A tiny portion will receive promotions. A larger group will migrate to greener educational pastures. Too many, however, succumb to the despair of unwieldy demands in the workplace and simply find another line of work. Recently, during an impromptu exit interview, an about-to-be-former educator responded tearfully when asked what she would do next. “Anything else!”  She doubled her salary and works in the IT industry, now.

What is it like to teach in 2015? With but the rarest of exceptions, the teaching profession is characterized by lack of professional autonomy in addressing the educational needs of children, excessive intrusions on personal time, archaic resources, unreasonable caseloads, inadequate facilities and, to top it all off, vilification by the punditry and the political class.

Working conditions are so generally abhorrent that slightly more than 9% of the nation’s teaching force of 4.5 million fails to survive even the first year in public education. Every single year, several hundred thousand teachers simply walk away from a teaching credential that required several years to obtain. Across this thirty year career, a surfeit of educators has only existed during severe economic downturns when other work was scarce. 

So, the shortage of teachers does not really exist. The nearly constant churn in the teaching force suggests, instead, the more intractable problem of economically-challenged school systems lacking the capacity to place committed educators in a position to effect positive change in the lives of children. Change that dynamic and a horde of former educators stands ready to return to the classroom. 

The National Center on Teacher Quality has proposed five ways that school districts might stem the constant hemorrhaging of potential career teachers. NCTQ proposes the creation of improved career pathways, addressing inequities in teacher placements, embracing teacher-led professional development, supplying more job-imbedded time for collaboration and untethering teacher evaluation from tests. The impediments? Cost implications abound.

Unless the community is content to stifle the aspirations of educators and squander the dreams of children, the focus must soon shift attention away from annual recruitment of novices and over to the retention of more experienced, highly effective educators. Making every classroom a manageable workplace must become the national priority. Our children deserve nothing less.

The annual exodus of teachers from the profession should result in the sounding of klaxons across this nation because it places the next generation of children at risk. Turnover, however, is the only logical outcome of abrogated contracts, classroom overcrowding, obsolete materials, lack of support and leaking roofs. All who abandon the vocation of shaping young minds are declaring forthrightly that they simply refuse to gather their own proverbial straw.

Further Reading: neaToday…


[This is a much revised version of a commentary that appeared in The Prince George’s Sentinel on November 8, 2015.]

More work needed toward workplace equality

National Women’s History Month 2016 draws to a close. After centuries of wives being regarded as chattel, social justice for women has been on the rise since the mid-19th century’s passage of the Married Women’s Property Act in a number of American states.

Faded into the role of obscure metaphorical allusion is “the rule of thumb” which, according to English jurisprudence, granted husbands the right to chastise their spouses with a stick no more broad than his thumb. 

In 1920, the power of women grew by leaps and bounds with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States establishing universal suffrage. The fundamental civil right of all citizens to vote has forever reshaped the American political landscape. 

Dr. King would affirm decades later that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” One satisfactory benchmark for parity between the sexes remains untested: abolishing male-centric policies in the workplace around compensation and advancement. As Michael Moore proposed in “Where to Invade Next”, following Iceland’s lead and electing more women to representative bodies would be a good first step. 

We still need the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. Despite the passage of the landmark Lilly Ledbetter Act, bending the arc of moral justice toward “equal pay for equal work” remains an as yet unachieved dream.

It is well-documented that female nurse practitioners still earn 11 percent less than their male counterparts. For decades, female physician assistants, likewise, have noted discrepancies with the income of male colleagues. It is tragic enough that women have historically found themselves disadvantaged wherever they compete directly with men.

For the so-called “pink collar careers” like teaching, professions typically staffed predominantly by women, it is unconscionable that starting salaries now frequently fail to support families, or even to service the debt acquired while pursuing the mandated credentials. 

Women, indeed, have come a long way; the work, however, is still in progress.

 

[The original version of the Commentary appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Gazette on March 27, 2014.]

Professional Traumatic Stress Disorder: aka “Burnout”

The age of political correctness saw Shakespeare chastised posthumously for sardonically recommending in Henry VI a very radical initial step for improving society. “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Never meant to be taken seriously, this jest was likely meant to inspire laughter among the groundlings and noblemen alike.

Today, certain ideologues of education reform quite seriously stipulate the first step toward improving Public Education. They shout, “Get rid of bad teachers!” Unfortunately, too many people nod their heads in assent to what seems, at first blush, to be a relatively benign proposition. Who could oppose ridding schools of ineffective instructors?

Clearly, however, people are no longer breaking down the doors of the schoolhouse to become teachers. Quite the contrary, school systems are struggling mightily to fill teaching positions. It is well chronicled, now, that the majority of those few who run the gauntlet of travails in the schoolhouse seek other venues for their talent within five years of decorating their first classroom. We are more successful at driving dynamic teachers out of the profession than those who perform marginally. Inadequate compensation and benefits, interminable labor, mounting responsibilities, declining resources and erroneously attributed blame all contribute to this trend.

Furthermore, were we successful in dismissing every teacher of marginal competence, from what unknown pool of talent do you suppose their replacements might be drawn? Occasionally, the “devil” you know is preferable to the “devil” you have yet to meet.

These are but the first challenges posed by making teachers the scapegoats for our nation’s errant education policies. The questionable hypothesis that teachers, themselves, are solely to blame for lack of productivity in their workplaces remains an unproven assertion trumpeted by ideologues seeking to distract the general public from the real drags on student achievement.

Human beings have a penchant for blaming victims for the misfortunes they endure. Has anyone not perused the account of some crime and wondered what the victim was thinking while wandering in that neighborhood at that time of night? Does a victim’s momentary lapse of reason somehow excuse a criminal act? How many of us have participated in discussions of infamous incidents that ended by questioning the intelligence – or sanity – of the victim?

So, it should come as no surprise that blame for our educational woes should land at the feet of classroom teachers. Politicians often ask labor leaders when they will take a stand on the removal of incompetent educators from the ranks of classroom teachers.

A simple question deserves a simple response. 

  • Such a stand will only be viable when simple survival in the classroom no longer requires universal application of superhuman effort on a timescale that wears down even the most committed advocate for Public Education.

Rocket science is not involved. 

Our society must wage the war on ignorance the same way it wages war on the battlefield. We must place a well-equipped, overwhelming force at the point of attack and commit logistical support until the objective is attained. A military leader knows that a 10-1 ratio is likely necessary against an entrenched adversary. 

Would you question an army’s competence in fighting hordes of barbarians if it were limited to engaging the enemy with peashooters and slingshots during a campaign that lasted many decades? Would you label as incompetent the wounded foot-soldiers?

Dismissing every teacher who eventually raises the white flag of surrender will not improve Public Education. Furnishing every teacher with a reasonable caseload, adequate resources and appropriate time will…. 

Few events are more heart-rending than knowing a once-upon-a-time innovative and dynamic teacher and overhearing one of his students say to a classmate, “You know, Mr. Bartleby just don’t teach.”

Mr. Bartleby might be trying to hang on a few more years for the benefit of the worst retirement plan in the country following three decades of grossly inadequate compensation. Mr. Bartleby has likely corrected more than 500,000 papers submitted by nearly 5,000 students during a successful career prior to the onset of health problems. Unfortunately, he can no longer tolerate the interminable sessions of paper grading and lesson planning into the wee morning hours. Does this mean he has nothing left to contribute?

The word spreads that Mr. Bartleby is no longer “chewing the leather”. People begin to notice his less-than-stringent adherence to school policies. Next year might mean being assigned the most challenging classes and the most onerous non-teaching duties in the hope of compelling him to move on or accept the meager benefit of partial retirement.

Is it any wonder why Mr. Bartleby might choose to follow the lead of Herman Melville’s famous scrivener and say “I would prefer not to…”

Often merely exhausted by the unrealistic expectations of the modern classroom, the education profession is diminished when the Mr. Bartleby’s of this world are needlessly driven from its ranks.

Most of us would accept as axiomatic the admonition of Paul Tsongas that, “No one on his deathbed ever said, I wish I had spent more time on my business.” Yet, it is presumed that teachers will commit whatever time is necessary, with alacrity mind you, to educate however many students the community chooses to squeeze into classrooms. It is also assumed that, as primary recompense for their never-ending altruistic endeavor, teachers will experience paroxysms of satisfaction while basking in the sparkling of a learner’s eyes.

Most teachers selflessly contribute countless hours to their craft while feigning cheerful acceptance of the delayed gratification lifestyle. Any measurable success in the classroom currently demands such personal sacrifice.

Today, devoting anything less than the totality-of-being to the profession carries with it the implied threat of being labeled “incompetent” or “unworthy“.

Teaching is exceedingly difficult even for those blessed with good fortune and robust health. When life delivers serious difficulties – as life is wont to do on occasion – even paragons of virtue eventually succumb. Who among us is blessed with infinite stamina?

Do we want elevate the professional practice of all teachers? Do we want to see improved academic performance for students? Assign all educators a workload that is manageable in something approaching a normal work day…


Further Reading:


[The original version of this Viewpoint appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Journal on January 9, 2002. ]

Experience Matters for Educators, too!

Help children reach their potential

[The original version of the Commentary appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Gazette on May 22, 2014. ]

Checks on the power of big money?

Corporations, institutions that serve the interests of the financial elite, have been accorded “personhood” by the judiciary.  Unions, however, institutions that serve the interests of the multitudes, hear the tolling of the bells for the basic right to associate and bargain collectively over the terms and conditions of employment. It appears the nation has forgotten an essential part of Abraham Lincoln’s First Annual Message, “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

In case it has escaped your attention, the monolithic “power” frequently ascribed to organized labor is a hoax perpetrated by the investor class who uses immense wealth to fund legislation and litigation that will seriously limit the rights of labor. In the 1950’s just less than half of the American workforce was organized; today the number is around 11% and those are mostly public sector employees. The decline of earning power in the middle class has matched the decline in union membership. 

Those who own the gold are making the rules, and the first rule is they get to keep all the gold. So, the oligarchy lobbies for cleverly named legislation called “Right to Work” that abolishes collective bargaining and allows employers to pay subsistence wages and cut benefits for those who actually perform the labor. As George Carlin so cogently observed some years ago, “There are no permanent ‘Rights’ in America; there are only temporary ‘privileges’ that can be taken away at any time.”  

Allowing the rug to be pulled out from under organized labor dishonors the memory of those who laid down their lives for the ‘right’ to bargain collectively. 

The Vergara ruling on California’s tenure law is another case in point.

Blaming the well-chronicled disparities in education between affluent and impoverished communities on “teacher tenure” constitutes a classic red herring argument that attempts to distract the public from the well-chronicled issue of poverty-induced stressors on the readiness to learn of children. 

Furthermore, “tenure” for professional educators has never constituted a “guarantee” of employment, but merely a protection against the capricious dismissals that once were rampant in the schoolhouse for causes ranging from nepotism to political dissent.

Ultimately, the potential elimination of due process and just-cause termination for career educators is just as likely to prove harmful to children as we become overly focused on shedding the comparatively few incompetent instructors instead of retaining the overwhelming majority of potentially effective ones.

Taking responsibility for elevating the professional practice of all educators is of paramount importance to teachers if they are to re-establish the respect and prestige of the teaching profession. Teachers’ unions have been grappling with such efforts, successfully, for a number of years. If corporatist reformers focused on the financial bottom line have their way, however, budgetary considerations could soon hold sway over instructional priorities.

Experienced, well-compensated educators would be no more. After a lifetime of honing their professional practice and enhancing instructional repertoires, career educators could fall prey to “budget axes” and a younger, more compliant workforce. Where will such practices evolve? As always, financially-strapped school districts would be a great guess!

 

[The original version of this “Commentary” first appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Gazette on July 3, 2014.]