Saturday, June 05, 2010

Kids v. Unionists …Who’s Going to Win?

The refrain “do it for the kids” will be heard once again across Michigan, as the MEA plans a June 24th rally at the state capitol to make an impassioned plea for more money to prop up a self-serving education system that protects the adults at the expense of our children. Ironically, the teachers’ union bills this rally as their “Enough Is Enough” campaign…a perfect slogan, but misdirected.

Michigan taxpayers and students should adopt the phrase and demand an end to the MEA’s entitlement syndrome that is hurting our students and bleeding taxpayers dry, during an economic downturn that challenges Michigan’s very survival. If Michigan is to survive and prosper, it must re-invent the educational system, which can only be done if our legislators display the courage and independence to do what’s right for our kids. If we fail our students, we fail the entire state…forever.

Enough IS Enough…tell the Governor and legislature to stand up to the greed of the teacher unions and enact substantive and meaningful reforms to pensions and health care. Some steps have been made, but we need much more than that, if we are going to create a SUSTAINABLE educational system for the State of Michigan.

Follow the money. The tax dollars meant to educate your kids…aren’t (at least enough of them aren’t). Dollars that should be flowing into Michigan’s classrooms flow instead to the coffers of the insurance arm (MESSA) of the Michigan Education Association (MEA). In addition to being the most expensive insurer around, MESSA uses its profits to hire top-notch lobbyists and channel campaign donations to the governor and legislators, who subsequently find it difficult, if not impossible, to bring themselves to support the dramatic educational reforms necessary for Michigan to prosper and excel as a national educational leader.

Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins hit the nail on the head, way back in 2004, and lost his job for doing so. He correctly pointed out that, “escalating labor costs…exacerbate the financial situation of local schools…almost two-thirds of every new dollar provided is consumed by health care and pension costs.”

If we fall for the old trick of “raise taxes for our children”, then we will accomplish NOTHING toward inventing and investing in a quality 21st century education that will help prepare our students for the global knowledge economy they will inherit. Instead, those tax increases will do nothing more than fatten paychecks and retirement plans without adding any value to the education our kids receive. If you look at Michigan’s performance on the national NAEP test and compare the results with the rest of the nation, you’ll also see that there is plenty of room for improvement.

School boards are facing the financial crisis by having to make new decisions about where diminishing dollars are spent. Unfortunately, the kids are the losers once again. Some school districts have traded off instructional time in order to get less expensive teacher contract settlements (which they still cannot afford). Some districts are now down to a pitiful 160 days of instruction, while their teachers continue to enjoy salary increases AND the luxuries of MESSA insurance with minimal employee contributions through co-pays and deductibles.

Trading days for dollars equates to your children losing learning time at the expense of adult should not be the ones paying the price here. The same MEA that places picket lines in districts considering privatization is the same MEA that not only privatizes services used at their headquarters, but ultimately turns a blind eye when districts privatize services (thereby putting non-teacher MEA members like you child’s bus driver or school custodian out of work) for the “right” reason—to preserve pay increases and maintain MESSA insurance for teachers.

The poor local school boards truly live between a rock and a hard place, and face MEA supported recall action if they have the audacity to oppose the MEA. In addition, leadership salaries of the MEA make most local school superintendent’s wages look pitiful by comparison. It’s very typical for a superintendent to sit across the negotiating table from an MEA Uniserv Director (“hired gun”) who makes more money, drives a better car, and has much less educational experience…in essence, they’re well-paid strong-arms, hell-bent on a juicy settlement, whether or not it might bankrupt a district. The typical refrain is, “we don’t care…we deserve it.”

Well, they’re “deserving” their non-teaching union colleagues (as well as low-seniority teachers) out of jobs, and they’re hurting our kids by forcing larger class sizes (which they bemoan, and blame school administrators for implementing) and shorter school years to help offset the burgeoning costs of health care, built in “step” increases, and expected pay raises for all, all the while expecting to maintain their insurance-paid massages. The union tactics are repugnant enough that many, many teachers (either courageously, or much more often quietly) distance themselves from their own organization.

Encouragingly, some teachers have made attempts to have their local union contract “opened” for renegotiation, so they could offer concessions and creative solutions to help keep some of their colleagues working, and help keep their school district solvent. Ironically, but not surprisingly, the very union that claims to REPRESENT these teachers REFUSED to hear of it.

It’s time that Michigan teachers took control of their own union. Many thousands of great teachers are putting their total effort into teaching their students. This is laudable, but their political inaction also allows the MEA to continue to give teachers a bad name. Our teachers need to feel valued, and local superintendents and school boards want to work WITH their teachers, but the MEA often stands firmly in the way.

Great teachers are also true professionals. The MEA consistently exhibits and encourages anything but professionalism. Frankly, they need to change their name to represent what they’re about…and it’s certainly NOT about education. Perhaps the Michigan Organization for Bankrupting Schools (MOBS) might be a better descriptor.

If I was still teaching, I would be ashamed of the MEA’s obstructionist tactics, which most certainly helped keep Michigan from having any chance at the Federal “Reach to the Top” funding in Round One. I know I’m ashamed of them now. If they wanted to live up to their chosen name, the MEA would be first in line to offer realistic and creative solutions to help Michigan solve its educational problems. Instead, the MEA works myopically and tirelessly to obstruct reform and ignore reality…much like a spoiled child.

“It’s About the Children!”---NOT!


Texas rejects second round of Race to the Top money

Gov. Rick Perry said 'no thanks' to federal stimulus money for education, saying the state's application would probably be penalized for its unwillingness to buy into national curriculum standards.

Perry has argued that Texas' curriculum, made for and by Texans, is superior than what federal bureaucrats would produce. The state standards are set by the elected State Board of Education, which just earned national attention for setting social studies curriculum that has been criticized by educators and others as being politically driven. The state board decided, for example, that high school students will learn about leading U.S. conservative groups from the 1980s and 1990s but not about liberal or minority rights groups and they should question the division between church and state.

Perry has rejected the potentially hundreds of millions in federal dollars, saying he was rejecting federal encroachment on state decision-making.

But some state decisions are getting harder. The state faces an $18 billion budget deficit next year. Perry and other state leaders have called for a combined 15 percent cut from agencies across the state.

Perry and state leaders have accepted $16 billion in other federal stimulus money.


TV programs in curriculum for British High School exams in English

Teenagers will be encouraged to study reality TV programmes such as The Apprentice, Dragon’s Den and Britain's Got Talent as part of a new English GCSE. Pupils will be being asked to assess the delivery style and features of contestants’ language in a course designed to boost speaking and listening skills.

In one specimen paper, students are ordered to study the use of language in the Apprentice boardroom – the culmination of the BBC1 programme where Lord Sugar “fires” the weakest candidate.

Another task involves “presenting a product” based on Dragons’ Den, in which would be entrepreneurs attempt to sell ideas to successful businessmen.

And in another unit, pupils are encouraged to assess the different interviewing skills of Jeremy Paxman and Michael Parkinson.

The questions form part of a GCSE in English language created by the OCR examination board. It is designed to teach children how language can be adapted for the workplace and different social situations.

OCR said pupils taking the course would “become more conscious of which registers are more appropriate in which scenarios, making them more likely to succeed when it comes to influencing and negotiating in everyday life, their education and the world of work”.

The new English language GCSE will be available for teaching alongside an English literature GCSE from September. Under plans, teachers will be encouraged use reality TV, stand-up comedy routines, political speeches and chat shows to develop pupils’ language skills. As part of the GCSE, pupils will write a 1,000 word essay under teachers’ supervision.

A specimen question paper suggests that The Apprentice could be used as the basis of the work.

Pupils are asked to assess the “use/misuse/uncomfortable nature of certain registers (eg. the language of the professional discussion) and how this compares to candidates’ more natural speech styles”. Teenagers should also analyse the “language of self-promotion” and the pre-prepared or formulaic language used in the boardroom.

In one task, pupils are asked to create a presentation of their personal skills, based on Britain’s Got Talent.

Another question asks students to study a particular interviewer, such as Jeremy Paxman or Michael Parkinson.

The paper says pupils should consider “how rapport is established between interviewer and interviewee”, the use of pre-planned and follow-up questions, the impact of open and closed questions, how the interviewer challenges or supports a guest and the use of pauses and body language.

Another section encourages pupils to study speakers – listing Barack Obama, Eddie Izzard and Ronnie Corbett as possible subjects. Pupils are asked to consider how diction, register and rhetorical devices are used to create an impact, as well as the relevance of timing, pace, pauses and movement.

Bethan Marshall, senior lecturer in English at King’s College London, told the Times Educational Supplement said there was a risk that the syllabus would ignore the literary perspective of speech, but added: “Looking at spoken English and developing pupils’ consciousness of the spoken form is a very good thing.”

However, spokesman for the Plain English Campaign said: “I'm struggling to see the relevance of this. “Kids need a strong foundation for communicating in a useful way. This just confuses the issue.”


No comments: