Thursday, September 02, 2010

America's educators are holding America back

Not so much the teachers as those who teach the teachers and those who represent the teachers

No matter which societal problem we place under the microscope, the search for a solution… or the absence thereof… always takes us back to what it is that our people know and understand. It all comes back to the public schools, teachers unions, colleges and universities.

When people cannot properly read, write, and speak the English language, they are unable to take full advantage of the freedoms that are available to them. When people are inadequately schooled in mathematics and the sciences, they are unable to participate in the advancement of science and technology and it will be difficult for them to find a niche in a highly technological world. When people fail to understand the lessons of history, they are unable to make the political judgments necessary to avoid the mistakes of the past. When people have inadequate knowledge of politics and the workings of government, they are unable to make the political decisions necessary to advance the cause of freedom. And when people have an inadequate grasp of basic economics they are unable to properly assess the impact of taxes, savings, profits, and investments.

In all of these areas of physical and intellectual endeavor, our public education system is by far our greatest failing.

In an August 11, 2010 article for, titled “The Left’s Special-Interest Human Shields,” columnist Michelle Malkin gives us a clue as to why our public education system is the greatest failure among all our public institutions. Clearly, what has always been an important, necessary, and highly respected profession, has been transformed into just another cesspool of leftist union activism, just another mindless, lemming-like subsidiary of the Democratic Party.

Malkin’s attitude toward schoolteachers is not unlike that of most Americans. She says, “I have nothing against public-school teachers. My mother was one. My children are taught by some of the best in the nation. And over the years, I’ve reported on valiant battles between rank-and-file educators in government schools and their fat, bloated union leaders, who’ve transformed their professional organizations into wholly owned Democratic subsidiaries. My opposition to the so-called “Edujobs” bill stems not from meanness but from compassion for millions of dues-paying school employees being used as special-interest human shields.”

Looking into the faces of the teachers at your local public elementary school or high school… the “micro” view of public education… is not the same as taking a “macro” view of the teaching profession. Malkin quotes the DC-based Labor Union Report as saying that, in 2009, the National Education Association (NEA) “raked in a whopping $355,334,165 in ‘dues and agency fees’ from (mostly) teachers around the country.” And although the NEA spent close to $11 million more than it took in, it did not short-change the political parasites who rely on it for their sustenance. The NEA still found it possible to pour $50 million into “political activities and lobbying” for exclusively left-wing and partisan Democratic causes and candidates.

So, if excellence in education is not the first priority of the teachers union, what do they see as their top priority? The NEA’s retiring top lawyer, Bob Chanin, spoke to delegates at the NEA annual meeting in July. He made no bones about what is the union’s top priority. He said:
“Despite what some among us would like to believe, it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children, and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power. And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year, because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees. . . .

“This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary. These are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights, and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay.”

Talk about upside-down priorities. As Barack Obama’s personal hero, Saul Alinsky, has said, teacher organizers must commit to a “singleness of purpose.” Not serving the needs of parents and children, but serving the “ability to build a (political) power base.” That they have done.

The Democratic Party is comprised of (in order of importance) teachers unions (NEA and AFT), trial lawyers, public employee unions, blue collar unions (AFL-CIO), radical environmentalists, minorities (blacks and Hispanics), service employee unions (SEIU), organized street agitators (ACORN), radical feminists, gays, lesbians, and the gender-confused community.

Yet, in spite of the fact that public school teachers are now ranked as the most politically powerful special interest in the nation, and in spite of the fact that we as a nation spend more on public education per pupil than any other industrialized nation, we find that among high school students in the 30 richest nations, U.S. students rank 17th in their knowledge of the sciences and 24th in their knowledge of mathematics. Clearly, our public education system is failing to prepare our children to compete in a highly technological world. It is our weakest link. It is the anchor on our Ship of State.


Charter Schools Rise in Katrina’s Wake

Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than just buildings. Left with scarce resources and personnel, local government in New Orleans became weak and ineffective in the aftermath of the flooding. Five years later, the rebuilding of New Orleans is far from complete, but reformers can point to at least one major accomplishment: a new school system built around charter schools and parental choice.

As a recent Newsweek article explains in some detail, Louisiana established the Recovery School District (RSD) to replace the old school system in New Orleans. Eschewing centralized control, RSD officials created a plethora of charter schools throughout the city, offering far more choices to parents than they had pre-Katrina.

Charter schools receive public funding but are allowed to operate without the regulatory burden faced by ordinary public schools. They have more leeway to experiment with different teaching methods, curriculum content, disciplinary procedures, and levels of parental involvement. If enrollment is any indication, New Orleans parents appreciate the choices. Over 60 percent of the city’s students attended a charter school last year.

A rigorous evaluation of charter school impacts has yet to be conducted in New Orleans, but a recent report by the U.S. Department of Education gives us a good idea of how charter schools perform nationally. To ensure a fair evaluation, the report’s authors used a natural experiment: They compared students who attended oversubscribed charter schools through a lottery with students who lost the lottery and were denied entrance. (This method is the “gold standard” for school evaluation.)

The results are unambiguous. By large margins, parents are more satisfied with charter schools—and with the academic and social development of their children who attend—than are public school parents. For example, charter schools were rated “excellent” by 85 percent of parents, while non-charter schools received the “excellent” rating by just 37 percent of parents.

The people of New Orleans are the latest to benefit from an extensive system of charter schools, but it should not take a natural disaster to make that option available. As more states and localities nationwide adopt school choice, the more satisfied parents will be.


British teachers’ fear of discipline holds back their pupils

A change in schools' culture is needed if bad behaviour is to be eradicated

Today, we publish the disturbing story of David Roy, a science teacher in a comprehensive in Blackpool who was sacked after he tried to impose a modicum of discipline in his classroom. An industrial tribunal has now ruled that he was unfairly dismissed and he has won compensation from the school that sacked him. But the whole charade should never have happened to begin with.

That it did so is an indictment of the terrible state into which some schools have fallen. The head teacher who believed that it was her duty to sack Mr Roy did so without hearing his version of what had happened. She accepted, with little further investigation, the allegations made by three children, who claimed they had been shouted at, or grabbed, or in some way maltreated. In following such an unfair procedure, she was doing no more than complying with what many within the state system seem to believe is “best practice”: uncritically accepting charges made by pupils and assuming the teacher’s guilt.

The result is, effectively, a charter for bad behaviour. On average, secondary school teachers lose 50 minutes of teaching time each day because of unruly and aggressive pupils, who feel they have a licence to misbehave without the threat of sanctions. This lack of discipline does not just hurt those pupils who want to learn: those who are most damaged by it are the disruptive pupils themselves. As their unacceptable behaviour is not curtailed, they never learn the elementary social skills essential for succeeding in life, never mind anything that could be described as academic knowledge. The chaos caused by this failure to impose discipline has blighted, and continues to blight, the prospects of thousands of children.

Pupils need to be in an environment where the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour is clear and unambiguous, and where the consequences for crossing the boundary are instant and undesirable. This problem cannot be fixed by legislation, for it is not so much the result of teachers not being legally permitted to discipline pupils – they are – but rather a collective failure of judgment on the part of some elements in the teaching profession.

What is required is not a change in the law but a change in the culture, one that gives teachers the benefit of the doubt and restores their authority within the classroom. This is starting to happen, as some of the new academies demonstrate – but not fast enough. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is right to have high hopes of his new schools. But he also needs to find a way to erase the deep‑seated hostility to discipline that still holds sway in so much of Britain’s education system.


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