On this blog I avoid politics. I realize that readers interested in the adventures and entrepreneurship of a twenty-something, are not necessarily interested in my political perspective. But there are some instances in which I cannot contain myself. Education policy is one of these areas. Here are my views on K-12 education, in brief:
Who is the most important person in the classroom?
After all, the entire purpose of education itself is (or should be) to educate the student. However, this is not the case in our system. Education should run like business. Students are consumers of the services produced by teachers. However, powerful teachers unions have reversed the priorities so that teachers are put first at the expense of students. In the business of education, the immunity of the provider – read teacher – to the needs and wants of the consumer – read students and their families – is shocking. In no other place is there such a dramatic distortion of priorities.
Here are the problems:
- Tenure – the inability to fire an employee is found in no other business. Yet, in education (one of our countries most important enterprises) teachers with two to three years of experience are made untouchable. Short of physically abusing their students these suppliers are set for life. Imagine saying to a chef that he would be paid the same thing for decades to come, regardless of how quality of meals he made. Certainly, a good portion of chefs would continue to cook well because of their passion for the act, but many chefs would loose motivation. On bad days, they would cook slowly. If challenges came up they would shrug their shoulders and ignore them, because they would be set to collect the same paycheck regardless.
- Seniority – unions insist that payment and retention be based on seniority. So that a poor teacher 30 years in, earns more than a terrific teacher with 10 years experience. What’s worse, seniority insists that all lay-offs start with the newest additions. So, as Matthew Tully points out in his coverage of Indianapolis’s attempts at education reform, teachers nominated for the teacher of the year award are laid off, in order to protect those with more “seniority”.
- Litigation – unions insist upon “due process” for teachers put under performance review. “Due process” turns out to be reviews that take years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyers bills (those dollars are your tax dollars). Upon a real review the vast majority of teachers put under performance review are done so for charges so egregious, that in any other business they would be fired on the spot. In Steven Brill’s recent piece The Rubber Room, examples of New York City public schools teachers found drunk and asleep with a full class of students are given. The process that Brill details is required to get rid of these teachers can cost up to half a million dollars in lawyers fee and take longer that the O.J. Simpson murder trail, all while the teacher under investigation continues to receive her salary, and accumulate a pension!
Fortunately, we are in a rare position in our political history where something may actually be done about these problems. Democrats are normally seen as in the pocket of the teachers unions. But our President (who I have long supported on this blog) is not. President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, have both voiced their support of charter schools, parent/student choice and the end of seniority practices.
These positions often shock the teachers themselves. Here is the BEST part of the Brill’s article:
“(A teacher under investigation) sat in a lounge chair that she had brought from home. She declined to say what the charges against her were or to allow her name to be used, but told me that she was there “because I’m a smart black woman.”
I asked the woman for her reaction to the following statement: “If a teacher is given a chance or two chances or three chances to improve but still does not improve, there’s no excuse for that person to continue teaching. I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences.”
“That sounds like Klein and his accountability bullshit,” she responded. “We can tell if we’re doing our jobs. We love these children.” After I told her that this was taken from a speech that President Obama made last March, she replied, “Obama wouldn’t say that if he knew the real story.”