Posts tagged politics
Posts tagged politics
Watching (actually having no choice) the political ads on TV, along with reading all the articles in the newspaper covering the campaign, got me thinking about a question which voters will answer at the polls - how will education look in a few years?
It seems public education has several purposes which serve to strengthen our nation: to create informed citizens, to produce workers for business and industry, and to keep the United States competitive among the nation-states of the world. If we are to be a democracy, then citizens who hold the power of electing officials need to have the tools to give them a basic understanding of issues on which they will be voting. This is the most important reason to have publicly-funded (and hopefully non-partisan) education. For the past hundred years, schools have been organized along a “factory” model to produce workers. Again, this made sense with the United States being the leading industrial country in the world. This purpose feeds into the third purpose of public education, to keep the United States competitive among the nation-states of the world. As we have moved into a post-industrial economy, education has come under some fire for not adapting to this change.
There is, however, a fourth less-publicized purpose of public education - to promote a political, social, or cultural viewpoint - and this is where things get sticky. Whose viewpoint should public schools take as their focus. The attempts to address this purpose have led to turmoil within the education community. Over the course of my thirty-five year career I was subjected to “A Nation At Risk,” “Back to the Basics,” “No Child Left Behind,” and “Race to the Top.” All of these were attempts to push public education toward a goal considered worthy by whichever political party held sway. Educators who resisted or questioned any of these policies were demonized and their unions labeled obstructionist. The anti-science movement of the past decade has led to laws and policies which try to inject religious beliefs into public education. This, contrasts with the push for STEM education from other quarters. The latest affront has been the takeover of the charter school idea by for-profit businesses and their efforts to privatize education.
Looking ahead, I foresee a bleak education landscape for public schools. On-line courses will fall victim to for-profit businesses and public schools will become less relevant. The wealthy will send their children to private schools, which will follow a curriculum selected by a private board, leaving the poor to fend for themselves in impoverished public schools. A bleak future indeed.
Last Spring, the newly elected Republican-controlled legislature and governor surprised the citizens of Ohio by passing Senate Bill 5, which eliminated collective bargaining (among other things) for Ohio’s public employees.
I’ll focus on the education ramifications of this bill since I’m a retired teacher. Teacher pay would no longer be based on a “step” system, but on “merit.” Senority would be eliminated. Only wages, not working conditions, could be bargained. Teachers would have to pay 15% of their health care costs. Educators would have to pay 10% of their pension (employer pick-up, often an administrative perk) would be eliminated. Most worrisome, when negotiations break down, management would be allowed to implement their last, best offer. If there is not enough money to support a contract, said contract would be submitted to voters for approval. I wrote about SB 5 in an earlier post, “Ohio’s SB 5 Up For Repeal.”
When this bill passed through the legislature on the heels of Wisconsin’s passage of similar legislation, public employee unions in Ohio banded together and began to circulate petitions among registered voters demanding SB 5 be submitted to voters for ratification or repeal. The required number of signatures was quickly gathered, and both sides began a heated advertising campaign.
On November 8, the voters spoke and their voice was convincing. SB 5, known as Issue 2 on the ballot, was defeated by a 2-1 margin. However, for public employees this is only round one.
Many observers expect the governor and legislature to reintroduce pieces of the former SB 5 and attempt to implement them into law over the course of 2012. By breaking them down this way they feel they won’t incur voter backlash and will have a better chance of passing their legislation. Public employee unions will have to gird themselves for an ongoing battle.
Personally, I feel this is part of an organized move by Republicans to break a piece off of the union base that supports the Democratic Party . There is big money and a nation-wide plan at work here. Citizens, be vigilant!
Having lived in Ohio for forty-two years and having taught social studies in an Ohio public high school for thirty-five years, I’ve been following the story of Senate Bill 5 since it was passed earlier this year. For the record, I am a registered Democrat and I am against the bill.
Ohio’s SB 5 was passed shortly after Wisconsin enacted similar legislation. Coincidence - of course not. These bills were part of a conservative plan to take control of governorships and state legislatures, then attack public employee unions, hopefully outlawing their collective bargaining rights. In the case of teachers, ending tenure and senority privileges, pay scales, enacting merit pay systems based on student performance on standardized exams, and forcing educators to pay higher percentages of their health care and into their pensions. The stage against teachers has been set for the past two years by conservative pundits through a continuous stream of vicious attacks on teacher quality and the largess of teacher remuneration.
In Ohio, Republican John Kasich was elected governor over Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland by a slim margin. Republicans also took control of the Ohio legislature. The stage was set, and SB 5 quickly was passed by both houses, much to the surprise and consternation of public employees who, for the most part, did not see this coming. Nurses, teachers, city workers, all rallied and quickly organized to get signatures on petitions asking for a repeal vote on SB 5. The necessary signatures were acquired, and there will be a vote on SB 5 in a few weeks.
In the meantime, television advertisements for and against SB 5 have been numerous. Advertisements in favor of repealing the bill have tended to feature public employees telling about the potential impact of the bill on their jobs and lives. Advertisements for the bill tend to focus on the savings to communities the end of collective bargaining would bring and how forcing public employees to pay more of their health care and more into their pensions is only “fair”.
One advertisement in particular has left a bad taste with many citizens (myself included). A Cincinnati woman who was helped by her local fire department appeared in an ad urging repeal of SB 5. Shortly thereafter, her image was used (without her consent) in an ad favoring SB 5 (you can read about, and see, the ads here. Many TV stations have pulled the second ad while some, including WEWS and WKYC in my hometown of Cleveland, have not, saying they don’t want to censor a political message. Personally, I think the use of this woman without her consent is unethical and reprehensible. TV stations that continue to show this pro-SB 5 ad are hiding behind purported “legal advice” and are simply following conservative corporate agendas. I have stopped watching local programming on these stations and urge others to do the same.
In all my years as a citizen of Ohio, this may be the most divisive and bitterly contested issue I’ve seen. We will know in a few weeks where the people of Ohio stand on this issue.
For the past several years I’ve been reading articles about the value of a college education and whether or not the heavy burden of student loan debt was worth the “value” of going to college. This argument has always bothered me. Today I read two articles (article 1, article 2) from my hometown newspaper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, discussing the cost of college and whether or not it was really economically worth that cost. “Value” is really about the monetary cost of college, and its preparation of a student for the world of work. Of course today the jobs aren’t out there and that is another symptom of the great social and economic change that is taking place in the USA.
Having taught high school in a well-to-do upper middle class school district, I was constantly writing recommendations to some of the most prestigious (and costly) colleges and universities in the United States. Tuition at some of these schools was often in excess of $50,000 per year. Most of these students were well-informed and they, and their parents, viewed attendance at a prestigious school as a networking opportunity as well as a way to get an excellent education. These students nearly all planned to continue their education for the next eight or more years in pursuit of a professional degree, usually in law or medicine. For these students, the system still works.
What about the less fortunate student, the student who does not have the family wealth, or connections, to attend the school of their choice regardless of cost? Is higher education worth the monetary cost? Well, what are the alternatives. Cleveland is a classic example of a once great city, based on manufacturing, that has declined in importance and wealth. Where once a student with a high school (or less) education could get a factory job and make a good wage well, those jobs no longer exist. We have transitioned to an economy of providing services, and these services require skills and knowledge that is gained through higher education. The welfare of our country demands we find a way to provide those students who want, and are capable of acquiring those skills and that knowledge an affordable way to acquire it.
Here in Ohio, there has been a push to move many high school graduates to community colleges rather than four-year universities. To encourage this, some state universities (Ohio State University) have raised their admissions requirements and become much more selective in who they admit. Those deferred can then go to an Ohio State branch campus, another state university, or community college. Success at one of these alternatives may allow the student to move to the Ohio State main campus at a later date. I have debated this change in admissions with a former colleague who approves of it, while I have my doubts. Thirty-five years in a high school classroom has convinced me that many students blossom later in their academic careers, when they’ve discovered their passion for a particular subject, vocation, etc. Post-secondary education should be open to all with a high school diploma, and the costs should be as minimal as possible. An educated citizenry is the backbone of our country politically, socially, and economically.
So, what is the solution. I believe there needs to be a recommitment to all levels of education by our society and our politicians. Education should not be exclusively about test scores. Knowledge for personal, as well as professional, growth is important. Learning how to learn is a skill whose importance shouldn’t be minimized. Funding for education needs to become a priority, not an afterthought. Political agendas will always exist, but the agenda should be governed by what is best for the future of the country and not what is best to get a particular politician elected. Educational decisions need to be data-informed, and soundly backed by well-researched theory. We are in a period of transition and yes, transitions are messy, but the attacks on education by those with selfish agendas need to end - for the good or the country and for the good of our children.
By now many of you will have heard of the Missouri law that forbids teachers and students from becoming Facebook friends. I’m sure it was a reaction to the few bad apples who have abused their positions as educators to take advantage of students. However, this is just the type of overreaction we have come to expect from our lawmakers. When there is a hint of a problem, apply a steam roller to stamp it out. I won’t even get into how this law is going to be enforced…
Nevertheless, reading about the Missouri legislation led me to think about other types of legislation that have been passed to eliminate an educational problem (mostly perceived) and the harm so many of these laws have caused.
In 1983 at our yearly district convocation day, our superintendent waved a copy of A Nation at Risk and informed us that changes were coming and education was getting the blame for the ills of society. As a young teacher, I tended to believe there was an educational crisis - just not at my school. Later in my career, I read The Manufactured Crisis and realized what chumps we educators had been to swallow the Reagan commission’s findings.
During the Bush administration educators again came under attack with the infamous No Child Left Behind legislation. Fear that America is being left behind in the competitive global marketplace led to a pronouncement that ALL children will learn and that ALL students will meet the legislation’s goals. To ensure this happened, punishments were put into place. Of course the best way to measure performance was through testing, and high-stakes testing became the norm throughout the USA. Students were forced to endure hours of drill, and teachers spent countless days preparing to teach to state (and soon national) standards. For those of us who were children of the ’60s and ’70s, creativity had flown out the window.
President Obama’s election gave educators hope that sanity would return to education policy, but that hope was dashed with his selection of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education, and then the announcement of Race to the Top. States were to compete for federal money (a ruse to get compliance with RttT ideology) and high stakes testing was now to be tied to teacher performance. Big money (Gates foundation, et al) have gained the ear of the Democrats as well as the Republicans, leaving educators without advocates. To make matters worse, it appears there is a very concerted push to break teachers unions and privatize education. Professor Yong Zhao has written an excellent overview of government mandated education reform over the past 25 years in the first chapter of his excellent book, Catching Up or Leading the Way.
Is there hope? Perhaps, but it will be slow in coming, and when we get there society and education will be different from what we have now. We are in the middle of a shift from an industrial culture to a knowledge culture. Richard Friday talks of this in The Great Reset. It will be a long and protracted shift, with fitful starts and stops, but it will happen as sure as the shift from an agricultural to an industrial society occurred in the 19th century. I hope it occurs sooner and within what’s left of my lifetime.
Some years ago I read Tom Friedman’s “The World Is Flat.” I found the ideas fit my hazy view of what was occurring in the world and helped me flesh out some of the questions I had about why things were happening as they were (outsourcing in particular). Now I’m reading Richard Florida’s “Flight of the Creative Class” and I’m starting to see how some of the issues that I perceive as affecting education are all part of a general problem that the USA is not facing up to - namely, we are too focused on the outdated values and past mindsets and we are not taking into account the economic changes that are taking place in the world and their impact on our country’s welfare.
Education is tasked with preparing the next generation for whatever the future holds. This puts educators in the cross-hairs of the conundrum of those who make education policy for the USA being focused on the educational values of past while giving lip service to preparing students for the future. We have gone from welcoming immigrants to fearing them. We have gone from social tolerance to intolerance. We have retrenched into conservative Christianity and forgotten we were founded as a nation which allowed freedom of religion. We have allowed the wealthy to grow their wealth to obscene levels and to have inordinate political influence, yet we eliminate inheritance taxes and refuse to raise income taxes on these people. We allow millions of Americans to go without adequate health care and stress the right of the individual to be able to choose health care (a terrible hypocrisy when many who don’t have adequate health care can’t afford to choose). We have become frightened of people from the Middle East and have denied many who hold US citizenship of their basic rights.
When educators try and teach for the future they are attacked by those who are close-minded and want to enforce their beliefs on all. Unfortunately, many of these beliefs harken back to the nineteenth century. Teachers are pilloried and their unions attacked. There are attempts to replace public education with more easily controlled charter schools. Groups such as Teach For America, are proposed as pipelines of easily fired teachers, replacing those who hold tenure (aka due process). High stakes testing is an easy way to evaluate students and their teachers and enforce the draconian regulations those who dwell in the past want to enforce.
It won’t get easier in the USA until the social/political/economic change that is affecting the USA begins to subside. Educators need to batten down the hatches.
I just finished reading Diane Ravitch’s NYT OP-ED piece, “Waiting For A School Miracle.” I enjoy reading her articles and tweets. Her change-of-course on school reform is refreshing. Once again she pulls the shroud of half-truth from the claims of politicians, this time President Obama, Arne Duncan, and Michael Bloomberg, and their dubious claims of success for schools who punish teachers and enact draconian policies.
Politicians need to realize schools reflect society. We live in a society in transition and there is no clear path to what skills and knowledge will best serve society in the future. As society sorts itself out, those skills and knowledge will become clearer, and schools will begin to prepare students for this future. Attacking teachers is not the way to enact change. How can change be made when there is a retrenchment toward “basics” and the testing of rote memory? It’s all enough to make educators want to tear their hair out!
The U.S. economy continues to stagnate. It’s growing at the rate of 1.8 percent, which is barely growing at all. Consumer spending is down.
It’s vital that we understand the truth about the American economy.
How did we go from the Great Depression to 30 years of Great Prosperity? And from there,…
Another piece of the puzzle as to why America is in its current economic/political shape. Robert Reich looks at the last 60+ years and determines the middle class has been cast aside in favor of the wealthy. We are out of balance and this leads to acrimony between the political parties and blame being placed on education in general, and teachers in particular.
I just finished reading the Testimony of Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame) before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Mr. Rowe was there to advocate for vocational education, which he feels has been neglected and removed from many schools in order to prepare all students for standardized tests and a college education.
Citing statistics, such as “200,000 vacant positions in manufacturing” and “450,000 openings in the trades, transportation and utilities”, Mike Rowe makes some strong points.
We’ve had this discussion in my high school social studies department. I teach in a upper-middle class suburb and 90+% of our students go on to college. We’ve cut our vocational department to nearly nothing, with a wood shop remaining. By-the-way, our social studies department feels we should be offering more vocational programs to students. I have a student in class right now who is a “good” student, but he loves working with his hands. Success in a vocational program can enable students to enjoy school more, and I’ve always believed there to be a strong correlation between a positive attitude and school success.
I also just finished reading The Great Stagnation, by Tyler Cowen. Mr. Cowen says we need to elevate the status and pay of service industry jobs, as we did with factory jobs a hundred years ago. Tie this to Mike Rowe’s testimony and it may be pointing out something educators and politicians should pay attention to.
We are in the middle of a vast change. Schools are caught up in this change, then tied up in the politics of the left and the right. I don’t know how it will all shake out, but we educators need to keep ourselves cognizant of which way the winds are blowing and do our best to shift them towards what is best for children.
The teacher-bashing has taken its toll. Now teachers are beginning to speak out with articulate writing which is powerful and to the point. Peggy Robertson is the latest to do so in an open letter to “President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and The Billionaires’ Club.” Ms. Robertson points out the problems of poverty, the weaknesses of high-stakes testing, and the fallacy of relying on the input of education “experts” whose only claim to educational expertise are their deep pockets.
PS - I hope President Obama hears us, I just received an email from him announcing his candidacy for the 2012 elections and asking for my support. Mr. Obama - you have done nothing educationally to earn my vote.