Posts tagged teachers
Posts tagged teachers
I retired in June of 2011 and yesterday I returned to the high school where I had taught social studies for 35 years. The district is one of the wealthiest in Ohio. Many of the residents are well-paid professionals. Our alumni include numerous lawyers (one of whom argued in front of the US Supreme Court a year or so ago), doctors, executives, a current member of the Saturday Night Live cast, and a current newsperson on a national network. Every year, we would send students to Ivy League schools. In short, it is a district of high-powered residents who demand a quality education for their children. If they felt the public schools did not suit their needs, there were five excellent private schools nearby from which they could choose.
It was great seeing my friends and colleagues, and seeing former students was wonderful. However, after sitting down and talking with several members of the social studies department and a friend from the Foreign Language Department, I came to see all is not well in my former place of employ. It is time for contract negotiations which always worries people, especially in unsteady economic times. The Board has come in with a tough position, wanting little, or no movement with salary increases, raising health care premiums, and cutting back on severance pay.
On top of this, Ohio funds its own State Teachers Retirement System. By law, this system has to show it is fully funded 30 years into the future. First the dot com crash, then the Great Recession have hit STRS hard. Changes are going to have to be made. STRS used to fund health care for retirees and spouses, now only retirees are funded - an just partially. Teachers are able to retire after 30 years at any age, with a bonus if they stayed for 35 years. It appears they will now have to teach to age 60 and have at least 35 years of teaching (no bonus) before retirement, and pay a greater percentage of their salaries (currently 10%) into STRS while teaching. These changes have not taken effect yet, but they are looming over teachers in the near future.
Then there is the residue of a nasty fight with Ohio governor John Kasich, who last year had the state legislature eliminate collective bargaining for public employees and their unions. The unions organized and obtained enough signatures to force a referendum on the issue, which was then overturned. Nevertheless, Kasich and his supporters are expected to try again to weaken public employees’ unions in Ohio.
Throw in the educationally unsound practices of high stakes testing, value-added teacher evaluations, and the constant attacks on teachers by politicians and pundits of both political parties and it is no wonder teachers, even in high-performing districts like where I used to teach, are demoralized. It makes me angry, and it makes me want to do something to help my friends and former colleagues.
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.
I read about the riots in Great Britain and wondered when disaffected youth might do the same here. As I thought about this, and read some of the analyses, I decided youth in America won’t riot because they are not united by any single issue that would cause them to rise up against authority and establishment.
It would be tough to be young today. Economic stagnation has dimmed job prospects for many. The high cost of a college education drives many young people to either not go to college, or to think of college more as job training, at the expense of the classic liberal arts education. We had a young woman enter our social studies department a few years ago with a $60,000 college debt hanging over her head. Who has time to riot when they owe that kind of money at such a young age?
Then there is the political climate which has turned nasty towards many middle class jobs, especially those which are unionized. I became a teacher knowing I would never become monetarily wealthy, but I would receive a good pension at a relatively young age. Now the retirement age is being lifted and the pension benefits are being reduced. Education has become a victim of politics and economics. We need to look ahead and be willing to pay for our children’s future. Instead, when times get tough, we look to the here-and-now, forsaking the future.
If unions are broken, tenure is cast aside, and retirement benefits reduced, how can our society seriously prepare young people for the future. Certainly, our educators will be too frightened to demonstrate for change. We stand at an educational crossroads. Hard questions must be addressed: What should education look like? What are the educational needs which will prepare young people for active citizenship as they grow older? How will good educators be found, trained, and retained? I look around and I see too many special interests and too much politics. Perhaps it is time for disaffected youth to rise up and demand affordable education based on sound pedagogy. It happened in France in 1968? Will it take a similar scene for it to happen in the United States?
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.
Nothing like fear to bring out the best in people (sarcasm). The teacher evaluation system, known as IMPACT, implemented by Michelle Rhee has led to a climate of fear over teacher evaluation in Washington, D.C. schools. What a wonderful way for teachers to attempt to reach out and instill a love of learning in their students. The adversarial feelings between evaluators and teachers is another low point of this system.
I feel the need to reiterate - it is not so much the teaches as it is the socio-economic issues that are leading to educational problems in America. It is tough to educate kids who come to school hungary and from tough family situations. Education will continue to have problems until the state and federal governments own up to the issue of poverty.
According to this report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, teachers seem to get pilloried for “only working nine months out of the year” and getting “good salaries.” While US teachers have one of the shortest school years, they work more hours during the school year than teachers in other countries. The report goes on to say that while teachers in the USA may work longer hours, student productivity is not rising. Possible contributing reasons given include the large gap between what veteran teachers are paid vs other college graduates, or the persistent problem of Latino students scoring lower than their white counterparts. What isn’t mentioned is the problem of poverty and the growing class system in the US of haves and have-nots.
In “Stop Blaming the Teachers” Jim Taylor echoes much of what I believe to be true about the criticisms aimed towards education, and teachers, in the US today. When the President of the United States comes out and supports the wholesale firing of teachers in an underperforming Rhode Island school without understanding the socio-economic history of that school, or bothering to look into the situation, what inferences might we make about US policy in other areas - how much due diligence really takes place? I really wish the politicians and pundits would compare wealthy suburban schools with schools around the world - but they won’t because the results would sink their arguments against teachers and their unions (but that’s another article).
If the homework ban does become the norm rather than the exception, what does this mean for teachers?
Apart from having to coordinate with each other to ensure they don’t exceed allotted homework time, how will educators change the way they design classroom time?
Too much homework is busy work. Teachers need to reevaluate what homework they assign and why it is necessary. I got a “parent’s eye” view of homework as my kids went through school, and it forced me to reevaluate my position on how and why I assign homework to my students.
This article examines attempts to effectively measure teacher success, while casting a critical eye at the emphasis on value-added evaluation, merit pay, and the recent attempt to downplay teacher experience and added degrees. Overall, a good read for teachers as they arm themselves with information to deflect the attacks of their critics.
In Not Insulted, Martha Infante takes issue with Arne Duncan’s comment that Diane Ravitch, “is in denial and she is insulting all of the hardworking teacher, principals, and students all across the country who are proving her wrong every day.”
Diane Ravitch was on the “dark side” and once supported NCLB. She has since recanted and has become a vocal opponent of high-stakes testing and teacher-bashing. This is a good article and should be read by all teachers.