A Future Shortage of Teachers?

Looking at the overpaid incompetent teachers living in luxury with large pensions, unable to educate our eager and poverty stricken students is worth examining. The recession was caused by Wall Streets hyper speculation not by the pay scale and benefits of teachers and nurses so thought this should be given more light.

The search for a magic bullet to solve all of educations problems is to fire ineffective teachers, merit pay, teacher unions and tenure. This is the solution of the latest educational guru Michele Rhee. With three years of experience teaching third grade has given her a deep understanding or what it to be a teacher.

From the story I read Ms. Rhee seemed to be saying that the problem is solely the lack of good teachers and that unions and tenure promote that problem and therefore they should be dismantled and then everything will be ok. Eliminating teacher unions will also solve the deficit problems immense salaries and benefits they receive is the cause of our recession.

Ms Rhee, who had taught 3rd grade in Baltimore for three years was selected by then Mayor of D.C Adrian Fenty to run the D.C. schools – and to shake them up. Rhee did so, famously firing a number of teachers and administrators and closing some schools.

There have been two recent events that have been much discussed and that might tarnish this persona and that I think are revelatory about some of the features of contemporary school reform – for which Ms. Rhee is a powerful symbol.

The first event, an independent arbitrator ruled that the District of Columbia must rehire 75 teachers who Chancellor Rhee fired during their probationary period in 2008. The dismissals were improper, said the arbitrator, because Rhee did not provide a reason for termination. The teachers had “no opportunity to provide their side of the story and they are real people with families and have some rights.

When Michele Rhee was applying for her chancellor’s post in D.C. she stated on her resume that when she taught in Baltimore she raised her students’ test scores in two years from the 13th percentile to the 90th. Anyone familiar with education knows this is impossible and a gross exaggeration. That kind of gain, even if Mother Theresa was teaching the class is not credible. But it passed and it resurfaced here and there as part of the developing mythology surrounding the dynamic chancellor. She’s   a populist with the corporate crowd as they have to blame somebody for the mess they’ve caused, and teachers and public education make the perfect whipping boys and another link in destroying unions.

I mentioned this as she left her post in DC before the long range results could be evaluated and she is now in Sacramento with rumors she may perform her magic in schools there.

In contrast, the respected scholar Dianne Ravitch has become convinced that the two reform ideas she helped push into the mainstream, charter schools and standardized testing, are destroying public education. Her book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choices Are Undermining Education” comes just the right time as everyone including our President are looking for an easy and quick way to bring students living in poverty to compete academically with more fortunate students, accidently born with more affluent parents.

Obama’s new education program is a disappointment as the major difference between his and “No child left behind” is the title. While teacher’s emphasis is preparing for a test, subjects like Social Studies, Science, Art etc are glossed over.

Charter schools are another mantra of Obama’s and Bush’s programs. Chester E. Finn Jr. in says that one study has found that for every good charter school created two bad ones also get funding. No Child Left Behind reduced the art of teaching to mere cramming for the test. Ravich now opposes not just charter schools, but also any practice providing financial incentives for schools or teachers based on test scores. Other studies as the five year study in Milwaukee prove that students in charter school did no better than public schools. The most successful ones skim the best students from traditional schools.

The new mantra is the practice of tenure and teacher unions. Tenure is another myth that it protects ineffective teachers. Teachers on a probationary contract must be evaluated twice per semester and receive a written and one on one evaluation, with suggestions on what they must do to improve their performance. Evaluating teachers based on test scores is bad policy. Much of what impacts student performance occurs outside of the classroom. Connecting merit pay to student test scores will destroy morale and the spirit of collaboration seen in the best schools.

My experiences in working with children from low economic families with many living in poverty with their only substantial meal is a free lunch at school and with little or no health care may come to school hungry or sick. This could lead one to conclude this might have some effect on their performance in school.

In 1965, probably before Ms. Rhee was in kindergarten, I worked in a school with 65% of the students residents of the projects; I did a case study of 18 students below average academically. Besides the usual testing I visited each home and interviewed the parents or parent. I’m not able here to reveal all my discoveries or conclusions here, but I doubt if many critics or educational reformers have made a similar effort as criticism is easier without all the facts. Analyzing schools from the inside rather than those on the outside is more enlightening.

One of my solutions to the plight of children living in poverty, besides helping them economically, would be paying parents a small stipend to attend classes in providing their children with a home environment that gives their children some tools to achieve in school and life. Poor parents love their children as much as other parents.

Now, as to fat-cat teachers with all the alleged perks and luxuries paid for by the taxpayers. Each State has different funds. California teachers are not eligible for Social Security so pay 8% of their pay monthly-the school district contributes 8.23% and the state 4%. Upon retirement they receive from 55% to 60% of there last salary.

Jon Stewart said This is a time for All of us to sacrifice: Teachers, teachers’ aides, student teachers, retired teachers, school janitors: All of us”. But not the super–rich.

Dignity is important to most people and the dignity of the teaching profession is being taken away. This and other factions are going to discourage college students from choosing teaching as a career. When the teaching profession loses more dignity than it already has, the present reduction of teaching students in college will continue.

In reviewing my past life the major error made was choosing education as my career. My seven years of college was thrown away in a profession with little real satisfaction with a salary at the bottom of the middle class and a scapegoat of parents, politicians and the public. My retirement, without Social Security, keeps me close to the poverty level. Union breaking is going to enhance this situation.


2 responses to “Education

  1. Vicki Sue McKinnis

    Thank you for that excellent article! Each paragraph could offer hours of contemplation and debate and is a wealth of information. I was taught as a child that there are no simple answers to complex problems. Our leaders are surely looking for ways to turn us against each other as the middle class is being asked to pay for the damage the wealthy have placed on our economy. I note that there is no mention of placing a tax on wall street investing, or any plan that will put austerity on those who created this problem.
    I do have to present another view, however of your last thought. I was a teacher’s aide in two of the schools during your rule as principal. You gave a leadership to your teachers, gave hope to your students, and made contributions to the communities that cannot be counted in dollars and cents. You were a miracle worker in your own way. You were sent into schools that were “in trouble” and changed them into schools where teachers focused on the positive and were given freedom to express themselves with creative new styles of teaching and where students and parents took pride in their school and became engaged in the educational process.

  2. With the drop of 30% of our salary to teach I wonder why people go into the profession.
    Everyone is your boss plus evenings and weekends are not your own. Each year you begin in
    the same place you ended only with a new set of faces. It is a dead end job and as you said,
    now the dignity is also being sucked out of it.

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