|Image Credit: www.senseoncents.com|
- "School Choice" - When students are allowed to change schools and take funding with them, a few things happen. First, the school that they left loses revenue. In many cases, the revenue lost is more than what it would cost to educate the student who is leaving. When you factor in that the most expensive students to educate are those with special needs, and many private schools are allowed to ban such students, the inequity here becomes more stark. For example, if it costs a school district $9,000 on average to educate a student, that number is a combination of the $25,000 it costs to educate special needs students and $4,000 it costs to educate regular education students. If a regular education student transfers, they take $9,000 with them to their new school and the public school they left is short $5,000. Secondly, the schools that students are transferring into are subject to different rules than the public school they left. One such rule is that the school can be run by a for-profit company, resulting in tax dollars going to that company. A glaring example of how this destroys public education as we know it can be found in Chester County, PA. The public school district there has run out of money because of budget cuts and 50% of their students switching to a charter school. While the company that ran the charter school handed out laptops to its students earlier this year and pocketed a $5,000 per student fee, the teachers at the public school are working without pay. This cannot be what a good public education system looks like, especially when 4 out of 5 charter schools that are taking money from our public system do not outperform the public schools they are bankrupting. In fact, many perform worse.
- "Teacher Accountability" - Let me start by saying that everyone should be held accountable for doing a good job, teachers included. I welcome the opportunity to be judged on whether I am doing a good job teaching. The problem is that the methods of evaluating teachers being discussed are not measuring whether we do a good job of teaching. Should policemen be held accountable for the number of drunk drivers in their town? Should firemen be judged by the number of fires in their area? Should the effectiveness of a doctor be based on how obese his/her patients are? We all know that you cannot control the behavior of others. Teachers should be judged on their own behaviors, not those of their students and their students' parents. Since there is no cheap and easy way to do this, politicians have decided to use student standardized test scores instead - despite the fact that those tests were not designed for that purpose and research has been shown that parents are the primary factor in predicting student success on those tests. I don't think it's a coincidence that standardized testing companies have made billions of dollars in the past decade from both the tests themselves and the test prep materials they have sold to schools. Once again, public tax money that should be going towards educating students is ending up in the hands of those looking to make profit on the backs of our children (and with close ties to many politicians who are pushing for these policies).
- "Alternative Certification" - Every student deserves an excellent, qualified teacher helping them learn. Recently, some states have begun to allow people from other professions to take "alternative certification" courses, which last a few weeks and allow them to teach. As someone who takes my profession very seriously, this is the highest of insults. We should be making our teacher training programs more rigorous and raising our expectations of those coming into the profession. Our students deserve nothing less. Of course, the reason for these alternative programs is to reduce teaching from a profession to hourly job. If teachers are not trained as professionals, they don't have to be paid as professionals. And when teachers don't have to be paid as professionals, more tax payer money can be diverted into the pockets of those looking to profit off our children.
- "Merit Pay" - Two heads are better than one, right? And three are better than two. If you want to accomplish a goal, getting many people to invest in finding a solution and collaborating together is desirable. If your goal is getting students to learn you want teachers share their successes and failures with each other. That's not what educational "reformers" want, though. Teachers overwhelmingly oppose the corporate takeover of our schools. Having them working together makes it difficult to change to a for-profit public education system. Merit pay is a way to ensure that teachers compete instead of collaborate. If only the teachers with the best scores get paid, teachers will be much less likely to help each other. If your family's wellbeing depends on your students scoring higher on some test, you can bet that you'll be more likely to fight for the kids who have steady homes, affluent parents, and no learning disabilities. Wouldn't it be better for our students if the best teachers were encouraged and rewarded for working with our most needy students?
- "Education Reform" - I've used the term "reform" throughout the post, and each time I've put it in quotes. Our education system does need to change. For over a decade we've been testing students more and more, asking them to think less and less, and the results by every measure show that we have stagnated. Every student deserves the opportunity to have a great education in our country, regardless of their zip code or economic background. We need to improve the effectiveness of our teachers by increasing the training we give them. We need to reform our pre-service teacher programs so that teachers coming into the profession are more prepared. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that gives less resources to schools that are most in need. That needs to stop. We need to look at finding ways to fund schools equitably so that students attending schools in economically depressed areas have a chance at success. Instead of letting for-profit companies create charter schools with tax dollars, thus leaving many of our students in bankrupt public schools, we need to make a commitment to fixing those public schools so that ALL students have a chance to learn. Most importantly, we need this revolution to be lead by educators, not by CEOs, hedge fund managers, and politicians. Nobody wants politicians and insurance company executives making decisions on their health care instead of their doctors. Likewise, nobody should want politicians and company executives making decisions about their child's education instead of their child's teachers. Don't tell me there's no money to do these things - the billions of dollars being sucked out of the system by testing companies and for profit management companies will be plenty.