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Damn Yankees…. No Damn Unions

Our small community is yet again in the midst of a contentious school budget vote. Vote number 3 is coming up next Wednesday 4.23.14. The debate has not changed much since last year: greedy teachers, lousy test scores, to much union influence, overburdened tax base, unfunded mandates, put the special ed kids in a room with 1 teacher and be done with it. Not much about the needs of the students, push of Common Core, role of standardized testing in taking time away from actual learning, impact of poverty, importance of education to success. These do not seem to be a priority here.So, since the conversation always seem to return to the role of the teacher and the teacher’s union, I would like to offer these thoughts.

ImageThe role of unions in protecting the health, welfare, safety and financial stability of their workforces has paved the way for the 40 hour work week, fair pay, and child labor laws that we all enjoy. The National Education Association has played a large role in standardizing teacher training and curriculum. The American Federation of Teachers has played a larger role on the ground, organizing teachers into a more ‘traditional’ union, based on the collective bargaining model. Although I do not always agree with their approach, I do find value in both of these unions’ goals and do not see them as the major contributor to today’s public education woes. Taking away Kansas teacher’s right to due process will not align the standardized test to the Common Core State Standards. Evaluating teachers on their student’s standardized test scores will not change the zip code the student is from, or if they had a good night’s sleep, or if they are a teenage mother, or if they give a hoot about yet another test that does not impact on their future. I agree that not all teachers are good, enthusiastic, or inspiring to their students, but rather there because removing them is not easy. However, the vast majority of teachers do come to each day with a hope that they can make a difference in a child’s life. They struggle against communities that blame them for this generation’s failings and the ever increasing costs of education. I would argue that we all play a role in the current state of education.

  • Parents that blame teachers for a child’s behavior and attack the school for not “fixing” the problem. Schools are in loco parentis for 7 hrs 5 days a week and are tasked with teaching ALL of the children regardless of their learning ability or desire to be there.
  • The state and federal governments for instituting scripted curriculum that removes a teacher’s creativity and ability to differentiate lessons.
  • The state and federal government for instituting unfunded mandates that local school districts must provide and finance. The US government’s minimal reimbursement related to the ADA has been reduced yet again with state and local taxes covering >80% of these costs.
  • The media for perpetuating a narrative of reformers who are benefiting financially (to the tune of billions of dollars) from the privatization of public education, proliferation of testing, testing materials, and testing technology.
  • The schools for not educating the local community on the complexities of public education. It is not a business; you cannot cut overhead by cutting necessary assets and expect exceptional outcomes. Running lean at a school is much different from running lean in a manufacturing or farming environment. Children are not commodities; they come in all shapes, sizes, abilities and socioeconomic strata that affect the outcome of the process. None of which are controlled by the school or the teacher.

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