Sunday, October 10, 2010

Manifesto on Union Busting

Two opinion pieces in today’s Washington Post Outlook offer solutions to the current “teacher problem” in the United States.  (Still more supplied by those who aren’t teachers, but who continue to extend and control the current discussion prompted by the media blitz set in motion by Waiting for Superman.)
One goes too far and the other, not far enough.
Too Far: A “Manifesto” signed by Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, Paul Vallas of the “New Orleans miracle” (ick), and others of that ilk. 
Their statement is nothing new.  They want latitude to hire and fire bad teachers based on (in)effective performance. 
As if they didn’t already have the latitude they need. 
This summer Michelle Rhee dismissed 241 teachers and put another legion (735) on notice.  All of this was achieved even with tenure and a strong union in place. 
Joel Klein has pretty much had his way in New York for years under Bloomburg.  And yet, he didn’t fire himself when the city’s own measures of achievement were proven to be overblown public relations hype.  (Pretty ineffective performance, if you ask me.)
The “manifesto” (I’m thinking Unabomber here) is merely an effort to paint the teachers’ unions as the big, bad enemy. 
Big Business has done a good job of eliminating the worker’s voice in all other areas of the workplace beginning with Ronald Reagan’s bold salvo that set the anti-union movement in motion after he removed the Air Traffic Controllers in 1980. 
The teachers’ unions as a political force are about the last hold out.
Time to push them under the bus too.
The basis for the hiring and firing of teachers, according to the signers, all boils down to student performance on the standardized tests now commonplace in every school system.
These are the same tests that teachers have railed against for years as a vehicle which dumbs-down curriculum, and results in drill-and-kill rote instruction, test-taking-strategy-driven instruction, scripted lesson plans, elimination of  the arts and recess, and promises to standardize our children into non-thinking drones.  (Coincidentally, just the kind of complacent worker you want if you’re only interested in turning big profits over to the select few.)
Not far enough:  As a companion piece, Paul Kilhn and Matt Miller of McKinsey & Company (eh? Never heard of them.) advocate for truly professionalizing the teaching force by selectively targeting top students who show the disposition to teach and offering them affordable (or even government subsidized) tuition, with a guaranteed job at the end of that scenario.  Increased salaries and clean, safe working conditions will sweeten the pot to the point where teaching will become a valued, respected profession that will attract top performers.
The authors say this will cost taxpayers far less than doing nothing, which will surely result in the stagnation of our historic role as world leaders of innovation.
I agree, but the writers stop short of expanding teaching into what the top performing nations cited in the article (Finland, South Korea, and Singapore) have done to achieve a meteoric rise in student achievement.
Here’s what they left out: Reduce the amount of time in front of students so that teachers can continually collaborate during their working days—which means a higher per capita of teachers.  Fund embedded professional development so practicing teachers continue to learn—which means dollars spent on continuing education, like other top professions.
Now that might be costly.
The money for providing this expansion is easy to find:  Raid the coffers of the standardized testing industry (The College Board, Pearson…etc.) by eliminating the raft of tests our students face annually and which are purchased by taxpayer dollars.  Right out the door immediately behind the pile of bubble sheets will be those who must chart the data collected from the tests, monitor the teachers, institute the next test-driven curriculum framework…..in short, all those non-teachers who currently pull in large “professional” salaries.
How will we know how well our students are doing?
Simple.
Let the highly professional teachers evaluate their student strengths and weaknesses in a variety of ways, both informally (through observation and daily interaction) and formally (through portfolios, conferences, student products).
You know, the way we used to trust our teachers.