– Lee R. Talley is a retired teacher from Tinley Park.
Let’s start with the premise that nobody wants bad teachers in the classroom. That’s just common sense. Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the beast. When I was in public elementary and high school in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I had teachers that were excellent to awful. I had the same experience at the five colleges I attended while getting my undergraduate degree and three graduate degrees.
The Time magazine article, “Taking on Teacher Tenure,” by Haley Sweetland Edwards, doesn’t present a well balance argument on teacher tenure. (A grade of “C” at best.) Edwards writes that, “Teacher tenure is a policy that restricts the ability to fire teachers, requiring a “just cause” rationale for firing.” Wrong! The only thing that teacher tenure guarantees is “the right to due process.”
Tenure was created to provide teachers with protections. A long time ago, teachers were subject to rules which impeded on basic rights, being told what time they should be home, which activities they should engage in, who they could associate with, etc. They were often fired for breaking these ridiculous rules. Teachers came together to gain protections against such rules. They wanted their own rules which ensured they wouldn’t be fired for no reason and to protect college professors from losing academic freedom. Wealthy industrialists started writing and undermining professors. Tenure was created to ensure professors would be able to write freely. It angers many people that the reason why tenure was developed is not clear.
As long as I can remember, teachers don’t hire or fire teachers. Administrators hire, evaluate, and then either retain or dismiss them. So if you apply Edwards logic, how do you protect teachers from bad administrators? How do you protect teachers from school board members with personal and/or political agendas? Do bad administrators and board members exist? Yes. How do I know? I’ve been a classroom teacher, building administrator, and school board member. Trust me, they all exist…in numbers larger than I like.
Edwards’ piece also creates a bias towards suggesting that teacher tenure is a vast obstacle to student achievement. Check out the “buzz phrases” used: “pink-cheeked beneath a trim white beard” — (Santa Claus is making this decision, and Santa would never do anything bad); “what happened next was predictable” – “DEFCON I” — (It’s assumption mixed with opinion, not fact; and please, MAKE THOSE WORDS SCREAM!!!); “Silicon Valley muckety-mucks” — (Aw shucks, I’m just a country bumpkin, a regular guy, just like you); “Jumping off the cliff” — (How could Welch be anything but a hero because only heroes risk their life for others, right?)
Because you’re extremely wealthy you’re right. Yes, rich people have all the answers…otherwise they wouldn’t be rich, right? We live in Merry Ol’ England where the nobility of the rich upper-class society know what’s best for the other 98% percent. If you examine their proposed solutions you’ll see they’re mostly “cookie-cutter” solutions, one size fits all, which those in education know doesn’t work. Billionaires and business types live by the mantra of trying to apply a specific methodology that will maximize profits.
Edwards also trots out the same old tired names — Infinera’s David Welch (invested in NewSchools Venture Fund and founded StudentsMatter), Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Netflix’s Reed Hastings, and Walmart’s Waltons. Ask yourself, how many jobs were lost and how much of the middle class has disappeared over the years because these so-called geniuses were using foreign workers, paying them very little. They shipped American jobs shipped overseas so they could make billions rather than being good corporate citizens. The bottom line is that all these reform efforts are all about how private sector businesses and Wall Street equity firms can get their hands on more government money.
Edwards also invokes the names of “education experts” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Fomer Washington D.C. Chancellor of schools Michelle Rhee, and former CNN anchor turned education activist Campbell Brown. Duncan failed in Chicago and Rhee failed in D.C., both getting out of town before the walls came tumbling down. (Rhee now runs StudentsFirst, a nonprofit — meaning the budget only has to show a zero balance at the end of the year.) Brown didn’t get her contract renewed at CNN and is married to Republican operative Dan Senor (who was one of the geniuses who took us into Iraq looking for WMDs), both big players in the conservative charter school privitization movement.
Edwards also states “countless stories of schools and districts being unable to fire bad teachers.” Okay, give me statistics. How many bad teachers have been fired? How many teachers have been denied tenure? We all want excellent teachers in the classroom, especially those in the profession. Nothing is worse than being a educator and seeing a co-worker who isn’t doing the job. Unfortunately it’s a roll of the dice in knowing if someone is going to be a good -average – or bad teacher until they actually teach. But as politicians and private industry titans keep hammering educators, I’d like to know what they’re going to do when the upcoming teacher shortage hits? You think they’re going to find enough of the best and the brighest to fill all these vacate positions? You want to guess why that’s not going to happen?
In the Vergara v. California case Judge Rolf M. Treu’s state that tenure law “violates the state constitution” and the students rights to “basic eqaulitiy of education opportunity.” So if this is true, then it should be the same when it comes to school financing (books, supplies, equipment, etc.), including charter and private schools?
Welch’s argument is even weaker — “If children are being harmed by these laws, then something, somewhere, is being done that’s illegal.” One could use this same argument as the basis for suppression and inequality in all laws. Unless he’d like to live in a Socialist society? Of course, we could apply his logic to members of Congress. He has a good one, I have a bad one. That’s not right. Of course, it’s a rigged system geared towards incumbents and money. “Oh, okay…nevermind!”
Edwards also cites the three-year study by Harvard “education expert” Thomas Kane, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports the Charter School theory of doing away with tenure improves student achievement. Unfortunately, a recent study by the University of Minnesota Law School directly refutes that, concluding that charter schools are no better than public schools.
During my last year in education I asked a coordinator from a school reform model, “Can your company guarantee results?” He replied, “No, we can’t.” I countered, “Does that mean that your company will refund our money based of the percentage of students who don’t meet grade level standards?” With a shocked look on his face, “Oh no, we would never do that!” Yep, it’s a roll of the dice.
So, after all these geniuses get done “fixing education,” who is going to be left holding the bag, left to clean up the mess? Geez, I wonder. Here’s the one solution I know to be true: Until you fix what’s wrong outside of schools you’ll never fix what’s wrong inside of schools.