‘Puter read with interest this letter to the editor, published in the Albany Times-Union yesterday. In it, seven past New York State Teachers of the Year address Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed education reforms.
One would think that New York State Teachers of the Year would be selected from among the best teachers in the state, based on objective and subjective standards, such as proven ability to improve students’ learning and engagement with the entire school community. One would be wrong. Despite lip service otherwise, New York State Teachers of the Year are chosen primarily by New York State United Teachers, New York’s largest public school teachers union. That is, no teacher is put forth without support of the teacher’s local union and NYSUT at the state level.
Thus, it’s no surprise that the seven assembled Teachers of the Year despise Cuomo’s efforts to instill any level of accountability on teachers for their students’ educational achievements.
The teachers choose not to directly address the core issue, preferring instead to deal in the language of emotion and grievance. We learn these brave, heroic teachers, standing up to The Man in Albany are caring, loving people.
We have given our hearts and souls to this noble profession. We have pursued intellectual rigor. We have fed students who were hungry. We have celebrated at student weddings and wept at student funerals. Education is our life.
Truly, these are noble public servants, wanting nothing more than the best for your children. These angels on Earth have no ulterior motives, certainly not ghastly money and benefits. It is impossible that these gentle souls would harm even a fly.
For this, you have made us the enemy. This is personal.
What an unexpected twist, from saints among us to union thugs, all in the space of one, brief, introductory paragraph. New York’s best and brightest (union approved) teachers have had enough of Cuomo calling them to account for students’ substandard performance, and will stop at nothing to prevent imposition of even the mildest accountability.
Surely, Cuomo must have abducted and waterboarded teachers to earn such venom and enmity. Certainly the (union approved) teachers have an evidence based argument to back their claims of unfair treatment. Not so much.
Let’s take a look at the union’s grievances, measuring them against reality as it exists outside their narrow “teacher first” worldview.
Union Point 1: “Under your leadership, schools have endured the Gap Elimination Adjustment and the tax cap, which have caused layoffs and draconian budget cuts across the state. Classes are larger and support services are fewer, particularly for our neediest students.”
‘Puter Responds: Here’s a relatively neutral explanation of New York’s Gap Elimination Adjustment. Basically, New York overspent for years, and in the 2009-10 fiscal year, the bill came due. Then Governor Paterson and the legislature took $1.5 billion out of state education funds. Rather than negotiating with teachers unions to deal proactively with the shortfall, local school boards (bought and paid for by local teachers unions) punted, alleging the mean old state forced them to increase property taxes to make up the shortfall in funds.
And this rapid increase in local school taxes on properties leads us directly to New York’s property tax cap. Because local districts chose to ignore their past profligacy and continued to spend like mad, Cuomo pressed the legislature to enact a tax cap. Under this cap, local school districts can only increase property taxes to the lower of (1) two percent or (2) the rate of inflation. School districts can increase taxes by more than this limit, but only if a 60% supermajority of voters so authorizes. Interestingly, the tax cap excludes increases related to a district’s pension fund contributions, which for Fall 2015 will be 17.53% of all teachers’ salaries. As you may suspect, teachers’ salaries are the number one expenditure of the vast majority of school districts, effectively rendering the cap meaningless.
So, finally forced to live within their means, school districts had difficult decisions to make. Since teachers unions refused to negotiate an across the board reduction in salaries and benefits, school districts were forced to make some layoffs. Of course, layoffs are done on a seniority basis, so school districts were unable to keep better teachers with lower seniority than worse teachers. But schools in New York are a union shop, so teachers come before kids. Teachers, having escaped much if not all of the 2008 economic collapse’s fallout, have the temerity to complain to the taxpayers footing their bills, many of whom suffered layoffs in 2008’s aftermath.
As to increased class sizes, the average classroom in New York City is 26.4 students. Having 26.4 kids in a classroom is more work, but it is hardly the abuse alleged by New York’s finest teachers ever. Admittedly, it would be better to have a lower class size, but education like every other endeavor of the state must bend to fiscal reality. My mother, in her 1951 first grade classroom had 60 kids. That’s right, sixty kids in one classroom. Does 26.4 kids seem like such a hardship?
New York spends buckets and buckets of money on special education. In ‘Puter’s tiny school district, special education students comprise roughly 14% of the student population. These students receive approximately 43% of all budget dollars. The time has long since come for special education to be cut back to a reasonable level. No one is talking about a return to the days of “out of sight, out of mind” for kids with special needs. However, at a certain point, it is unfair and unjust for special education not to feel pain equally with general education.
The union advocates’ argument boils down to: “Ignore that we overspent for decades. Pay up, or we’ll take it out on your kids, especially the retarded ones.”
Union Point 2: “We have also endured a difficult rollout of the Common Core Standards. A reasonable implementation would have started the new standards in kindergarten and advanced those standards one grade at a time. Instead, the new standards were rushed into all grades at once, without any time to see if they were developmentally appropriate or useful.”
‘Puter Responds: Conveniently omitted from this union-approved narrative is the following fact. When New York decided to implement the Common Core, New York’s teachers unions refused to give any input, preferring instead to stamp their feet and insist it would never be passed.
Union Point 3: “Then our students were given new tests — of questionable validity — before they had a chance to develop the skills necessary to be successful.”
‘Puter Responds: It’s unclear what the union approved narrative is on this point. Are the tests of questionable validity because they’re showing New York’s students are unprepared to meet the requirements of their grade level? Are the tests of questionable validity because they provide a basis for the long held suspicion that many teachers weren’t getting their jobs done? Or are the tests of questionable validity because they don’t accurately gauge student performance against stated objectives?
Union Point 4: “Now you are doubling down on test scores as a proxy for teacher effectiveness. The state has focused on test scores for years and this approach has proven to be fraught with peril. Testing scandals erupted. Teachers who questioned the validity of tests were given gag orders. Parents in wealthier districts hired test-prep tutors, which exacerbated the achievement gap between rich and poor.”
‘Puter Responds: ‘Puter’s school district is run by a superintendent who is (in ‘Puter’s opinion) a petty, vindictive man, more interested in self-aggrandizement than the best interest of his charges. Don’t get ‘Puter started on this advocate of 1960s SDS style radicalism. Just this morning, ‘Puter received an email from the district, stating that parents have a right to opt their children out of required testing. This is patently false, and could jeopardize both federal Title I funding and teacher evaluations which depend (40%) on student test results. Leaving aside the colossally irresponsible behavior of ‘Puter’s local district’s “leadership,” let’s examine
The union front men (front persons?) claim testing is “fraught with peril.” Hardly. What’s fraught with peril is the admitted inability of teachers to comply with basic ethical precepts, which resulted in widespread cheating rather than widespread harder work in order to achieve better results. And why were the teachers cheating? In many cases, it’s because teachers would receive more pay for higher scores. Money before kids is the union’s motto. Remember, it’s not the kids who are cheating on the tests, it’s the teachers. You know, like the ones we’re supposed to take at face value here.
Teachers like to claim “rich” parents flee the public schools and/or bad school districts, leaving them with the intellectual dregs. Here’s a couple of things to consider. It’s a parent’s right to send their kids to private schools if they so choose, and so doing doesn’t reduce their school tax bill. Further, this notion that the wealthy are obligated to hamstring their children to make poor kids feel better is just the sort of socialistic horseshit that make taxpayers, many parents and not a few teachers loathe unions. ‘Puter agrees there are many causes for the achievement gap between rich and poor students, from home life, to poverty generally, to health, to hunger to neighborhood crime. But the one factor teachers unions never mention also matters: teacher quality.
Union Point 5: “Your other proposals are also unlikely to succeed. Merit pay, charter schools and increased scrutiny of teachers won’t work because they fundamentally misdiagnose the problem. It’s not that teachers or schools are horrible. Rather, the problem is that students with an achievement gap also have an income gap, a health-care gap, a housing gap, a family gap and a safety gap, just to name a few. If we truly want to improve educational outcomes, these are the real issues that must be addressed.”
‘Puter Responds: This point is nothing more than a list of union bugaboos. ERMAGERD! DEY TERK R JERBS!!!1!eleventy!!! Merit pay doesn’t currently work because unions hate it and use peer pressure and bullying within districts to discourage good teachers from participating in the programs. ‘Puter has seen it with his own two bleary eyes, so don’t dare deny it.
‘Puter doesn’t deny there are all kinds of issues that affect student performance. Unfortunately for these union mouthpieces, the only issue affecting student performance they don’t address is the only one that doesn’t have a multibillion of dollars per year program dedicated to it: teacher quality. And why isn’t teacher quality the subject of government monitoring? Because until now, unions have fought tooth and nail to prevent state governments from even mentioning the possibility that crappy teachers just may have something to do with crappy student achievement.
Income gap? Perhaps these teachers have never heard of New York’s massive welfare bureaucracy, everything from tax credits, to food assistance, to free phones to basically free cash handouts to be spent at the recipients’ whims. Housing assistance? New York City has the largest housing assistance program known to man. It’s called rent control. Not to mention homeless people in New York City get housed in apartments nicer than those of many of the working poor.
New York State alone spends approximately $28.2 billion per year on social welfare programs. In 2013 the federal government spent $182 billion on cash assistance, $459 billion in medical assistance, $109 billion on food assistance, $56 billion on housing assistance, $6 billion on energy assistance, $60 billion on education assistance, $8 billion on training assistance, $15 billion in random services, $22 billion in child care and development services, and $8 billion in community development services. That’s a total of $2.2 trillion each year, or roughly two-thirds of all federal expenditures.
There is no shortage of funds expended in an attempt to right the wrongs of which these union spokesmodels complain. Whether or not these programs do any good is another question, but we cannot ask that question lest we be branded bigots, racists or haters, in many cases by unionized bureaucrats trying to keep their cushy, overcompensated, no-fire jobs.
Sound familiar, teachers?
Union Point 6: “Instead, let’s talk about ways to help the kids who are struggling. Let’s talk about addressing the concentration of poverty in our cities. Let’s talk about creating a culture of family so that our weakest students feel emotionally connected to their schools. Let’s talk about fostering collaboration between teachers, administrators and elected officials. It is by working together, not competing for test scores, that we will advance our cause.”
‘Puter Responds: Really? There’s been no talk about addressing the concentration of poverty in the cities? There’s been no talk about failed families and culture? Horse manure. That’s all the Warren Democrats have talked about for the past four years. Heck, even conservatives talk about the worrying cultural breakdowns caused by poverty, or vice versa if you prefer. ‘Puter also cross-references his lengthy discussion in response to Union Point 5, above.
‘Puter notes with amusement the teachers’ willingness to substitute the warm teat of public education for an actual two parent household. ‘Puter doesn’t want his child to feel “emotionally connected to [his] school.” ‘Puter wants his child’s school to do its job and provide him an education. School is not a proper object of affection. These poor, put-upon teachers may want to spend less time worrying about emotional connections and collaborations, and more time worrying about educating their charges.
Again, ‘Puter would note that despite the union propagandists’ calls to engage in collaboration, history shows teachers unions are not interested in collaboration. Teachers unions refused to negotiate on teacher evaluations and Common Core implementation, instead taking their ball and going home. Now they are outraged – outraged! – New York implemented the Common Core and teacher evaluations without them. Teachers unions are the boy who murders his parents then begs the court’s mercy as he is an orphan. You’ve dug your own grave, now lie in it.
So many of the concerns raised by the teachers have nothing – nothing – to do with education. Education started to go to hell when governments (often at the behest of public employee unions) took on more and more tasks that are properly the job of parents. Schools now feed children, provide medical services to children, provide psychological services to children and provide guidance to children. How about we just get back to providing an education to children? Perhaps then our precious snowflake teachers union members wouldn’t feel quite so put upon.
Union’s Conclusion: “None of these suggestions are easily measured with a No. 2 pencil, but they would work. On behalf of teachers across the state, we say these are our kids, we love them, and this is personal.”
‘Puter’s Conclusion: The teachers union, through its sympathetic mouthpieces, has not offered any solutions. In fact, teachers unions have stood, and are currently standing, foursquare in the schoolhouse door preventing implementation of solutions to the detriment of students across the state.
Teachers ‘Puter knows complain they are not treated as professionals. ‘Puter would simply point them to this letter, written by willing union representatives. This letter is so transparently one-sided, so devoid of solutions and so ignorant of the realities facing those who pay your salaries and send you their kids for education, is it any wonder?
Is it any wonder teachers are not considered professionals when they hide their bad apples behind antiquated union work rules designed for 1930s steel mills?
Is it any wonder teachers are not considered professionals when their pay is in no meaningful way tied to the outcome they’re hired to achieve?
Teachers are paid like General Motors line workers. Teachers follow overweening, outmoded work rules like General Motors line workers. We’re going to treat you like General Motors line workers, including objectively measuring your output.
If teachers don’t like it, they need to man up and offer meaningful proposals for assessing teachers’ job performance including consequences up to and including automatic dismissal for those who cannot meet the standards.
Until teachers do so, please spare ‘Puter your weepy, self-righteous, self-serving letters to the editor.
You’re damned right it’s personal.
P.S. Those kids aren’t your kids. Those kids are our kids.