|Meet Ethel Anderson, a Hillsborough,
FL “educator,” recently convicted of
nailing her 5th grade charge. These are
the sorts of teachers unionism rewards
at the expense of all the good teachers.
One of ‘Puter’s longtime friends* – a high school A.P. Statistics teacher by trade – posted on Facebook bemoaning America’s attempt to quantify and define nearly every aspect of education. This quantification overkill takes many forms, from unending standardized testing to curriculum-of-the-month club member Common Core.
‘Puter’s friend’s point is well taken, particularly with respect to the high class teachers ‘Puter knows, including but not limited to Mrs. ‘Puter and Mrs. The Czar. But while sympathetic, ‘Puter felt the need to point out that while lamentable, the trend towards quantification of education was a direct result of teachers’ long ago choice to unionize.
[Friend] raised a point regarding the teaching profession with which I generally agree. Teachers are professionals, and judging teachers’ performance solely on data points derived from incessant standardized testing of students does not accurately capture so much of what teachers do.
That said, I argued (politely) to [Friend] that much of teachers’ current predicament (1) was self-inflicted and (2) was foreseeable. What follows is a slightly edited version of my response to [Friend], who correctly called me on my shorthand, unintentionally flip response to his larger point:
I agree with much of what you say above, particularly the part about me not having any clue as to what it takes to be successful in a classroom setting as a teacher. I further agree that the vast majority of teachers are professional.
My point was the “business model” overlaying public education is at least partly responsible for education slipping in this country. Poverty (monetary and spiritual) and family breakup are other causes, though no one can quantify to what extent each is responsible.
Here’s what I meant to say in my inartful response. Unionized teachers are paid like GM line workers. That is, there are strict work rules as to what teachers will and won’t do, strict work hours and contract items covering myriad other issues from seniority to parking privileges. Further, the contracts dictate lockstep pay increases based on years of service and credentials, not skill. To top it off, effective discipline of teachers is exceedingly difficult, based on contractual agreement and unionized labor law.
This business model, I believe, led America to its current fixation on testing the crud out of kids to quantify progress. Think of it this way. GM couldn’t fire unionized line workers without great difficulty and cost UNLESS those line workers weren’t meeting production goals set in the contract. At least GM couldn’t until unsustainable union contracts and benefits caused it to go bankrupt, but that’s another story.
GM could, however, fire unionized workers for failing to meet agreed standards and production quotas. To do so, GM simply counts the cars (or parts, for Delphi) coming off the line each shift and subjects those cars and parts to quality control measures. If the cars and parts don’t measure up, literally, workers are disciplined.
But cars are susceptible to quantification, while children are not. Regardless of this self-evident truth, teachers’ unions adopted the GM model of labor relations, a model horribly unsuited to the industry at hand.
As a result of this poor choice, teachers are now beings stuck with GM-style examination of their output. Is this fair to the vast majority of teachers who are professional? No. teachers have no say about the input (students) they get each year, whereas GM line workers get consistent steel. Still, output is the only acceptable and cost effective way to measure teachers under their freely chosen business model of education.
Public education’s current antiquated, unionized work rules don’t serve students well, either. Teachers are forced to “teach to the test,” rather than exercise the professional judgment for which we pay them, and to which we entrust our children. Teachers are also forced to standardize their lesson plans to suit the educational needs of the bell curve’s middle, leaving both the high and low performers suffering in an educational environment unsuited to them. Teachers are prevented from adjusting their courses to meet the needs of their current students. Further, teachers are prevented from being themselves, teaching in the manner and on the schedule that best suits them. Not every kid melds well with every teacher, and vice versa, so imposing lockstep curricula on teachers in service of achieving the Holy Grail of quantifiable data means additional children are left out.
I feel badly for teachers today, and I feel more badly for their students. But, in my opinion, the current fixation on data and outcomes was driven by teachers unions’ insistence on cramming the square peg of unionized workshops into the round hole of education.
None of this is to argue that teachers do not need protection from the whims and vagaries of administrators and parents. Believe me, I know teachers need such protection. But can’t we admit that the current way of providing such protection, with unionized work places, irrevocable tenure and lockstep pay hasn’t worked, or, at a minimum, isn’t working well?
Again, are teachers professionals? Surely, they are. But teachers will never, ever be truly considered professionals by many Americans until they’re subject to the same (or significantly more of the same) pressures as other professionals.
True professionals can be fired by their clients for any reason or no reason whatsoever. As an attorney, if I’m not meeting my clients’ expectations, my clients can walk out the door taking their money and my livelihood with them. It’s the same for doctors and accountants. A great man once said, “If you don’t like your doctor, you don’t have to keep your doctor,” or something to that effect. Professionals are under constant pressure to adapt to the needs of their clients, and will suffer swift, sure consequences if they do not.
However, as a client of public schools, I can’t take my business elsewhere. Actually, I can (and have), but my money still flows to a business I choose not to patronize. Teachers work in an industry where their employer suffers little to no consequence for its failure to meet the expectations of its clients. And poor teachers rarely, if ever, suffer any meaningful consequences whatsoever for anything but the most egregious behavior.
I’ve gone on long enough, but my point isn’t that most teachers don’t behave as professionals. They do. My point is that an inapposite business model protects failed and failing teachers in a manner inconsistent with all other professional occupations. This business model’s poor fit causes many of the issues about which teachers complain (e.g., low pay, lower stature, nonsensical testing regimes, curriculum of the month club, etc.).
Teachers are highly skilled professionals hamstrung by unionized blue collar work rules inappropriate for their “business.”
There’s my two cents. More like $9.32, if we’re judging by length. I’d be interested to hear what you all think, particularly my educator friends like [names redacted to protect the innocent] have to say. And, of course, the lovely [Mrs. ‘Puter].
So, that’s my semi-civil thought on why teachers can’t have nice things. Mostly, it’s because the teachers unions’ liberal notions of income equality, social justice and fairness permitted the freeloading crappy teachers to screw it up for everyone else.
Thank goodness no one’s clamoring to impose bad ideas like income equality, conclusively proven to be failures, on a much larger scale, like across an entire nation.
* Yes, ‘Puter has friends. And not just the imaginary kind, either.