Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Let Our Children Go

It is a national disgrace that children, most often poor and minority, are trapped in failing and dangerous schools. The latest Tribune story here. Sun Times here. This has been going on for at least a generation.

This is the civil rights movement of our time.

And who is standing in the schoolhouse door, keeping children from crossing the threshold of learning? Who is holding the children back, keeping them from developing their full potential, and denying them the special, individual attention they need?

Who indeed. The teachers' unions.

These are unions who run the schools not for the benefit of the children, but for their own benefit. These are unions who not only treat all children the same in the one-size-fits-all schools, but treat all their teachers the same, rewarding age and mediocrity and discouraging excellence.

You may not like the No Child Left Behind law, which mandates national testing, taking some prerogatives away from local schools, but it has enabled some students to move out of failing and dangerous schools, if states care enough to support the law. And you may not like President Bush, but he has consistently spoken of the "soft bigotry of low expectations" and honestly tried to raise learning standards and performance.

In his last State of the Union address, the president stressed the importance of training more teachers in math and science, so that our children can compete in the global marketplace. An emphasis on reading, math and science fundamentals, especially in the early grades, can do more for the ultimate success of our children than any investment in laptops. They are the building blocks of lifelong learning. We need to remember that facts and substance are more important than process---give a child a fish, they will be nourished for a day, but teach them how to fish, they will be able to provide their own nourishment for a lifetime. (Read Thomas Sowell here, via RCP)

Senator Barack Obama, to his credit, has raised the subject of merit pay, which will be necessary to recruit more math-oriented teachers. I say pay on the merits and teachers will come--especially male teachers who are needed for the subjects they teach, as male role models, and to reverse the overly-feminized culture of our public schools. (Read Clarence Page here, via RCP) Sun Times:
Obama prodded Democrats on education. "I do not believe that being against No Child Left Behind is an education policy," he said. "We should take a look at pay for performance," an idea not generally popular with teacher unions.
Sen. Obama might be one of the few Democrat politicians who has enough star power to take on the teachers' unions successfully, as they are a core Democrat constituency, but does he have the guts to follow through? Sen. Lieberman tried it some years ago, before he had to cave to Al Gore's Presidential platform when he was his running mate. Now he is practically a pariah in his own party, for that and other issues.

Now a Republican presidential contender, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, is taking on the teachers' unions.

IT IS RARE -- and risky -- for a governor and national political aspirant to put the interests of children above those of a constituency that has as much electoral clout as the teachers unions. Yet Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has done just that with the education reform package he proposed last September and is touting nationwide.

The governor's bill seeks to upend the status quo in teacher pay and evaluation that has been written into collective bargaining agreements across the Commonwealth. Specifically, it would offer annual bonuses for teachers with a math or science degree who pass the teacher test in their subject, forgo tenure, and receive a satisfactory year-end evaluation. It would also make teachers in all subjects eligible for a bonus upon receiving an exemplary evaluation and empower superintendents to reward teachers who work in low-performing schools. Crucially, the bill would remove teacher evaluation from the collective bargaining process and establish statewide criteria for assessing each teacher's ''contribution to student learning."

While several states and districts nationwide are experimenting with differential pay for teachers, Romney's proposals are noteworthy for their breadth and the size of the proposed bonuses. All told, an effective math or science teacher could receive up to $15,000 a year in three bonuses.

Catherine Boudreau, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, predictably criticized Romney's proposals as ''inequitable, divisive, and ineffective." The MTA denounced the proposal as ''uniquely designed to destroy collegiality in a school," ignoring the fact that performance pay is routine in such other professions as medicine, law, and engineering, not to mention in the Commonwealth's first-rate universities, including those that are unionized by the MTA.....

Across the nation, contracts include clauses that prohibit principals from factoring student achievement into teacher evaluation, that allow senior teachers to claim the most desirable school and classroom assignments, and that engage in a dazzling array of minutiae, such as when teachers are allowed to wear an NEA membership pin. As a result, schools are organized and managed more like mid-20th century factories than professional 21st century centers of learning. None of this serves students, valuable teachers, or communities.

Any parent, urban or suburban, who has been told by "educational professionals" that they know best and want to mold our children, like little widgets, has on occasion felt the urge to walk out of a school and never come back again. Some can afford it, some can't. But if we care about the future of our country, we need to care about the education of our children. We can still enforce standards, but reward merit and achievement. We need to let children go to a school where they feel safe. We need to respect parents and view them and their child as clients of a school, and give them the purchasing power, let the education dollars go with the child. And our children need to have more of a stake and choice in what they are actually learning, and the speed at which they learn it. We want to raise enthusiastic seekers of knowledge.

Children are now held hostage to the teacher's union agenda---let our children go!

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