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Attacks on Public School Teachers Need to End

August 9, 2011

I came across an article on Progressive.org’s web-site by Pedro Noguera and Michelle Fine that I thought was worth passing along as it affects teachers in many ways.

The article starts by chronicling what the Republicans have been busy doing to destroy public education and to push for privatization and charters:

Republican governors across the country are taking aim at teachers, their unions and public schools in general.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has been demonizing teachers, lambasting unions, challenging tenure rights and recommending a crude teacher evaluation process.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker’s budget slashes school funding by $1.6 billion over the next two years, establishing many more charter schools (including so-called virtual charter schools, which have no buildings), and lifting the income cap for vouchers.

But, the hits to public education do NOT stop with just the Republicans.  As I have written about on my blog there are deep-pocketed interests on both sides who are seeking to “reform” education, many times for different reasons.

This attack on public education has diverse roots, and comes not only from Republicans. Groups like Democrats for Education Reform have dedicated substantial resources to undermining teachers unions. The Obama administration has put its weight behind an agenda featuring charter schools, which employ mostly nonunion labor, as its centerpiece.

A disturbing bipartisan consensus is emerging: a market model for public schools that would abandon America’s historic commitment to providing education to all children as a civil right.

This model would make opportunities available largely to those motivated and able to leave local schools. It would treat parents as consumers and children as disposable commodities that can be judged by their test scores. And it would unravel collective bargaining agreements so that experienced teachers can be replaced with those who have little training, less experience and no long-term commitment to the profession.

It’s hard to think of another field in which experience is considered a liability and where those who know the least about the nuts and bolts of an enterprise are embraced as experts.

It is truly stunning to me that the Obama administration is so hopelessly clueless on this matter.  I sincerely believe that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) are not doing their jobs in advocating for teachers.  People like Matt Damon and Diane Ravitch have been the visible proponents for educators, not our own national unions…what is wrong here?

I have learned so much from veteran, experienced teachers, it is amazing to me that those who are experts are not viewed as the most important employees, they are viewed as too expensive.  New teachers do NOT have the knowledge and teaching experience to be as effective in the classroom as veteran teachers, this is true from all of my experiences in schools where I have witnessed this phenomena.

The market model for education fails to address the inequality and opportunity gaps that plague our schools. It is not an adequate solution; it is a diversion.

Fortunately, teachers and their allies are fighting back. We can begin to feel the rumble of solidarity, with parents, teachers, labor and youth demanding what is rightfully theirs — public schools and democratic public education.

Students are not widgets, nor are they commodities so they should not be treated as such.  Public Education is NOT a market, it is about teaching little human beings to learn and to grow into productive members of society.

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7 Comments
  1. Grace Valentine permalink

    National labor relations information officer “Kathleen” in a conversation with me on 28 july this year tried to tell me who to go to for help if my union had colluded with my employer to limit my healthcare benefits or if they had failed to represent me, as is currently another case in progress with Walmart and its employees (not union, just the insurance cos and the bosses in this case)

    She spent a long time with me waiting and chatting as she tried to find out who had jurisdiction over the NEA. She ultimately had to say that there is no agency that a teacher can go to for help if her union colludes with her employer.

    I was a member of the NEA, in San Diego from 1996 – 2009, thru the notorious Bersin years. When the then president, Marc Knapp told me that he and Alan had had dinner together and he did not think my concerns about my principal trying to enlist me in her efforts to fire a teacher had any merit. I failed to understand the connection at the time, between his dinners with Alan, and my concerns for this teacher’s job.

    My professional history is marred beyond repair at this point, and all through it, SDEA went through the motions, filing and winning a grievance and then allowing the District to do exactly what it had planned to do, despite the outcome and ‘legal’ remedies that were instantiated by the labor board review in place at that time. SDEA did nothing to help me and I was denied the remedies I had won thru the grievance process. Then called crazy, so I would be even less able to defend myself.

    On experience and expertise:

    The iconic teachers depicted by Hollywood as being really able to teach are always outsiders. Stand and Deliver, Freedom Writers are two classic examples – entertainment media is driven by and reinforces cultural stereotypes like these. Name a movie in which the teacher was in good standing with the established authorities and able to work with the thug/students also oversimplistically represented in these films.

    New and veteran teachers cannot be compared so simplistically. Why do so many teachers quit early in their careers? In my case I did not quit, but an active and evident campaign to drive me out took place, and was astonishingly similar to those in the movies experienced by Jaime Escalante and Erin Gruen. I taught for SDUSD for 15 years. I was forced to resign and SDEA did nothing, absolutely nothing because I was on a leave of absence. Fact.

    In a staff development session for the SDUSD, Crawford HS and Stanford Small School Redesign Network, funded by Bill Gates in 2004, I cited a sentence in the booklet that had been distributed by the organizers (Linda Darling-Hammond) that said effective teachers of urban students tolerate the use of multiple languages in the classroom. I had made the same claim a few days before in the English Department meeting, and it ultimately lead to the events that I filed and won a grievance over, and that ended my career against my will and wishes.

    So the two threads intertwine here: and the bottom line is green. The SDEA gets about 900 a year from every teacher, seniority matters not. If two new teachers can be hired for the price of one experienced teacher, then the SDEA gets 1800 instead of 900. Simple. The NEA will find a way to survive Scott Walker and his kind. Just a feeling.

    And an apology (explanation) for the seemingly flippant and whimsical tone in my posts on this list.

    Thank you for reading, all replies are very, very welcome.

  2. Thank you for your comment. It is interesting that you were forced out after 15 years of teaching. Your tenure didn’t help you? Did SDEA think whatever you did was unsupportable?

  3. Grace Valentine permalink

    What SDEA thought was not something I was privilege to, but I wish I had been. I was given a sick leave for stress by my doc in response to a schedule that was obviously meant to break me. Even my doc was astonished when I showed him the number of students on my roster, including every special ed student in the junior class who could be mainstreamed into English.

    SDUSD and SDEA do not support this type of thing. Use of one’s health to attempt to manipulate the system. Not done. Principals set the master schedule and nothing short of an act of God is going to change that. I think SDEA was just showing the District that while I hadn’t done anything wrong, they supported a more professional type of teacher that didn’t get injured by politics.

    They are famous for this kind of slack representation. One former site rep for SDEA got the treatment so horribly that he retired from teaching at 55, with shingles and nerve damage due to the stress. He was not outspoken as I was, so SDEA picked up his health insurance premium payment for life.

    Many, many teachers loathe SDEA. If you scratch that surface you will find a very unsavory history of what’s called being a ‘company union’ so sad so very very sad. I have names and numbers if any reporters might be interested.

    Long live Dorothy Day!

    Thanks for writing to me, and for this list.

  4. I am sorry to hear about your situation. One of the things that I learned about the teaching world is that most teachers have no clue about politics, which is surprising because it directly affects our livelihoods. I feel that teachers NOT being informed is the reason that we are under attack all the time.
    Are you working now in some other field?

  5. Grace Valentine permalink

    Thank you for your insight – my academic preparation is applied linguistics, so my political awareness is correlated. I suggested to a lawyer friend when asked why I thought Bersin was doing what he did that I thought it was a union busting tactic and that he had been hired after Bertha Pendleton capitulated to the union in a strike for wages in 1995, in a secret session by the SDBusinessCouncil, and not by the school board in it’s normal fashion.

    I began the move to the Four Corners region in 2005, and for good in 2009. I have been blackballed from teaching as far as I can tell. My previous principal’s EdD dissertation had to do with “Calling for an end to Manifest Destiny’s influence of education, and directly cited “Anglos” as being part of a self-perpetuating oppressive force that unfairly benefits from the spoils of MD. I only researched this after he fired me in the middle of the school year, without an evaluation, saying he didn’t have to evaluate me, that I just didn’t fit in.

    My professional future looks very bleak. I have been politically destroyed – it’s a shame, I was good with the ‘bad’ kids. And I have few resources, no family, very scared now.

    Thank you so much again for wanting to know about my story. The isolation and skepticism that are part of being driven from one’s career are devastating, and these lists are most helpful and serve as a comfort of sorts – I know it’s political but I experience it personally, teachers experience these politics so very personally. It’s good that this list is published. Teachers can find that their situations are not unique and maybe organize in a meaningful way some day.

    May I ask, who is the Education Clearinghouse? Again, props to EC.

    • I am a bit reticent about giving out my name, you can read about me in the “About Me” area of this blog. This year I am back teaching in special education at a new school here in Southern California. It will be challenging as I am learning by getting in my new classroom the past few days, but I welcome the challenge. I am so sorry to hear about your situation. With all of your experience I am sure that you should be able to pick up substitute work, and if you are good with the “bad” kids, that might lead to more steady work. Just a suggestion, I hope you find something.

  6. Grace Valentine permalink

    Wise to preserve your anonymity since you are currently in the classroom. Thanks for the suggestion, it’s a good idea. It is probably time to leave education in the public schools, but once a teacher…. Thanks again for your excellent list. I look forward to reading what you find, and expect once the school year starts you will get busy. Have a great year!

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