Not surprisingly, Jonathan Chait wrote a big article swatting at the teachers unions, How New Orleans Proved Urban-Education Reform Can Work. It is based upon a recent Tulane University study that found that children in New Orleans are doing better since Hurricane Katrina was used to destroy teachers unions and rev up those charter schools that Chait’s wife gets paid to push. I’ve written about this before, Jonathan Chait Should Stop Writing About Education Reform. The truth is that Chait has no objectivity when it comes to this issue.
In contrast, Andrea Gabor wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, The Myth of the New Orleans School Makeover. There are a few aspect to it. But the bottom line is that the system is not working for the children that most need it. They are allowed to fall through the cracks via “tools” such as “suspensions, pushouts, skimming, [and] counseling out.” So hooray! The statistics on this are pretty clear: if you exclude the students who are doing most poorly, test scores will go up. That’s basic arithmetic that I suspect even the charter school cheerleaders understand.
In addition, there’s this, “A key part of the New Orleans narrative is that firing the unionized, mostly black teachers after Katrina cleared the way for young, idealistic (mostly white) educators who are willing to work 12- to 14-hour days.” There are a couple of things to think about here. First, this is the modern corporate world’s approach to cutting costs: get rid of experienced middle aged workers who cost more and replace them with inexperienced young workers who cost less. But if they are willing to work 14-hour days, isn’t that a good thing? No, it isn’t. First, we shouldn’t expect that of any workers. But more important is that as those young teachers get older, they will not be willing to kill themselves for the job. Now it may be that the schools will just replace them with a new round of young inexperienced teachers who will work 14-hour days. But this brings up a related issue: teacher shortages.
I have been flummoxed over the past few years to see two parallel things happening in public education. First, we have the education “reform” movement doing everything it can to make teaching a worse profession. Jonathan Chait is a great example. He simply lies when he claims that the current system “gives teachers high, and virtually absolute, levels of job security.” This is the old hysteria about not being able to fire bad teachers. Instead, Chait wants teaching to be the way it is for fast food workers where teachers can simply be fired without cause. He also has a problem with the system that “pays them based on years of tenure.” Because, you know, paying older, more experienced, and loyal workers is something that only applies to teachers.
But even while the education “reformers” are doing everything they can to make teaching a worse career move, we find that it is getting harder and harder to find qualified teachers. Carol Burris wrote, When it Comes to the Teacher Shortage, The New York Times Got it Wrong. She’s referencing an article that I discussed a couple of weeks ago, Schizophrenia of Education “Reform” Movement. The Times article claims that there are teacher shortages because the economy is improving and teachers have other options. That’s a nice story, and probably has a small amount of truth in it. But as usual when discussing education “reform,” the obvious cause is ignored.
Burris quoted a shocking statistic: over the last decade in California, there has been a 74% drop in students entering teacher education programs. A much bigger issue is that, “Common Core and its battles, high-stakes testing, the erosion of tenure, and the evaluation of teachers by test scores, have all contributed to the crisis.” In other words, being a teacher is not a compelling profession. We are turning teaching into exactly the kind of job that will not appeal to the kinds of people who would make the best teachers. We could still get teachers the old fashioned way — by paying them more — but, of course, that isn’t on the table either. The education “reform” movement wants miserable students who are great at taking tests and thinks that this should be facilitated by miserable teachers with low pay and no job security.
Everyone agrees that our educational system can be improved. But what we are doing is not designed to better educate our children. In as much as it is about the children at all, it is designed to create a better trained workforce so that our corporations don’t have to invest in worker training. But primarily what we are doing is making teaching a worse job and then whining that not enough young people are choosing it as a profession.