I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, February 17, 2011

When Politicos Do Education

George Norcross took time out from running the South Jersey political machine to weigh in on vouchers. It ain't pretty:
This program would give parents who want a better education and future for their children the option to pursue it while, at the same time, saving taxpayer dollars. It is estimated that the recent rash of Catholic school closures is costing the state an additional $800 million a year to accommodate those displaced students in public schools.
Giving 25% of the vouchers to kids who already attend private schools will save us money... how?
Underperforming schools are failing not because of a shortage of money. And not for a lack of talented, dedicated teachers who take pride in their work and do their very best in a dispiriting environment. They are failing because public officials, school administrators and others in charge of running the schools have refused to embrace the meaningful change we so desperately need. That change would include eliminating teacher tenure; instituting merit pay for teachers; and offering other performance-based incentives for teachers, such as bonuses and promotions.
So the way to help those proud teachers in dispiriting conditions is to turn their jobs into rewards for political cronies by eliminating tenure? And eliminating collaboration in schools by having teachers vie for limited amounts of merit pay?
Unlike the private sector, the world of public education offers no rewards for superior performance, nor does it impose consequences for poor performance.
First of all, not all rewards are money, George. I know that may be hard for you to understand.

Second: look at your own industry. Are you telling me there were consequences for poor performance in the financial sector? Executive, heal thyself.
For school superintendents, administrators and teachers, there is little or no concern about losing their jobs due to unsatisfactory results.
So why do 50% of teachers leave in the first five years? Especially when schools can refuse to renew their contracts within the first three years and give them no reason? As I keep asking: where is the evidence that there is a sizable group of "bad" teachers who are keeping kids from learning? Is it not possible that there are maybe some other, larger problems that need to be addressed here?
School board elections should be moved to November, when larger numbers of citizens vote, making it more difficult for a small group of special interests to dominate the process. 
Let me get this straight: the political boss of the South Jersey machine wants to move school elections to November - when his candidates are running - so that "special interests" don't "dominate" the process.

Because if George Norcross is about anything, he's about keeping elections from being dominated by a small group of insiders...
And our public education system should demand greater accountability and responsibility on the part of parents; schools should require parents to be fully engaged in their childrens’ education, which, in turn, would increase the motivation of teachers and students to do better.
And what should we do with those parents, George, if they are only partially "engaged"? Since you will now insist that the schools "require" full engagement, I guess you have some plan to compel parents to be "fully" engagement. What is it? I can't wait to hear you explain to the voters of NJ how schools will now "require" them to be better parents.

The problem with our education system is that the very people who have failed it - politicians - are the only ones who seem to be allowed to come up with schemes to change it. What Norcross and his machine should be doing is working to find ways to create a stable and adequate funding source for the schools.

Leave the educational policy to those of us who know what the hell we are doing, OK?


thinker said...

NOT ALL REWARDS ARE MONEY! If I could shout this from the rooftops I would! Here's the honest truth: I would teach for FREE in a second because I love it. The reason why I CAN'T, however, is because I have student loans, mortgage, food, child care, car, etc. to pay for. I guess I am supposed to feel sorry for you and your wall st. friends who, unlike myself and the other teachers I work with, aren't living paycheck to paycheck just to keep your bills paid. I live in a house that cost me under $100K, but I am supposed to feel bad for those who are crying about the property taxes they pay on their giant mcmansions? and I should be wailing for those who pay a higher income tax rate BECAUSE THEY HAVE SO MUCH MORE MONEY TO ACTUALLY LIVE ON? Please, spare me.

thinker said...

Another point I'd like to make that no one seems to be talking about in the whole "merit pay" conversation is that of competition vs. cooperation. Time and time again, I have "stolen" GREAT teaching ideas from other teachers, and I have also shared my own great teaching ideas when I am lucky enough to have one or two. I have worked in the "private sector" and I don't even have words to describe how cut-throat and competitive it was in my field; unless you have experienced it, you cannot imagine. Is this really where we want to go in teaching? We want teachers holding back their best lessons, afraid to share them with colleagues (which, lets face it, would benefit the children!) because they are all vying for the best test scores so they don't lose their jobs? Or because they are competing for some as yet unrevealed amount of "merit pay?" Seriously? I would think that this is the part of "the real world" (aka the private sector to those disparaging public workers) that we do not want to emulate. Having seen what the win at any cost/profits above all else mindset has wrought, I'm quite shocked that we are now saying "yeah, we nearly collapsed the whole economy with it but hey, maybe it will actually work in schools!" Who can possibly think this is a great idea?

When I teach (maybe someday someone will let me), I tell the students what I once heard one of those washed-up, old, useless veteran teachers say: "cooperate with your classmates, compete with yourself." In other words, dont be afraid to help others, but don't ever stop reaching for excellence. Can you imagine what would happen if EVERYONE actually lived that way?