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

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How Long Do Teachers Have To Keep Taking It?

Twitter is not conducive to good-faith arguments; the 140-character restriction severely limits the qualifiers necessary to go a few friendly rounds with an ally. So when David Atkins of Hullabaloo - my favorite political blog - and I started a back-and-forth last night, I got a little nervous. David is a terrific writer and a shrewd observer of the dynamics of the political left; he's also someone who genuinely is on the side of teachers.

But he said something I have to take exception to... well, that's not quite right. I actually agree with him, but I don't think he's seeing things from the perspective of teachers - a traditional constituency of the left that is being betrayed. There's a dynamic in play here that progressives need to understand...

See why Twitter won't cut it? Here's David:
David Atkins ‏@DavidOAtkinsElections are won by persuasion and GOTV. Ask yourself: how many people am I persuading and mobilizing today? 
David Atkins ‏@DavidOAtkins"Wow, this person didn't vote. I should really pay attention to their needs," said no politician ever.
OK, that makes sense... except what happens when you do vote, and you've been politically engaged, but the people you support - the ones who are supposed to be your allies - stick the shiv in your back? Which is why I replied to David:
Jersey Jazzman ‏@jerseyjazzman
MT @DavidOAtkins: "How many people am I persuading today?" Better question for Obama: why AREN'T like me persuading & mobilizing? #edpolicy
Now, I admit I wasn't clear here (again, 140 characters doesn't give space to flesh this out). By "like me," I meant teachers. And the obvious answer to my question is that teachers are not mobilizing for Obama because he has a truly horrible record on education. In fact, I'd say it's the one area of public policy where he has been brazenly disingenuous. For example:
One of the things that Mayor Emanuel was fighting for was tying teacher evaluations to student performance. The teachers fought it. That’s something that’s at the bedrock of your education policy.
Well, the key is to work with teachers. When you look at what’s happening in Denver, for example, School District, teachers have embraced the idea of merit pay for teachers who are really doing a great job. But what is still a challenge, and I think teachers have a legitimate gripe here, is making sure that the assessments are done properly, that it’s not just based on standardized tests, which, oftentimes, forces schools to teach to the test.
And one of the reasons that we have sought reforms to No Child Left Behind. I think it had great intentions. I give President Bush credit for saying, “Let’s raise standards and make sure that everybody’s trying to meet them.” But because so much of it was tied just to standardized testing, what you saw across the country was teaching to the test.
And I– I can’t tell you how many teachers I meet who say, “You know what? This makes school less interesting for kids. And as a consequence, I’m ending up really shrinking my curriculum, what I can do in– in terms of creativity inside of the classroom.” And that’s not how you or I, for example, when we think about our best teachers, we don’t think about studying a bunch of tests to see how we’re going to score on a standardized test. [emphasis mine]
OK, Obama says multiple times he is dead set against teaching to the test. But what does he do? He implements Race To The Top, a program that mandates that test scores be used in teacher evaluations! I can't think of a policy that will create more teaching to the test than tying high-stakes personnel decisions to students' scores.

In addition, Obama is pouring more money into charter schools, even as the evidence continues to pile up that "successful" charters - by virtue of their high attrition rates and the selective demographics of their student populations - are simply not replicable. Charter schools bolster the "no excuses" canard that educational outcomes can be equalized simply through school uniforms, tough discipline, and marching. They justify placing all of the responsibility for closing the "achievement gap" on the schools, even though schools account for, at most, only 20% of the variation in education outcomes. Poverty is the issue; embracing charters helps mask that issue.

And let's not forget Obama's conspicuous absence from the sides of teachers in Wisconsin. When they needed him most, the president was a no-show; same in Chicago. Hell, Jon Pelto even sent him a free pair of "comfortable shoes," the kind he promised to put on when the rights of unionized workers were threatened. Apparently, they're somewhere in the back of the White House mud room.

No one in their right mind can expect teachers to have gone through four years of this and not have at least some ambivalence about Barack Obama. So, yes, it bugs me when friends and allies on the left tell me my only choice is to suck it up:

David Atkins ‏@DavidOAtkins
@jerseyjazzman obama could care less whether you do or not. Guess who does? Your local school board. Start there.
David, you know I love you, and you're right about local politics (click the picture on the left of my fellow teacher Marie Corfield, NJ Assembly candidate, to do something about that). But we teachers can't take too much more of having our profession dismissed by the people we have consistently supported through the years. For myself, much of my exasperation comes from seeing what's happening on the right:

Jersey Jazzman ‏@jerseyjazzman
@DavidOAtkins Would the various constituencies of the right ever tolerate the way teachers are treated by the left? We both know answer.
Damn right we do. If the Republicans ever thought about sticking it to the NRA the way the Democrats have been sticking it to teachers, there would be holy hell to pay. And we're not even asking Dems to sell their souls; we're asking them to implement policies that are demonstrably better for students.

What I'm trying to say to the president, to David, and to those of you on the left who are not educators, is this: candidates can't keep shafting us and then expect us to go canvassing and write checks. I know that reformy hedge-fund money tastes great, but these politicians can't do the bidding of Democrats For Education Reform and expect us public school teachers to just grin and bear it. At some point, we are not going to put up with it anymore.

Again: I know what's at stake in this election. The vast majority of teachers are not parochial about education's place in politics. Most of us will vote for Obama for other reasons. We're not one-issue constituents.

Unless you force us to become just that. Democrats, you proceed on this path at your own peril.

Can you guys believe I put out Race To The Top, and the teachers are STILL going to vote for me?

ADDING: Yeah, a photo-op with Arne Duncan ain't going to cut it.


Unknown said...

And I call BS on "When you look at what’s happening in Denver, for example, School District, teachers have embraced the idea of merit pay for teachers who are really doing a great job."

Voting Green most likely.

Duke said...

That's a great point, Tracy. But I only can type so much in one post... ;-)

reality-based educator said...

Constituencies need to hold politicians to the fire on important issues.

Teachers and the teachers unions fail to do this with Obama.

The NEA endorsed Obama a year and a half out.

Many teachers promise to vote for Obama no matter how badly they get screwed by his ed policies.

Glenn Greenwald has said more than once, the constituencies that do not provide undying fealty to their party, the ones willing to withhold money and votes and to actively work AGAINST their own politicians if they are not getting what they want, get what they want.

Note how LGBT activists forced concessions and an admission from Obama when they started to withhold money and support.

The same has happened with immigration activists and Deferred Action.

Teachers and the teachers unions, on the other hand, have this co-dependent, dysfunctional relationship with Obama - he beats them with RttT, they promise undying fealty and support. He fails to support the unions in Wisconsin, they say "Maybe if we promise more money and support he'll love us better." He is AWOL in Chicago, many teachers say, "Yeah, he sucks on union and ed issues, but he's better than Romney."

I call the WH every week to let them know I'm a Dem who has voted that way since 1988 but I am now actively working AGAINST Barack Obama because of his education policies, his pro-Wall Street policies, his HAMP program, his treatment of Bradley Manning and his drone bombing campaign/"kill list."

If enough union members and teachers did this, you bet your ass Obama would hear it. Atkins is wrong.