Friday, May 27, 2011

Teachers have a political bullseye on their backs

NOTE: The following commentary appears in this week's Bargain Hunter publications.

Everywhere you turn these days, teachers are getting bashed. You can’t open a newspaper or visit an online news site that doesn’t offer some sort of evidence of that.

Gov. John Kasich is chief teacher basher in Ohio. He wants to eliminate their collective bargaining and pay them based on how well their students do on tests.

He’s also invited Teach for America to operate in Ohio. Teach for America allows regular people, such as you and me, to become “certified” teachers. How about that? Now, anyone can become a teacher. It’s so easy. And Kasich is a strong proponent of charter schools, which he thinks do a better job than public schools even though there are statistics that seem to belie that premise.

Adding to educator angst is the fact that today’s young teachers will not have the same lucrative pension deal that their predecessors have because of a needed overhaul and retooling of the State Teachers Retirement System brought on by, among other things, lousy investments.

So, if you happen to know a teacher or educator (Disclosure: I’m married to one.) and are wondering why they look so down in the dumps, well, I’m sure some of this news has something to do with it.

I’ll go out on a limb here. Most of our teachers in Tuscarawas and Holmes counties are doing a great job. I mean a really great job. Our graduates are doing phenomenal things in their careers and the news columns tell that story every week.

Are there bad teachers in our schools? Yep. And there are less than adequate employees across all lines of work. Education is no exception.

The problem with connecting teacher pay to test scores is that it doesn’t take into account the socio-economic situation of the test takers, which in my mind is a lot more important than any other factor.

Amy Hanauer of the liberal think tank Policy Matters Ohio reported earlier this month that 40 percent of the more than two million students in Ohio are eligible for subsidized lunches. That means four out of 10 students are more or less living in poverty.

If you study figures provided by each of the 613 school districts in Ohio, you will find that test scores have a direct correlation to the wealth of a particular district because in Ohio all districts are not created equal.

Dublin, Beachwood, Rocky River, Westlake, Shaker Heights – the haves – don’t necessarily have better teachers than Dover, New Philadelphia or East Holmes or West Holmes, but they do have more children per capita being raised in wealthy home environments.

Make a difference? You bet.

Those are children whose parents place a premium on education and who have the financial resources available for a vast array of educational experiences. And, yes, maybe there are even a few books inside the house.

Trust me, the wealthy kids are going to do better on the tests and I guess under Kasich’s plan their teachers will be wealthier, too.

Kasich also has advocated district consolidation, although not until after the election when he said, “Does Hancock County need six school districts?”

I would counter that if better schools were actually the goal here, then perhaps we’d all be better off breaking Cleveland’s 75,000-student district into three distinct school districts. I don’t buy that bigger is always better. It may be cheaper in the short run – we can get better deals on administrators and pencils – but not in the long run as those annoying socio-economic costs multiply. You know, when bad students produce even more bad students.

Anyway, Kasich apparently has never considered that idea, nor for that matter has any other politician. Politicians just hone in on what they think they’re hearing from the public.

And right now I don’t think the public, nor Kasich, has a clue about what it really takes to educate their little angels.

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1 comment:

Anna Lee Brendza said...

Dick, you are so right. My daughter is a teacher in a Northern Ohio district and she says Kasich is dismantling the public school system and intends to have charter schools instead. She says she may have to retire this year because after this year, teachers will get such a small percentage of salary that they will need to work to make ends meet. I am glad to see you writing again. I think about you often and wonder how you are and what you're doing. I went to the T-R building for Kathy's retirement, and the empty spaces are sooo sad. It's a horrible situation. anna lee at