Vouchers, A Public Good
THE CONTINUING WAR AGAINST TEACHERS AND PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The state of Wisconsin is considering a teacher licensing plan which would be even worse than Indiana’s.
In Indiana, if you recall, anyone can teach a subject in a high school if they have a college degree in the subject, a B average, and experience in the field. No training in pedagogy necessary.
Now, a legislator in Wisconsin, Rep. Mary Czaja, thinks that it’s important for schools to be able to hire completely unqualified teachers in order to ease teaching shortages…because, after all, anyone can teach anything that’s not a core subject.
At least in Indiana one must have a college degree in the subject area one wishes to teach…including those unimportant (aka non-tested) subjects. Apparently, in Wisconsin, people who might want to teach non-core subjects, like art, drama or shop, don’t need any expertise (just “relevant experience“). And no one seems to need any pedagogical training…because teaching middle and high school students doesn’t, in their mind, require any training in human development, class management, or learning theory.
This is not law yet, and if the publicity surrounding it is damaging enough, Governor Walker will reject it, rather than take a chance on ruining his
already non-existent Presidential campaign possibilities.
The idea that “anyone can teach” isn’t new. The old saying, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches” (thank you G.B. Shaw) incorrectly implies that the profession/art/science/calling of teaching is something which takes no skill. Since “everyone has been to school” the theory goes, it stands to reason that “anyone can teach.” This popular culture concept of teaching-as-easy-part-time-job-that-anyone-can-do is pervasive. The reality, as those of us who have spent time in actual classrooms know, is much different.
Unfortunately, policy makers and “reformers” don’t have to deal with reality. They can make laws and rules based on whim and ignorance in order to achieve their goals which might include, finding jobs for their friends, finding funding for their donors, pandering to special interest groups in order to get votes, and so on. Destroying and privatizing public education is a very lucrative business right now…so closing schools and replacing them with charters, shuffling tax money to religious schools in the form of vouchers, and cutting corners to reduce costs are popular among the ALEC legislative crowd. Since the biggest cost in public education is personnel, cutting corners in that area will maximize profits. What better way to cut personnel costs than to open the field of education up to untrained workers…perhaps minimum wage is next.
Wisconsin may be the first state in the country to certify teachers who don’t have bachelor’s degrees under a provision put in the state budget, a move that has drawn widespread criticism and that Gov. Scott Walker refused to say Thursday whether he supports.
Under the change, anyone with relevant experience could be licensed to teach non-core academic subjects in grades six through 12. They would not need a bachelor’s degree and they could even be a high school dropout.
Why is it that the “bad teachers” and “failing schools” are only in high poverty schools?
Policy makers and politicians happily join in the “reformer” chorus blaming “bad teachers” and “failing schools” instead of accepting their share of the responsibility for struggling students and schools.
The beginning of wisdom is calling things by their right names. There is no “failed schools” problem in America, but only government’s failed policy of “benign neglect” that has blighted inner cities and their schools for generations. One has only to consider the historical reason that caused this urban blight: the decades-old urban planning of sustained and systemic neglect that simply wrote off the inner cities to die on the vine, as state and federal funding was diverted to facilitate “white flight” to the suburbs.
Sadly, this is only a partisan issue when one party is in control. Before the last election the Democrats in Illinois went after the teachers and their unions. In Democratically controlled Chicago, Rahm Emanuel continues the “reform” plan of privatization. The governor of New York is determined to destroy the state’s system of public education and the teachers who serve their children. And in D.C. Arne Duncan, the nation’s Secretary of Education, presides over a national movement based on charters, privatization, and the deprofessionalization of teachers. I’m glad that Democrats in Indiana are coming out against the Republican “reform” policies, but I am wary of their motives. If the Democrats come into power…and start to bring in money from Pearson, Gates, and other anti-public donors, will they change their tune? The experience in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., and elsewhere suggests caution.
Only a pro-public education movement, not beholden to one or the other political party, will guarantee that elected officials respond to the needs of our children, our teachers and our schools. In the meantime we have to elect people who will support public schools — no matter what the political party.
Why are we spending $2.8 million to provide scholarship tax breaks to Hoosiers earning $100,000 or more a year? How about it, Tim? Most obscene is we’re spending $100 million in Hoosier tax dollars to subsidize private schools as well as contracts with for-profit, out-of-state corporate school takeover providers. As Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer of Bloomington, chair of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, wrote eloquently in a recent Op/Ed: “Children who are hungry or living in a car really do have a difficult time paying attention to long division. The new budget gives more dollars to the wealthiest districts while decreasing the aid to the least. Teachers are losing control over what goes on in the classroom because of test-driven “accountability” and most haven’t had a raise in years. Teachers know best how to educate kids.”
What happens when you cause a public education crisis by making “bad teachers” and “failing schools” the scapegoat for what is essentially a nation-wide problem of poverty? What happens when you pass laws putting pressure on teachers to “teach to the test,” and beat the constant drum-beat of public school and public school teacher failure?
Who is going to want to put themselves into a public school teaching position under those circumstances? What prospective teacher is willing to rack up $100,000 in debt for a job with no security, no chance for advancement, and none of the job aspects which promote motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose? Who will want to join a profession being daily bashed and attacked by politicians and the media?
It isn’t the least bit surprising that there is a significant drop in the number of students entering teacher-preparation programs. The article below is about California, but similar situations are occurring in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Colorado, North Carolina, and elsewhere.
“Reformers” are no doubt pleased. A lack of qualified teachers opens the door to “alternative” paths to teaching such as Teach for America, lowered qualifications for teacher licensing (see above, Wisconsin May be the First… and REPA III in Indiana), and the resultant lower personnel costs…because profit is the real focus of the privatizers.
Darling-Hammond and other education experts have repeatedly expressed concerns about the potential consequences of a teacher shortage that she said was due to several factors, including major layoffs during the recession, a culture of “teacher bashing” that she said has soured young people from seeking the career, and an increasing demand for teachers that has been met by a declining supply.
The shrinking numbers of teachers receiving credentials has been paralleled by a declining interest in teaching. Enrollments in teacher preparation programs have declined by 75 percent over the past decade – from 77,700 in 2001-02 to 19,933 in the 2012-13 school year, the last year for which figures are available,
The editorial is built, without evidence, around the canard that all teachers with experience either are, or soon will become, “dead wood” that ought to be cleared from the forest of public schools by—in the case of Newark—administrators with virtually no (and, in some cases, just plain no) teaching experience. As if experience teaching was itself the cause of poor teaching–what naïve drivel.
How convenient it is for these non-experts to decide that the problems of urban schools are caused by a phantom band of dead wood teachers who, because they are experienced, are thereby at fault for the dismal performance of urban public schools.
Mitch Daniels (R) followed by Mike Pence (R) in Indiana…and in this article, Andrew Cuomo (D) in New York (quote below), Scott Walker (R) in Wisconsin and Chris Christie (R) in New Jersey…
Cuomo makes it bipartisan.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: The “Parental Choice in Education Act,” a bill pushed by New York Governor Cuomo, would create a tuition tax credit program—which is nothing more than a backdoor voucher program that would cost the state millions of dollars. The program would cost the state millions of dollars that could otherwise go to public schools in need of money. Tuition tax credit programs have been criticized as being “welfare for the rich.” That is especially true with this program, as many of these publicly-funded private school scholarships could go to families with annual incomes up to $300,000.
THE PUBLIC GOOD
Here is a great letter from Wisconsin. We’ve lost sight of the public good that is American public education…
“…Our public schools are the heart and soul of our communities and serve all students and their families. Public education is the foundation of a democratic society. Previous generations made a moral commitment to us through their investments in public schools. Our generation must renew that moral commitment to our children by investing in their future and our representative democracy by funding our great public schools…” — Joyce Luedke, Wausau
The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.