Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ah Yes, The Militant Teachers Unions and the Decline of Learning

Obama is caught again between a rock and a hard spot. I doubt he will do what he says he will do because of his deep ndebtedness to the teachers unions. Here is a response to a posting yesterday -

Obama on education - extra pay for top teachers. It comes from Ed Barbeau at the University of Toronto in Canada. Just FYI.

From Ed Barbeau

Thanks for this item.

When my wife taught in the UK now over forty years ago, they had what was called the Burnham scale. In this, teachers were guaranteed an annual career increase in salary for a limited number of years, I think it was about five, and then reached what was called a bar, where their pay was essentially frozen (except for cost-of-living increases). To surpass the bar and get to the next rung, they had to exhibit merit in some way. After a few years, another bar was reached, with the same situation.

This might be a nice model to discuss. It allows the performance of a teacher to be measured over a period of time with different perspectives, before a decision has to be made about a reward, and I think prevents quick decisions that might be impulsive and not in the interests of justice.

Nobody goes into teaching to get rich, but teachers deserve an income that allows them to establish a home, raise a family, avoid a second job and enjoy a certain level of recreation with dignity. But I think that equally important is the symbolic aspect, that a fair recompense signifies that society respects and appreciates what they do.

Unions of course create difficulties, and the ones who reach prominence in them tend to be the more militant and ideological. However, every union is a monument to the idiocy of past policies and procedures, and teaching is no exception to this. In Ontario, the transformation of teacher professional organization to unions came in the early 70s when the government was beginning to experience a budget crunch and many elements of the public felt that the system was deteriorating; teachers were made the scapegoats, and were subjected to salary freezes and cuts as reduction in resources that were not well handled at all.

At root, the issue of one of morale. While many teachers have enormous dedication, it is possible to "get by" with a minimum of effort and one only has to hear a group of kids talking about their teachers to realize this. That people of differing levels of dedication and ability should be equally rewarded imposes a friction that will ultimately drag the system down.

The union interest should be on supporting teachers that need improvement, making sure that policies and resources are in place to do this, and ensuring that procedures are openly and fairly applied.

Yesterday's posting is below, to which the above is a response.

From Reuters, Tuesday, March 10, 2009. See
Obama plan sees extra pay for top teachers, may anger union

By Ross Colvin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday proposed lengthening the school year and paying top teachers more as part of an effort to help U.S. students regain an edge in the competitive world economy.

The United States has one of the worst high school dropout rates in the industrialized world, and its students regularly rank far below those in other Western countries in reading and math scores.

Slightly more than half of the population has only a high school diploma. One out of every two American university students drops out before completing their post-secondary studies.

"Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short and other nations outpace us," Obama told the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

"The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens, and my fellow Americans, we have everything we need to be that nation," he added.

The U.S. leader painted the education drive as part of a broader push to promote economic growth in the face of a deep recession and the nation's worst financial crisis in decades.

His plan includes a focus on "cradle to career" learning and expansion of early childhood education programs, which received $5 billion in funding in the $787 billion economic stimulus package recently approved by Congress.


Obama, who in his first 50 days in office has launched drives to overhaul healthcare and energy policy, plans to nearly triple spending on education in the 2010 fiscal year, which begins on October 1.

The funding includes an $81 billion set-aside for education in the economic stimulus package, which would raise the Education Department's budget for next year to $127.8 billion from $46.2 billion in 2009.

But the new education proposals risk angering teachers' unions, who are generally strong supporters of his Democratic Party and have in the past resisted ideas such as extra pay for top-performing teachers.

Obama also acknowledged that students would be unhappy about spending more time in class. "I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," he said to laughter.

But he noted that students in other nations, such as South Korea, spent as much as a month more in school each year.

Obama called for steps to ensure all Americans received a comprehensive education that followed them from infancy through the job market and ensured that they were competitive in the changing global economy.

"In a 21st century world where jobs can be shipped wherever there's an internet connection, where a child born in Dallas is competing with children in Delhi ... education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success, it is a prerequisite," he said.

Obama also challenged U.S. states to adopt more rigorous education standards, especially in reading and math, and called for expansion and redesign of federal student aid programs.

Following his speech to the Chamber, he made a surprise visit to a conference of top state school officials in Washington, urging them to keep up efforts to improve the country's educational system.
(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Writing by David Alexander; Editing by Paul Simao)

Jerry P. Becker

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, well, I doubt if most teachers are in it for the money....