Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014: The Year Teachers became Public Enemy #1

Most teachers were probably too busy working with kids to notice. But in 2014 we were declared “Public Enemy #1.”

Who so declared? A group of arrogant fools who had no idea what it was like to spend a life in the classroom.

Luckily, as the chart below indicates, the general public still has faith in teachers. When it comes to ethics and honesty, elementary teachers rated higher in a 2013 Gallup survey than almost any other profession. (We were not included in a more recent survey in December 2014.) True, we lost to nurses. But we nosed out doctors and military officers.

Members of Congress, state officeholders and lobbyists (who now have a stranglehold on education policy) ranked at rock bottom.

The only profession they beat out was witches.

(In 2014 nurses finished first again at 80%. Members of Congress dropped a point and came in dead last.)

Well, then, who decided teachers were the Great Satan? Glenn Beck was one. Campbell Brown was another. Frank Bruni, education writer for the New York Times, was a third.

And there were plenty of others.

Beck weighed in with his book: Conform: Exposing the Truth about Common Core and Public Education. It wasn’t just Common Core that left Beck fuming. He also railed against extending the school day in hopes of raising test scores. What really made teachers wince, however, was his reasoning:
There’s also the issue of what our kids would learn with even more hours at school. Many of these educators would relish the opportunity to spend more time feeding students a steady stream of radical, anti-American political ideas, encouraging teen sexual activity, and deemphasizing the importance of traditional values and religion.

Former CNN anchor Brown also had a bee-filled bonnet. Leading the charge against teacher tenure, she left listeners with the impression that this was the gravest problem our nation faced, with the possible exception of Ebola.

Again, her “reasoning” was what shocked:
In New York City, home to the largest public school system in America, the four-year graduation rate hovers at a dismal 60.4 percent. More distressing: Less than 22 percent of the city’s students graduate college and emerge career ready, and the number drops to 12.2 percent for Hispanics and 11.1 percent for African-Americans.
 Despite those statistics, a new teachers’ contract celebrated by political and union leaders offers more frustration. The deal will weaken evaluations of teachers, reduce instructional time, send teachers with disciplinary records back to the classroom, and make it harder to fire a teacher who engages in sexual misconduct with kids.

In August the California Supreme Court rendered a decision which may end tenure in the state. First, the judge in Vergara vs. California ruled that students from low income families often had less-qualified teachers and attended schools which were less safe than schools attended by students from high income families. Therefore, the judge added, a more equitable method of assigning good teachers and a quicker way to fire bad ones was essential.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was thrilled. After all, Duncan likes to tell anyone who will listen: “equal opportunities for education must include the equal opportunity to be taught by a great teacher.”

Real teachers, struggling to help real kids attending low income schools, might have pointed out that children from low income families also deserved great neighborhoods to live in....

Great pediatricians to keep them healthy....

That the parents they worked with deserved great job opportunities....

And that teachers deserved a great Secretary of Education, one not so clueless....

Who else decided in the last twelve months that teachers were the root of all evil? Thomas J. Kane, a Harvard economist whose research helped decide the Vergara case, “proved” it with numbers. According to Kane, a poor teacher cost the average child something like sixteen bazillion dollars in lifetime earnings.

So, for god sakes, we had to have excellent teachers in every classroom.

Time piled on, too, with an egregious cover story about bad teachers (“Rotten Apples”). If a reader followed the logic of the article, they came away convinced that millions of feloniously-inclined educators were hiding behind tenure protections. Naturally, Time decided to ask former Washington, D. C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee to comment. And just as naturally, Rhee agreed the Vergara decision would fix a “broken status quo.”

Rhee, for those who still don’t recognize her by name, appeared on the cover of Time in 2009. There she stood—looking menacing, broom in hand—indicating she had her own plan to fix a broken status quo. She was going to use that broom to clean up the mess in the schools by sweeping out...of course...all the bad teachers! 

During her three years as chancellor, Rhee did indeed fire hundreds of educators when they “failed” to raise test scores. Rhee did reward hundreds of others who raised scores. She then grabbed her broom and skipped town before news of a huge cheating scandal involving “raised” test scores hit the educational fan.

Who else was leading the fight to fix education?

Bill Gates, for one, was hard at work behind the scenes. Unlike Beck, however, Gates was all for Common Core, even though politicians seemed unable to decide if they were for it—or against it—or for it and then against.

Common Core, as you may recall, was adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia four years ago. But in 2014 lawmakers in Alabama and Ohio were hard at work trying to withdraw from the program. In Mississippi the issue turned out to be “politically radioactive” and the governor called it a “failed program,” even though he had once touted it. Georgia dropped out, citing the high costs of all the new standardized testing. In Louisiana the governor wanted to rescind approval. But the legislature wouldn’t let him. Indiana and Oklahoma pulled out entirely, with lawmakers who voted for it four years before leading the repeal effort.

(Teachers could only shake their heads and wonder if these people had any idea what they were doing.)

The New York Times also kicked teachers in the shins on several occasions. Frank Bruni delivered some of the best blows, agreeing that problems in U. S. education pretty much began and ended with poor teachers. After talking with Mike Johnston, former Teach for America star/turned Colorado lawmaker, Bruni had no doubt the Centennial State had acted wisely in eliminating tenure. Because, with tenure, Johnston told Bruni, there was “no incentive for someone to improve their practice.”

Who else agreed that teachers were the problem? Naturally, Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America (who never taught for America or for the Fiji Islands, either), joined in the kicking with gusto. We needed smart people in every classroom, Kopp clamored We needed people like Rhee and Johnston and everyone else who signed up with Teach for America!

Of course, one problem with this model boiled down to math. Those who signed on agreed to try to save children for two years. (After that: not so much.) And Kopp had to admit that of 47,000 men and women enrolled in the last twenty-five years in the program only 11,000 remained in the classroom this past September.

Amanda Ripley also weighed in on the subject of bad teachers, delivering a number of speeches in 2014 to august bodies of non-teachers. Ripley specializes in reporting on education, although she has no personal experience in the classroom, except as an avid student. In The Smartest Kids in the World, And How They Got that Way, she first pinpointed the problem in U. S. education in 2013. Finland, she wrote at the time, had smarter teachers. For that reason, Finnish students scored near the top in international testing assessments.

(See: PISA scores.)

What could we learn by studying the Finnish model? We could learn that American teachers were numb skulls. That’s why American students scored somewhere in the middle on PISA assessments.

Bruni was at it again in the fall, penning a review of another new book on education, this one by Joel I. Klein, former New York City school chancellor. What factor mattered most in “the education equation?” Surprise, surprise: “Teacher quality.” Insisted Klein: “a great teacher can rescue a child from a life of struggle.” 

This is true, of course. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy—and Klein might find that out if he tried teaching. 

(Needless to say, he never will.)

Bruni reminded readers that Klein “oversaw the largest public school system in the country and did so for longer than any other New York schools chief in half a century.” “That gives him a vantage point on public education that would be foolish to ignore,” Bruni insisted. Or to put it plainly, anyone interested in education should jump in a car and drive at breakneck speed to the book store and pick up a copy of Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools.

Then again: maybe the potential reader should tap the brakes once or twice. Klein devoted eight years to fixing the New York schools and then he decided he’d had enough. (Most of his life he has been a corporate lawyer.) Plus, Campbell Brown said the New York City Schools still sucked, despite all his efforts! So, if you’ve taught nine years, or fifteen, or thirty-one, you can offer valuable insights because you have “a vantage point on public education that would be foolish to ignore.”

Of course, Bruni never bothered to ask veteran teachers what they thought about pretty much anything.

In 2014, that was typical.

With the year drawing to a close, Campbell Brown journeyed to Washington to speak at the convention for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Without noticing the irony, the Foundation later reported: “At the nation’s premier annual education forum, lawmakers and policymakers were immersed in two days of in-depth discussions on proven policies and innovative strategies to improve student achievement.”

Two measly days. Two measly days—and they knew everything.

So it was, last year, that teachers were labeled “Public Enemy #1” by those who knew nothing about what it meant to work in a classroom.

These fools talked and talked and talked about what had to be done to save every child. Meanwhile, they left all the saving to teachers.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Site Index 11-10

My Promise 

WHEN I STARTED BLOGGING three years ago, I said I planned to speak up for good teachers. I would not defend bad ones. I began by trying to debunk the myth that something was wrong with America’s teachers as a group.

See:  Numbers Don’t Lie: Our Teachers (And Doctors) Are Failing.

I mocked the idea that U. S. teachers were stupid again in: America’s Teachers! We’re Dumb! And We Suck!


I loved life in the classroom, loved working with teens, and taught for more than three decades. Today, I’m worried about younger teachers. When I look at current education reforms it appears to me that self-appointed experts (who never teach) are pushing disastrous policies.

My most successful posts, and some of my personal favorites, include:

3) Are Poor Public Schools Killing the U. S. Economy?

4) Corporate Public Schools! It’s Going to be Great! This one is new; but every ridiculous example is true.

5) Does Arne Duncan Realize that Teachers and Students Are Dying?

8) Hiking in Glacier National Park. This one has nothing to do with education. I just love the park; and if I was still teaching, I would try to convince students to go there some day. Not standardized education, of course.

9) How Many Reformers Does it Really Take to Fix a School? If you are a real teacher you already know the answer to this question.

10) Michelle Rhee’s Perfect Ponzi Scheme. Speaking of reformers, the lady is a fraud.

11) N.F.L Adopts Common Core Playbook.

12) Privatizing Public Schools and the Loch Ness Monster Bonus.

13) R.I.P. No Child Left Behind. Ten years of reforms and SAT, ACT and PISA scores have all declined. Even NAEP reading scores are flat. (If you’re a real teacher you start to wonder: Do the experts who keep telling us what to do have a clue?)

14) Sham Standards: Governor Kasich and the Standardized Testing Fetish. What happens if we line up fourteen veterans from five different wars to talk to 700 Loveland Middle School students. Is that good education? How do we measure what students learned???

15) Who Were Those People Who Died on 9/11?

16) Why Teaching Matters—Part Four (Books).

17) Why Teaching Matters: What’s the Square Root of Inspiration?

18) Yellow Brick Road to Nowhere: Teachers and the Tea Party Movement. This is probably my personal favorite, of all my posts. I like the story of the boy who earned a standing ovation from peers in my class.



I KNOW GOOD TEACHING IS extremely hard. I know even the best teachers face victory and defeat in the classroom, oftentimes the same day. I am currently working on a book titled Two Legs Suffice:  Lessons Learned by Teaching.

The title relates, in part, to two bicycle rides across America, one at age 58, the second four years later.

If you’re interested in reading about my first ride go to viall4diabetes. My youngest daughter is a type-1 diabetic and I pedaled to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. Students helped raise more than $13,500.

(Double click on any pictures and they fill your screen.)

My second ride—including my temporary arrest as a bank robbery suspect—is documented at viallfordiabetes2011. I was able to prove my innocence and pedaled 4,615 miles in 58 days, again raising money for JDRF.

Tioga Pass, leading into Yosemite Park. I cycled across the USA twice for a cause.




SITE INDEX 


AMERICAN or WORLD HISTORY, TEACHING OF
Can You Answer Six Simple Questions about the Declaration of Independence?

Sixty Years Ago: Brown v. Board of Education.

Teaching about Slavery.

Wisdom on the Walls.

Who Were Those People Who Died on 9/11?

Women of the American Revolution.


ARMING TEACHERS 

(This category keeps growing.) 


Allison Wyatt, one of the victims at Sandy Hook.


BAD PARENTS 



BLAMING TEACHERS


Michelle Rhee: Reformer with a Broom. (See also: RHEE, MICHELLE.)



Thanks to Fox News a video of a student ranting against his teacher went viral (What One Student Rant by Jeff Bliss Doesn’t Tell Us). Based on ninety seconds of tape people weighed in on what they felt was wrong with all teachers.


BULLIES 



CHARTER SCHOOLS (See also: CORPORATE SCHOOLS)

Big Money in College Sports Means Bad News for Student Athletes.

Ohio Charter Schools Suck: GOP Lawmakers Still Love Them.

Privatizing Public Schools and the Loch Ness Monster Bonus.

School Crisis?” Maybe It’s an “Office Tower Crisis?”

You Can Become a Millionaire if You Go Into Education.


COMMON CORE STANDARDS/STANDARDIZED TESTS

Emperor of A, B, C and D.
             An auxiliary post provides even more examples.

Finland Has Better Teachers, Better Colleges, Fluffier Kittens! What if all the test scores comparing various nations never add up?


Rock, Paper, Common Core Curriculum: What’s the Real Key?

Sham Standards: Governor Kasich and the Standardized Testing Fetish (Part Two).

Standardized Testing: Confessions of a Terrible Teacher.

Standardized Testing: So Far We Might as Well Dump the Money in the Ocean.

Teachers: Are You Part of the Lunatic Fringe?

Where in the World Is Ohio? The Curse of the Standardized Test.

Why I Loved (Non-Standardized Teaching): Stephanie’s Astute Observation.

Why Teaching Matters: Part One.

Why Teaching Matters: Part Three.

George Stranahan (who taught for half-a-century) addresses a number of critical issues in his book, A Predicament of Innocents. He shares my disdain for standardized testing.

.
CORPORATE SCHOOLS








Related posts include: June 30, 2011November 4, 2011June 8, 2012.


EDUCATION EXPERTS (See also: RHEE, MICHELLE.)


EDUCATION, KEY TO SUCCESS


GOOD TEACHERS, EXISTENCE OF

Why Teaching Matters: What’s the Square Root of Inspiration? Former Loveland students fill a whole series of posts with heartfelt comment.



GOOD TEACHERS; TEACH FOR AMERICA




GRADING SCHOOLS





NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND



POLITICAL COMMENTARY 

Skip these if you are conservative.

Far-Right Conservatives Invent New Language was “liked” more than 100,000 times when posted repeatedly on AddictingInfo.




A number of posts in August, September and October 2012 might also be of interest to those who like to argue liberalism vs. conservatism, and everything on the fringes and in between.

PRAYER IN SCHOOL


Freedom of religion is fine. Using tax dollars to support schools that debunk modern science might not be wise. See: Christian School Lays Smack Down on Science.



Putting Prayer Back in School: Better Keep the Lid on Pandora’s Box



RHEE, MICHELLE

No school reformer has done more to damage the image of public school teachers than Ms. Rhee. Rhee’s claim to fame rests on raising test scores in miraculous fashion. Unfortunately, certain ugly facts undercut her claims: Michelle Rhee’s Perfect Ponzi Scheme.


         Michelle Rhee Calls for Teachers with Telepathic Powers.


Michelle Rhee, a leading education reformer, promised to use a broom and sweep out all the bad teachers in Washington, D. C. She failed to say what she would do about the students carrying knives. See: Michelle Rhee: Reformer with a Broom.


SCHOOL CRISIS


The argument that U. S. public schools are failing (compared to schools in Finland, Japan, etc.) rests on tenuous comparisons and flawed logic. So what if our students rank 25th in math? What if the same kind of lists prove that America ranks 24th in life expectancy? Are hospitals in America failing?


A Fairy Tale Called “Waiting for Superman, Part Two.”

American Teachers Stink Up the Place Again.


I Blame Teachers for Everything.


Tea Partier’s Guide to American Education.


STUDENTS, FORMER

I’m Facebook friends with almost a thousand former students. They keep me up to date on what they’re doing and remind me why I liked teaching so much.


Class of 2000, The (This entry focuses on the students I had in class in 2000, who would have graduated from Loveland High School five years later.)





TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM



UNIONS, TEACHER

These two stories go together:



Frank Bruni, writing in the New York Times, laid blame for the failure of school reform on recalcitrant teachers and their unions: The Big Evil in U. S. Education: Teachers’ Unions.

Time Runs A Incredibly Stupid Story. (that title should include an “an.” My site settings do not allow me to correct titles.


VOUCHERS


WAITING FOR SUPERMAN

In recent years, insulting teachers as a group, has been a fad. Want to know why this movie was stupid? Consider what director Davis Guggenheim and critics who loved it missed: A Fairy Tale Called Waiting for Superman.

A Fairy Tale Called “Waiting for Superman, Part Two.”


My favorite quote as a history teacher.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Corporate Public Schools! It's Going to be Great!

Last week I visited the first completely corporate public school system in the country. For years, corporate crusaders have been claiming that breaking the “public school monopoly” and bringing business efficiency to education will only improve results.

So it was that I found myself seated in the office of the superintendent of the Enron City Schools in Enron, Texas.

Glancing out a window, I couldn’t help notice three oil wells pumping on the front lawn of the administration building.

The superintendent, Henry Clay Frick, explained. “Here in Enron, we believe business principles applied to education will always bring good. So we have a lucrative deal with British Petroleum to pump oil from under the schools.

“Yeah, what could go wrong with that,” I replied, faking a smile.

Frick wondered if I might like a tour and led the way out to the parking lot and we jumped in his Lamborghini. I asked how an administrator could afford such a beautiful automobile. He admitted corporate education was different. First, there were no pesky unions demanding raises or fringe benefits for teachers. “In Enron, we pay for talent,” he explained. “Our top executives earn more because, frankly, they work harder.”

When I asked how much more, Frick said his district copied the K-12 Inc. model, a successful for-profit charter school chain. “Our eight top executives earn a combined $21.37 million,”

I do some quick calculating. If the average Texas teacher earns $50,179, then administrators made as much as 426 classroom teachers.



“It’s not easy running an efficient corporate school system,” Frick claimed as we pulled up in front of the high school. “We need money to lobby politicians, so sometimes we have to cut costs in other ways. Luckily, almost all our money comes from state coffers, so when we pay lobbyists, taxpayers foot the bill.”

“How much do you budget for lobbying?”

“We’re not quite where we need to be,” Frick replied. “We’re competing with for-profit charter operators like David Brennan, who runs White Hat Schools in Ohio, and who hopes to expand into every state. In the last eight years he’s donated $3.8 million to fifty-one politicians.”

Moments later, we enter the building. Admittedly, Enron High is neat and clean. The janitor sweeping the hall is obviously a “special needs” individual.

“We in Enron are committed to helping those who require a hand up, not a handout,” Frick says, following my gaze. “All our janitors are severely handicapped—supplied to us by Henry’s Turkey Service.”

“Aren’t they the guys that shipped disabled workers to Iowa for thirty years to work in meat packing plants?”

“Exactly,” Frick agreed. “And we use their system. We house our janitors in a bunkhouse behind the school. We charge rent, charge for meals….”

“How much do they earn when you subtract for food and lodging?”

“Oh, I would estimate about the same as the Iowa workers,” Frick says. “Around forty cents an hour.”

We head down the hall. Stopping a moment, I listen as an American history class goes over material that is expected to be on the next round of standardized tests. There are probably a hundred students crammed into the room. Frick is happy to explain. “Pack ‘em in, we say here in Enron. It’s the same as the airlines. “We even charge a $50 fee if students want to bring book bags to class.”

I offer a wan smile.

I notice a plaque over the door of the history room. It turns out the school copies the business model of the San Francisco 49ers. That means selling naming rights to everything you might imagine. This class meets in the Axe Body Wash Room. There’s also the Reynolds Tobacco Media Center and the Flo-Max Faculty Men’s Restroom. (Frick says later the school is thinking about requiring students to wear uniforms, and he is working hard on an exclusive contract with the Abercrombie and Fitch people.)

Frick soon asks if I would like to tour any of his other schools, and fifteen minutes later we pull up in front of Lehman Brothers Elementary School, I notice a maintenance worker resting a moment beside a lawn tractor. I stop to ask what he most enjoys about working for Enron Schools. He stares at me blankly.

“Oh, that’s Juan,” Frick nudges me. “We need to make a profit, you know. Don’t say I told you, but we hire all kinds of undocumented workers. Man, if you pay them under the table, those guys work cheap!”

“We’re just like the Gulen chain of charter schools,” Frick adds with a laugh. This time, I don’t even try to fake a smile.

As you tour the Enron Schools, you have to be impressed. A stop in the cafeteria at lunch reveals another truth. Junk food = big money. Students may no longer bring food from home. It’s like going to a movie theater. You can order a large Coke for $4.50. (It looks like they’re handing you a bucket.) Or maybe you’d like the special: hamburgers—only $3.50. Frick winks as we go through the line and advises me to skip the burgers.

(He admits later that the meat came from a company that was perhaps bending a few regulations and selling meat from diseased cows.)

Our last stop for the day takes us to Michael Milken Middle School. Frick is proud of the new system and outlines a few of the ways a profit can be squeezed when it comes to students. Each school has an office set aside for a representative of Pearson, the successful maker of standardized tests. Huge piles of cash are there to be grabbed—so one business scratches the back of another—and Pearson sends state education commissioners and Enron leaders to cool education conferences in places like Rio de Janeiro. And what do you know! Pearson now holds the contract to supply more and more tests to Texas schools.

“There’s some huge money right there,” Frick grins. “The Pearson contract is worth $468 million per year.”

Time is growing short, so we hurry along. I see barrels of toxic chemicals stacked in a corner of the art room. Safety costs money. So Enron cuts corners when it must. To cover their tracks they copy the Massey Energy model, meaning there are two sets of safety books, one for company use and the other to dupe inspectors. True: occasionally a few people get blown to bits, but what’s a corporate school supposed to do? Not make gigantic profit?

“We’ve pretty much monetized everything,” Frick says as we finally head back to his office. “If parents can’t pay fees or afford school supplies, we encourage them to take out payday loans. I’m proud to say we’ve copied First Premier Bank of South Dakota when it comes to lunch charges. We allow families to open accounts but cap charge limits at $300. They pay $95 to create the account and a $75 annual service fee.”

“So...you’d be looking at an APR of…67%?”

“We’ve also adopted the discipline system of the Noble Charter Schools up in Chicago,” Frick says, changing the subject. “We charge students who get into trouble for ‘discipline packets.’ What a corporate business model! Noble pulled down $188,000 in discipline fines and fees in just one school year.

“You probably noticed how few discipline problems we have, too,” Frick continued. “We’ve been following the Jansen Pharmaceutical Model. If our nurse thinks a child has behavioral issues she makes sure that child is given a prescription for anti-psychotic drugs. 

“Man, sales are up!”

“Isn’t there evidence some of these drugs have dangerous side effects and that children may die as a result?”

I think Frick suddenly realizes I may be some sort of commie agitator. “Jansen keeps only the finest doctors (and our school nurse) on its payroll and those doctors issue reports to show that these drugs are completely safe,” he says defensively. “And, naturally, our well-compensated school nurse agrees. Just because some Arkansas court fined Jansen $1.2 billion dollars for lying….”

Frick’s voice trails off. I glance at my watch and see it’s really time to go. I thank him for his time and ask one final question.

“Is there any way you think you can still improve profit margins in the Enron City Schools?”

He puzzles over the matter a moment. “If only we could copy the cost-cutting methods of Apple Inc., which operates a number of factories in China.”

“You mean,” I grimace, “violating overtime rules, child labor, workers penned in behind barbed wire….”

“Child labor...if only,” Frick says wistfully. This time he doesn’t smile. “You want cheaper iPads—or cheaper education—you have to make tough decisions.” He gets a faraway look and I hear him mutter, “There must be a way to outsource jobs in American education….”

I bid a goodbye and soon find myself driving north on Interstate-35, back toward Cincinnati, Ohio. “I have seen the future of corporate education,” I tell myself, paraphrasing Lincoln Steffens. “And it works.”

Really, this is going to be great.

Logo for the Enron Public Schools: Endless possibilities...for profiting!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Time Runs A Incredibly Stupid Story

Gag! Another article blames teachers for all problems in the schools.


If you teach for a living you probably know Time magazine ran a stupid story this week. “Rotten Apples” it’s called. It’s the tragic tale of how tenure is ruining kids lives and how bad teachers plague the land.

I won’t be the only educator to notice the terrible timing, with this issue landing in mailboxes a day after the awful school shooting in Marysville, Washington. And you have to wonder. Do the people cited in this story, who claim they want to fix the problems in our nation’s schools, really believe tenure is the big issue? They say tenure means “employment for life.” Maybe Time could highlight some of the tenured teachers who have died in recent years trying to shield children from catastrophic harm.

I won’t be the first to note that not a single teacher is asked to comment in the story, either. 

Who does get their say? Who are the real “heroes” fighting for the kids? “Silicon business types and billionaires,” people like David Welch and Bill Gates. Gates is working on a plan to change the way history is taught in our schools, because he’s sure there’s a better way, and we have to listen to him because...he’s Bill Gates! Welch is a “Silicon Valley muckety-muck who lives in one of the fanciest ZIP codes in America,” according to TimeNaturally, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is mentioned. He agrees. Tenure is a curse. And Arne knows everything about education, because he went to Harvard and never got around to teaching. Remember? He’s the guy who “fixed” the Chicago Public Schools. Of course, the city still has gang problems and hundreds of school-age children have been shot there in recent years. 

Ignoring such unimportant issues, Time focuses on tenure. The judge’s ruling (which would strike down California tenure law if upheld), rested on complex “value added measurements” (VAM) which showed a bad teacher could “set a student’s educational progress back by 9.54 months.” A second study, again based on complex VAM, and supposedly controlling “for factors like race and poverty rates” found that replacing bad teachers “could increase students’ lifetime earnings by $250,000 per classroom.”

Strangely enough, reporters and editors failed to notice that they blew up the foundation of their story before the last paragraph could sputter to a sorry end. In April the American Statistical Association questioned whether such methodology “adequately measures a teacher’s total value to a student’s education.” The following month the American Educational Research Association took an even stronger stand, saying there was “a ‘surprisingly weak’ correlation between teachers’ VAM scores and their actual skills.”

Leaving complexities aside, let’s imagine we wanted to increase the lifetime earnings of students. Why not start by raising the minimum wage? Next, convince Silicon Valley tech firms, like Apple, run by billionaires like Welch, and the the folks who run Walmart to stop outsourcing millions of jobs to China. Yep. The Waltons appear in the Time story. They’ve tossed around piles of money in an effort to support charter schools. You know, because they care about children. They care so much they pay those children’s parents, who work as cashiers in their stores, a princely sum. Oh yes: $8.48 per hour. 

Michelle Rhee also rears her sour puss. If you don’t know Rhee, teachers, you should. She’s the most obnoxious of all obnoxious school reformers. (As reformers go, Rhee is the rare exception in that she actually taught for three years.) Time once did an idiotic story on her, too. Rhee promised, as chancellor of the Washington, D. C. schools, to sweep out all the bad teachers and cure the problems in education—sweep!—just like that!

Like so many school fixers, Rhee told every reporter who would listen (and write up a glowing story about Michelle Rhee) that using test scores to rate teachers was the key. During her time at the D. C. helm she fired hundreds of veteran educators when scores didn’t measure up. Then she gave bonuses to teachers and principals in cases were scores surged. Unfortunately, as USA Today later discovered, most D. C. educators who posted “improved” results did it mainly by plying erasers to alter student answer sheets.

Time did get at least one story line right when noting that an “outright mutiny” might be brewing among teachers. But no one at the magazine had the good sense to wonder why. Teachers are itching for a fight, I suspect, not because they care only about protecting their jobs. Not at all. They want to do their jobs right. They don’t want to fill out more forms. They don’t want to spend more valuable instruction time charting data. They don’t want to give more and more standardized tests. They want to get back to helping kids. They don’t fear being “exposed” as a result of VAM. They don’t believe VAM is valid to begin.


Let’s imagine that tenure could be eliminated next week. The 10-15% of children who are chronically absent wouldn’t suddenly rise from their beds and start coming to class in regular fashion. The four-year-old girl in Delaware who recently brought hundreds of packets of heroin to nursery school would still be headed for kindergarten next year. And that poor child’s real problem would still be her screwed up mom. If we ended tenure immediately we’d still be the advanced nation with the most school shootings by far, the lowest percentage of children enrolled in early education, the highest percentage (save for Romania) of boys and girls living in poverty, and the highest incidence of teen pregnancy too.

If tenure ended next week, people like Welch and Gates still wouldn’t know what my wife knew, because she taught—that if a third grade student has a prostitute and a drunk for a mother, the kid wont really care if his teacher has tenure. 

They wouldn’t know what I knew, because I taught—that a seventh grade girl might struggle in history class, not because Im tenured but because when she goes home her father is sexually abusing her every night.

Even Time admits that tenure laws developed a century ago, when a teacher “could be fired for holding unorthodox views or attending the wrong church, or for no reason at all if the local party boss wanted to pass on the job to someone else.” Those same dangers remain today. We still have politicians who are scumbags, who might love to get rid of a few good non-tenured teachers just to open up slots for their friends. We still know there are billionaires out there who want to push their particular religious or political agendas in the schools, and we know they might be inclined to throw their money around and make it clear to administrators and school board members they wanted an individual teacher who opposed their positions gone. Tenure still protects good teachers from all kinds of harm.

In fact, getting rid of tenure is just the latest panacea in a long, illustrious parade of panaceas offered up by those who insist they know how to fix the schools, who say they care about saving every child, and who insist they know how to do it, even though theyve never done it at all. They have the great plans

As for you teachers, tenure or not, the leave it to you  to do all the real, hard work of saving every child.

It might be nice if all these idiots stopped offering so much advice, rolled up their sleeves, and tried to help. Bill Gates, David Welch, Arne Duncan, and Haley Sweetland Edwards, who wrote this Time cover story, we humbly invite you, no we dare you, to step into the failing school of your choice and see what its really like to teach.

Something tells me none of you could last.