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National Education Assoc. Protecting Jobs, Not Kids

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You might think this headline comes from a homeschooling advocate; in this case, you’d be wrong. These words belong to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, taken from a speech he gave to the National Education Association last summer: “When an ineffective teacher gets a chance to improve and doesn’t – and when the tenure system keeps that teacher in the classroom anyway – then the system is protecting jobs rather than children. That’s not a good thing. We need to work together to change that.”

We can afford to – and in fact must – lose some people from the education system.

We can afford to – and in fact must – lose some people from the education system.

Secretary Duncan’s words are used to back up some astounding numbers in a Jan. 6, 2010 National Review.com article by Jay P. Greene and Stuart Buck titled “Where the Unemployment Isn’t: Schools Need to Face Some Pressure to Rid Themselves of Ineffective Educators.” Put on your life preserver; this one kicks up some heavy white caps.

After last month’s jobs summit, President Obama urged Congress to take some of the money coming back from bailed out banks to fund programs that address the nation’s crippling unemployment crisis. The Washington Post reports that the U.S. House of Representatives drafted a bill earmarking “$23 billion to help states pay teacher salaries.”

This is a befuddling approach to job creation when every “major sector of the economy (save health care) has seen huge job losses” over the last two years. Every major sector, that is, except education, which payroll has expanded in this time of major job loss.

Since U.S. employment’s peak in November 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we’ve lost over 7 million private sector jobs; over 1.5 million construction jobs, and over 2 million manufacturing jobs. During the same period, however, “the education-and-health-services category added more than 900,000 jobs.”

The question is – does this sector really need $23 billion “to address unemployment,” especially when “the earlier stimulus package devoted almost $80 billion to education?”

As the nation’s private sector continues to tightens its belt, as its “businesses have gone way beyond healthy pruning” with jobs, this article posits “we can afford to – and in fact must – lose some people from the education system. Not every one of the 6.2 million public-school employees (including 3.2 million teachers) contributes to student learning…”

I checked the October 2008 census that reports 57,710,000 children in public school, ages 3 and up. (It breaks my heart that 3 year-olds are included, but that’s another post, another time.) This means tax dollars – local, state and federal – support one public school employee for every 9.3 students. (You’d think the graduation rates would be a lot higher.)

To not support the inevitable annual “ask” of local school district’s for budget increases is often seen as un-American, especially in the countless towns and villages where the school system is a top employer. Thus I commend Secretary Duncan for his courage to utter the words, which are hopefully a prelude to action. Pile (even more) money into what is obviously a thriving employment sector that can afford to hang on to bad employees while the sectors that produce goods are hurting? In this economy, that’s un-American.

Greene and Buck sum up: “As long as money keeps flowing so that school systems don’t have to cut jobs, and can even create some, they have little incentive to go through the difficult process of identifying and eliminating bad teachers and staff.”

This, Parents at the Helm, is protecting jobs. It’s up to us to do what’s needed to protect the children.

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One Response to “National Education Assoc. Protecting Jobs, Not Kids”

  1. Mother Mary says:

    Interesting article, Linda, and I agree, we do need to clean house in public education. I’ve always thought of public education as a corporation. You have the same kind of self-perpetuating bureaucracy where the employees at the bottom must promote up the corporate ladder until everyone is at the top. Explains why we seem to have very top-heavy school systems populated by multiple Vice This and Assistant Thats. I don’t fault unions for that; it’s up to individual school boards (as in corporate boards of directors) to control the “company”. Sadly, most board members seem to be part of the problem allocating funds for their own self-interests. Any candidate for the school board, by definition, has a personal agenda. The premise that it doesn’t require any knowledge of education to sit on a school board only complicates the situation.

    Yes, there are teachers who should not be in a classroom, and they should be eliminated. However, we have a closed corporation that instead of prosecuting promotes or moves them to another department. The very people who should be keeping a clean house are protecting their co-workers. It’s the attitude that has to change from being employee-focused to child-focused.

    The children are the least important members of the public education corporation. They contribute nothing and consume resources. Sarcastically speaking, school would be a wonderful place without those unruly, curious children. And their ignorant parents! Education would be sooo much better without those annoying parents.

    I’m not saying we should do away with public ed; that would be eliminating a choice parents have, but as a society we need to stop believing in education as an inerrant religion. We need to recognize that “for the children” actually means “for the bureaucracy of education”. Until we do that and hold individuals responsible for their actions, a kind of public greed akin to corporate greed will continue to destroy our education system from within, just as it destroyed Enron.

    Schools also exert significant power over families and communities. I live in a school district that is the largest employer in the county. Families don’t vote against their jobs and pay raises. It would be difficult to find a school district that does not consider itself an independent state with it’s own laws and justice system. Unfortunately, I think that is the real “math” lesson children are learning: power and money equal control and you either grow up to be one of the powerful or one of the powerless.

    And this taxpayer is feeling pretty powerless of late, about $20M powerless.

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