Thursday, March 1, 2012

That’s The Answer. More Teachers.

What is the best thing to do during a weak economy? Hire more public employees. Or so Barack Obama thinks. But he isn’t just talking about those illiterate file clerks or surly bureaucrats who are there to make sure you don’t try to slip anything past the government. He is talking about those molders of our youth—public school teachers. This week, the president called on the nation’s governors to stop cutting education and hire more public school teachers.

And he was willing to sweeten the pot with $25 billion in federal gifts. His litany was heart-rending. “We’ve just got to get more teachers into our classrooms. Over the past four years, school districts across America have lost over 250,000 teachers, educators have been lost. A quarter million educators responsible for millions of our students, all laid off when America has never needed them more.”

Of course anyone who has actually followed the news about public schools over the past few decades knows that what Obama is saying is a combination of wishful thinking, purposeful deception, and pandering to one of his largest campaign contribution groups. Public school teachers are a huge constituency for liberal politicians, and unionized public school teachers are even stronger for the left. But if they were really teaching our kids the things they need to know, there would be little room for complaint.

The school cutbacks have indeed been numerous, but hardly draconian. “Educators” seem to think the proper student-teacher ration is 1:1. For decades before the unions and self-serving educators got into power, student-teacher ratios of 1:15 and even 1:20 were common and somehow students got fine educations. Today, a classroom with 15 students, one teacher and two teacher’s assistants is considered barebones. 250,000 teachers laid off nationwide isn’t even a very significant number.

But Obama would like the public to think that by balancing budgets, laying off teachers and putting teacher-administrators back in the classroom and out of the bloated offices American students will fall into education deficiency disorder. I hate to tell The One, but even before the cuts, American public schools had become a laughingstock in the western world. Overall, our public school students are among the worst educated in the industrialized West (and yes, I know there are exceptions).

Now before anyone jumps on me for being down on teachers, I want to make it clear that I am not. A good teacher is one of civilization’s most valuable assets. And even in our miserable public schools (particularly the urban and near-urban suburban schools), there are teachers struggling against a system which has stacked the deck against them. But when the money runs out, belts have to be tightened and some people have to go. If the system provided for getting rid of the worst teachers based on objective standards, reduction in the number of teachers would actually be a boon.

But it doesn’t. Given unionization, tenure, and an overabundance of labor lawyers, the system is designed to retain the teachers with the longest history of employment at a particular school or school district. Many of them should not have been allowed to teach from day one, but are now nearly untouchable. Obama figures that a good teacher “can increase the income of a classroom by $250,000.” Where he got that figure I haven’t a clue, particularly since it depends in large part on how populous each classroom is. But rather than quibble, I’ll just say he has the right idea, but the wrong facts. The operative word is “good,” and far too many are barely able to attain minimal teaching efficiency.


Last hired, first fired has its merits. But it should be far from the only criterion. A bad teacher with twenty-five years on the job should not be retained over a good teacher with proven objective results who has only been on the job for a year or two. For a frighteningly large number of retained teachers, this includes teachers who are so bad both academically and morally that they are serving out their tenure in “rubber rooms.” Unions and civil rights/labor lawyers have managed to retain the jobs of sexual predators, but can’t see why we should retain good teachers who don’t molest their students.

Says Obama, “other countries are doubling down on education and increasing their investment in teachers.” But the failing American pubic schools already spend more per pupil/per teacher than most of those “other countries” anyway. And that’s before you start counting the crippling burden of teacher pensions. Good teachers are indeed underpaid, but far more bad teachers are overpaid and destructive of true education.

Unlike the federal government, the states cannot balance their budgets and retain expensive deadwood by printing money. Obama knows this, and he keeps holding out those magic wads of cash he’ll give to the states if they’ll just rehire laid-off losers while recruiting new ones. The idea of attaching strings, like teacher competency, termination of bad teachers and reduction of benefits to general public levels before rehiring or newly employing teachers is simply not part of the Obama equation.

And here’s at least part of the reason why: The National Education Association gave $1.2 million to Democratic candidates in 2010, though that was down from the $1.8 million it contributed to Democrats in 2008. In 2012, very early in the election cycle, the NEA has already contributed nearly $250,000 to Democratic candidates (that magic number keeps reappearing, doesn’t it?). Not to be outdone, the American Federation of Teachers has already contributed $637,000 for Democrats in 2012. In 2010, it was $2.3 million, outdoing its 2008 contributions of $2.2 million. Any questions? I’m sure there’s a union public school teacher available to answer them.

58 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

Hawk - you know how I feel about unions, particularly public sector unions. The whole tenure thing is designed tp prevent good teachers from standing out (in a good way.) What we saw recently in Wisconsin sums it up. Teachers are "the base" Obama wants more government, more unions and more teachers to make it appear the jobless numbers are trending down. We all know better.

tryanmax said...

Did you hear, Andrew Breitbart passed away!?

http://biggovernment.com/lsolov/2012/03/01/draft/

Tam said...

re: Breitbart, stunned. sad. Re: teachers, too much to say before I get my kid to school. I'll be back.

Joel Farnham said...

LawHawk,

Growing up, a teacher-student ratio of 1:30 was the norm with a few smaller classes of 1:20 for specialization. Also, the teacher was KING or Queen in the classroom. Now, a simple complaint from a failing student's clueless parent can get a teacher into trouble. Never mind that the student in question has had a series of run-ins with the law and authority.

Also, the emphasis is on speed, not comprehension. The way it works is the student is given a sheet with a small story that no one really wants to read or remember. They are timed as to how long it takes them to read the story. More precisely they are stopped after a predetermined time has passed and checked to see how much they have read. That number, words per minute, is used to display just how "smart" or how far along the student has progressed. To my way of thinking, this is a useless measure. Also, it reinforces reading in short bursts. Seriously, how can a student get through a long novel with this approach?

StanH said...

The meme of more teachers equates to a better education is hooey of the first magnitude. This is modern piece of fiction that needs to be addressed head on, to save our future from the indoctrination centers that have become public education.

Terrible news with Andrew Breitbart, just wow!

T-Rav said...

I just heard about Breitbart on Fox News. Jonah Goldberg's on, and he's having a lot of trouble speaking. :-(

This is a sad day. In a very real sense, this site owes its existence to him.

Joel Farnham said...

Wow. Breitbart dead? WTH? Oh man, that is sad.

BevfromNYC said...

I just read that Andrew Breitbart died!! I can't believe it!! Anyone know how? The memorial on Big Hollywood said "natural causes" which probably means heart attack. This is like losing Tim Russert to me.

Patti said...

Breitbart is gone. My first thought: who killed him? isn't it sad that the reality of the climate we live in today led me to have that kind of a thought.

RIP, brother.

T-Rav said...

Bev, the speculation at the moment is some kind of heart or circulatory problem. Emphasis on "speculation," though.

This just makes my stomach turn.

Joel Farnham said...

I find my self checking all the sites for more information on Breitbart. Also, I have been checking the twitterfeeds. Mercifully, there are few b*****ds willing to denounce him.

BevfromNYC said...

Joel, they are even being very careful on HuffPo and screening almost all of the comments before they go public. Wise choice.

Tam said...

Patti, my first thought was similar to yours, but my second thought was "if you strike me down now, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." He built something that will live on, and I think that people will take up his mantle and carry the torch and all the other cliches that come to mind. Still, stunned and sad.

tryanmax said...

Just to toss out a little different perspective, having a special needs daughter, I know those classrooms just about need a 1:4 teacher:student ratio, which throws the average. Still, even if every school had a sped classroom (they don't) that works with a dozen kids (there's less) an overall ratio of 1:20 or even 1:25 is perfectly reasonable.

Besides, what good does it do to bring those numbers down with teachers who don't even teach (i.e. phony admins and rubber-room reprobates)?

T-Rav said...

This is one occasion where I imagine HuffPo would be cracking down on the libtards, due to Breitbart's long association with Arianna. I can't say the same for Daily Kos and company, though; there's been some nasty stuff on their threads already, from what I've heard.

rlaWTX said...

Just saw about Breitbart!! He made a difference in the MSM's stranglehold on "news"... RIP

tryanmax said...

Andrew's second-to-last tweet: LOL!

rlaWTX said...

as for teachers: I know a bunch of teachers in public school, and nearly as many folks homeschooling. Most of the ones I know wish they could avoid - or do avoid if possible - the unions.

and stupid policies can reach - and have reached - WTX. Local ISD is implementing a no zero policy - homework can be turned in at any point in the 6 weeks, lowest grade that can be given is either 50 or 70 (depending). WTH is the point????

tryanmax said...

Well, if we can solve poverty with a minimum wage, sure we can solve stupidity with a minimum grade. Oh wait...

rlaWTX said...

t- lol! love that!

T-Rav said...

Classic Breitbart. (sigh)

AndrewPrice said...

Wow, what a shock! That's something I never expect. RIP

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: Public school teacher unions and trial lawyers--the Democratic money base.

LawHawkRFD said...

tryanmax: I was awaking from my drug-hazed sleep (OK, pain pills) when I turned on Fox before starting up the computer and heard the news about Andrew Breitbart. All I heard was that he was out for a midnight walk, and a neighbor saw him fall. Very sad. Andrew and I met and started this blog as a result of posting on Breitbart's Big Hollywood.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tam: I look forward to your further comments on teachers. It is very sad about Breitbart. He was only 43.

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: That sounds like another one of their idiotic experiments. Anything other than teaching them the basics, including comprehension. My kids went to very good schools, but even there, their mom and I spent a lot of time weaning them off "new math" and "creative spelling."

LawHawkRFD said...

Stan: A good teacher can handle a lot of students successfully. A bad teacher can't teach even one.

Breitbart really stirred up the blogosphere, and he was still only beginning. He will be missed.

ScottDS said...

This reminds me of sci-fi author Jerry Pournelle's "Iron Law of Bureaucracy":

In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.

My dad's a teacher. It was a midlife career change for him. He works harder than anyone else I know... but his students are such idiots. Imagine the school from Lean on Me and you'll have some idea. Some students are very good but many come from broken homes, some can't even speak English (he teaches 6th grade), and every other day at the dinner table, he complains. They had to cancel a pep rally last week because some student brought a BB gun to school.

Of course, he's no fan of the bureaucracy either and is the first to complain when the administration does something stupid. (I think he thinks the principal is borderline racist but I can't verify that.)

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: I wasn't even sure I had heard the Fox news people right, and went back to the TV to make sure. It was totally unexpected as far as I know.

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev; I haven't heard anything more, but from the description his neighbor gave, heart attack seems the most likely.

darski said...

I am devastated by the loss of AB. I first made the acquaintance of Andrew and Lawhawk at the BIG sites. Just a sad day.

RE education... I was listening to Beck talk about a 13 yr old girl who was just sledgehammered by her loving teachers. Don't have any more info on that and was just going to look.

LawHawkRFD said...

Patti: I'm no conspiracy theorist, but I must admit, I had the same initial reaction.

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: So far, you're right. But you know how vicious the left can be. Breitbart was the perfect opponent for that turd David Brock at MediaMatters. I wonder who will take up his sword.

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: I'm guessing that won't last long.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tam: I hope you're right. The kind of people who spur these movements are few and far between, and Breitbart was one of them.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: I don't expect civilized behavior even at the HuffPo to last very long. They are true haters, and Breitbart poked a lot of holes in their agenda.

LawHawkRFD said...

rlaWTX: I agree.

LawHawkRFD said...

rlaWTX: It's almost impossible for any reasoning person to comprehend what these "educators" are attempting to accomplish. Except, possibly, to dumb America down sufficiently to accept the left's nonsense at face value.

LawHawkRFD said...

tryanmax: Minimum wage, minimum grades. They don't work, but they sound so good that we should all commit ourselves to the concepts.

tryanmax said...

This thought just occurred to me: Breitbart's passing is only a loss to his detractors. The left lost a whipping-boy today, while the right gained an icon.

LawHawkRFD said...

darski: Breitbart's death is a nearly incalculable loss. He was a firebrand with a sense of humor who motivated many people to get involved in the fight against the monolithic left.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: He got so many people publicly involved in fighting the left, and that alone is a major talent. And as we've mentioned, this blog basically owes its existence to Breitbart. Tragic.

LawHawkRFD said...

Scott: There are good, dedicated teachers out there, but the system is geared to keep them down and not let them make waves.

LawHawkRFD said...

tryanmax: I think there's a lot of truth to that. He was a formidable foe, and his directness made him a very easy and visible target for them.

Joel Farnham said...

LawHawk,

Breitbart got many people involved in fighting the left without really calling that much attention to himself. He set the example and people went with it. Now, you would be hard pressed to not see his influence.

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: He was a top-notch motivator (this blog is living proof). That's a real talent--making the issues the centerpiece with the personalities secondary.

Tam said...

I just read an article about education compared to other businesses, specifically, recruiting and evaluating NFL players and financial advisors. To get a high quality quarterback or financial advisor, companies will interview and look at many candidates and invest a lot up front to see how these people handle their jobs, then cut the ones who don't perform. They save money in the long run because they keep high quality performers. The article referred to an "estimate" by an economist who suggested that students of bad teachers will learn half a year's worth of material in one year and students of a good teacher will in contrast learn a year and a half worth of material, making an entire year's worth difference.

I know that isn't exactly reliable data, but I think it is a reasonable estimate. Money and changing teacher-student ratios don't make a difference with bad teachers, and really good teachers can be effective in a room with 35 kids. It is harder, but it is possible...I taught in public schools myself, and I was pretty good.

The problem of course is the government regulation and union protection. I left the schools because it became more about the bureaucracy than about the kids, and I was crippled by tedious forms and monitoring. I wasn't even teaching anymore. It is not very unlike the rescue situation Andrew wrote about yesterday where professionals didn't (or couldn't) do their job because of regulations.

A simple solution of course would be to fire bad teachers and reward good teachers. That alone would close the performace gap between our kids and the kids of other countries significantly, but we as a nation are not willing to do that. Quoting the article, "what does it say about a society that it devotes more care and patience to the selection of those who handle its money than of those who handle its children?"

Instead of hiring more teachers, we need to get rid of a lot of them. Of course there are curriculum issues too, and we need to replace the PC BS with core curriculum that actually teaches our kids information instead of teaching them that they are all special and awesome. If everyone is special and awesome, doesn't that mean NO ONE is special and awesome? There is a new charter school in town called Legacy that I will probably end up sending my kid to which focuses on patriotic and traditional values and a solid, challenging, core curriculum. No touchy feely nonsense electives.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tam: It may sound hackneyed and trite, but the simple fact is that at the lower levels, they have to go back to teaching the three Rs, and at the intermediate and high school levels, hone the students' basic learning into a coherent thinking process and ability to analyze. Instead, they get propagandized, patted on the head for poor performance, and taught about sexual matters in kindergarten. It's nothing short of appalling.

Only in closed systems and union shops is incompetence rewarded and success punished. A young dynamic teacher who motivates his students is a threat to the pecking order.

As I mentioned in my article on regulation, over-regulation kills business and economic growth. Educational over-regulation kills good teaching. And when the core curriculum concentrates on America's mistakes but fails to do so in the context of America's greatness and exceptionalism, the kids are already starting out with a handicap.

StanH said...

After the mistake of ’08, other than Rush there were few reasons for optimism (Rush’s I hope he fails…comment) , the ‘60s counter culturist had finally achieved their goal of total control, as promised so many years ago. That is until Andrew Breitbart’s “Big Hollywood” came out with Gary Grahams crushing article, “One Pissed Off Dude.” Suddenly I knew that there were others, (many are here at Commentarama) and in fact a wide majority of the country who believe in the greatness that is America. A man who dug pop culture, but didn’t look at culture and politics as mutually exclusive ideas. Who instinctively knew that real freedom is found in the libertarian/conservative ideals that were the basis of our Founding as a country. We have indeed lost this young man to soon, but his life, is his legacy, leading the way for all freedom loving Americans. Now Gabriel and Michael have a fearless wing man in heaven, give’em Hell Andrew, the left is still squirming. May God Bless him and his family.

LawHawkRFD said...

Stan: I have nothing to add. Well said.

Koshcat said...

Good post but I would like to challenge a couple of your points.

First is the notion that teachers are underpaid. Average teacher salary across the country ranges from $40-60,000 plus benefits. Add in the benefits and some teachers are making close to $100,000 per year. This is working for 9 months with guaranteed holidays off. Compare that to the median household income of about $45,000. If they are truly underpaid for their value, then the union would want to open it up to the market. The fact that they don’t is an indication that they know they are getting a good deal.

“Now before anyone jumps on me for being down on teachers, I want to make it clear that I am not. A good teacher is one of civilization’s most valuable assets.” – Why not? Why are we so afraid to criticize teachers? They have allowed their profession to be sullied by jerk union people and pedophiles. Only they can actually fix these problems. For those teachers who are frustrated but afraid to speak up? Are they afraid of their peers or are they afraid they will lose out on the very favorable package?

Koshcat said...

One last point on how much of an asset they are. Currently, there is no proof of this. Ann Coulter makes a good argument in her book that it is public schools and the teachers who are the cause of the decline in education compared to other countries. When they first enter school, our kids blow every other country’s kids away. By the time the teachers and schools are done with them they rank near the bottom.

T-Rav said...

I will forever be indebted to Breitbart for his launching of the Big sites. In the wake of the '08 election, I was so incredibly depressed I thought that was it for conservatism; then I stumbled upon BH, saw the awesome commentary Andrew, LawHawk, Bev, Jed, and others were putting up, and I had hope again. Whatever comes of the next generation of conservatives, they will in an elemental sense be his prodigy.

LawHawkRFD said...

Koshcat: My comment about good teachers being underpaid was done half tongue-in-cheek. Union teachers are grossly overpaid, and even the good ones are making far more than equally good teachers outside the unions. But that said, cutting out the deadwood, and imposing solid objective standards on those remaining would not have me half as annoyed as I am about teacher salaries and benefits now. It's really hard to say how much a good teacher is actually worth, but a bad teacher (making a combined income of $100,000) is worth less than nothing.

I'm certainly not afraid to criticize teachers. Even the best of them still need to be under scrutiny. They are dealing with the most precious thing we will every have--our children. The progression to unionized schools was a long process, and many people who should have known better got caught up in it. But there are now plenty of teachers who would like to make the unions go away. They are not only outnumbered, but they are roundly excoriated by the deadwood teachers. It can be a bit dangerous to speak out against union thugs, but there are still those who do.

LawHawkRFD said...

Koshcat: I've read Coulter's criticisms, and she's right. But she was talking about public school teachers as being a non-asset. It's important to distinguish generic public school teachers from "good" public school teachers. I don't think Coulter or anyone else is arguing that good teachers are not a valuable asset. The problem is that they are few and far between in the unionized public schools.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: Breitbart's greatest asset was that he was a spark that started libertarian/conservative fires all over the place. Lots of people shared his views, but he got out there, pushed, inspired and dared the rest of us to get actively into the fray. That made him unique and invaluable.

darski said...

I design doll clothes as my avocation so I follow the American Girl Doll of the Year programs. This year they are focusing on literacy with a doll who has reading problems. (It tells you something when dolls have to be brought into the issue) My point is that they posted an article about the 4th grade reading slump. It seems that in grades one to three kids learn to read but in fourth grade they have to read to learn. Kids who failed to pick up reading comprehension are suddenly going nowhere even though they might have been at the top of the pile before then.

Now just about every one knows that reading is a dying art in the general population. In Canada the stat is that about 1/4 (25-27% ) of the adult population is functionally illiterate.

It really all begins and ends in the primary grades. It is not happenstance that phonics was all but outlawed in public schools. it worked and kids could learn so it had to go.

I spent 15 years as an active Adult Literacy volunteer. I tutored and I trained tutors. We had some horrific stories from students...

LawHawkRFD said...

Darski: That's a point I hadn't seen spelled out specifically previously, but it makes sense in light of the low reading ability and short attention span of fourth graders and higher. Phonics is vital, but being able to read the words is only half the battle. Comprehending what they have just read is the other half.

Even by the time my kids got to school, phonics had gone the way of the dinosaurs. So my wife and I figured that we'd do what the schools wouldn't. Those kids must have gotten sick of hearing "sound it out." Then, after they were done reading (and sounding out the words), we'd close the book and ask them to tell us in their own words about what they had just read. Funny, that's exactly what my teachers did when I was in elementary school. My wife was in charge of teaching them how to do math, since the schools were experimenting with new math. In basic math, rote learning makes everything else easier. But the "educators" have decided that rote learning is stifling the kids' creativity (or something). Memorizing the multiplication tables is just good sense. Therefore, it has largely been eliminated from public school curricula.

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