Wow, public education stinks. Teachers are to blame for everything. Let's just turn schools over to private corporations who get public funds with no guidelines how to spend them. Let's make sure teachers have to jump through all kinds of educational requirements, but pay them a wage they can barely live on. Let's give some benefits and make them pay 20% of their health care so they don't think too highly of themselves. Let them pay for school supplies out of their own pockets. Keep telling the teachers that they are failures and their schools are failing. And if their students don't meet arbitrary standards of growth, fire the teachers. After all, everyone should be exactly the same. Yea, that'll help American education get better.
Sounds irrational, doesn't it? But that's what is happening in public education all over the country right now. We have seen a crisis - be it real or inflamed by right wing media - and legislatures are rushing to put bandaids on the patient. We don't care if the patient has a thorough exam and diagnosis. Just quick, give an aspirin or put a bandaid on it, anything so it looks like we are doing something.
Michigan is a prime example of what is happening in public education today. The legislature continues to hammer on teachers and their unions in the effort to "reform" education. The Michigan legislators are working hard to save money because of the dire fiscal situation in Michigan. In their wisdom, they are cutting funds to public schools. However, some legislation seems purely vindictive as it will not save any money at all. Some examples:
SB 619: lifts restrictions on cyber schools; allows cyber schools to receive same per-pupil foundation allowance as brick and mortar schools
HB 4019: lifts caps on number of charter schools so universities and out of state charter companies can open schools in Michigan; also waives property tax for owners of property leased to charter schools
HB 4142: a teacher does not need to be notified that their employment is discontinued if they receive less than "effective" on their evaluation
HB 4152: freezes wages and benefits during contract negotiations; protracted negotiations could provide savings to employers at employees' expense
HB 4300: school boards must publish on their website the amount of union dues withheld from employees if prior to a contract agreement
HB 4466 & 4465: amend the Michigan Public Employee Relations Act (which already makes it illegal for public employees to strike); if a public school employee strikes, the union may be fined $5,000 per day of the strike, employee may be fined one day's wage per day of the strike, and teacher certificate may be suspended 2 years or revoked permanently
HB 4902: law requiring schools must honor request of parents of twins, triplets or other single birth multiple siblings to put siblings in same class or separate class as requested by parents, except when documented evidence exists that this is disrupting to the educational process; what - really? this should be a law?
HB 4929: prohibits public schools from deducting union dues from paychecks of employees; this is an electronic transaction that costs the school district nothing
SB 729: makes Michigan a "right to teach" state by eliminating service fee requirements for teachers as a condition of employmet; allows non-union members to benefit from collective bargaining; specifies unions with 50,000 or more members, which is only the MEA
SB 157: now signed into law; provide emergency financial managers to take over failing school districts (and local government) to be replaced by a manager chosen and serving at the pleasure of the governor; circumvents the constitution guarantee of republican form of government by allowing local elected school officials to be thrown out of office
HB 4625-4628: now signed into law; changes in teacher tenure including teacher evaluations based on student scores on standardized test or merit pay; teacher placement by principal, non-agreement resulting in unpaid leave; limits items that may be collectively bargained, including how teachers would be evaluated
SB 733: bans spouses, children, siblings, other relatives from serving on school board; does not restrict city, county, or state government or business owners from being elected to save themselves from various laws or taxes
for more laws see the following website: http://legislature.mi.gov/....
I could go on and on, but you get the picture. This is just a sample of a few of a plethora of laws that micromanage education in a GOP majority legislature in Michigan. Note: This legislation by legislators that have a starting salary of $71,650, plus $10,800 expense account. Roughly $43 per hour if you count 40 hrs/week times 48 weeks (and that's being generous). Say, that's well over the minimum wage of $7.40 per hour, isn't it? I bet they get benefits, too. Also, the Michigan legislature invited Michelle Rhee to talk to them about how to reform Michigan public schools. Enough said.
This isn't happening only in Michigan. This is going on across the nation. As laws continue to be enacted that reduce the ability of public schools to be effective, more and more of them will "fail". This legislation is intended to prove that public schools are no good. What alternative do we have but to replace them?
Some have suggested looking to Finland for answers to improving public schools. As a nation they made a commitment to quality public education for all citizens, then actually made it happen. It wasn't quick, either. It took decades. But look what Finland has now - a world class education system, the best in the world.
Critics say we can't do what Finland did - our country is too big, our country is too heterogeneous, our country is different, wah, wah, wah. We can't, we can't, we can't. Let's quit spending money on education and put it into the military. Unfortunately with so much taken out of education we may soon be defending a country with little education at all.
So what is the answer? What do we do? I wish I had a quick fix to offer, but I don't. Here are a few ideas to get started:
1. Decide what we want public education to do - teach people how to become productive citizens of society or score well on standardized tests?
2. Make a commitment to quality education for everyone - not just for those who can afford transportation to charter schools.
3. Quit vilifying teachers - most went into education to be a part of the solution
4. Study successful educational systems like Finland - what can we take away from their successes?
5. Enlist teachers in the educational reform process, maybe even let teachers form or lead public schools
6. Become a part of the solution, not just whine about the problem. Go to a school and volunteer to read, sort, cut, staple, anything to free up a teacher to teach.
7. Write to your state legislators to begin true reform in public schools, not just cuts to
funding that hurt education.
8. Write to your U.S. legislators to reduce military spending. We need to take care of ourselves before we can save the world.
Thanks for reading and letting me have my say. This has bothered me for a long time.