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Tonight (Friday, March 13, 2009), as he has done in the past, Bill Maher used his show (which is his right to do) as a platform to rail against teacher's unions. He called them "corrupt" and insinuated that they are to blame for a failing education system in our country. Well Bill Maher has it wrong and it's time for someone to set the record straight.

I'll admit, I have a love/hate relationship with Bill Maher and his HBO series Real Time. I usually think his prepared commentary, such as his monologue and New Rules, are spot on. He's edgy and often pushes the envelope to the point where others would feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, I sometimes feel as though he lets his conservative guests get away with peddling their BS talking points without rebuttal. It makes me wonder - Is he unprepared? Misinformed? Or maybe he's just trying to keep the show moving. Who am I to judge? I'm not in the talk show business.

I am, however, in the business of education. And as a teacher in the public education system, a proud member of the National Education Association, and the president of my local chapter of the Illinois Education Association, I can tell you that Bill Maher doesn't get it. And it's not just on the surface. Maher has it wrong on many levels.

On numerous occasions, Bill Maher has railed against teachers' unions and, in particular, the tenure system, claiming that once a teacher is granted tenure, "they can't be fired." Unfortunately, he couldn't be more wrong. But before going any further, we should probably define tenure so as not to confuse anyone. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:

ten·ure (těn'yər, -yŏŏr')

  1. a. The act, fact, or condition of holding something in one's possession, as real estate or an office; occupation.
    b. A period during which something is held.
  2. The status of holding one's position on a permanent basis without periodic contract renewals: a teacher granted tenure on a faculty.

(The operative definition being #2)

Many, like Maher, misconstrue this definition to mean that once given tenure, a teacher can not be fired for any reason whatsoever. As supporting evidence for this position, Maher trotted out a stat often cited by anti-union organizations such as the Center for Union Facts claiming that only one in three thousand tenured teachers were fired last year. But if read closely, one notices that the definition of tenure says nothing about an inability to terminate but simply states that there will no longer be any contract reviews. As a non-tenured employee, teachers must submit to yearly reviews by their school board to determine whether or not they will be offered a contract for the upcoming school year. If, after administrator reviews and evaluations, it is determined that a teacher is performing inadequately, the board can decide, without explanation, to not offer said teacher a contract for the next school year. However, once tenure has been granted by the aforementioned school board (the length of satisfactory performance needed to attain tenure varies from state-to-state), the employee is no longer subjected to the annual school board review. (However, administrator evaluations continue throughout a teacher's entire career.) This does not mean that teachers who have been granted tenure can not be fired. In fact, the NEA's own website, puts lie to that notion:

MYTH: Thanks to tenure, teachers can never be fired, no matter how bad they are.

FACT: Tenure does not mean a "job for life," as many people believe. It means "just cause" for discipline and termination, be the reason incompetence or extreme misconduct. And it means "due process," the right to a fair hearing to contest charges. Quite simply, any tenured teacher can be fired for a legitimate reason, after school administrators prove their case. That's similar to what American citizens expect when charged with violation of a law.

Instead of Mr. Maher blaming teachers and their unions for providing basic protection for their members, I suggest that he, and others like him, redirect his ire at lazy administrators and school boards for continuing to employ inadequate teachers and granting them tenure if they are truly not worthy. To believe that tenured teachers are the problem with our schools, one must buy into the notion that once a teacher is granted tenure he or she adopts the attitude of "Phew! Now I don't have to work any more. I can just sit back and collect my paycheck." Even if that were the case, administrators and school boards still have the authority, and the means, by which to remove that teacher from the classroom.

But Mr. Maher's misunderstanding of the tenure system aside, blaming teacher's unions for the failures of our public education system is simply a misguided and misinformed attempt to find a scapegoat for what is truly a failure at the federal, state, local, and family level. So let me tell you what I, a public school teacher and teacher's union member, know.

I know that I, like millions of other teachers, both public and private, all over this country, put in countless hours preparing, teaching, and evaluating. Not because I'm getting paid huge sums of money (I'm not), but because I am devoted to educating the next generation; to making sure that they have the tools and the skills necessary to succeed in life. I have spent many, if not most, of my nights and weekends attending to my school work sometimes at the expense of my own family to make sure that my students receive the best education I can give them. I have spent hours in faculty meetings attempting to determine what I personally, and we collectively, can do to better help our kids succeed. (I use the word "kids" because, in a sense, they are my kids. They are like my children and I feel responsible for their future.) I have spent days in association meetings and NEA assemblies trying to make sure that this generation and future generations are provided with a quality public education. And never once during any of that time have I been involved in a discussion of how we can protect bad teachers. Never once have I discussed, or even heard discussed, how to prevent administrators and school boards from firing a teacher who is incapable of performing his or her job effectively. As a teacher, I work too hard at my job to want bad teachers in my profession. I put in too many hours to want someone who shirks their duties and half-asses their lessons working beside me. Their work ethic reflects on my professionalism and my reputation. I certainly don't want a poor teacher shaping others' opinions of me. Like everyone, I don't want my reputation being determined by the poorest example of my kind. I put in too many hours and too much hard work to let someone else undermine my effectiveness and credibility simply because they want to collect a paycheck. I want them gone. My local chapter of the IEA wants them gone. And the NEA wants them gone as well. Our reputation, our credibility, and our effectiveness is at stake. We're not going to risk it for some half-ass teacher.

So you can imagine who angry I get when I work this hard only to see someone like Bill Maher use his platform as a talk show host to paint my profession with a broad brush using the paint of an anti-union talking points. Are there bad teachers in the world?  You'd better believe it. Just like there are bad business men, bad athletes, bad presidents, and bad talk show hosts. I'm sure Mr. Maher wouldn't want to be painted with the same talk-show-host-brush that has recently painted CNBC's Jim Cramer or Rush Limbaugh (who Maher called a racist early in tonight's show). But, like Mr. Maher and his treatment of Mr. Limbaugh, we don't try to coddle our ineffective teachers. We want them to improve or be gone.

As one of Mr. Maher's guests this evening, the ever-illuminating Eric Michael Dyson, alluded to, the failures of education aren't something that can simply be laid at the feet of teacher's unions and tenure. These issues are intricately tied to many of our current economic problems and ideological differences. Blaming our educational shortcomings on tenure is a simpleton's approach. To truly address the needs of our public education system, we are going to have to burrow much deeper than some talk show host's opinions of a system he clearly doesn't understand.

Originally posted to kissfan on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:38 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Great diary. (15+ / 0-)

      People simply do not seem to understand that we should err on the side of caution in these matters.

      Also, nice definition of tenure. I think I understand the system better now.

      The most greedy among us abuse the most needy among us.

      by wideout179 on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:01:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I hope you send this on to Bill Maher (12+ / 0-)

        His show pretty much sucked all the way around tonight. I was glad when it was over.

        Sign the Healthcare Not Warfare petition at

        by number nine dream on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:42:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  And (12+ / 0-)
          remind him that the whole "merit pay for teachers" thing is an invention to bust the unions or because the majority of teachers are women.

          You don't see anyone arguing for merit pay for police, firefighters, or members of Congress (now there's an idea!).  Only teachers.

          I'm a nurse (retired).  I know how tough it is to be in a female dominated profession where the bosses are usually men (misogynistic men, IMHO).  I can imagine it's the same for teachers.  No nurse or teacher goes into the profession for the money (it's not there).  We go into the profession for the love of the job.

          I would assume that liberals would understand that.

          Those who yell do so because their arguments are so weak they can only be supported by massive amounts of hot air. Sue, West Allis, Wisconsin

          by Puddytat on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 02:36:04 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •   whats with last nights angry white guy? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dirtandiron, emilysdad

            Did Maher know the guy was kind of a racist.The kind that doesnt know it.He defended every racist thing the right has done, be it the chimp cartoon the magic negro song.Why give someone like him a voice?I have my problems with Maher but I look forward to Friday nights when its running.

          •  You were expecting Breitbart to be rational? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Dyson took him down, repeatedly, till Breitbart's sole response was that he couldn't argue he wasn't racist when his every word was being defined to the contrary.

            •  I never heard of him before (0+ / 0-)

               I really didnt have an oppinion other than Maher usually brings Republicans on who arent jumping out of their seat like a madman.I figured he must be rational at least or he wouldnt be on.Of course he didnt know that guy Mos Deaf(sp?)actually thought our government took down the towers either.Who would have.

      •  Is it true that tenured teachers can not be (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        burrow owl, M Sullivan

        dismissed for being a non productive teacher. I'm sure they can be fired for moral or other criminal reasons, but for being a bad teacher?

        What is the process for dismissing a tenured teacher? What is the process - how many steps - how long can it take.

          I personally believe that students who do not have support at home have the hardest time realizing what a good education means. It starts at home and in the neighborhood culture. If the "cool" kids thinks it's great to quit school or just get by then it bleeds down to the younger kids. It becomes the thing to do.

          School systems that hire teachers who do not excel in their subject or are not even qualified in their subject also share a giant percent of the blame.

        This is also the price of women's advancement in the workplace. (Which is great and this is just an observation not a criticism.) When women's job options were limited, the best and brightest went into teaching. With all of the professions now open to women, many of the best and brightest go elsewhere.

        It's a very complex problem, but it  does start in the home.

        It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

        by auapplemac on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 01:58:32 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  A teacher is not like a seamstress. You can't (5+ / 0-)

          judge her expertise by the smallness of her stitches and the straightness of her seams.

          How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

          by hannah on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 02:29:29 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  In most systems there are several interventions (4+ / 0-)

          that must be attempted and documented before the teacher can be fired.

          Admin must first explain specifically what is the problem to the teacher, create a system for that teacher to show improvement, and document results.

          This usually has a 3-required attempts at improvement guideline.

          If, after all that, the teacher continues to fail on whatever measure was the problem, the admin is legally justified and protected in firing the teacher.

          Most just despise being required to take the time to do the documentation.

          As a dept. head, I did it for two teachers who were placed in my dept. because the admin wanted to get rid of them and knew I was good enough to take the time and attention to both genuinely make an effort to mentor those two people into being better teachers, and the professional motivation to do the documentation and take the legal risk of being sued if it came to that. These were the most time consuming, challenging tasks I have undertaken as a teacher.

          It is not an easy thing to end the career of a person in an industry that exists to develop human potential. But when it must done, it should be done well and professionally.

          Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking. -J.M. Keynes

          by elropsych on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:28:57 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  In what other industry or business are (0+ / 0-)

            people given 3 chances to improve their performance? These are supposed to be educated people; if they need 3 chances, how bright can they be and how much do they really want to successfully teach our children?

            It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

            by auapplemac on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 09:37:33 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  I gotta' go to bed. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      crose, M Sullivan, chrome327

      It's going on 2 AM here and I've been up since 5:30.

      G'night and I'll check back in in the morning.

      Thanks for the discussion, all!

    •  Maher (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      M Sullivan

      is a bullying idiot. He is sometimes right, mostly wrong, and he dates big-boobed bimbos.

      Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.

      by crose on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 12:50:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  thanks, (6+ / 0-)

    I never quite knew that's what tenure meant.

  •  Um..... (9+ / 0-)

    the ever-illuminating Eric Michael Dyson, eluded to,

    I believe you mean 'alluded', not 'eluded. I don't think Eric was trying to evade or avoid the topic.

    Other than that - as a fellow teacher - I give a hearty REC and a hearty clap!

    I don't have "issues". I have a full subscription!

    by GayIthacan on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:45:09 PM PDT

  •  I Like Maher On Everything But Unions..... (20+ / 0-)

    He has some long-standing bias that has irrationally blinded his otherwise keen mind to some basic concepts...and he refuses to shake it.  The America that he (and most of us on the left) envision will not happen without collective bargaining.  It's almost comical that he can't see that...or at least it would be comical if there weren't so many dunderheads out there who agree.

  •  This is disappointing. (13+ / 0-)

    But if Obama has taught us anything, its that you make allies on an issue by issue basis.

    And Bill Maher has been a great ally of progressives against the Republican Party leadership, the religious right, corporate thugs, etc.

    Let's remember that Maher was an enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama.

    When you tally up the scoresheet, Maher is a much bigger assest than a liability for progressive.

    Let's remember that.

  •  You never refute his statement... (12+ / 0-)

    that only one in 3000 teachers are fired each year.

    You say:

    Are there bad teachers in the world?  You'd better believe it. Just like there are bad business men, bad athletes, bad presidents, and bad talk show hosts.

    Those in the above occupations lose their jobs on a regular basis when they fail to perform up to the relative standards defined by fans, voters or viewers.

    Teaching is a difficult profession, and like so many government positions, the good ones are worth much more than they are paid, But the bad ones are not only worth less, they probably injure the children under their charge, by not maximizing their educational experience.

    Acknowledgment of this reality would be the beginning of finding a solution to this problem, and cause municipal labor unions to have more public support.

    •  :-) (13+ / 0-)

      There are numerous reasons why poor teachers aren't let go. One of the least of these is that there simply aren't many people in this world who are willing to put up with the abuse, poor wages, long hours, and poor working conditions to teach in some of our school districts. Many districts keep teachers around because a warm body is better than no body at all.

      I agree with what you're saying. This diary would have been much too long if I had gone into every detail, though.

      Thanks for reading.

      •  I dont agree (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        We always have another cheap excuse for a corrupt system. Just like the defense industry, Wall Street, the education business is corrupt. Just look at the exploding tuition cost over the years out stripping inflation like health care ( another corrupt industry). Teachers are not the source of the corruption, it is the leadership including administrators and unions.

        •  I'm not sure I see how (5+ / 0-)

          unions are responsible for skyrocketing tuition. That, to me, is like blaming the UAW for the collapse of the auto industry. I don't buy it.

        •  Care To Elaborate That? (5+ / 0-)

          We hear endlessly how teachers unions are such a negative and destructive influence, but we hardly ever the "because....." part of the comment.  I'd like just once to hear a cogent argument on why teacher unions are so bad....and why America's kids would be so much better off with classrooms full of nonunion cowboys lacking collective bargaining power.  Why would that arrangement save America's kids?

          •  They protect teachers not kids (7+ / 0-)

            Teachers unions protect teachers, not students. Once you understand that, you should see how out of balance things can become. Who is protecting the children? Is there a student union? How about a student advocate? You do not see these things in schools because the adults don't have to make hard choices to put the interest of the children ahead of their own. Some teachers choose to work hard out of the goodness of their heart but too often unions want to make sure they don't have too if they don't feel like it.

            You need to remember what it is like to be a kid in a classroom. I have seen the incompetence and indifference. If the teachers union were like a plumbers union you would hope they tried to maintain high labor standards or something. No more sacred cows, we need to put the kids first and stop trying to spare adults from blame even if they are liberals. Unions like all institutions are subject to question. Why do you think they would be infallible or some how not apart of the decline of education quality.

            •  Who protects kids? (11+ / 0-)

              Teachers do. Every single day.

              I'm not saying there aren't bad teachers, just like there are bad plumbers, but I'm pretty sure the plumber's union is defending their members too.

              The NEA has it's standards that it expects all members to adhere to. It seems as if you're trying to imply that this is a cold, heartless, screw the children organization only interested in getting a teacher paid. I assure you, it is not. If you're in or around San Diego the week of July 4, check out the NEA Representative's Assembly. You'll see what I mean. It's all about making sure our students get the best education possible.

            •  Unions Are Perhaps No More "Infallible".... (12+ / 0-)

              ....than the administrators or parents or underage students you wish to make the decisions on which teachers should stay or go...and which teachers should make $150,000 per year versus $25,000 per year.  You're putting an awful lot of faith on the judgment of the aforementioned groups to know what's better for teachers than teachers.  Hard to understand why other than successful brainwash by those seeking to destroy public education.

              Furthermore, every worker in America deserves collective bargaining protection.  Your rhetoric makes it sound as though because teachers have a classroom full of kids that it exempts them from being treated as actual employees.  I think a teacher has at least as much right to organized representation than does a plumber!

              •  Nobody is banning Unions (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                auapplemac, yinn, sam storm, emilysdad

                Of course Unions want what is best for teachers, but that is the problem. What is good for the adults is not always best for the kids, that is why somebody has to challenge the Teachers Union. The Union does some good, but to expect them do what is best for the society at all time would fly in the face of the political realities within the unions. The society cant rely on Unions alone to make all judgments regarding education. The teachers will have to make uncomfortable changes and the unions will not support them. They will need to happen anyway.

                •  You have no idea what it is like to be a teacher (10+ / 0-)

                  I was a Chicago Public School Teacher for 7 years. In those 7 years I was sent to 10 different schools. Do you have any idea what that is like for a teacher? The Chicago Board of Education didn't give a damn about the teachers, and they didn't give a damn about the kids either. The teachers were the ones who cared about the children. The only support the teachers received was from the Chicago Public Teachers Union. They were able to get our classroom size down to 35 students. I'm 57 now, but I left teaching when I was 29 because the public school system chewed me up and spit me out. I was a good teacher, who put my heart and energy into my job. Teaching is a 24/7 job. You are always thinking about what you can do for this child, how do you break through to that child. You never stop thinking about the children. No one goes into teaching for the money. It's a low paying job. You go into teaching because you love children, and you want to make the world a better place. If it wasn't for the heartless tatics of the Board of Education, I might have spent my life teaching. But, sadly, I'm part of the 50% of teachers who quit in the first five years. I hung in there a couple years longer, but being sent to 4 schools in my final year burned me out. Then when they assigned me to my permanent school, after all that, they gave me a third grade as far south as the city limits. I lived in Evanston, the first suburb north of Chicago. I would have had to drive through downtown Chicago traffic every morning to get to school. In good weather, it would have taken me an hour and a half. There was another teacher there at the same time, and she got a third grade on the North side, five minutes from my home. My school was five minutes from her home. The Board of Education would not let us trade assignments. I quit. I was a single parent with a daughter in first grade. She would have had to have gone to a babysitter in the morning, and then waited for a school bus all by herself, so I could get to work on time.

                  Sign the Healthcare Not Warfare petition at

                  by number nine dream on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 12:10:30 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  My sister is a teacher (5+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    auapplemac, yinn, crose, sam storm, emilysdad

                    I could imagine her quitting after five years. Teaching is a hard job but it has to be done. The adults are the problem not the students. The adults create the school system so when it is broken we ought to look at ourselves. These problems did not fall out of the sky. The unions are apart of the problem, as are the administrators and politicians. Everyone is too concerned with their special interest and not enough with the students. Nobody even ask the children how they feel while supposedly serving their interest. Good tough fair teachers earn the respect of their students and would do well in student evaluations. Teachers who are emotionally disturbed and erratic will not.

                    Teachers work loads are enormous. The teachers should have more support, at least a parent teacher liaison to attend to the home issues that creep into the classroom. Better use of technology should help teachers in the future once we take the system out of the 1950's.

                    •  My cousin is a pilot (5+ / 0-)

                      that doesn't mean I know what it's like to be a pilot. If you are not actually in the classroom yourself with 35 children all day, then you don't know what it is like to be a teacher. There is a reason none of your comments are even getting one rec. Oh wait, you got one rec. My mistake.

                      Sign the Healthcare Not Warfare petition at

                      by number nine dream on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 12:45:06 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  I dont need your REC (0+ / 0-)

                        I am a independent thinker, maybe you are not used to those around here. I don't get a REC because people have wrapped themselves in the party line, meanwhile Obama has been saying same stuff I am on the issue with the minus student evaluation of teachers.  Obama supports Merit Pay and tougher standards for teachers. Of course the unions are going the other way.

                        •  You misunderstand what Obama supports (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:

                          I talked about Obama's support of merit pay in my other diary that I linked for you. The operative quote:

                          Reward Teachers: Obama will promote new and innovative ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them. Districts will be able to design programs that reward accomplished educators who serve as a mentor to new teachers with a salary increase. Districts can reward teachers who work in underserved places like rural areas and inner cities. And if teachers consistently excel in the classroom, that work can be valued and rewarded as well.

                          (from his website)

                          This is far different from what is normally considered merit pay.

                    •  Also wrong... (3+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      kissfan, M Sullivan, Dirtandiron

                      Teachers who are emotionally disturbed and erratic will not.

                      These are often teachers who appeal most to the teenagers whose opinions you elevate over those of the adult experts in the field.

                      There are cult-leader teachers who emotionally manipulate their students into loving them and supporting them in doing all kinds of unprofessional things. These students, and the teachers they would uprate, are the ones you would trust with determining who gets paid the most in a school? Over all the other teachers in the building who see every day what these people who damage the students in their care are doing? You would give those adults little or less voice than the students in that regard?

                      An emotionally twisted yet skillful adult will lead students places the student may never realize they were led for their entire lives. A teacher in the classroom next door will see what is happening and recognize for what it is in 1 minute.

                      One of the differences between being a teenager and an adult, which you don't seem to remember or be aware of...

                      Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking. -J.M. Keynes

                      by elropsych on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:40:59 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                    •  this is funny (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      kissfan, Dirtandiron

                      My cousin, who is a Jesus-loving right-wing teacher, complains that he has no rights. He says the students can do anything, and he has no recourse in his classroom.

                      "If I even touch one of the kids...," he'll say.

                      And he is in a union, although perhaps unwillingly, except that the union has his back.

                      I don't agree with your premise, not in a global sense, anyway. There are plenty of good teachers. Less in number, but greater in impact are the great teachers. And then there are teachers who hate kids or are just marking time until retirement.

                      If people complain, and administrators want to do their damn jobs, then the crummy ones could be sent packing. Administrators have to walk a fine line, and support their staff, but if they know of teachers who aren't doing a good job in the classroom, they can and should get involved.

            •  Why aren't you asking why this is even necessary? (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              kissfan, M Sullivan, Dichro Gal, chrome327

              Teachers unions protect teachers

              Your argument would be more interesting if it considered anything other than your personal, selfish, and egotistic perspective.

              What did teachers need protecting from, what did railroad workers need protection from, what did Triangle Shirtwaist factory workers need protection from, what did early auto-industry workers need protection from, when this "union" idea was hatched and flourished in this country?

              You are really missing a bigger picture here in whatever personal beef you are carrying over from your own personal schooling experience.

              Don't expect me to buy into your universal assertions when you only offer limited personal experience to back them up.

              Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking. -J.M. Keynes

              by elropsych on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:35:39 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  Bad teachers aren't fired b/c tenure makes it (0+ / 0-)

        expensive.  W/ due process comes the right to appeal, and when lawyer's fees start adding up, it's simply cost prohibitive to fire shitty teachers rather than reassign them to study hall or something.

        We are building a team that is continuously being built. - Sarah Palin

        by burrow owl on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:13:21 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Just for the record, Bill Maher often ... (31+ / 0-)

    ...shows himself to be ill-informed (and I say this about subjects on which I agree with him). I agree with you about New Rules and the opening monologue, which are often the best parts of the show. And frequently he will have a terrific guest. But he often botches the conversation, letting one person dominate, for instance.

    As for teachers unions ...

    My late mother and late stepdad were both teachers, as was my wife until she became a coordinator of teachers. All unionized. My grandfather, a political activist, was a union organizer. I was in a union when I worked for a year as a printer and in the Newspaper Guild (until I went to work for a non-Guild paper). I favor unions wholeheartedly.

    But it's also true that a lot of bad teachers manage to hang on for years and years. That is partly the fault of unions and mostly the fault of school "management" that does a lousy job of mentoring new teachers when they first come aboard and an even lousier job of intervening with help and disciplinary action in the cases of burn-outs or been-doing-this-so-long-I-don't-give-a-shit-anymore teachers. If they don't help teachers do a better job, and don't take action against those who don't improve, then who is to blame?

    "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." -Flannery O'Connor

    by Meteor Blades on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:51:20 PM PDT

    •  I Mostly Agree.... (12+ / 0-)

      ....there are alot of crappy teachers being defended by the NEA who don't belong in the classroom.  My junior high school was regrettably chock full of them 15 years ago.  With that said, it's the union's job to defend its dues-paying members and it strikes me as irrational to expect that the union be held responsible for selling out those it represents.

      •  Excellent point... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        walkshills, M Sullivan, elropsych

        any union would be short lived if it openly advocated for the dismissal of its dues-paying members. We have to remember that the NEA is first and foremost a labor union looking out for the interests of its members.

        •  Of course. And there is nothing wrong with ... (13+ / 0-)

          ...this defense - as you and Mark27 both say, that is the union's job.

          However, in many large school districts, there has been adamant refusal to come up with a solid means of measuring actual performance of teachers. I'm not saying measuring performance is easy. Teachers in schools serving low-income kids in tough neighborhoods where a large portion of the student populace speaks English as a second language, there isn't a book in the house and the parents themselves are poorly educated can't be easily compared with teachers in schools serving affluent kids with educated parents. But coming up with a union-"management" approach to measuring performance instead of stonewalling would go far toward undercutting the off-base criticisms teachers face.

          "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." -Flannery O'Connor

          by Meteor Blades on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:07:41 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  That's a Fair Point..... (7+ / 0-)

            Finding the right middle ground to help weed out indisputably underperforming teachers should be the biggest challenge the NEA sets for itself.  I can't see it helping the NEA's public relations that much though.  Even if a full-court press is given to ouster failing teachers, there will still be parents who point to "the unfair chemistry teacher who gave my Suzy a D" as a "lousy teacher who should be relieved of his teaching duties....and would be if not for the damn teacher's union."  

            Kind of a thankless situation....particularly when there's an entire industry devoted to the destruction of public education feeding us a steady diet of anti-union propaganda.  That industry will never be silenced, and I suspect the more valiant the effort to appease their concerns, the more strident they'll become in their persecution as they'll know they have 'em on the ropes.

    •  On target. (15+ / 0-)

      That is partly the fault of unions and mostly the fault of school "management" that does a lousy job of mentoring new teachers when they first come aboard and an even lousier job of intervening with help and disciplinary action in the cases of burn-outs or been-doing-this-so-long-I-don't-give-a-shit-anymore teachers.

      What I've observed among administrators is a real reluctance to confront teachers who aren't performing, and a horrendous pattern of not properly documenting the shortcomings of failing teachers, making it difficult to remove them for cause.

      Part of that can be attributed to the scarcity of teachers in certain fields, and the difficulty in finding teachers willing to work within challenging school districts. Parents are also somewhat to blame for resisting disciplinary actions taken against teachers they like or their children like.

      I've always subscribed to my father's axiom that "there's no such thing as a bad employee, there's only bad management."

      His contention was that employee failure was a consequence of poor recruitment and hiring policies complicated by horrendous training and an insufficient focus on motivation.

      In other words, bad management produces failing employees, not the other way around.

      "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." JFK - January 20, 1961

      by rontun on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:07:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  If The "Saturday Morning Maher" Is Posted... (11+ / 0-)

    ....tomorrow, I'll have to hear out his argument.  Thus far, I've heard dozens of critiques of why "teachers unions are responsible for America's failing schools", but never once have I heard that bold claim followed up with a well-reasoned argument why the union should be held responsible.  Of all the challenges facing the education system, the teachers union even when it makes questionable choices wouldn't even rank in the top-10.

  •  Teachers Unions have been an obstacle to progress (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    burrow owl, yinn

    I don't support the teachers unions defense of incompetence. In New York City teachers unions make it was hard as hell to fire bad teachers. There was a teacher that broke a students hand who still has a job in my sisters school. Teachers Unions attack Merit pay like it is unheard of to be evaluated meanwhile they hand out grades everyday to students. Why can't we grade teachers and pay them accordingly? The Democrats have been an obstacle to Merit Pay in order to win the support of teachers Unions, indeed it was a deal with the devil. We can't have reform without accountability. Ask your children who the good and bad teacher are, but nobody ever ask the customers opinion. There are so many common sense things we can do to improve education, and too often teachers unions get in the way.

    •  Needless to say... (10+ / 0-)

      I disagree with much of what you've said here. As I stated in an earlier comment, teacher's unions are no different than any other labor union and to advocate for the firing of your dues-paying members would lead to a short-lived existence. Yes the union can sometimes get in the way of progress as can any organization, but in the end, I believe that the good far outweighs the bad in this case.

      As for merit pay, I've discussed it here.

      Thanks for reading.

      •  Teachers are not normal labour (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Who evaluates a teachers performance? Nobody ask the students opinion. Parents are busy and clueless about classroom life. The truth is we have a bunch of adults failing to do the job. That job also means setting up a system with accountability and unions have been against that. I don't blame them, why would they want to burden their members with standards. I am sure if the students ran the classroom they would never have to take a test. Just because the unions are working for the interest of its members does not mean it is working in the interest of the students or the society. Teachers unions need the scrutiny just like every major institution in the society.

        •  Actually, (7+ / 0-)

          student/teacher relationships are often taken into consideration in teacher evaluations. If a teacher is constantly at odds with students, it doesn't create a successful learning environment and administrators can use that to terminate them.

          •  Really where do students comment? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            burrow owl

            As a student I was never asked about my teachers job performance until University. I am sure the teachers unions would raise hell if student had a chance to comment about teachers performance. We need to focus on the students, not the teachers pay scale and benefits, not protecting teachers from mean administrators when nobody protects students from mean teachers.

            •  You don't think that student opinion (9+ / 0-)

              is noticed by administrators? You don't think they don't hear from parents when students feel teachers are being unfair?


            •  sorry (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              number nine dream, Dichro Gal

              why should the comments of high school students be given weight in evaluations? They are not adults. They are confused adolescents, and using their assessments to measure a teacher's performance is not reliable or fair to a teacher.

              Teacher's are assessed by administrators. And contrary to popular belief, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on teachers to perform--from administrators and parents.

              Why does nobody comment on how job security in fact produces better workers? And with all this talk about merit pay, nobody seems to know what "merit" means. Higher test scores on standardized tests that do not measure intelligence?

              Why is it that public schools in rich districts with unionized teachers perform well if teacher's unions are so evil?

              •  Adolescents are pretty smartgs (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                Young adults can handle most adult jobs if they were allowed to do them. They can read write and do basic math(if the schools worked) which is enough to work at walmart, care for children, and pull a shift in a factory. I don't know why adults forget so quickly that children are fully intelligent humans capable of being objective as adults if they are treated with respect. I don't trust the judgment of many stuck in their ways middle aged people who forgot children are simply young adults and not mentally challenged human larvae.

                Children need more input and representation in the schools because too much injustice and poor leadership by administrators and teachers has the same impact on them that corruption does in the adult world.

                •  clearly (6+ / 0-)

                  you haven't spent much time in a high school. High school students may be thoughtful and intelligent, but they are not "fully capable of being objective as adults if they are treated with respect."

                  Listening to their thoughts and input is one thing; giving them authority over teachers by asking them to evaluate their teachers is another. This would be yet another way to undermine the authority of teachers and part of the American culture of telling each individual that their opinion is correct, even when it isn't.

                  •  Especially since the top priority of most kids (3+ / 0-)

                    is to do as little work as possible.

                    -5.38, -5.90 Deus mihi iustitiam dabit.

                    by cjallen on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 12:35:16 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  precisely (6+ / 0-)

                      and the funny thing is, I teach college, and the students are so caught up in their own opinions and their feelings, and have been so indoctrinated by this idea that every opinion matters and is equally legitimate, that they have no idea how to actually read a text, or write a paper that mounts a cogent argument.

                      And it's all part of this pedagogical system that over-values the opinions of children rather than providing them the structure and discipline through which to develop positions they can actually defend.

                      •  The same shit (0+ / 0-)

                        (they) are so caught up in their own opinions and their feelings, and have been so indoctrinated by this idea that every opinion matters and is equally legitimate

                        permeates this site.  One dares to say that one culture may be better than another and they are peppered with HRs.

                        How can we possibly blame teens for wanting individuality when their parents clamor for political correctness?

                        •  it's (3+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          kissfan, skohayes, chrome327

                          not about "political correctness" which is really just a term invented by the right to lament the fact that they can no longer make racist and sexist comments publicly.

                          I'm talking about something very different--the bestowing of legitimacy on the opinions of children and by attempting to "affirm" every child's self esteem creating little monsters who think their opinions have the power of reason.

                          •  No, the idea of "political correctness" (0+ / 0-)

                            is not a right-wing term, but one used by anyone who is afraid to confront difficult debates.

                            Combating this is the only way to prevent tolerance, a noble goal, from turning into "The Giver".

                          •  disagree (3+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            capelza, cjallen, haruki

                            but since you are right wing, I'm not surprised you use the term "political correctness" the way you do.

                          •  Children think they are the center of the (4+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            kissfan, M Sullivan, haruki, chrome327

                            the universe. That's part of a child's psyche. Maturity is supposed to disabuse us of that concept. Small children are selfish it's part of growing up. Maybe it's part of the survival instinct.

                            Remember Mark Twains comment: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

                            Kids think they know it all. Its the wise that know how much they don't know.

                            It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

                            by auapplemac on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 02:22:15 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  He also said... (0+ / 0-)

                            "don't let schooling get in the way of your education".

                            Three be the things I shall never attain: Envy, Content, and sufficient champagne. --Dorothy Parker

                            by M Sullivan on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 05:38:00 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Actually, "polictically correct" was a term (0+ / 0-)

                            originally invented by the left, I believe. To quote Wikipedia:

                            Some U.S. New Left proponents adopted the usage of the phrase "political correctness". One 1970 example [1] is in Toni Cade Bambara's essay The Black Woman: "a man cannot be politically correct and a [male] chauvinist too", illustrating its usage in gender and identity politics, rather than solely about general political orthodoxy.

                            Yet, soon afterwards, the New Left re-appropriated the term political correctness as satirical self-criticism; per Debra Shultz: "Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the New Left, feminists, and progressives ... used their term politically correct ironically, as a guard against their own orthodoxy in social change efforts".[11][2][1] Hence the phrase's popular usage in English [1][12] and Bobby London's usage in the underground comic book Merton of the Movement, while the alternative term, ideologically sound, followed a like lexical path, appearing in Bart Dickon's satirical comic strips.

                            In typical left-wing usage, Ellen Willis says: "in the early '80s, when feminists used the term political correctness it was used to refer sarcastically to the anti-pornography movement's efforts to define a 'feminist sexuality' ".[13]

                            It was only later adopted by the right wing and now often is a way to belittle any criticism of offensive language

                            -3.88, -6.36
                            Let's not bicker and argue about who killed who - This is supposed to be a happy occasion!

                            by AaronInSanDiego on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 01:00:31 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  err, politically, not "polictically" n/t (0+ / 0-)

                            -3.88, -6.36
                            Let's not bicker and argue about who killed who - This is supposed to be a happy occasion!

                            by AaronInSanDiego on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 01:03:08 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                    •  Yet still be self-convinced they've learned (0+ / 0-)


                      Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking. -J.M. Keynes

                      by elropsych on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:15:29 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                  •  WE ALL WENT TO SCHOOL (0+ / 0-)

                    I was a high school student I was there for 4 years I think I have some idea what the place is like as does every other public school graduate. Teachers are not in some kind of mysterious job that nobody can relate too. We have all been in the classroom so everybody has some idea what the hell is going on there. No we don't have to grade papers but the students are definitely seeing what goes on in front of their faces five days a week.

                    •  that (3+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      auapplemac, cjallen, chrome327

                      does not mean they have the intellectual maturity to evaluate a teacher's performance.

                      Honestly, do you think that when you were in high school you were sufficiently educated to be able to assess a teacher's performance?

                      I certainly wasn't. I had favorite teachers, but I did not have the maturity or the language or the training to be able to professionally assess an adult's performance. Maybe you were a prodigy...

                      •  Maybe you weren't, (2+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        edtastic, thethinveil

                        but I was.  I knew good teachers, and I knew bad teachers.  You learned which teacher you had to work for and which one you could blow off and still get the A.

                        •  I doubt it (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:

                          sorry, no high school student has the skill or training to professionally assess a teacher.

                          You know a good teacher, perhaps. But now I can look back and say that some teachers who I disliked were good teachers, and others who I liked were not so good. And frankly, if you have enough faith that high school kids can objectively make these assessments, you don't know many high school kids.

                          •  Maybe this goes back to the (0+ / 0-)

                            good schools vs bad schools argument, but maybe not.  

                            I went to what you'd consider a good high school (not that I care, but we were top 50 in the country this year).

                            I had faith in myself, and my friends.  I had little faith in many of my classmates, whose potential was limited by drug use or simply less intellect.

                            My former self, and other smart high school kids, was definitely more capable, even at that age, than a lot of my teachers.  Not all, obviously, and my AP Government teacher ended up being one of the people I look up to most in life, but a lot of the teachers were truly not up to the job.

                            If you want to discount the high school kids who are on facebook all day or getting pregnant, fine, but don't disregard everyone.

                          •  it's not (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:

                            a good school vs. a bad school argument.

                            I don't disregard everyone, but I do maintain that edtastic's original idea that high school students be given the authority to evaluate their teachers and contribute to the formulation of education policy is, ummmm, absurd.

                          •  Hmm...Maybe I give all my students A's, never (3+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            kissfan, sortalikenathan, chrome327

                            assign homework, let everyone smoke pot in class, buy them alcohol, and convince them that I'm the smartest person in the world.

                            I would get the best student ratings evah!

                            And in some people's arguments, therefore, be the best teacher ever?

                            <DOES NOT COMPUTE>

                            What it takes to be a good teacher- being tough, requiring excellence, etc... don't always lead to short term student appreciation or positive ratings.

                            And then, low and behold, 3 years down the line the come back and say you were their favorite, or made the most positive impact on them, etc...

                            Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking. -J.M. Keynes

                            by elropsych on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:14:41 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                      •  Adults lack intellecutal Maturity (0+ / 0-)

                        This country elected Bush twice don't tell me about adult intellectual maturity. Young people were Obama's biggest supporters. Young people are about as fair as adults, they have the same faults and virtues. Young people know these teachers better than most because they spend so much time with them. Good teachers even if they are tough are highly respected by students. Bad teachers are not respected because students feel they are not taken seriously by them. Teachers that set the standard too low, and fail to challenge kids are rightly considered mediocre by the children. Teachers that are abusive are rightly considered bad. If the students have no voice then who should we be listening too. You want to teachers to judge themselves? Maybe that's why it takes 2 years to fire a teacher in New York.

                        •  you know (3+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          kissfan, elropsych, chrome327

                          I'm not going to continue this conversation because it's pointless. I'm not talking about "young people" (ie., people who elected Obama were adults). I'm talking about adolescents, high school students, who do not have the intellectual or emotional maturity to make education policy.

                          You can put all the faith you want in them. But if you honestly think it's a good idea to have my mom's students (half of who are on drugs) evaluate her, you really don't know a thing about the state of "young" people in high schools today.

                    •  Wrong. For the full refutation of the myth (4+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      kissfan, skohayes, Dichro Gal, chrome327

                      you perpetuate here, see Lortie's


                      . He established, well, hundreds of reasons why this is a myth that perpetuates.

                      False claims of authority will not win you any converts among the people you need to most convince: teachers.

                      You are equating experience as a teacher with experience as a student. How does make any sense?

                      One example: The vast majority of Americans have been in a doctor's office. The vast majority of Americans would not presume to tell their doctors how to conduct their surgeries. We don't equate experience as a patient with experience being a doctor!

                      In your four years of high school, how many hours did you spend in the teachers' lounge? In faculty meetings? in parent-teacher conferences with helicopter parents? How many hours in professional development? How many hours worrying about and wondering about how to help the 140 to 200 of your classmates that each teacher was responsible for in addition to you? How can you compare your experience from your individual perspective about yourself to that of a teacher tasked with the intellectual and social development of 150+ individually different teenagers? That just doesn't make any sense.

                      You have no idea what it is like to be a teacher. It just makes you feel better/more empowered/more righteous to fool yourself into thinking that you do.

                      I could go on for pages about how flawed this argument is. Fortunately for me, Lortie literally wrote the book. Make that books.

                      Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking. -J.M. Keynes

                      by elropsych on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:11:24 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                  •  The students grades are their "comments." n/t (0+ / 0-)

                    It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

                    by auapplemac on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 02:16:00 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                •  Actually, the frontal lobes, seat of (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Dichro Gal

                  strategy making, time management, and interpretation of the environment are not fully formed neurologically until the early twenties.

                  If you argument made any sense, socio-culturally or neurobiologically, we would prosecute minors as fully responsible adults all of the time, for all offenses.

                  Since we have obviously chosen to only do that in unusual cases, I have to conclude that society has rejected your argument concerning

                  children are fully intelligent humans capable of being objective as adults

                  There is some merit in what you're saying, young people are dismissed and diminished when they should be listened to and taken seriously, but to elevate them to full adult status as a universal assumption could be problematic on many levels.

                  Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking. -J.M. Keynes

                  by elropsych on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:00:59 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

            •  Every Semester for every teacher (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              amRadioHed, elropsych, chrome327

              at least that was how often I got to give my opinion on my teachers from the time I was in 5th grade. Of course we had a fairly good school administration and that translates into fairly good teachers. We still had a few losers (mostly athletic coaches forced to teach) but generally my education wasn't harmed by bad teachers.

    •  How do you determine merit? (5+ / 0-)

      -5.38, -5.90 Deus mihi iustitiam dabit.

      by cjallen on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:17:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You Know What Merit Pay Means? (10+ / 0-)

      It means six-figure incomes for teachers who get hired in ritzy suburbs educating doctors' and lawyers' kids while the inner-city teacher stuck with a classroom full of kids who can barely speak English get the smallest paychecks and the most hate from people like you because of "underperformance".  If you really want to doom the educational prospects of poor school districts, you'll condemn any teacher who chooses to work there to a "merit" pay-induced life of poverty.

      •  Merit Pay means accountablity (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        auapplemac, sam storm

        Teaching is not voodoo. You can evaluate it like everything else and that evaluation need not be perfect. When those students enter the corporate world they will be evaluated no matter what they do, so why should teachers be the only people in the society who don't have their performance measured. There are plenty of other countries we can look at for guidance but doing the same old crap for another 20-30 years would just drag America down the crap hole. My sister is a teacher, and I know this stuff is hard on them but I also know it has an impact. The teachers do compare performance. My sister had a good year and ended up with a waiting list of parents trying to get into her classroom, but she never got paid an extra cent. Why can't teachers get rewarded for performance?

        •  Teachers are evaluated. (9+ / 0-)

          By the school's administration. It happens al the time. I'm sure your sister could tell you that.

        •  Bottom Line.... (7+ / 0-)

          If "merit pay" is determined merely by grades and I'm a teacher whose livelihood depends on my students performing well, you can be sure I'm gonna start giving C papers B's.

          If the "merit pay" is based on standardized test scores, then classrooms (and geographic regions) with higher percentages of academically challenged students are assured of being deemed "failures", thus quagmiring those teachers with a lifetime of low incomes and further disincentivizing teaching in troubled areas.

          Even the dimmest light of scrutiny melts this merit pay concept.  There's no way it can administered without exacerbating the problems of troubled schools by creating an educational ghetto of low-paid teachers educating our most challenged students.....which is EXACTLY what those seeking to crush public education want.

          •  Stanardized tests (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            sam storm, thethinveil

            The students are already taking the test to determine promotion. The reason my sister was so popular was the performance of the students on those test. The next year she was saddled with a far less capable bunch of students. Nonetheless like in normal life, business, you take the hand you are dealt and make the most of it. It does not need to be 100% fair because life is not fair. If one sales man gets a big buyer and another does not the commission goes to the guy who got the sales. It serves as an incentive not a equalizer. Good teaching should be rewarded and bad teachers need to be removed. One bad 1st grade teacher can set back 30 children for several critical years of their life. You can have half of a class left back and students still behind 10 years down the road. This kind of destruction of potential should not be tolerated in the name of a teachers job security.

            •  But you just said it's the luck of the draw, (7+ / 0-)

              not necessarily merit.  And isn't the point of merit pay that it be fairly based on the quality of the teacher, yet you're saying it doesn't need to be fair?  You're contradicting yourself.

              -5.38, -5.90 Deus mihi iustitiam dabit.

              by cjallen on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:51:42 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Not contradicting myself (0+ / 0-)

                "Life is not fair" It is true if your an adult you should be used to it. The luck of the draw determines some part of all our success or failure. If we had lousy 1st grade teachers we could be set back for life. A teacher will get a group of students with different backgrounds, you can normalize the students through statistical analysis but you never achieve perfect equality. The same goes for many professions where appearances and the luck of the draw affect outcomes. A real estate agent for example.

                •  You know you are arguing for the deck to (4+ / 0-)

                  stay stacked.

                  All progressives want equal opportunity if not equal outcomes.

                  You are making a point that only conservatives would make here.

                  But I do believe we need to empower students more. I need to see the specific policy proposals on how we would do this to decide if I would support it.

                  Much like Merit pay - if there is a way to make it fair to those teachers who have a harder job then fine.

                  How about we use Spanish textbooks in our classrooms? Maybe that would equal the playing field a little for those teachers who teach spanish speakers and it would level the playing field for students too. Remember we do not have an official language.

                  You could make algorithms by collecting such data and comparing them to one another within certain categories.

                  Standardized testing is ridiculous and it offers no way to a good education.

                  In general, my main concern about merit pay is that it would mean that we would have standardized cirruculum and that I cannot support.

                  Teachers should teach what they are good at teaching some prefer projects some prefer discussion based lecture. The diversity of these approaches actually make education great and builds a strong diverse society. And maybe that is why I do not support merit pay.

                  "What is the robbing of a Bank compared to the FOUNDING of a Bank?" Bertolt Brecht

                  by thethinveil on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 02:50:37 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

              •  improvement not performance (4+ / 0-)

                The performance of students tells you very little about the teacher in the absence of information about how the students did previously. Anyone suggesting teachers get payed based on student performance is just plain not using their brains.

            •  So... (8+ / 0-)

              If all I have to do is convince my worst students to drop out, or stay home on test day, I get a bonus?  Where do I sign up?

              Voting changes things. That's why they don't allow it.

              by happymisanthropy on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 12:03:39 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  I wish (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kissfan, elropsych

        I could rec this comment a hundred times!

      •  Its easy to learn in the suburbs (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        where you've got parents, a roof, three squares and people who look and sound just like you.

        Mark, you've hit it exactly.

        Three be the things I shall never attain: Envy, Content, and sufficient champagne. --Dorothy Parker

        by M Sullivan on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 05:43:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Schools (12+ / 0-)

    I've observed rundown schools in poor neighborhoods, and beautiful schools in rich neighborhood. The thing that catches my interest is that whenever people discuss improving the rundown schools in poor neighborhoods, many people claim that it doesn't matter. But if it doesn't matter, why are rich neighborhoods building wonderful new schools for their children - either they do in fact think it matters, or they are gleefully wasting their own money.

  •  I. cannot. stand. him. (6+ / 0-)

    There.  I said it.  He's one of those people who, even when I agree with him, makes me cringe.

    He is a sexist jerk who makes a good living being obnoxious and provocative.  He dated Ann Counter, for crying out loud.  Uh, yuck.

    End of rant.

    Can someone please explain to me how there can be a "moderate" position on equality??

    by browneyes on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:13:02 PM PDT

    •  I've found him hard to watch (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elropsych, browneyes, thethinveil

      since his move to HBO.  I used to love watching Politically Incorrect, in part because he let his guests do more of the talking than they do in his new show.  He was royally screwed over after 9-11 for drawing attention to the President's cowardice, so I'm happy he got his HBO gig.  But his opinion of himself has seemed to inflate since then, to the point that I find him overbearing and obnoxious.

      I respect that he asks tough questions and pushes issues I care about, but I don't really enjoy watching him.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:28:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You know? When I think about it, (5+ / 0-)

        that was when I noticed he was becoming so obnoxious.  I loved Politically Incorrect.  It was entertaining.  And it sounded like a lot of conversations I had with friends where everyone speaks their minds without fear of repercussions from not always being politically correct.

        But when moved to HBO, they reformatted the show.  Bill Maher became the center of attention, not just the host.  He stopped being funny and just, to me, became obnoxious and nasty.  

        Can someone please explain to me how there can be a "moderate" position on equality??

        by browneyes on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:34:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  When I tune it is on podcast where (0+ / 0-)

          I can fast forward easily to the guests and panel which I find infinitely more interesting than Maher anymore.

          Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking. -J.M. Keynes

          by elropsych on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:43:49 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  If most people believe that "tenure" means... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman, Simplify, yinn, jayden

    "cannot be fired", then this definition becomes defacto accurate.
    "He's tenured" was the excuse given by my local school board as to why they would not fire a teacher who had generated numerous complaints. So...
    either the board didn't know the true meaning, OR...
    they just used that as an excuse to not fire him.
    Either way, the definition of "tenured" may as well lie somewhere between the actual definition and the popular definition.
    This is true of many words/legal terms.

    •  My school board has used this excuse too (5+ / 0-)

      It's an easy way to avoid having to do the hard work of firing a teacher and, conveniently, place the blame at the feet of the teacher's union. The real culprit here isn't the union, but the school board for shirking their duties.

    •  That is a code for, "we don't want to do the (0+ / 0-)

      work and take the risk if s/he presses a civil lawsuit a year or two from now."

      There is a lot of money in those lawsuits, which terrible teachers are surprisingly good at finding lawyers to defend them after the documentation has been done correctly to get them out.

      They'd rather go through the pain and headache and work of getting a lawyer to defend their bad performance than do the pain and headache to be better teachers.

      It just is not in some people's makeups to be good at it, no matter the reason they got in in the first place.

      Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking. -J.M. Keynes

      by elropsych on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:45:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  No one ever seems to criticize the local school (16+ / 0-)

    boards, many who are run by good competent people but others are staffed by people who could not find their butt with both hands.  If the school boards don't allocate their resources wisely, good teachers cannot make up for their funding and planning deficits.

    And it feels like I'm livin'in the wasteland of the free ~ Iris DeMent, 1996

    by MrJersey on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:18:47 PM PDT

  •  We saw Maher open for George Carlin (9+ / 0-)

    about 25 years ago, when we didn't really know who he was. I still remember a few routines from that night, I've seen him live again since, and I usually like him. But, as a former teacher, I've usually disagreed with his education positions. Also - his opposition to funding the arts. WTF? Yeah, we spend so much on that. And talk about a little bit of money that is definitely an economic stimulator ...

    To change ideas about what land is for is to change ideas about what anything is for. - Aldo Leopold

    by Mother Mags on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:21:32 PM PDT

  •  Bill is Half Right and Half Wrong (6+ / 0-)

    Let's get real - I got tenure twice in a rather short period of time. As a parent, I was shocked with the educational operations of most teachers. Grade papers? Edit papers? Not so much. Most principals have little control over their own teachers, thanks to the unions. And that's the sad truth about the whole situation. I read an article about the legal fees involved when trying to get rid of a 'bad teacher' - it was really amazing. Most school districts can't or won't deal with this situation unless it's absolutely necessary.  I have no idea what the solution is with this problem except to say that I'm idealistically behind the union protection for any employee but I also know that there are many among us who don't operate in 'good faith'. So that's the problem. How to correct it? Guess it might be a good idea to define the basic definitions of a teacher and what is required of them in order to remain in good standing. By this, I mean it's not the test scores of their students so much as it's the teacher's  actual efforts to encourage learning, monitoring, and evaluation.

    •  The solution is to not (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jayden, elropsych, chrome327

      grant tenure to teachers who can't measure up. Non-tenured teachers can be released for virtually any reason.

      •  That sets up a race to the bottom (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        annetteboardman, thethinveil

        I see it in higher ed. If you are slower to grant tenure in your district, you run the risk of losing good teachers to other districts where they will grant it faster. My university is rather shy about denying tenure for precisely that reason.

        I agree that it's a good solution, but tenure rules would need to be brought up a level - into a statewide board at least. Take it out of the conflict between districts and unions.

        Leave it to Republicans to set the house on fire and then rant that the fire department is socialist.

        by johnsonwax on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:53:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Before tenure is reached (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I (as a teacher) have seen several instances in my school where teachers have not been dismissed even before they were tenured.  There is one instance right now - a lovely lady who is passionate about literature but has zero classroom control is in her 2nd year as an 8th grade Language Arts teacher. Her students eat, have their choice of seats, talk read magazines and put on make up and she is oblivious. If she doesn't have her contract renewed it'll have to be soon but I think she will.  She should have had major help after her performance last year but hasn't.  There have been several instances I can think of that are similar just in my school alone.  I tend to think that the administrators (who are overworked as well) just don't want to deal with finding another person to replace the poor teacher. We are one of the lowest paying districts in our area (exurb of chicago) so don't always attract the best or even that many applicants.  In this case it is not the union that is the problem because we all know (and agree) on who should not have their contract removed.

  •  You seem to support Bill Maher's allegations. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Instead of Mr. Maher blaming teachers and their unions for providing basic protection for their members, I suggest that he, and others like him, redirect his ire at lazy administrators and school boards for continuing to employ inadequate teachers and granting them tenure if they are truly not worthy

    It's because of the unions that "lazy" administrators and school boards can't get rid of inadequate teachers.  Doesn't it take almost a criminal complaint to fire a teacher nowadays?

    A politician thinks of the next election - a statesman of the next generation. - James Freeman Clarke

    by jdl51 on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:46:03 PM PDT

    •  No, it does not. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kissfan, Dichro Gal, chrome327

      It just takes an administrator willing to do the documentation.

      Most are not.

      The problem here lies with administrators unwilling to do the necessary, not with teachers protecting their worst colleagues.

      I don't want deadbeats in my school, either. But, principals used to have the power to boot the best teachers as well as the worst.

      If you think about it, the best teachers ask questions, do what is in the students' best interest (which is not always what a bad administrator wants). The worst teachers often do the minimum work for the children, blow smoke up the admin's asses to make it look like they're doing a good job, and never question, never push for their students.

      If admins were free to fire without documentation and oversight, the best teachers would most often be the first to go.

      Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking. -J.M. Keynes

      by elropsych on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:22:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  In a word, NO. (0+ / 0-)

      The teacher's union did not create lazy administrators. That's laughable.

  •  Agree with you kissfan (7+ / 0-)

    I worked in public healthcare for 30 years on both the union (I was the shop steward) and management side. After a probationary period, union employees qualified for civil service protection which made it harder to discipline or fire poor performers. However, there is/was a tool available to management (and although I've been retired for 6 years I still remember it) called procedure 20-10, a progressive disciplinary process.

    I used to tell the managers who reported to me that there weren't any bad employees, only bad managers -- dig out 20-10 and follow the step by step process and improve your employees. Got a lot of groans, but tough.

    •  It is nearly always left out of these (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      discussion that the best course of action is always to get the person in question to become better at what they do.

      No one wants to reverse a hire decision, especially not in the middle of a school year when it can be very difficult to find a replacement for a high-needs discipline in a low-income area.

      THANK YOU for mentioning that important and nearly always overlooked fact.

      Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking. -J.M. Keynes

      by elropsych on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:49:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You need to start with the parents (23+ / 0-)

    We Americans are the biggest bullshitters in the world when it comes to education.

    There were no teachers unions where I grew up in the South.  Teachers were fired regularly then, but in the rural south, teaching was considered one of the higher end jobs.

    There are no unions in our school district now, but the balance of power has shifted from the community to the school.  

    Some of my neighbors treat the local high school as if it is - "we ordered a graduate, but they are having trouble getting the shipment out on time."  

    We give lip service to education.  If I am at a cocktail party, and I ask "what books have you read lately", I usually get wide eyed stares.

    If I mention something that is in the paper to my neighbor, they tell me "oh, I don't take the paper."  

    If I go the library, it is EMPTY.

    When a friend tells me their child is having problems at school, and I mention decreasing the time they spend riding around to practice soccer/basketball/football/baseball/karate/swimming, and increasing the amount of time they spend on their school work, they look at me as if I have suggested breaking the law.

    Your child has a much, much better chance of being a world class intellect than they could possibly have to be a world class athlete.

    But do you see us helping our children dedicate themselves to practicing trigonometry as if they are going to a higher math championship?

    Do you see us pulling for our children to "dig deep" when the chips are down in biology, when they are having trouble remembering the differences between meiosis and mitosis?

    We are too god damned cavalier about the educational process as adults.  It may be only a coincidence that "education" comes before "entertainment" in the dictionary, but the irony of this positioning should not be ignored.  

    If you haven't read an entire book of any kind with more than 300 pages in it in the last twelve months - and there are many, many parents who fall into that category - how the hell can you be surprised when your kid tells you that "reading is boring"?  

    If you don't read enough to enlarge your own vocabulary on a regular basis, Kaplan is not the answer - it is a fucking temporary step ladder whose effectiveness begins fading the second your kid finishes the sessions.

    Your job as a parent is to help provide context to the information that they learn in school, but if you quit actively learning the second you got your college diploma, how effective can you be?  

    My mother, who was a teacher for almost 40 years, said "I wish we had the parents sitting in the classroom for the first two weeks of school instead of the children - it would help them understand what they really need to be doing at home to help make this thing work."

    I have gotten more tolerant of a lot of things I used to think people used as bullshit excuses in my younger days, but when it comes to a child's education, I am ready to horsewhip parents who seem to be afraid to make learning the centerpiece of their family life.

    •  what a great comment! (6+ / 0-)

      I am off to nominate it for comment of the day!

    •  we americans (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kissfan, viscerality, llbear, elropsych

      are the biggest bullshitters in the world in more ways than one.

    •  You can mandate parental involvment (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elropsych, thethinveil

      We live in a democracy so it might be hard, but if parents had to take a 8 hour course that would be good. We could have parent teacher laisons that visit homes weekly.

      At the end of the day the school has to do it with or without the parents. If not we doom children of bad parents to a poor future and that is a cop out as far as i am concerned. I have seen good teachers turn kids lives around, and I have seen bad teachers push good students lower. We have to make the schools accountable because we own the school we don't own the parents.

    •  This should be a diary. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kissfan, sberel

      I taught at Chattahoochee HS in Alpharetta for 5 years.

      My experience aligns straight up with your assessment.

      Really, you could develop this into a piece that would get wider attention on this site, I think.

      Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking. -J.M. Keynes

      by elropsych on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:51:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We are in the Northview District (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sberel, elropsych

        I live on Old Alabama, right down the street from Chattahoochee High - I'm certainly not telling you anything you don't know.

      •  yet another scold diary? (0+ / 0-)

        yes by all means let's have another "blame the parents" diary. and we can just ignore the fact that the vast majority of parents who "don't instill a love of learning in their children" don't do it because they work so many freaking hours they are dead tired, and in many cases were in the same situation when they were kids and their parents were working to hard to enjoy academic pursuits.
        (yes, there are bad parents who have no excuse, but most working parents love their children and would do anything in their power to help them succeed, but some things are out of their reach.)

        want to "fix" bad parenting? HELP WORKING PARENTS.

        This White House is way different. It's better! ~Rachel Maddow

        by catchaz on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 07:37:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  food, shelter, clothing, education (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Poom, catchaz

          There are four necessities - food, shelter, clothing and education.

          The things you think are necessities - cable TV, dance lessons, the second, third or fourth pair of athletic shoes, the second or third bathroom, a separate bedroom for every child - the list can go on and on, but if my illiterate grandfather can raise college graduates, some of whom have a life long thirst for knowledge, then you can too.

          Do I think the government should help out?  Absolutely, but the how is up in the air - exactly what it is they could do to free up your time I don't know.

          It is sad to say that the most engaged kids I know are in two groups - the offspring of parents who are successful, but are such fanatical parents that many today might consider them child abusers, because they don't allow their children unfettered access to "fun", or "being happy", and the offspring of those families who are chronically financially challenged in spite of the parents educational advantages, children who have learned to successfully cope with their transience and lack of material wealth by pouring their energies into their own self - development.

          My own parents put my education before religious instruction.  They planned their lives around the school schedule.  They turned the news off to go to PTA meetings.  They neglected the yard work to help with science projects.  They painted their house only when it was peeling off to put us through college.

          I live 500 yards from the neighborhood library - most weekends I will visit, if for nothing more than to peruse the latest periodicals to see what is going on in the world.

          I see very few black or white children.  There are a few more asians.  Most of the people are immigrants, many of them inhabitants of the apartments and lower end housing nearby.  Entire families swarm the bookshelves, whispering to each other in their native tongues as they thumb through their selections.

          I'll say it again, not as a mere scold, but a squarely applied stamp of blame across your forehead if you are a parent who cannot rearrange your commitment to education of your offspring to have it come second only to feeding your face and clothing yourself and finding a place to keep the rain off of your head.

          The government doesn't own your child's future - you do.


          •  sorry if i was too harsh (0+ / 0-)

            and sorry that is too late for anyone to see it.

            i agree that those middle-class parents with time on their hands should do LOTS more, and ATL MAN makes many valid points, thnaks for those, sorry for only addressing the part i had a problem with.

            i do think we need to be mindful that most working-class people are so busy they really are doing what they can. they should be helped and advised, but not criticized for being ridiculously busy because of their place in the capitalist pecking order.  

            This White House is way different. It's better! ~Rachel Maddow

            by catchaz on Sun Mar 15, 2009 at 01:43:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Overheard a comment from a teacher this weekend (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      She longed to make it a requirement that every test given to one of her failing students also be given to the parents and repeated until both passed.

      Interesting idea.

      Sec. Shinseki deserves our best ideas to re-make the VA. Make them practical, affordable, and effective.

      by llbear on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 11:38:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  the power (9+ / 0-)

    of teacher's unions is fabulously exaggerated by those who oppose them. To blame the failures of the American education system on the tyranny of teacher's unions is just simplistic nonsense.

    My mom is a schoolteacher in Detroit. The conditions she works in are unreal; she is a teacher, a social worker, a counselor, and a therapist all in one. She teaches in a building that is falling apart, and the majority of her students are poor and struggling to survive (and by this I mean their families do not have enough food to eat). She is often asked to teach subjects she is not trained in and despite her complaints to her union rep, nothing is ever done about it.

    Blaming the teacher's unions is easy to do. Not that there aren't things to criticize about them, but the disaster that is the American education system has as much, if not more, to do with issues like poverty and inequity than the power of unions.

  •  Teaching, both school and university (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kissfan, elropsych

    is the subject of the Teachers' Lounge, posted every saturday morning between 10 and noon eastern time.  If anyone around here is interested in writing an essay to open up the discussion in the lounge, send me an email at and I will add you to our mailing list and sign you up for a date.

  •  Maher is a hack that panders to the (0+ / 0-)

    audience. He'd be a conservative pundit but the field is to crowded and isn't good enough to break in to it. That being said I don't care what you say. The tenure system allows lessor teachers to muddle through.  I happen to think it's the family that is the biggest contributor to the failure of the student.  Countless dollars thrown at schools hasn't worked over the last 40 some years.  Look at the drop out rate in LA schools.  Students received a solid education to prepare them for life or higher education long before computers and dollars were being handed out like candy.  

    You can't cheat an honest man.

    by thestructureguy on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:59:33 PM PDT

  •  Power can corrupt. (10+ / 0-)

    Don't care if it is in the hands of a politician, religious leader, a union leader, a teacher, a health care worker.

    It doesn't have to be someone carrying a badge and a gun to be corrupt, or incompetent, or covering up for other peoples corruption or incompetence.

    Maher is wrong to make summary judgments about the teaching profession because of some bad examples. He's great at finding the examples. And if I had a staff like he's got, I'll find you 'evil people' doing 'evil things' in every aspect of human interpersonal relationships.

    At the local deli, the train station. The recycling plant and dog groomers.

    It's the structure of the community, it's transparency, and the ability of those without power to be heard within it which determine ultimately is a system works or does not in the best interests of all the people, and fairly.

    Some areas of the United States have really crappy infrastructure, let us not pretend that all is well in the educational system nationally.

    I think overall teacher's unions do a great job at revealing weak links: but those that act to protect bad agents should have their structures re-written to open the process to full scrutiny.

    Teachers are grossly underpaid and the resources they have to work with in so many places are laughably appalling.

    •  Well said, shpilk (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kissfan, elropsych

      The bright light is the Obama administration is tackling the challenge.

      I'm thinking there needs to be a national debate about our educational system. We cannot afford to shove it under the rug any longer. Everyone needs to look at steps each individual could take to make improvements so that learning again becomes exciting.

      Great diary - great discussion. Thanks.

      "Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility." Obama 2/09

      by Anne933 on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 02:09:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Another top comment. WOW! (0+ / 0-)

      Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking. -J.M. Keynes

      by elropsych on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:52:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I feel like his show (3+ / 0-)

    has been off the past couple of weeks, in addition to his comments about the unions.  Change in format, lack of good jokes, need better guests or something.

    •  I agree completely about the lack of good guests. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      And last night was no exception.  Brietbart was a complete tool and the other guy was so longwinded that his answers seemed almost irrevelant.

      I assume the reason Maher didn't bring up the Stewart/Cramer interview last night is because it would have made him look like an ass since he had Erin Burnett on and let her off almost scott-free. And I wouldn't put it past him to be somewhat bitter that Jon Stewart is getting a lot of attention...the guy has a serious ego.

  •  WTF? Why do people want to destroy the unions? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kissfan, Mark27, M Sullivan, elropsych

    Look, for any knuckleheads still saying the solution is to destroy the unions, you are DEAD wrong. The unions have been bending over backwards for at least the last 15 years to help their businesses/schools/states/whatever else is unionized succeed.

    The unions have taken wage cuts, benefit cuts, shorter work weeks, fewer vacation days/paid holidays, in fact, everything that you can imagine a union gets for its members, just to help their employers succeed. They have been doing their part, and the bosses have NOT been doing theirs. They take more and more (including administrators in schools), the unions get less and less. Fuck that, enough is enough.

    AS FOR BAD TEACHERS MAKING IT TO TENURE, THAT IS A MANAGEMENT PROBLEM!!!!!!! Management is not doing its job, plain and simple. It is not the job of any union to evaluate, discipline, or discharge union members, that is the job of the administrators/HR folks. The union is there to protect jobs, not destroy them.

    "Remember back when W and the Republicans f'ed up the entire world?"

    by A Man Called Gloom on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:21:38 AM PDT

  •  Maher is a moron, most often (0+ / 0-)

    we as liberals have made the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" mistake with Maher. yes he hates censorship and he hated Bush, but he also seems to hate women, for example, so fuck him.

    This White House is way different. It's better! ~Rachel Maddow

    by catchaz on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 07:28:49 AM PDT

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