One of the most pernicious lies being spread by those who are opposed to public education is that teachers are in it for themselves and really don't care about students.
I have a hard time understanding why anyone would buy into that nonsense, but with certain people the message has taken hold.
For some reason, it is easier to believe, in the state of Missouri, that some of the lowest paid teachers in the United States are in it for themselves, and not because they genuinely care about the children in their charge.
It is easy for some people to believe that teachers with years of classroom experience are automatically inferior to those who are just out of college (and sometimes have never taken an education course).
And many people accept, without question, the idea that a teacher's pay should be based on the grades on standardized tests that are poorly written and never seen by the taxpaying public.
Some of those who have been most responsible for those lies, former head of Washington D. C. Schools Michelle Rhee and her crew at Students First have worked quickly to establish a stronghold in the Show-Me State. As of Feb. 8, Ms. Rhee is a registered lobbyist here, one of nine who can legally lobby for Students First.
Registering the same day was the organization's legislative director (a synonym for lobbyist) Timothy Melton, a former Democratic representative from Michigan who joined the long list of those who jump immediately from elected positions to lobbying those who hold elected positions.
Students First indicated when it announced its intention to come to Missouri that it would lobby, make contributions to legislators' campaign accounts, and push its ideas of "educational reform."
One way it is pushing those ideas is an advertisement that is being shown throughout Missouri.
The irony about Students First, is that its leader is someone who has done nothing but put herself first since her dramatic entry as head of the schools in our nation's capitol. How else can you explain the infamous Time cover which showed her with a broom ready to sweep out all of the "bad teachers?"
Her time in Washington did not result in the kind of dramatic change that she promises will take place in public schools that adopt her dangerous ideas. In Washington, the dramatic test improvements that took place in the schools she used as success stories appear to be the result of cheating, the same kind of cheating that is likely to become more and more prevalent in the future if standardized tests (always meant to be just one level of assessment and not the Holy Grail) are the only means through which teachers and schools are judged.
As for her other big push, stopping the practice of keeping teachers with seniority when cuts have to be made, it continues the conceit that education is the only profession in which people get progressively worse the more years they have been on the job. The idea that there are thousands of poor teachers across the U. S. who keep their jobs only because they have been in the classroom longer is ludicrous, but that is exactly what is being pushed by Ms. Rhee and the other snake oil peddlers who are gaining more influence in our state legislatures each year.
HB 1526, which prohibits consideration of seniority when layoffs occur, was passed by the Missouri House this week by one vote more than the majority required.
Two Democratic legislators, including Minority Leader Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City, who received campaign contributions from Students First helped give the organization its first legislative victory.
Talboy, who received a $1,000 contribution from Students First on March 27, and Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis, who banked a $500 check the same day, voted on the winning side.
How the winning majority was obtained was described in a legislative report issued Friday by Missouri NEA:
The bill initially did not have the required constitutional majority of 82 votes, but the voting board was held open for nearly fifteen minutes while House Majority Floor Leader Tim Jones and other caucus leaders walked the floor, pressuring representatives to change their votes. Eventually, enough votes were changed to pass the bill by a vote of 83-76, one more than the required majority and the board was closed.Tim Jones also received a $1,000 campaign contribution from Students First.
Missouri Ethics Commission documents indicate at least seven other representatives, received contributions from the organization. Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles; Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City; Noel Torpey, R-Independence; Eric Burlison, R-Springfield; Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa; and Caleb Jones, R-California, received $500 checks and all voted for HB 1526.
Only one recipient of Students First money, Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, who received $1,000, voted against the bill.
When cuts have been made, it is likely that some good, young teachers have been among those let go. It is not evident to anyone, except Ms. Rhee and the anti-teacher "reform" contingent, that they have been let go in order for inferior veteran teachers to stay in the classrooms.
The saddest thing about organizations like Students First and opportunists like Michelle Rhee is that they keep the discussion from turning to the areas that need to be addressed before the failing inner-city schools are put on the right path.
Students First is not airing advertisements demanding that something be done about poverty, crime, drug abuse, or any of the other problems that play a major role in the failure of students.
You also hear no mention of families in which the parents take no active role in the children's education.
The target for Ms. Rhee and the other bullies of the so-called "reform" movement in education has always been the teachers.
When this shell game is over, if Ms. Rhee and the reformers are successful, the underlying problems of poverty, crime, and drug abuse will still be there and the classrooms will still include many students whose parents take no interest in their children's education.
Ms. Rhee could have done more good with her broom by using it as a symbol of cleaning up the inner-city neighborhoods. Now that would have been putting students first.
Of course, she probably wouldn't have made the cover of Time.