Month: <span>November 2015</span>

Needing an education in education


Ben Carson was a brilliant neurosurgeon. But as a presidential candidate he has indicated an acute need for more education, including but not limited to more education in ancient Egyptian history and an education in education itself, specifically the importance of public schools.

While they were in Milwaukee for the Republican debate earlier this week, Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio sat down for separate interviews with public school-basher Campbell Brown, a former TV newswoman who now heads “The Seventy Four,” an online “news” organization dedicated to expanding charter schools and privatization and blaming teachers unions for most of the world’s problems. That is not exactly how Brown characterizes the organization, but that is certainly the reputation it has earned.

In his interview, Carson endorsed vouchers for low-income kids and rated various education options.

“We know that the very best education is home school,” he said. “The next is private school. The next is charter schools, and the last is public schools. If we want to change that dynamic, we have to offer some real competition to the public schools.”

That makes about as much sense as Carson’s much-publicized historical “insight” that the biblical Joseph had the Egyptian pyramids built to store grain.

Granted, the public schools that Carson attended in Detroit had serious deficiencies, and he had a strong mother who helped inspire him to succeed. But whether Carson admits it or not, the vast majority of children in this country – particularly in depressed, low-income neighborhoods – are going to be educated in traditional public schools, if they are educated at all. And, the last thing those kids need is to see their neighborhood schools get slammed with more budget cuts so that a handful of children can get tax-paid vouchers to attend private school.

In his interview, meanwhile, Rubio said Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton was “fully owned by teachers unions,” which he portrayed as evil “special interests.”

Members of teacher unions are working every day to deliver a quality education to all their students and advance educational opportunities for every child. Their interest is universal, and their success is crucial to our country’s future – regardless of who the next president is.





No teachers appointed to assessments panel


If you haven’t noticed already, who is missing from the new study commission that will recommend, we hope, a new assessment and accountability system to replace the STAAR regime? Here’s a hint. Besides a parent, who is in the best postion to observe the stressful and counterproductive effect that excessive, high-stakes testing can have on a child?

The child’s teacher or teachers, of course. But Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Joe Straus failed to include a single teacher among the 10 appointments they made to the panel, which has the unweildy title of “Texas Commission on the Next Generation of Assessments and Accountability.”

Abbott had four appointments, and Patrick and Straus each had three. Appointees had to include at least two “educators,” the term specified in the law creating the panel. So, they named two school board members (including the commission chairman), two public school superintendents, two charter school superintendents, a school district’s chief instructional officer and two higher education administrators. The group also includes a physician.

Many of these appointees obviously know about the problems with STARR, and some, I assume, are parents of school children. But why not include a teacher, or at least a principal or someone from the campus level, on the panel?

Since the commission also will include four legislators and a member of the State Board of Education, it will be very top-heavy with high-level administrators and policymakers, not with the education experts who actually work with school children everyday and know firsthand the damage that standardized testing is inflicting on the classroom.

Teachers and their representatives, nevertheless, will remain eager to testify when the panel begins holding hearings.



What philosophers and welders have in common


One issue the Republican candidates haven’t spent much time discussing during their four televised debates is education, and that’s probably a good thing. I mean, the president of the United States has only a limited amount of responsiblity over public education, and the last two presidents have wasted much of that responsbility by promoting a wasteful, counterproductive testing regime.

So far, about all the current GOP hopefuls have offered for “improving” education are non-solutions like abolishing the Department of Education and increasing privatization. If a candidate on the Republican side has called for a significant reduction in testing and/or a greater investment in classroom resources, I have missed it.

But it was interesting during last night’s debate when Sen. Marco Rubio kind of dipped his toe into the education issue by comparing welders and philosophers.

“Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers,” he said.

His remark earned good marks for rhetoric from debate-raters but maybe not so much from grammarians. The preferred wording, I believe, is “fewer philosophers,” not “less,” although Rubio’s version is much more commonly heard.

I am not sure if the senator was trying to diss philosopers because he believes most of them are liberal Democrats or was trying to make the point that welders perform a more useful everyday function for most Americans. Philosophers teach, write and debate sometimes controversial ideas, while welders build and repair physical things that people can see, touch and use.

Which profession appeals more to the conservative Republican base? Rubio is sure he knows, but apparently he doesn’t know how much most philosophers and welders earn.

The Washington Post gave Rubio credit for a “great line” but said he was totally “off base” on his facts.

Citing the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Post said the national median wage for philosophy teachers is $63,630, compared to $37,420 for welders. Nationally, the top 10 percent of college philosophy professors make almost $200,000 a year – not sure how many of those are in Texas – while most welders top out at about $58,590.

Philosophers and welders have one thing in common though. They both require educations, and the vast majority got their start in public schools.




Don’t let ideology masquerade as history


Texas, unfortunately, doesn’t have a monopoly on education policymakers who would rather indoctrinate classrooms with their political ideology than actually educate students. Until Tuesday, residents of one of the major school districts in Colorado faced the same situation, but they did something about it. They went to the polls and ousted three board “reformers” who were causing the problem.

Texas voters will have a similar opportunity next year, but, as in Colorado, it will require a committed effort by educators and parents to put school children first in elections.

The problems in Colorado began with the election two years ago of three new members to the Jefferson County school board, the governing body of one of the state’s largest school districts. The three ran on a so-called “reform” platform that, as it turned out, included a misguided effort to tie teacher pay to student performance and direct more funds to charter schools at the potential expense of neighborhood public schools.

According to the Huffington Post, the three also supported the idea of rewriting a history curriculum to emphasize “positive aspects of the United States” – including individual rights, free enterprise and respect for authority – rather than issues that they believed encouraged “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

It sounds as if they found the long, often bloody struggle for civil and human rights for all Americans just too negative for a history textbook, much as a right-wing bloc on the State Board of Education in Texas found it too difficult to acknowledge in our curriculum standards that slavery was the main cause of the Civil War and that hostile, racial discrimination was a major deterrent to civil rights in Texas and the South for decades after the war.

History is so messy, isn’t it? But that is all the more reason for students to be given an unvarnished opportunity to understand it and for political ideologues to get out of their way.

Although the Colorado board didn’t change the curriculum, parents and educators – including teacher unions — had heard and seen enough. They organized a recall election, and the three would-be “reformers” were sent packing.

Texas voters can’t petition for recall elections, but we do have regular elections, and eight members of the State Board of Education will be on the ballot next year, beginning with the March 1 party primaries.

Not all are ideologues. Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant, a moderate Republican in District 9, is a strong supporter of quality education in public schools. Some of the others, though, are motivated by ideology, notably Ken Mercer of San Antonio in District 5, an active member of the right-wing bloc that assaulted history when curriculum standards were rewritten a few years ago.

Early next year, TSTA will endorse State Board of Education candidates who actually are pro-education. But first things first.

SBOE members are elected from 15 large single-member districts, which means most Texans don’t even know who their State Board of Education members are. Your member may even live in a city a few hundred miles from your home. Find out who represents you on the SBOE by clicking on the link below, filling in your address and choosing the State Board of Education option. Then do some research and wait for TSTA’s endorsements.