Monday, June 16, 2014

Rhetoric of Education

Tenure. Union. Education.

The following articles highlight these words:
The Fall of Teachers' Unions
…the share of Americans who see teachers unions as a negative influence on public schools shot up to 43 percent last year, up from 31 percent in 2009, according to national polling conducted by Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance and the journal Education Next.
and
Key teacher job protections violate California's constitution, L.A. County judge rules
Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled, in effect, that it was too easy for teachers to gain strong job protections and too difficult to dismiss those who performed poorly in the classroom.
Teachers are popular (generally), but teachers' unions are deeply distrusted. Most of the reasons for this distrust are self-inflicted public relations mistakes by union leadership. Fighting against even minor education reforms, defending what at best are horrible human beings, and corrupt leaders.

The L.A. Times had an excellent series on dangerous teachers still in the classroom a few years ago. In one example I cannot forget, a teacher called a student a failure, and cited the student's failed suicide attempt as evidence.
  • http://www.latimes.com/local/teachers-investigation/ 
  • http://articles.latimes.com/2009/may/03/local/me-teachers3
Polanco looked at the cuts and said they "were weak," according to witness accounts in documents filed with the state. "Carve deeper next time," he was said to have told the boy. 
"Look," Polanco allegedly said, "you can't even kill yourself." 
The boy's classmates joined in, with one advising how to cut a main artery, according to the witnesses. 
"See," Polanco was quoted as saying, "even he knows how to commit suicide better than you." 
The Los Angeles school board, citing Polanco's poor judgment, voted to fire him.

But Polanco, who contended that he had been misunderstood, kept his job. A little-known review commission overruled the board, saying that although the teacher had made the statements, he had meant no harm.

The former president of the union in my hometown was convicted of child abuse, while nearby Fresno Unified has endured three years of leadership turmoil.

Although most teachers, like most police, are good people doing good work, people remember the lousy ten percent (or less) that get media headlines. When education unions defend these individuals, or defend tenure systems and policies that make it difficult to fire bad teachers, people do hold the union responsible.

"Tenure" has turned into a negative word among many voters, and politicians have followed the voters (as if often the case). Teachers convinced that their unions need to become more defensive, more radical, likely assume they just need better public relations. They blame corporations, political opportunists, and others for the bad image of education unions. But, the reality is… most people don't understand, or care about, the history of tenure and don't favor tenure in its current form.

The unions should get ahead of public opinion and political trends. Propose reforms. Propose strict codes of ethics that would remove "bad apples" from teaching. Develop evaluation processes that promote excellence, while recognizing that student achievement includes variables beyond our control. Do things — that action.

The biggest complaint against education unions is that they protect teachers at the expense of students. Unions argue they protect teachers… to promote education. The public doesn't believe the unions. I've had people ask me, "How do strikes help students?" I could offer various theoretical explanations, but they aren't easy to sell to the general public.

We need to change the rhetoric of professional educators and their labor organizations. More than the rhetoric, we need to change our actions to better align with public concerns.

For me and many others, tenure means "defending the indefensible" too often. I can name three teachers who had sexual relationships with students… and one became an administrator. I experienced verbal abuse, and two teachers who threw things at me — including a desk. And they were "stars" within their union.

Until we in education take proactive steps to clean house, we won't have public support.

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