Sunday, November 24, 2013

#140 November 24, 2013- Ed. Reform and More Good, Bad and Ugly in Wisconsin

Stretched to the Breaking Point. . .
Public educators often feel pulled in many directions.  We hear the messages that our schools are failing, but more importantly we see students in our classrooms who are struggling.  We know that we can always try new strategies and work just a little harder to try and meet the needs of our students.  At the same time, we are given solutions to these challenges that are too often questionable in validity and frequently coming from sources that don't have our student's best interests at heart. 

Many of us feel compelled to try to implement these "reforms", even though, at the same time we question them.  Those educators who try to resist face penalties, harsh criticism and are identified as barriers to student achievement.  The propaganda machine of the "reformers" has created an atmosphere where trying to teach students in any manner outside of the prescribed methods is viewed as obstructionist and anti-achievement.
One of the most common attacks on educators comes in a seemingly neutral and logical question, "Don't you want what's best for your students?"  Of course the answer to this question is a resounding "YES".  I have yet to meet an educator who doesn't want their students to succeed, to be safe, and to be happily engaged in learning.  Educators devote a significant portion of their day, both in and out of school, doing everything possible to make this happen.  Yet, we are constantly reminded of our failures and our successes are minimized.   
Educators who try to stand up for themselves either individually, or collectively are vilified as selfish and lazy.  Yet, we are asked to go above and beyond the expectations in our contracts or job descriptions on a regular basis, and we do so willingly and with a constant eye on the welfare of our students.  Those who criticize educators for being concerned about our working conditions often do so, not out of concern for students, but rather because of a desire to undermine a group that they consider their political, social or economic enemies.

There are real problems in our school systems that need to be addressed.  Yet, because of the political conflicts the causes and potential solutions to these problems are often misidentified.

We need to have some real debate and discussion about how to make our system of public education better for all students.  Yet, in a climate of crisis, open dialog and proactive problem solving are some of the first things to disappear.  The debates become confrontations, and "solutions" are more geared towards punishing opponents than resolving problems.   

The debates around the best practices for educating students have been going on for a long time.  We need to continue these discussions and find the best possible strategies for teaching students.  At the same time we can't forget that every student is an individual and a "one size fits all" approach simply isn't realistic if we want students to succeed.

We also must emphasize the needs of students to grow and develop their skills in natural and developmentally appropriate ways.  Hearing an article about a potential "savior" of education say, "'My B.A. in economics was zero help in my profession today.” Instead, he says that countless hours playing games during his school years–poker, chess, backgammon–were the experiences that 'prepared me for what I do today.')" is troubling when the reforms that are proposed eliminate much of the potential to play and learn at the same time.  We can't set up a dual level school system where the wealthy learn in student friendly ways and the rest of the population is stuck in a system based on drills, fundamentals and assessment. 

Educators need to start taking back our  schools and the systems that we work with students in.  We've put too much trust in leaders from outside of our ranks, and are paying the price in policies that are not student or educator friendly.  The question of how to grow educator leaders, while not removing them from the place they are most needed, the classroom, is challenging.  We also need to work together to find ways to resist the "reforms" and implement real positive change in our schools.  

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. . .
The Good
Senator John Lehman will be running for Lieutenant Governor in 2014.  He is the only announced candidate on the Democrat ticket to date.  He will be giving up his Senate seat, which he won in a 2012 recall election to pursue the office.  While it is unfortunate to for an incumbent to give up their seat in the closely contested Wisconsin Senate, the reality is that the redistricting of Senate boundaries done by the Republican controlled legislature would make his re-election extremely difficult and having a viable candidate for Lt. Governor is very important in the upcoming election.   

The Democrats are beginning to campaign on issues that will challenge Scott Walker to defend his record.

As we gear up for the 2014 campaign, other organizations are beginning to gear up to help unseat Walker.  Considering the amount of financial backing that Walker will enjoy, any and all support from different places will be needed.

The Bad
The only reason that this isn’t in the ugly category is that it should come as no surprise that our Chief Executive in the state regards public employees as a collective enemy of the state.

This item has the potential to move quickly into the “Ugly” category depending on the decision handed down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  The Court is going to rule on Wisconsin’s Photo ID Law that has been called one of the most restrictive pieces of legislation in the nation.  What makes this particularly troubling for many Wisconsinites is the fact that our state is looking more and more like a state in the deep South and not a Progressive Midwestern state.

This article gets at the heart of the problems that we currently face in education.  While it might appear that an article trumpeting an improved quality in American educators would be a welcome bit of news in this climate that is so hostile to education, the reality is that the way that “improved quality” is defined is problematic.  Their major measure of quality is the fact that the current crop of educators has a high concentration of individuals who scored in the top quartile of SAT scores.

Apparently the insecurity of the private-sector labor market has driven some individuals into the public sector in search of stability instead of higher wages.  While it isn’t hard to make the argument that the stability and security in educational occupations isn’t what it used to be, it seems that some students are viewing the public sector as preferable to the private sector.

What is especially troubling is that a source like Mother Jones can run a headline about the improved quality of teachers when the article gives little information that supports this beyond test scores and grades.  It should be clear to anyone involved in education that, while knowledge may be important, there are many factors that are more important in determining the quality of any individual educator.  Do we really want to have a crop of new educators who are entering the profession based on economic criteria?  What will happen when the job market improves, will they stay in education?  Doesn’t this definition of quality feed into the education “reformers” ideas that teaching shouldn’t be a career, but rather a stepping stone to  “better” more “valuable” positions.     

Another one for the mixed “good” and “bad” category.  The fact that we are continuing to look at the Walker regime’s record of questionable ethics is important.  However, considering the way that the previous John Doe investigation fizzled out, it is difficult to find much hope that more will come of this one.  Anything less than specific charges against Walker will give the Republicans ammunition for their defense of their leader.  They are already calling this a “witch hunt” and trying to reap political capital from the investigation.   

Most of us already knew this.

The economic policies of the Republican Party are geared, not for sustainable economic recovery, but rather for the profit of a small number of citizens.  This fact is clearly demonstrated in economic data, and makes the support of candidates like Walker by working and middle class citizens more troubling.  There is a real need to educate the voters about the economic realities that our society faces before too much more damage is done to our economy and to individuals/families. 

The Ugly
Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has been a source of embarrassment for many of us over the past few years.  The elections have been marred by outside money, mudslinging and highly partisan races.  We’ve seen bitter, sometimes physical, confrontations between Justices, and rulings that appear politically, not legally motivated.  Given the highly charged atmosphere in Wisconsin recently, the judicial system needs to be a non-partisan venue where key issues can be debated and neutral and legally consistent decisions can be reached.   

The Supreme Court is currently playing a huge role in the ongoing conflict over Act 10 and the rights of public employees to unionize in the state.  However, given the partisan nature of the current Court, the fairness and even legality of the rulings on this and similar issues will be called into question.  

Why do the Court's rulings matter so much?  Given Act 10's onerous requirements for unions and burdensome regulations the immediate future of unions in Wisconsin hangs in the balance.   

AFSCME Council 24's recertification vote was approved 329-15, but that was not enough to meet the requirements of Scott Walker's Act 10.

This is happening at the time when employees have significant needs for representation in the workplace.

For those who don't understand why derogatory and offensive mascots need to be changed, here's a concrete example.  We can't minimize the pain and suffering that these supposedly harmless symbols cause. 

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