Ornithology! NEA Wrap-Up

The NEA convention can be hard to understand.   One NEA insider described it to me as “like watching birds f***.   It looks crazy and hopeless, but makes perfect sense to those doing it and is a lot of fun for them to boot.”  What more can you say?

There was a lot more going on in CA during the meeting than Arne Duncan’s speech.   To wrap-up this year’s meeting, Sawchuk has a lot of good stuff from the convention, Antonucci does as well.   They both comment on the new emphasis on “union” from the NEA leadership, which is a departure from the past posture of the organization (in short, AFT people lobby you to make the point that they’re not the NEA and NEA people lobby you to make the point that they’re a professional association not a union, but perhaps no more?).   It’s a smart strategy for the NEA.  There is little love for their policies and stances these days* but making themselves invaluable to organized labor ensures some political relevance and toleration.

For instance this just released love-letter from the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights (pdf) is really something and not to be missed if you follow all this closely.

Also, ES’ discussion on teachers and unions just wrapped up – it gets lively toward the end! – and is worth checking out.

12 Replies to “Ornithology! NEA Wrap-Up”

  1. TheCommission on Civil Rights report correctly wrote that unions are “implacable foes of laws and policies DESIGNED to improve public education for disadvantaged. (Emphasis mine)

    But they are dead wrong in writing that unions “battle against the principle that schools … should be held accountable.”

    The difference, of course, is that we believe that policies DESIGNED to help poor kids are actually hurting those kids. In other words, we have policy disagreements.

    That does not make us improper or unfair, as the report/love letter asserted.

    In an unfootnoted paragraph the report says, “ The comparability measures proposed in Congress have explicitly stated that teachers would not be required to transfer to remedy disparities in comparability.” I’m no expert, I’ll admit, but I’ve looked at more than a dozen reports by The Ed Trust, Roza, Hill, etc., and I keep reading language that indicates that no such explicit statement is being offered.

    Do you have the exact wording or evidence or even a citation for the above statement?

    After all, that is the core of the issue. I can understand why unions would “continue to argue the worst-case scenario of forced teacher transfers.”

    After all, don’t you have to agree with Joel Parker’s statement, and if you want equity wouldn’t you address his fears when, “Packer warned of potentially disastrous effects on teacher shortages and already-high turnover rates should the transfer provision become law. “Forcing a teacher to go someplace just doesn’t work,” he said. “They are not indentured servants, and if you force people to go where they don’t want to go, it will affect morale.”

    (by the way, what would you say about a policy that would force policy wonks to become inner city teachers whether they have the personality for it or not?)

    This issue, by the way, is similar to the less important issue of performance pay in that unions are arguing from actual experience within schools – which may make us too conservative – as opposed to “reformers” arguing based on their theories, opinions, and preferences, and beliefs.

    You guys would have much more credibility with us if you would admit the obvious, that it’s school conditions, including rampant disorder made worse by policies that are beyond the control of teachers, that force teachers out of high poverty schools. Building a respectful learning culture is more than just enforcing discipline, but it can’t happen until we look at the actual facts inside schools. The only rational response by teachers is that “reformers” are more interested in finding scapegoats rather than addressing the problem.

    I’m not accusing you guys of “impropriety” like the report accuses us. But I’m saying you are MORE interested in attacking us that tackling the very toughest equity problems. I’m assuming that you all know enough about actual schools to understand that discipline is a can of worms that won’t yield any political benefits.

    Which gets back to the problem with the report, its long on political analysis and short on knowledge of schools and educational issues. We need to get back to the maxim, “You are not the problem, I’m not the problem. The PROBLEM is the PROBLEM.” We need less focus on inside baseball maneuvering, and concentrate more on the hard facts of school life and the merits of policy positions.

  2. the new report from the citizens’ commission on civil rights is MUST reading.

    it is sad how far the teachers’ unions have fallen since 1996, even 2001.

    this report tells the whole, pathetic story.

    the report permitted me to remember how close nclb itself was to policies progressive groups, including the unions themselves, were calling for at the end of the 90s. as bill’s report makes clear, the only things that have changed since 2001 are that:

    1. the law has been mollified in many significant ways, and

    2. the unions have hardened so much that they bear no resemblance whatsoever to the progressive groups they once were as recently as in 1996.

    unless the unions change their position or lose, further reform and improvement are in jeopardy.

  3. Funny–the description of the NEA convention sounds a whole lot like the American Educational Research Association (AERA) convention.

  4. The piece immediately above from the 2006 AERA meeting is a classic. We are ALL laughing at those of you in the educational research establishment. But the untold story is the intimidation. You wanna’ go up against somebody on a left-wing campus who regularly publishes nonsense with the term “colonial” in the title? Don’t try it. Put this great piece in the hall of fame of reporting about education in America — http://hesslo.blogspot.com/

  5. I would agree that teachers unions have problems-one of which is protecting bad or incompetent teachers. I belong to a union, and I have seen it.

    However, these attacks would have much more credibility if only policy wonks would admit some hard truths:

    1) Administrators and general bureaucracy in school systems are at least as big of a problem as are teachers. Wasting money, retire/rehires are just a couple of the problems. The administration of my school system is, frankly, an embarrassment.

    2) Kids in city schools come to school with a host of problems. Behavior problems are widespread, and many teachers have to spend much of their time dealing with angry/noncompliant students. That is not helpful to anyone; yet no one seems to have come up with a thoughtful way of managing behaviors. Or, if they have, we in the public schools haven’t heard about it.

    3) Would someone please tell the state education departments that we need streamlined paperwork? At least in the state of Ohio-this is a chronic problem that is getting worse every year. Maybe the states need to look at their employees and stop hiring people who haven’t seen a classroom in the last 10 years.

    4) Would someone please explain why public schools get SO much scrutiny, and charter schools get so little? Can we make the standards just a bit more equal? Until policy wonks hold everyone to the same standards, their criticism is worth little more than the paper on which it is written.

  6. Accountability? Sure, it sounds good. But who should be accountability for student performance?

    How about focusing on the student? No, because the student is a product of his/her environment. Besides, his ego has to be protected.

    How about the policy makers? No, because they don’t control matters after they set the policy.

    How about the administrators? No, because they are trying to generate positive PR all the time.

    How about the parents? No, because (we’re told) there’s no way that parents can be held accountable for a child’s behavior. There’s no way to mandate proper parent supervision, let alone the genes that they pass along.

    That leaves the teacher. The teacher has direct contact. In spite of the fact that the teacher has absolutely no control over the parents or the child’s environment, the teacher is easy to blame. And the teacher is usually defenseless. It’s the teacher and the teacher alone against an angry parent.

    Policy makers seem to think that they are forward thinking when they propose that schools should be run like a business, and that accountability is what makes a business successful. (Accountability like in AIG, GM, Chrysler, and the Wall Street brokerage houses?)

    The business model when applied to public education has a basic flaw that evidently escapes the “reformers. Business can reject – indeed must reject- faulty raw materials in order to avoid producing a faulty finished product. Even so, autos and other consumer goods frequently are recalled by the factories that produced them.

    The raw materials (steel, for example) going into an auto have no prejudice as to their involvement in the manufacturing of the auto. They can become a fender or part of the frame, or another other part of the auto. The raw material doesn’t rebel, doesn’t resist, doesn’t disrupt, doesn’t threaten, doesn’t come to the factory angry, etc.

    Teachers have raw materials (students) who come to the factory (school) with a multitude of emotions and problems, most of which are due to influences of the home or the neighborhood or their peers.

    The teacher can have a positive or a negative influence in shaping the attitude of the student, but in today’s society, the teacher is often pitted against the influence of the movies, video games, television and other powerful influences beyond the teachers control.

    Yet the public expects teachers to abandon the only protective group that they can turn to, the teachers’ union.

    The union may not leap to accept the latest educational fad to come down the pike, but anyone in education for just a few decades has seen personally witnessed “great educatioal reforms”
    applied and then fall away, their grand promises unkept, sometimes leaving teachers and parents alike bitter and disillusioned.

    Unquestionably, the unions have protected some teachers who should not be in the profession. But unions have also served a necessary function of making it difficult for a principal to get rid of
    a teacher simply because a teacher stands up for himself and/or takes a position on educational matters contrary to the one(s) held by principal. Also, what profession doesn’t protect it’s members? Does the A.M.A.? You better believe it.

    Whenever I read an article damning teachers or the teachers’ unions, I know that the authors of the criticisms have little knowledge of what the situation for teachers is like in today;s schools. I retired ten yeas ago after teaching for 34 years. I have met very few teachers in all those years who didn’t try their best to have a positive influence upon their students. Some drove themselves almost into a state of exhaustion trying to do perfectly everything required of them (in addition to actually teaching).

    I do believe that some type of educational reform is needed, but I suggest that educational reform as it is usually proposed (on the backs of the already over-burdened teacher) is doomed to failure.

    We must somehow undertake to reform our culture so that education is precious. We need to honor academic achievement the way we do athletic achievement. We need to have the faces of brilliant scientists displayed on postage stamps. And we need to make teaching an honored profession.

    Until we begin to recognize that we need to change society – until we admit that we have a cultural problem and then begin to take the very difficult road to re-shape our attitudes, we will continue to slip farther away from the goal of having a world class educational system for the twenty-first century.

  7. Charter schools will eventually take over because they are the only mechanism through which students, parents, teachers and administrators will be individually held accountable for their respective results. It may happen soon or not for hundreds of years, but it will absolutely happen or we will continue our descent into the Third World. I’m shocked by the number of good teachers who recoil at the thought. Do you know why you’re so underpaid vs. other professions? It’s because you’ve chosen to shackle yourself to nonswimmers, and your collective salary ends up that much closer to the bottom of the pool. My wife teaches H.S. English and told me of a quota queen co-worker who refused to read “Tom Sawyer” because she considered it racist, though it was part of the curriculum, but went ahead and “taught” it anyway. Any system which doesn’t make that woman’s termination easier than opening a garage door is fatally flawed. Any system that rewards teachers for anything other than improved student proficiency is fatally flawed. I’m not even worried about convincing anyone of the coming change because it’s inevitable as plate tectonics. Accountability trumps unaccountability every single time.

  8. “4) Would someone please explain why public schools get SO much scrutiny, and charter schools get so little? Can we make the standards just a bit more equal?”

    Of course.

    Perhaps we could start by equalising funding, if that isn’t asking for to much?

  9. Jonathan states, “Any system that rewards teachers for anything other than improved student proficiency is fatally flawed.”

    As I’ve implied. the “business model” is not applicable. A business that produces low quality goods due to its use of inferior materials is doomed to failure. They are accountable for the fact that chose inferior raw materials in order to produce goods on the cheap. The public school system would improve vastly if the schools had a system of “quality control”, a concept which is standard procedure in any business. This is why a business can be held accountable for its product and the public schools cannot.

  10. The premise of education reform is fundamentally flawed, as is the premise of 90% of the noise that is made in education.

    Education is the duty of the student. A student who studies will learn no matter how uninspiring the teacher. A student who does not study will not learn, no matter how brilliant the teacher.

    Our educational system is compromised not because of teachers, who do what they can, nor administrators, who do what they can, nor of parents, who, barring the monstrous or incompetent, do what they can. It is because the students don’t give a damn about becoming educated.

    This is because education has been made a right. One does not work for a right; it is given to you, and you may demand redress if it is not forthcoming. Kids (and their parents) expect their education to be handed to them tied up nicely with a bow. They don’t value it as a prize to be earned but as a tax to be demanded.

    My great-grandparents both dropped out of school when they were 13, so they could work to support their families. It wasn’t a right in those days, it was something you had to deserve. I don’t see that either of them missed out on a full life because they never had to take high school algebra.

    So the question becomes, exactly for whom are we expending all this treasure and noise?

  11. I really like K9guys analogy of trying to operate schools like they are a business. I work in a rural, poor school and the “raw materials” I have in my classroom make it very challenging to produce quality products. But I still am obligated to try, and keep trying, until I have succeeded. Many students don’t even know what they are to face in the world after high school. Many of my students have one or both parents in jail, have no understanding of the value of education or how it can open up doors for them. True, our educational system is flawed and changes must be made. I feel the directives need to come from the state and local levels where the one-on-one contact is with the very students in need.

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