Monday, August 18, 2008

A Classroom At Risk: How Teacher Unions and the Federal Government have ruined Public Education

I ran across this paper browsing the internet. It appears to be an english paper of a first year college student. A very interesting must read. I searched the author but there were too many Matt Kerns to find out more information about this individual given my time constraints.

Cathy Peschke

A Classroom At Risk: How Teacher Unions and the Federal Government have ruined Public Education

In the 1970’s, a man by the name of Jimmy Carter was running for the office of the president of the United States. Mr. Carter wished to insure his victory on election day so he formed an alliance with the largest union in North America, The National Education Association. The NEA promised Carter the votes of its members and campaign contributions under one condition, the establishment of a Federal Department of Education. In 1977 Jimmy Carter was sworn into office and followed through on his promise. The Department of Education was established in 1979 and still exists today. In 1981 Ronald Reagan handily defeated Jimmy Carter and threatened to dismantle the DOE, which he referred to as “…President Carter’s bureaucratic boondoggle…”. Ronald Reagan failed to deliver upon this threat partly due to a report in 1983 title “A Nation at Risk” (Salisbury, Leiberman). In the report the Reagan administration was told that drop out rates were going to soar and America’s students would not be able to fill jobs that required a strong education. The DOE’s mission: to prevent this from happening. Amazingly, drop out rates are still very high, drugs and violence are commonplace, and our nation’s schools are losing ground to foreign public education. How could this happen? On the surface it seems the Feds and the Unions have our children’s best interest at heart, but more often than not students just become a means to a political end. Simply put, the Federal Government and Teachers Unions are ruining public education.

The NEA takes a consistent stance that our schools need more money. What most people don’t know is that per pupil spending adjusted for inflation has doubled since the 1970’s, and we have nothing to show for it (Stossel). Graduation rates have remained stagnant and achievement scores haven’t moved either. America spends on average a little under $9,000 per student per year (DOE). This is a price tag that other countries would scoff at after they consider how little our student’s actually achieve. In international tests among 40 countries America places 25th while we spend more than any other country on our students (Stossel). South Korea consistently scores in the high 90th percentiles while only spending a third of what America does per pupil (Ludger Woessmann, If there were to be a monument dedicated to the lack of a correlation between money and school performance it would be the Kansas City school experiment. In 1985 Kansas City schools spent $11,700 annually per pupil and spent an extra 2 billion dollars over the next 12 years (Paul Ciotti, Cato). The experiment yielded higher teacher salaries, 15 new schools, a zoo, and other lavish amenities. Kansas City schools did not fail, to disappoint that is. Achievement remained stagnant and there was no closing of the black-white gap. As you might guess the NEA’s motives for increased spending does not lie with the student’s success, rather it is with the teachers and themselves. Sixty Percent of school expenditures go to teacher salaries and benefits (Kauchak, Eggen). So as Federal spending goes up so do the salaries of these mediocre union workers, which leads to more union dues, which allows the NEA more lobbying power.

A common myth is that teacher unions do indeed wish to help our students. With so many initiatives for Education Equality, Culturally Responsive Teaching Studies, and other various causes, it’s hard to argue against the myth. But in a blurt of honesty former American Federation of Teachers president Albert Shanker said, “I’ll start representing kids when kids start paying union dues.” A specific group of students which the NEA claims to champion are the inner city minorities. In 1954 the supreme court of the United States of America heard the case of Brown v. Board of Education. This was the most significant moment in the civil rights movement. After the Supreme Court ruling no longer could there be segregation in our nation’s schools (Kauchak, Eggen). This certainly was to be the defining factor of equality. Wrong. Since the historic decision our public schools have become re-segregated with many minorities zoned into failing inner city schools (Stossel). Many fiscal conservatives support the idea of school choice and voucher programs. Such programs have found success in other countries, introducing a type of free market competition that makes schools strive to become better.

These programs could also allow these under privileged inner city kids the chance of a good education (Rod Paige, at Cato book Forum better find the date). The NEA refuses such reforms and allows zoning laws to continue. The reason for this is that as soon as market competition reaches our schools thousands of sub par teachers will be out of jobs. It may sound cruel but it is not. It’s simple, if you are being paid to do a job you should be expected to do it well especially if it is on the taxpayer dollar. One example of such betrayal to the students and tax payers is the case of the Gary Indiana teacher’s strike. Since the 2000-2001 school year Indiana schools have slowly been doing better on the Istep+ achievement exam. At Theodore Roosevelt High School in Gary they have been getting much worse. Since 2000 they have gone from a dismal 28% percent pass rate to a pathetic less than 20% passing today (Indiana Department of Education). So at the start of the 2006 school year what did they do? They walked, demanding higher salaries. Not only that, they kept the students out of the classroom just weeks before the Istep was to be administered. Kids who fail the Istep are unable to graduate and are more likely to drop out. Did the teacher’s union have the students in mind? Do these teachers deserve higher salaries despite their lack of competence? The publicly elected bureaucrats caved and the teacher’s got a new contract and a higher salary. This is a classic example of the system’s lack of consideration of the student.

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