Feds and Unions: Foes to Educational Reform

Posted: Feb 22, 2011 12:01 AM
Feds and Unions: Foes to Educational Reform

"The fate of our country won't be decided on a battlefield. It will be determined in a classroom." Do you believe that?

Last week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called on 14 state Senate Democrats, who had fled the state instead of voting on a deficit-cutting anti-teachers-union bill, to return and do their jobs. Senate Republicans hold a 19-14 majority there but can't vote on the bill unless at least one Democrat is present.

Does that sound like democracy at work to you? Do you think it?s just a coincidence that the two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, are the largest campaign contributors in the nation -- $55 million in just the past two years, more than the Teamsters, the National Rifle Association or any other organization -- and that 90 percent of those contributions fund only Democratic candidates?

As I began to point out last week, the U.S. public education system is flailing now more than ever, and teachers unions are aiding and abetting its demise. Some teachers unions may indeed be fighting for some of our teachers, but they are failing our students by protecting adults at the expense of the reformation of a crippled and dying system.

I became even further aware of that in a big way when I recently watched the movie "Waiting for ?Superman,?" a deeply personal look into the state of U.S. public education and how it is effecting our children. It is a movie my wife, Gena, and I encourage every American to watch. (It just came out on DVD and Blu-ray.)

"Waiting for ?Superman?" demonstrates how:

--Teachers unions are crippling the education of our children.

--Tenure and its guaranteed jobs are perpetuating educational dysfunction.

--Existing bureaucracies in education, from the U.S. Department of Education to state school boards, are doing more harm than good.

--Many public schools have become "dropout factories" (schools with high dropout rates).

--Many public school districts are engaged in "lemon dances" (sending their worst teachers to other schools and then in turn accepting failing teachers themselves).

--Many public school districts have "rubber rooms," places where teachers placed on disciplinary leave are waiting for hearings that could take three to four years to be heard. These teachers waste their time playing cards and other games while getting paid full salaries and benefits -- to the wasted sum of $100 million a year of taxpayer money.

Think about this: If a teacher knows he can?t be fired, why should he work or care? What other profession, besides college professor, has that kind of contractual agreement? None.

Don't misunderstand me; I fully know and believe that the majority of public-school teachers and principals are dedicated and highly qualified. I know some. But I also know that more often than not, even their hands are being tied by bureaucratic red tape, federal and state regulations, and teachers unions? special interests, agendas and contracts. By and large, teachers are good, but government regulation and teachers unions are a menace and impediment to real public education reform.

The fact is, as "Waiting for ?Superman?" also documents, the federal government has gone from spending $4,300 per student in 1971 to more than $9,000 today (and that?s adjusted for inflation and costs of living). In our spending double, one would think we?re getting double the results, but most of our public schools are worse off now than they were in 1971.

From coast to coast, reading and math scores have flat-lined since then. In Connecticut, only 35 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in math. In Alabama, that number is only 18 percent, and in California, it?s only 24 percent.

And when the nation?s eighth-graders were tested in reading proficiency, most states scored between 20 and 35 percent of grade level, with the absolute lowest scores in reading being in the nation?s capital, Washington, D.C., where only 12 percent of eighth-graders are proficient.

I discussed last week how we all can fight to improve U.S. public education. But if our local schools aren?t imparting a quality education or reforming fast enough to do so for our children, then we must seek educational alternatives. The minds, hearts and future of our children and nation are on the line.

But choice is something the feds and teachers unions are not exactly thrilled about offering. In fact, President Barack Obama's appointed secretary of education, Arne Duncan, explained in an NPR interview, "I'm a big believer in choice and competition, but I think we can do that within the public-school framework."

Our children deserve the best education we can give them. We can?t be satisfied by failed government-run schools that don?t provide the level of education we want. But there are alternatives, and I would encourage you to look into them. Charter, parochial and private schools and home-school co-ops are a few. Gena and I are very committed to home-schooling our 9-year-old twins.

'Superman' is not going to rise up in the ranks of the federal government or teachers unions. He or she is going to rise up from within our homes.

In this respect, "Superman" Christopher Reeve had it right: "A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles."

(In my next two articles, I will discuss some possible solutions to this horrendous problem.)

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