A boon for ignorance

Posted: Feb 12, 2002 12:00 AM
A bill that California Teachers Association President Wayne Johnson is pushing could be the greatest gift to ignorance the too generous state of California has ever given. Last month, the newsletter Education Beat reported that the CTA is working on legislation that would give teachers' unions bargaining power over adoption of curricula and textbooks. A CTA spokesman told me that the bill is "not finalized" yet. Still, it is in the works and in search of a sponsor to carry it. Johnson has explained that because teachers are more accountable for student performance these days -- an assertion at which any parent of a kid with a bad teacher would laugh bitterly -- they should have more control over what they teach. Should teachers be involved in what books and curricula schools choose? Of course they should be, and they are. Teachers serve on school curriculum committees, they pilot test programs and they make their views known on which approach they prefer. But as David J. Reber, a Sonoma Valley Unified School District school board member, noted, "The teachers in your children's classrooms, and the teachers' union leadership who would be making these decisions are two different groups." The arrogant Johnson even told the Sacramento Bee's Daniel Weintraub that he wanted to exclude parents from curriculum, standards and textbook negotiations. Reber believes that if the CTA bill ever became law, the teachers' unions would be able to "hold the districts hostage, because no change could take place in curriculum or textbook adoptions without the unions' agreement." This bill would be like a gun to the head of students at schools with bad textbooks and low performance levels. If the CTA had a clue as to which programs work best, the bill would not be so outrageous. But the union's track record reveals a series of failed marriages with ineffective but trendy educrat programs. The CTA never seemed to fret too much if countless California kids lacked a solid education because of its mistakes. The CTA supported a lawsuit designed to kill CBEST, the test that requires new California teachers to meet 10th-grade proficiency in reading, writing and math. The CTA opposed bonuses for teachers whose students showed markedly improved scores. Worst of all, the CTA has demonstrated an unrelenting hostility toward unglamorous phonics-intensive reading programs with proven success. As Education Beat reported, Johnson bashed one such program when hyping his pet legislation. "One that a lot of teachers have a lot of problems with is the Open Court reading program," Johnson said. He added that Open Court school districts "treat teachers like chimpanzees almost, you know, saying, 'You read this at this time.'" (Hand Johnson some smelling salts. Some schools using Open Court require kids to read for 2.5 hours per day.) Oakland Superintendent Dennis Chaconas adopted the Open Court program because, he explained, many Oakland teachers had been steeped in the "whole language" approach, which encourages children to read by looking at words in context in a sentence. That is to say, many teachers did not know how to teach reading, so he wanted a "highly structured program." Chaconas added, "Teachers who were against it have told me that it has started to work." Reading scores in Oakland are up. (Star Test scores may seem stagnant there, but that's because Oakland chose not to test close to one-quarter of its students -- the lower performing kids, of course -- in 1999.) As the district has expanded Open Court to all elementary schools, Chaconas noted, 72 percent of first-graders -- a 13 percent increase over last year -- are meeting reading benchmarks. Other school districts have reported big gains in reading scores. As a result more kids, many from poor families, will be able to read and prosper. More kids can read. More kids will succeed as adults. And all Johnson sees are chimpanzees.