A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

February 20, 2007

Steve Jobs – Teacher’s Unions to Blame?

Filed under: Education,Teaching,Unions — avoiceofreason @ 2:17 am

Steve Jobs Commented recently on teacher’s unions. 

Here’s a reply from A Voice of Reason. The problem with this thread and so many others is that it is filled with rhetoric that doesn’t point to the facts.

Just to let you know that I do have some interest and knowledge about this subject, I am a doctoral student, and my dissertation is upon Teacher Quality, Teacher Qualifications and Teaching to Learning Standards. Also, I am a teacher of eighteen years, and am slated for a principalship either in April of this year, or in July, so I can see both sides of the issue. While there are a rare few teachers who are incompetent, and the process for removing them in most states is too costly and difficult, there are many other issues involved. First, the public schools, unlike parochial schools, where I have also worked, and generally support or charter schools must take EVERY student who comes through the door. This includes children who are handicapped, children with severe discipline problems, and as is the case in the school where I am slated to be the next principal, 40% of these children are entitled to free and reduced lunch programs due to financial distress. I know that many of you would likely oppose giving a child a reduced meal subsidised by the state, but the issues that these children bring with them to school are real.

Research shows (from the Hoover and Brooking’s Institutes – I try to be fair) that the greatest input into a child’s achievement is the teacher, this research and other research – the Coleman Report shows that a particular teacher typically only makes up for about 17% of the variance in student achievement. While this does not excuse poor teachers, it actually shines a very bright light upon them, there are many other factors, typically related to the home that are in play with regards towards student achievement.

It is also true that collective bargaining units function to be the advocate of the teacher, recently some movement towards the union’s role as a guarantor of teacher quality has made some headway. Typically in many districts a 360 degree approach in evaluating teachers to ensure that they are doing their job. This means that Administrators, other teachers, and the teacher him/herself, is involved in their evaluation. Sometimes parents are also asked to weigh in with their evaluations, but this is not uniform. However, many districts are moving towards the model where the school is seen as a professional learning community, and all of the stakeholders – including the children – have a say in the day to day functions of the school. This model has been practiced in the business world, and is advocated by such business leaders as Demming, Senge, and Owens.

To label one cause as “the problem” is a self-serving diatribe. It is my belief that over 90% of the teachers who go to work everyday care about their job – and the increased collaboration between stakeholders is having an increase in the morale of those who work in schools. I also believe that 90% of the students and their parents wish for achievement and success. If I didn’t have such a view I doubt I could go to work everyday excited about the learning opportunities I will bring to young citizens.

Within a democracy, there is a necessity for public education. The first laws which established the public schools – The Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647 – spoke about the need for an educated population to be able to participate in life and to avoid the pitfalls of evil. While our culture has changed, and the religious overtones are no longer deemed acceptable by the VAST majority of the population, the public schools primary purpose should always be student learning to allow ALL citizens to have a chance to participate intelligently within a democracy. Are there problems in public schools, there is no doubt about that. Sadly, those who are in need of this education to be active participants in our republic are minorities and those who fall underneath the poverty line. This is a serious issue, and quips about “vouchers”, privitization, charter schools, teacher incompetence, the evil unions are all the attempts of ideologues to promote a partisan view, rather than have a meaningful discourse on an issue that is of paramount importance to our nation.

I am not opposed to charter schools, parochial schools or even further involvement of the state in the public schools. Candidly, any organization that improves the lives of kids I am heartily in favor of that group. What is “needed” is an honest dialogue where educators, parents, business leaders, government leaders, and researchers who have investigated the issue work collaboratively. This is true at the Federal, State and Local level.

It is much easier to curse the darkness than to light a candle, and honestly, the tenor of much of this thread is offensive. I also have many dogs in this fight. However, so does a corporate executive when he blasts unions.

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