Setting the Standard in Education

Posts Tagged ‘AFT’

I don’t get it…

In Federal on July 5, 2010 at 6:15 pm

I try to stay on top of education developments by subscribing to a wide range of publications. I’m up to reading about 20 blogs and newsfeeds to try to stay on top of things. While many of these publications seem to tow a similar line, I also subscribe to a few that are just out there sometimes. The one that stands out the most is Schools Matter. Often, I think a more apt name might be “Teachers Matter (more than students).” I can often understand the concern for teachers’ rights in the current political climate. A lot of people are worried about their jobs.

If you can’t tell by now, I generally disagree with the way that many put status-quo-teachers’ opinions over the needs of students. Please note that I specifically said status-quo teachers and not all teachers. Many teachers are progressive. I do not believe that teachers’ unions reflect the progressive attitudes that many teachers have. At a national convention of the National Educators’ Education Association this past Saturday, there were calls of defiance against Barack Obama and Arne Duncan. Notably, no White House representatives were invited for the first time in two years. NEA president, Dennis Van Roekel, said on Saturday,  “Today our members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment I have ever experienced” and when referencing the Obama administration’s actions to date said, “This is not the change I hoped for.” I am willing to be that many if not most teachers do not feel the same way. The current administration has dumped over $100 million into education, most of that not even reform-based. Perhaps he forgets that last year over $90 million was given to states to keep teachers on payrolls. The problem is that those like Van Roekel equate pro-change with anti-educator. Believe me, I think that teachers are the single most important part of a classroom today. That is precisely why I believe that current policies of last-hired, first-fired in so many places are themselves anti-educator. Educators will not regain the trust of Americans until they are an elite profession. Until a district can get rid of a bad teacher without having to spend close to $300,000 and two years, there will be way too many bad teachers.

Hopefully, there won't be too many that get indoctrinizated.

And while there are some obvious reasons that many support the NEA and the AFT, I am more mystified by other things that come out of Schools Matter, often from Jim Horn. His post today exemplifies the backwards thinking that can come from trying to be against everything. Aside from the fact that, like most of his posts, this one just copied and pasted from other sources and no actual reasoning is supplied (he often just writes a few sentences of angry preface), it is supremely clear that Horn makes very little sense. Horn copied from a Press of Atlantic City article entitled, “Almost 3,000 New Jersey seniors have yet to graduate after failing tests” and renamed it “NJ Proficiency Test Blocks 3,000 from Diplomas.” I would look at the original article and lament the horrendous educations these students must have been given to have been allowed to pass enough classes to graduate, but not be able to pass a test, which is given in 10th grade and in all reality tests at about an 8th or 9th grade level. If a student can’t understand algebra, it’s not because of a test; it’s because they weren’t taught well enough. Horn of course thinks that the teaching must have been OK, so it’s got to be the test that was a failure. The real title of the article should be “NJ Proficiency Test Shows 13 Years of Poor Instruction Blocks 3,000 from Diplomas.” Until people like Horn stop claiming that the tests are civil rights problems and realize that the real problem is inadequate instruction that English Language Learners and students from urban schools receive, they just won’t get it.


Gambling with Students’ Futures Should Be Illegal

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Last night, as a part of InformEdaction’s bi-monthly discussion series, I went to go see The Lottery at the Laemmle Music Hall. The movie is for the most-part what I expected it to be – a heart-wrenching account of an unfair system that keeps some families down alongside a glimmer of hope for a few. The premise of the movie is simple. Each year, thousands of families “apply” to get their student into one of the various charter schools in Harlem. At the time of filming, there were just over 20 charter schools there. The film tracked four families who applied for their children to attend Harlem Success Academy, the most popular lottery in New York.

The night that we attended just happened to include a Q&A by Madeleine Sackler, the director of the film. Ms. Sackler’s film offers a scathing review of union actions and local politics that seem to stand in the way of children’s success. Alongside the stories of the children trying to get into Harlem Success is the battle between the charter organization and advocates for PS129, a failing school that Harlem Success 2 wanted to expand into last year. The movie  claims that the major “shadow” actors behind the resistance movement are members of the teachers’ unions. At the hearing, there are even shots of opposition members wearing hats with the teachers’ union’s initials on them. In the Q&A, Sackler claimed that in making the movie, she had no agenda. She wasn’t trying to paint a certain picture of the unions or even of charter schools. In fact, she said she repeatedly tried to get union participation in the project – especially of AFT President, Randi Weingarten – and was told they were too busy for an entire year.

Overall, I think the film does a good job showing what charter schools can be, highlighting some of the amazing statistics that Harlem Success has been able to achieve. The school is proud of its high test scores, but seems to be even more glowing about its culture. Shots of the school show “Class of 2025” posters and university banners of all sorts. Interviews with teachers and principals there illustrate the drive they have to make sure their children succeed. If the film has a hero, it’s HSA’s CEO, Eva Moskowitz. She explains the high expectations the school has and is shown not only to be relentless, but passionate as well. At one point, Moskowitz is shown crying during her defense of HSA II’s plan to move into PS 129, because she believes that children in Harlem are not given the chances they deserve.

As much as I like the overall message of the film and the positive impact it might have on the general public, I have to say that even as someone who likes charters and is often critical of teachers’ unions getting in the way of education reform, I found the film particularly one-sided. Despite Ms. Sackler’s claims of having no prior intent – or maybe because of them – the film clearly portrays charters as fantastic institutions that are just being held back by those who don’t know or don’t care. It’s true, there are some amazing charter schools, but intentionally or not, the film makes it seem as though Harlem Success represents all charters. The school is popular because it stands out, not because it is similar to many others. It does what few other schools have been able to replicate. The movie also does not really share the legitimate concerns many have with the way that some charters are going about their business (or some may argue how they have to go about their business). It was apparent that one of the big worries of parents and local officials was that Harlem Success is not just for students in the areas that the zoned schools (read: normal public schools) where they were using space. The movie seems to gloss over the fact that not all of the children they followed were even from Harlem. The movie’s synopsis on IMDB says they are from “Harlem and the Bronx.”

The criticisms I have, however, are far outweighed by the positive effect a movie like this can have. If the general population were to see it, I think they would get the right message: there is a big problem with the way education has been going and it needs to change. Obviously, there are some who might not agree. Either way, it is clear that whether a child receives a quality education shouldn’t be a matter of chance.