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A Defense of Education Inspired By Jon Stewart’s Interview With Diane Ravitch

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The state of America’s education is in the toilet, and overpaid, ineffective teachers are to blame. Or so one might assume based on the national consensus of the past few years. But Diane Ravitch, who appeared on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Jon Stewart this past Thursday disagrees. As does Jon Stewart. As do I. After watching the interview, I am inspired to lay down my arguments against many education misconceptions, and I will be using some of what Diane and Jon said to make those points. I encourage you to watch the full interview online.

A quick note: If you have not watched The Daily Show for a few years, you may be forgiven for thinking that it is only a comedy show. It is far from it. Jon Stewart is well versed in policy, and while there are often humorous elements to the series, he gets serious and is knowledgeable on his facts, especially during interviews. There is a reason Stewart has been polled as our most trustworthy newsman over the anchors from CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX, and it was not a joke.

First, a little background, so you know where I’m coming from as I argue the points. I hold a teaching license in two states and am currently a substitute teacher. I love education dearly. I love most of the teachers I’ve ever had just as much. Jon’s mother was a public school teacher, and he holds a very high opinion of her and the job that she did. Diane studies education and recently release a book called The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education. I have not read the book, but it has now jumped to the top of my To Do list. So yeah, I am a bit biased, as are the two people involved in the interview I am referencing.

Point #1: It is the teacher’s fault when kids fail tests. As Diane points out, no one likes tests. Kids don’t get excited to come to school for test prep. The emphasis on test scores this past decade has valued that over the things kids actually like about education: art, music, physics, physical education. Those latter are needed for a well rounded education, and participation in each of those has been linked to students doing well in core curriculum. In my opinion, cutting the so-called extra curriculars, as schools are doing now more than ever to balance their budgets, will actually hurt the goals of achieving higher test scores, if nothing else, by decreasing student motivation.

In truth, as Diane is quick to say, poverty is a much better indicator of how well a student will do than teacher performance. Teachers can only do so much to make a kid want to learn when that kid has other things to worry about, like clean clothes and hot meals. Plus, in poor areas, parents are at work more, and not able to assist with the motivation or making sure students spend time on home work after school, an important component to doing well. Is it a coincidence that the worst test scores are often in poor areas? There’s a lot more going on here than just ineffective teachers.

Point #2: American kids score lower than other countries. This argument really makes me mad because that is like saying the horses on an average farm don’t fun as fast as the horses on a ranch that breeds race horses. Many countries do not educate their lower-performing students. Those children work on factories or farms. Perhaps their parents can’t afford to send them to school, or don’t see the value of an education they never got. Many other countries cited do not include special needs kids or second-language learners in their scores. America does.

In the United States, we have made a commitment to educate every child. Rich or poor, no matter where they come from, they are included in our test scores. Students who have learning disabilities and are in our special needs classrooms are counted. In most states, students who enter the schools knowing no English are exempted from those tests for only a year or two. Can you imagine having to take complicated standardized tests in a foreign language having only one year to grasp it?

Now, I am not arguing that we should not educate every child. Quite the contrary. I love that our system performs that way, and I do believe every child has the capacity to learn. They may not all graduate with the same knowledge base, but anything we can do to help every kid succeed is great. I am just saying that if you take our upper-middle class suburban school kids and compare them with other countries’ statistics, America is doing great. We have a poverty problem, not an overall failing system problem. Though the system is flawed when those poor areas don’t do so well, the changes need to come in more than just schools.

Point #3: Teachers get paid too much, especially since they only work nine months a year. The 40 hour work week does not exist for teachers when school is in session. Stewart testified that his mother was always working incredibly hard, all the time. Teachers spend up to seven hours a day in the classroom, with the kids. Then they have to make lesson plans, grade papers, research trends and new way of doing things, attend college classes, decorate the room, read the books the kids will be reading, etc. Teachers easily make up for those couple of months off in the summer by all the additional hours they have to put in during the school year. I am certain that most teachers work as much as people with normal, forty-hour-per-week, twelve-months-a-year jobs.

As for pay, it takes a college degree to become a teacher, which often results in large student loans. I can tell you, new teachers are still living very simply for years until they can overcome that debt. But unlike most other careers where they are done with schooling once they enter the workforce, teachers have to take classes for the rest of their lives to maintain their licensure. That costs money, too. Plus, the money teachers pull out of their pockets to equip their classrooms when schools can’t afford to do so properly, or just won’t. While the take-home pay (with benefits) may seem higher than some other jobs, once you take out those other costs, it really isn’t.

Again, I am not arguing against requiring continuing education. Teachers used to be able to get permanent licenses, but the computer age helped us see how flawed that logic was. Teachers must keep up with what is going on to relate to and inspire kids, who are always on the forefront of the latest wave. I am just saying that the extra work is worth something, and there is more than a base salary to consider.

Point #4: Our education system is full of horrible teachers gaming a system that will not fire them. Sure, there are some teachers who do the bare minimum and punch out at 4 p.m., but they are few and far between. There are lazy people in every industry. Diane mentioned talking to one principal who had supervised about three hundred teachers, and he said he only had one who didn’t perform, and he got rid of that teacher. Unions make it hard to fire a teacher, but if cause is there, it is far from impossible.

The thing is, it is so much work to teach and to stay a teacher, that the lazy, poor performers usually wash out quickly. They have to accomplish a number of difficult tasks, from getting a college degree, to a massive license test, to peer reviews, and supervised classroom time before getting that full qualification. Most teachers do not graduate with a regular license. It takes years after college to earn one. You can’t fake your way through any of those steps, so the rigorous process tends to weed out a vast majority of the bad teachers. Not all, but most.

Point #5: Conservative hypocrisy. This last bit is my current personal beef, though Jon Stewart has echoed a number of my sentiments on his program. I guess he isn’t echoing me, per se, but anyway; Republicans who recently threw a royal fit when couples earning over $250K a year might have their tax cuts expire are some of the same ones now claiming that teachers make too much. They say it is tearing away freedoms if we try to regulate the financial industry or put ceilings on bonuses (in the millions of dollars), but $50K and some health care is too much when it comes to teachers. As for the argument that the public’s taxes pay for teachers, but not those said financial people, after the major bailouts of the last few years, that is simply not true.

Wall Street got us into this mess, but the Republican party wants to make civil servants, like teachers, pay to get us out. What’s more, teachers are willing to make sacrifices, unlike the aforementioned Wall Street workers, but GOP governors want to take away their union bargaining power anyway. It took a long time for teachers to earn a decent wage. How long will that last once they no longer can collectively bargain? The Wisconsin and Ohio fiascoes currently in progress are a total stain on our nation.

Wrap up: On a broader scale, is it democratic to limit pay, or are we just trying to transfer the wealth, stealing from the rich to give to the poor? The heads of companies now often make one hundred and eighty times what their average employee makes, versus more like forty times as much in the past. These are estimates, but ones in the ballpark with reality. I do not think it is unreasonable to expect employers to pay employees more when we are talking about those kinds of disparities.

Union membership is down, and some conservatives argue it is time to get rid of unions, as a thing of the past. I say this unsustainable, disgusting gap between the rich and the rest of us is being exacerbated by a lack of unions. If more people unionized at their jobs, balance might be restored a bit better. Don’t take away teachers’ (and firefighter’s, and police officers’) unions because teachers (et al) get better benefits than other jobs. Unionize those other jobs and fight for something resembling fair pay!

I have said my piece, and I welcome any comments or discussion below. I didn’t cite sources because I didn’t do specific research for this piece, but rather synthesized years of keeping up on the issues from a variety of sources. I ask that the discord stay civil and not resort to personal attacks (per site policy), but feel free to cite studies (that are verifiable) and question facts (if you find a legitimate source that disputes them). I look forward to the debate.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • robert

    Good article

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Great article, Jerome –

    1. I would have added how private schools do not compare to public schools, how public schools do so much more than private schools – particularly when it comes to special-needs kids and providing busing service for all students…and how the state provides personal caregivers and sometimes personal nurses for special-needs kids who require them. Very few private schools do that.

    2. If you don’t get a whole lot of argument from the BC conservatives, then that shows just how good your article is. Not that any of them will change their minds….

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Thank you! You do raise good points, Glenn. The state provides those things because they are required to. Of course private schools don’t, because it’s a drain on money, not ‘getting your bang for your buck’. But some things are more important that money, and public schools aren’t there to make money.

    Also, only 17% of charter schools score better than public schools, so while there are good charter schools, they are certainly not the ‘solution’ to our problems.

  • Doug Hunter

    #2

    There’s no need to change my mind, it’s the parents not the teachers that make the difference in education. Good parents pass on good genes for smarts + they ensure their children have an enriched environment, poor kids don’t always get the smarts plus they get a horrible home environment. Additionally, education spending doesn’t correlate with results very well either so the typical liberal ‘throw other people’s money at the problem till it gets better’ solution isn’t well supported. My idea, looking at the statistics, is that since administrative costs and non teaching personnel in my state have been growing at about 3 times the rate of classroom teachers perhaps a hard look needs to be taken at the non-classroom spending (some necessary, some not) and caps placed… say x% only on administrators/coaches/etc.

  • Boeke

    Excellent article. (Pay no attention to quixotic Doug Hunter, he wastes all his time tilting at liberal strawmen that he erects and you shouldn’t allow him to waste yours, too).

    I remember with great fondness the teachers I had in public schools, in science, math, social studies, English, Band, etc., and I reflect on them often. I also remember being jealous of the wonderful teachers and tools at the rich private school I lived next to, and how the students there lorded over us poor relations at public schools and freely predicted we would wash out of college, while they would go on to wondrous success (of course, it never happened).

    There’s a spark that a good teacher has that is not counted or measured by any test. There’s a love of his subject and a regard for the students that bureaucrats cannot measure.

    We should pay teachers more and financiers less. After all, teachers are responsible for a far more valuable resource than mere Wall Street moguls.

  • Pattie D

    Thank you for your support. For the record, I work 12-15 hour days and all day Saturday on Lesson plans, tests, projects,etc. Yes I have the summer off…to take courses and plan for next year. Often I will travel to a place where I can take pictures to use in my lessons.

  • Boeke

    I salute all the teachers who have the courage and enthusiasm to dare the political and bureaucratic monsters surrounding our schools and actually teach our children, the hope of our future.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    It doesn’t have to be either/or. We can recognize the value of Diane Ravitch’s observations without throwing out everything Arne Duncan says or does. He’s probably the best education secretary ever. Maybe he and Ms. Ravitch should have a nice long meeting and report back to us.

    Similarly, the glee with which conservatives bash public schools and teachers is appalling; that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some union pig-headedness about refusing to recognize or fire ineffective teachers.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    PS Excellent article, one of the best ones on BC recently.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Doug –

    Can you show me a private school – even ONE private school – that provides the same range of service that the normal public school does i.e. accepts ALL children regardless of financial status, race, culture, primary language, physical disability, mental disability, so on and so forth? And make sure that oh-so-wonderful private school provides busing for all its students (again, regardless of physical disability)!

    I’m really looking forward to your answer.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Thank you all for the comments! I have enjoyed reading them.

    Handyguy – you are right on both of your counts. There have been bad moves by the union and good moves by Duncan. I was looking at some broad strokes, but it is worth listening to the other side, too, even if you disagree with a lot of what is being said.

    Glenn – No, I cannot. Admittedly, though, I haven’t looked into the vast majority of private schools. But i get your point :)

  • nycteach

    I have been a nyc public high school teacher for six years. I respect all of my coworkers as some of the smartest and kindest people that I have ever met. I have friends that I have known from high school who I know that I am smarter than and who I can earn more money than, but I don’t choose that lifestyle. That is not because I am lazy. I often spend 12 hours a day at school. If I am late, it’s not that my boss and a couple of clients are mad…its that I have 25 kids that are waiting for me and wondering where I am, and are mad at me because they are finally at school and I am not. Most of us don’t care at all about the money, its more that we want people to just understand that our job is not easy, and if they had to do it for a week, they would appreciate us and they would understand why we need breaks during the year. My favorite moments are when my own kids tell me that they could not handle being teachers because they would get so mad. They make me laugh every day, and that is better than a big paycheck.

  • 46hand

    I was struck by the correlation Ms. Ravitch drew between low test scores and low-income environs. I thought, briefly, that this was the first time I had glimpsed our nations progress (or the lack thereof) being rooted in the relentless stratification of the classes, as opposed to the failure of the educational infrastructure itself. It remains true, though, that people have been cheated of the opportunity to apprehend critical thinking. I’d like to thank Mr. Hunter for exemplifying this condition. I am sure he and his cohorts fully believe their word to be as righteous as I believe mine to be, but folks from that side of this issue tend to ignore the argument presented and make up their own, basing the power and justification for what they believe in emotional manifestations. But, just pointing it out, that’s what this argument faces… undereducated masses. Irony strikes!!!

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    I’ve personally never thought teachers were paid too much, but I’ve always thought administrators are paid too much. Not only are they paid too much, but in many cases there are way too many of them!

    I’ve been told that wouldn’t make a difference, but when there are 5 to 10 admin types making six figures in one school, that sure seems like an awful lot of wealth that could be redistributed to the underpaid teachers. The athletic director for the HS I went to back in Jersey makes $110k a year and the football team hasn’t won a game in years! What’s he getting paid for other than running a failed athletics program?

    And for all the positives you mention about unions, in this case I think the unions are bad for the American people. Liberals always scream about how things aren’t fair. Unions line the pockets of democrats and democrats then turn around and pad the contracts for that same union! That’s collusion! What’s fair about that?
    And why should state employees have any more bargaining rights than federal employees?

    I think one other thing that gets overlooked often when discussing the differences between public and private schools is the fact that private school teachers are usually paid less than public school teachers…

    Teachers like to whine that their benefits are being taken away…all I can say to that is…Welcome to the real world! If you lived in the real world, you wouldn’t be worried about losing your pension, because like MOST American workers, you wouldn’t have one to lose!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Andy – You are right that sometimes there are too many administrators. However, I do believe principals should be paid considerably more. The good ones work very long hours, often at schools before and after all the teachers. They have to attend numerous schools functions and events. They don’t get that summer break. It is a very consuming job.

    As for your arguments against unions, there is some collusion. Certainly no different, and I would argue less prevalant, than the deal big business (especially oil) and the conservatives have going on. And federal employees should have bargaining rights. Other people in other jobs should have pensions. Unions can help them get pensions. That is what I am arguing for! I don’t think the solution is to take away the rights from the few groups that have them, but for the other groups to gain rights. It would help our major class divide.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    Jerome – I appreciate your sentiments, but anyone would have a hard time convincing me that unions would be good for everyone. I base this feeling on life experience. My father was a long haul trucker for many, many years and I remember, vividly, him coming home with bullet holes in his truck thanks to the Teamsters.
    For the record, I think it’s ridiculous that our govt subsidizes big oil!
    Federal employees do have bargaining rights…not just as many rights as WI state employees…

  • Clavos

    Federal employees may not have bargaining rights but they have all the bennies of being union members anyway.

    Try firing one…

  • Boeke

    Union members get fired and laidoff every day. All union contracts contain clauses put forward by employers and negotiated by both sides, regarding firing for cause and other matters. It would be remiss of managers if they did not negotiate these matters.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    But Boeke, in the case of govt unions, those negotiations aren’t done fairly. It does no one any good when the people doing the negotiations are on the same side. Dems don’t care about the money, it’s not their money! Well, actually, that’s not a fair statement, because they DO care about the money. Any money they give to the public sector unions comes right back to them in the form of political contributions! And in a lot of cases, contributions to candidates that the member, who’s money is used for those contributions, doesn’t even support!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Andy – Again, republicans and oil and finance money. You can keep making that argument, but it’s only legitimate if you keep in mind it applies doubly to the other side.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    Why Jerome – As my mother always told me…two wrongs don’t make a right. In other words, saying, “They’re doing it, why can’t we?” is a bullshit argument. I already stated that I think big oil subsidies are bullshit. What else do you want?

  • Baronius

    I find the first two points the most interesting. I’d love to see some details about the tested students in the US versus other countries. I’ve been looking online, but I haven’t yet tracked down anything useful.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Andy – I agree the two wrongs don’t make a right. However, big business and big oil have far more influence than unions, so presenting the argument, twice, that unions are corrupt and Democrats kowtow to them doesn’t hold much water as a point. Since you brought it up twice, I felt obligated to dispute it twice, rather than let it stand. It’s not a fair comparison.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    Well Jerome, neither is saying that because one side does it that makes it all okay.

    Govt employees have an unfair advantage when it comes to democratic controlled govt.

    The problem with your argument is that big business and big oil are in the pockets of both sides. Just look at political donations. Big oil and big biz give to everyone, big unions give only to dems.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Big biz and big oil give much more to Republicans because Republican policies do much more to support them. I do not see a balance here at all. I’d like to see the figured that support both sides being in the pocket. How many Dems sit on the board at Halliburton or have family business connections to Middle East sovereigns? It is really not the same thing at all.

    Plus, unions are fighting for the people. As are environmental groups and other organizations that give mainly to Dems. In a democratically elected government, the people are who are supposed to have a voice. I do not support big lobbying, but Dem causes have had to ratchet up their donations and rallying or they would have been swallowed by big business and the GOP long ago. It’s a broken system, but the only way current regulations allow it to be.

    I do not think government employees have an unfair advantage. Just because they work for the government does not mean they get any say in what the government does. Civil servants like teachers, police officers, and firefighters certainly don’t.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    From opensecrets.org for 2008…

    I just picked a few…this one would be Harry Reid..The list below comes from opensecrets.org and lists Harry’s top ten donors…not one union…hmmmmm…but a lot of big business!

    1 MGM Resorts International $222,250
    2 Harrah’s Entertainment $122,700
    3 Station Casinos $104,200
    4 Simmons Cooper LLC $103,100
    5 JPMorgan Chase & Co $96,350
    6 Sierra Nevada Corp $81,300
    7 Citigroup Inc $77,750
    8 Boyd Gaming $76,349
    9 Comcast Corp $67,250
    10 AT&T Inc $66,500

    And just because, let’s do Nancy’s too…

    1 Amgen Inc $49,050
    2 Akin, Gump et al $48,550
    3 Keker & Van Nest $29,200
    4 Gallo Winery $28,000
    5 General Electric $23,300
    6 Microsoft Corp $22,000
    6 Time Warner $22,000
    8 Goldman Sachs $21,000
    8 JPMorgan Chase & Co $21,000
    10 Service Employees International Union $20,650

    And right under Nancy’s top ten is when all the unions money comes in…only SEIU gave her enough to make her top ten, but the rest of them are right behind ‘em.

    So, I guess you’re right about big oil, looking at these two lists, but I’d say you may be just a bit naive when talking about big biz…

    And cause it’s only fair for a comparison, here’s Boehner’s for ’08…

    1 Credit Suisse Group $49,000
    2 Citigroup Inc $46,250
    3 Boich Companies $37,100
    4 Securities Industry & Financial Mkt Assn $35,500
    5 Ernst & Young $33,500
    6 National City Corp $32,000
    7 Reynolds American $28,500
    8 Communicare Inc $27,600
    9 WPP Group $26,250
    10 Bank of America $25,800

    They all seem to be getting that big biz money..but hey, you can hide your head in the sand and believe dems are as pure as the driven snow when it comes to big biz…they must be, otherwise, that stimulus package for big biz would have passed through the democrat controlled congress…oh wait, it did!!!

    It’s quite obvious that you’re in love with unions. So, you just continue on pretending that it’s all the reps fault…

    And try a little reading comprehension…

    Get this. I never said any govt employee had any unfair advantage. I said, their UNIONS have an unfair advantage.

    I’m done here. Have a nice day.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    My comment got blocked! And not one curse word in the entire thing! I’m not retyping it, so, I’m done here!

  • Baronius

    Jerome, I think you’d be surprised where campaign money comes from, and where it goes. Check out opensecrets.org. This chart lists the largest contributors of the last 20 years; notice the Tilt column.

    To be fair, I think that Open Secrets underestimates the impact of contributions of individuals within an industry.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    Bar – I just went through that and picked out the top 10 from pelosi, Reid and Boehner just to prove a point and my comment got blocked!

    Probably one of the few times I’ve ever made a comment without something nasty in it and it gets blocked…WTF?!?!

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    There sure do seem to be a lot of ASSES on that page Bar!!! Big ASSES, with lots of money!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Baronius – I do not know how accurate this site is, but there are some interesting things. If true, I am surprised to see how balanced many banks are. Not so surprised that unions and associations that represent groups of people, rather than just business interested, skew Democrat. The amounts spent on contributions and lobbying are ridiculous. I think we need to adopt the UK’s model for paying for campaigns, if nothing else.

  • GA Teacher

    I agree with most of the article, but teachers in Georgia are already unable to unionize – it is illegal! Also, our benefits have steadily increased in the amount that we have to pay each month, copays, and deductibles, while the actual benefits are being cut away.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    The list is interesting, but I don’t understand, for example, why the US Chamber of Commerce is not on the list. Elsewhere on the OpenSecrets site, they are listed as having contributed $30 million in the 2010 election alone. The Rove American Crossroads organization, just founded in 2010, spent over $20 million, and is also not on the list.

  • dietch

    I agree and respect everything that was said in this artical except for Part 3 which states that 9 months plus the hours after a school day that teachers work, makes up the difference that a 12 month employee with a college degree work. Absolutely NOT TRUE! Worked in NJ school systems for over 28 yrs and it is not the same at all. Yes, teachers do put in after school hours, but not enough to make up 3 1/2 months off.

  • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com Christopher Rose

    Andy, the automatic spam system wrongly identified your comment as spam and it has now been liberated.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Andy!

    Pls. respond to Handy’s #33!

  • Cannonshop

    I don’t know many Conservatives who’d say it’s the Teachers’ fault-most of them agree with the “Administratium” theory.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    Well Glenn – since I don’t run opensecrets.org, I can’t possibly explain why anything might be missing from any list that comes from their website, now can I?

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    And besides Glenn, the reason I put that up had nothing ot do with republicans, it was to dispute the fact that democrats aren’t in the pocket of big business!

    Mission Accomplished!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Andy – I don’t know that you can really say mission accomplished, especially when it seems the list in question is incomplete, at best. And just because they’ve donated money, doesn’t mean they’re in the pocket. To be considered ‘in the pocket’, their bills and policies must match things that benefit the business but hurt the American people.

  • Baronius

    Jerome – That’s where I disagree with many people. I don’t think the vast majority of politicians are in anyone’s pocket by your definition. Most candidates/officeholders get campaign donations because of the positions they take, not the other way around. Some people might call that naive, but it’s more realistic and more practical than believing that everyone who opposes you is doing bad stuff on purpose.

  • Baronius

    Cannon – That sounds right.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Baronius – I like (and mostly share) your optimism!

  • Baronius

    How can you reconcile that with your implication that the interests of the people are in conflict with the interests of business, and that Republicans favor the interests of big business over the interests of the people?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    I think that most people care about others. I think that party politics is not about caring about people. The views a party pushes do not necessarily reflect the opinions of individuals. I worry when the party controls the conversation, and pushes its members in certain directions.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    The rich are the top business executives, and the top business executives are the rich. The middle class has stagnated economically for the last thirty years and the rich have prospered enormously. When this is pointed out, GOP politicians are likely to complain of “class warfare.”

    There has been massive redistribution of wealth — upward — over the last 30 or 40 years. No policy promoted by Republicans or conservatives acknowledges this or attempts to address it. When Dems do, we are called “socialists.”

  • Cannonshop

    #42 Yeah, well, please note that Administratium isn’t isolated to government-it’s a common pollutant in business-esp. businesses of a certain…size?

    Big Business=Big Government, they go to the same schools, have the same educations, same economic background, belong to the same social clubs and listen to the same music, and attend the same fundraisers and parties.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    And every time a business lobbyist succeeds in preventing or overturning regulations on predatory lending practices or pollution or product safety, the public loses. Who represents the average Joe in those cases, against the millions spent by business lobbies?

  • Cannonshop

    #48 Nobody represents ‘the average joe’. Nobody. So-called ‘conservatives’ who bloat the bureaucracy, ‘progressives’ who are generous with other people’s money and the lobbyists who own them both-they’re all the same damn people.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    I believe you believe that, but I think it is patently foolish and counterfactual.

  • Cannonshop

    #50 Handy, I look at the donors lists and the publicly available data on executives and politicians. similar backgrounds, similar social sets, similar insulation from the consequences of their actions, similar personality type profiles for the successful ones, and similar response patterns to stimuli.

    I often find it amusing how teh faith the Left has in the pronouncements and promises of “The Party” matches up almost interchangeably with the faith god-botherers have in their invisible friend in the sky (Or “Jee-Zusss” as the case may be) interpreted by their own preachers.

    Whether it’s Liberal Al Gore (Junior) making millions off junk science and Quackery , or Dick Cheney making Millions off of various industries, they both rely on government involvement to suppress competitors and artificially inflate market demand.

    When you look at corporate boards you find the same suspects donating to each party in search of some advantage they can’t gain without the aid of powerful bureaucrats (who often ‘retire’ to work in the same industries that they regulated, or to work for pressure groups whose favour they cultivated by attacking those industries), or elected officials (who, once bought, tend to remain bought so long as the money continues to pour in) and ALL of them went to the same schools. (those that didn’t, wind up in a position similar to Sara Palin-totally irrelevant sideshow attractions.)

  • http://www.carminasaturaqueamericana.com Irvin F. Cohen

    And oh, Mr. JeromeWetzelTV,

    As for a DEFENSE of education, especially as inspired by Jon Stewart’s Interview with Diane Ravitch – THERE AIN’T NONE!

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    The fact that you refer to global warming as “junk science and quackery” demonstrates that, although you pretend to be an equal-opportunity ‘independent’ cynic about politics, you often swallow hard-right rhetoric whole.

    Apply the same skepticism to tea party rhetoric and conspiracy theories as you do to the political establishment, and you might get somewhere.

    Of course there are lobbyists in both parties, and a revolving door from government to lucrative consulting jobs — the money is too good for them to ignore. This is not unimportant. I think you and I just disagree on what it signifies.

  • Arch Conservative

    “In a democratically elected government, the people are who are supposed to have a voice.”

    Try telling that to the Democrats in the Wisconsin state Senate who are the minority party because the people of Wi, the ones who cared enough to vote anyway, decided they should be last November.

    With regard to public education. I don’t believe there’s a single parent out there who, if money was no object, would choose to send their child to a public school over a private school of their choosing. In no other sector of the workforce in this nation is mediocrity and incompetence rewarded more than in the public school system.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Arch Conservative – the people do have a voice, and the overwhelming support of NOT passing that law shows their voice does not favor what is happening. Just because they elect a leader does not mean they will agree with everything that leader wants to do. A lot of conservatives elected in the last cycle were elected because the people weren’t satisfied with the job the Dems were doing, not because they were actually wanted in office. Same for a lot of the Dems two cycles ago.

    As for your insults to the public schools, the vast majority of private (i.e. charter, religious, etc.) do not deliver as good as the public system. While there are some elite schools that MAY be better, many are not. And as for the public schools rewarding incompetence, that is simply not true. There are bad public schools and bad public school teachers, but by far most are good. I, and thousands of others who work in those systems, are offended by such a blanket, poorly researched statement.

  • Clavos

    There are bad public schools and bad public school teachers, but by far most are good.

    Yet American students fared poorly, compared to students from virtually all over the world, in the PISA tests.

    And my college professor mother-in-law has to teach at least one section of remedial reading and writing to incoming freshmen every semester.

    Reading and writing! To college students!!

    The American government schools are not doing their job.

  • Jerome Wetzel

    Clavos – Read the essay above, as I address test score comparisons within. As for remedial reading and writing, what college does she work at that they accept students who don’t know how to read and write? Not every student learns what they should in the K-12 levels, but that often isn’t the fault of the schools. You can’t make students learn something they refuse. Having worked in many schools as a sub at all K-12 levels, sometimes students just will not work, and there is nothing you can do to make them. Students must take some level of personal resposibility. But having grown up in what is considered one of my state’s worst public school systems, I can tell you plenty of us still came out educated just fine. At a high school and college level, it’s more student self responsibility and parent support that determine how well a student does than what the teachers are teaching.

  • Clavos

    I not only read your essay, Jerome, I read it more than once, and your argument regarding the test score comparisons sounds like a copout to me. The truth of the matter (and the bottom line) is American government schools are producing poorly educated students these days (and have been for several decades), and you teachers blame everyone and everything except yourselves, when yours is the most direct contact with the students and you bear the greatest responsibility for their education.

    Your unions, especially the NEA and the AFT, exacerbate the problem by refusing to ease the work rules to allow school administrations to reward superior teacher performance and winnow out the deadwood. As important as the job of teaching is, not only to the children, but especially to the country and its future, it’s unconscionable that teachers have so little accountability for their work. To all readers who are concerned about the sorry state of our government school system: see the movie, Waiting For Superman. It’s a real eye-opener. The documentary was directed by Davis Guggenheim, who also directed Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. It is not a right-wing propaganda piece.

    You say, “In the United States, we have made a commitment to educate every child.”

    Therein lies much of the problem. While I don’t advocate not educating some children, it’s folly to give them all the same curriculum; not all can absorb it. Those with “special needs” (what a disgusting and humiliating euphemism!) cannot and should not be expected to perform with children who do not have deficiencies (nor should their results be counted when measuring the efficiency of the school system as a whole — to do so is to compare apples and oranges). They should be taught in an environment more forgiving of their problems and along with their peers, and they should be taught skills commensurate with their learning abilities and physical handicaps, not a curriculum designed to satisfy fulfill utopian dreams of equality.

    As to my mother-in-law’s excperiences teaching remedial courses to deficient students: she has taught at several Southern colleges and universities, including Auburn and Georgia State. All have such courses — they have to, because children are routinely graduated from high school lacking those basic skills, and state colleges and universities must accept them, particularly if they are members of a minority, despite deficient skills.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Clavos – It’s not a cop out. Read the research. Teachers have responsibilities, but they certainly cannot do everything, and actually have a lesser impact on student motivation than parents and peers. You statements show a lack of understanding of the issue. It’s easy to blame from the outside, without understanding the actual dynamics present in the schools.

    While some unions do block some reform, and I admit that it is a problem that needs addressed, teacher’s unions have had to be strong because it was a badly mistreated profession. While things are much better now, other than the rush to blame the teachers for everything, as you seem to be doing, strong unions prevent a backward slide, which is what is happening in Wisconsin right now, among other places. We can’t afford one.

    As for wanting to improve education, most teachers do. Getting rid of tenure and permanent teaching certificates, as well as stricter licensure requirements have gone a long way to making that a reality. Most teachers embrace those changes, not fight it.

    Children that cannot absorb the same curriculum are frequently given modifications and extra help to achieve goals. Their limits are taken into account on an everyday basis, but standarized testing is sorely lacking in that area. I agree with much of what you said in that paragraph, and a lot of that is happening, except again, how they are tested. I find it odd you call such reasoning a cop out in the first paragraph, than argue for a change in our testing in the third. You can’t have it both ways.

    Perhaps the areas in the south she is at have a more pronounced problem than other areas. Being from Ohio, I can do you my college did little to no remedial work. Looking at overall trends, many areas of the south do score lower in testing, especially in poor, rural areas. This is a problem, but again, the income disparity in that region is more to blame than the teachers themselves.

    Before you disparage a large work force of mostly hard working, caring people, please take time to consider what they do, and how you would fare in the same job and circumstances. Walk a mile in a teacher’s shoes, so to speak, and it would be a lot harder to toss blanket criticism as is so popular to do right now.

  • Clavos

    Before you disparage a large work force of mostly hard working, caring people

    I didn’t Jerome, I criticized (not “disparaged”) your unions, the country’s attitudes toward education, and the intractable and unyielding resistance on the part of significant numbers of teachers (Wisconsin, e.g.) to changes in their work rules, and to concepts such as merit pay. I also am criticizing the government’s implementation of the idea that everyone has a right to an education. In my opinion, the worst aspect of the public schools is the degree to which the government(s) have a hand in the decision-making process of how they are run. Between the bureaucrats and the union kingpins, the students haven’t a chance.

    Walk a mile in a teacher’s shoes…

    Oh, I would do so gladly, Jerome. I have taught in other milieus, but because I haven’t taken the necessary “education” courses, I cannot teach in a government school, although I have a great deal more knowledge about English and literature (my major), and had to take far more courses in the discipline than any English teacher employed at a government school here in Florida.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Clavos – You bring up merit pay, and that’s a whole other bag of worms. If there was a fair way to judge merit pay, I would be all for it. To base it on test scores, not so much, for the reasons I have already argued.

    As for every child having a chance, I believe that is a basic human right that must be preserved, and am pleased at the new developments happening every day, as has been going on for quite awhile, to better serve children who struggle.

    Knowing a lot about a subject does not necessarily qualify you to teach. Some of the smartest people would make terrible teachers. I am not saying you would be terrible, as I do not know you. Subject knowledge is merely one element of teaching, and a comparitively small one at that. But there is a reason the government requires all of those classes, and that is to best prepare teachers so they will have a great chance at succeeding. If you think it’s the teachers screwing up the system, loosening restrictions on who can teach surely won’t help.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    It’s not teachers fault that kids make it to college and can’t read or write? Who’s EFFing fault is it then? Who advanced these kids rom grade to grade when they couldn’t perform the requirements for the previous grade?

    It’s all part of the same PC bullshit. Everybody gets a trophy, nobody gets left back…their tiny little feelings might get hurt!!!

    And we’ve covered your comprehension issues already. We’re not picking on MOST of you poor teachers. We’re picking on your union!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    The decision to advance kids is made by the school and the parents. Teachers can make recommendations, but they are not always listened to.

    As for not picking on teachers, I beg to differ, looking back at previous comments.

    And unions protect teachers, who do need protection, so while they have some faults that do need corrected, it doesn’t mean it’s time to toss them out. Not at all.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    I get it now…the awesome state of public education in our country has nothing to do with the teachers, it’s all parents and administrators faults…

    I’ll contact the church for you…maybe we can get every teacher in America beatified by lunch time. We’ll have all of you listed as saints by the end of the month.

    I’m so sorry, I had no idea that teachers were such dupes in all of this! It’s the parents and the administrators, but the teachers and their union are completely innocent in all of this.

    And how ’bout this? Fuck the teachers! Who’s protecting the kids????

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    I’m not saying teachers are saints, but most of them try very hard to protect and educate the kids. My complaint is about the current societal trend of blame the teacher for everything, also teachers not getting the support they need from parents and government to help the kids do well, especially in low income areas. There are plenty of great school systems, great parents, and great schools in our country. But there are so many factors that go into a child’s education, and blaming the teachers for everything, which seems to be a popular movement right now, is counterproductive.

  • Clavos

    But there is a reason the government requires all of those classes…

    Yes, there is. The unions wanted them, as a means of control.

  • Clavos

    Clavos – You bring up merit pay, and that’s a whole other bag of worms. If there was [sic] a fair way to judge merit pay, I would be all for it.

    Oh c’mon, Jerome. Merit pay has been an element in non-union jobs in the private sector for eons — it’s not rocket science, and it works. I spent thirty years working in business in a position with hire/fire and pay decision authority, it’s not a big deal. Your unions are opposed to it for control reasons — every bit of control over their members they give up weakens the hold they have on them. The “fairness” issue is nothing but a strawman.

  • Clavos

    Knowing a lot about a subject does not necessarily qualify you to teach. Some of the smartest people would make terrible teachers. I am not saying you would be terrible, as I do not know you. Subject knowledge is merely one element of teaching, and a comparitively small one at that.

    That statement more than anything you’ve said, Jerome, illustrates what is wrong with government schooling. Knowing the subject to be taught is paramount; far from being a comparatively small element, it is and should be the most important skill in any teacher’s skill set.

    I know I won’t change your mind on that point, because you’re parroting what you’ve been taught by the education establishment, but for me, that is so telling a point and so indicative of what’s wrong with American government education today — it’s the chief reason why even our best students cannot compare on a world level with the average students in other countries.

    It’s telling that university and college level teachers are not required to have the education credits, but only to be thoroughly versed in their discipline — to the point of having at least one graduate degree. And it’s also telling that our colleges and universities, as a group, ARE still competitive on a world level, unlike our lower schools.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Clavos – Classes are not for union control. They help the government control quality in teachers. I don’t see how requiring teachers to take courses helps the unions at all.

    As for merit pay, it is about fairness. Unions are protecting teachers from being judged for something they have little control over. Low income schools have lower test scores, so that means all teachers there should get paid less? I don’t think so. If you were paid on your own merit, fine. But judging a teacher’s merit is a bit more complicated than that.

    How is knowledge of subject the most important? That demonstrates a luck of understanding about education. It doesn’t matter what you as a teacher know as much as it matters how to make a student understand the material, and enthuse the student about learning. Connecting to students is more important than being an English genius. The college level is different, because those are already educated students wanting to master a discipline. In K-12, we are just trying to help our students have a knowledge base to prepare them for the world.

    I highly recommend you do some research about how education works before you continue to argue baseless accusations.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    I have to say, what started as an intelligent debate has broken down into trying to combat the same public smear campaign the article was meant to argue against. I admit, I have responded to baseless comments, and so am partly to blame for the state of discourse. As such, I am pledging to stick to what I said at the end of the article:

    “I ask that the discord stay civil and not resort to personal attacks (per site policy), but feel free to cite studies (that are verifiable) and question facts (if you find a legitimate source that disputes them). I look forward to the debate.”

    I hope the comments will veer back into legitimate educational policy territory, and will respond to ones that do. Any comments echoing the uninformed drivel often found from biased news sources will not be responded to. I look forward to more intelligent discussion.

  • Clavos

    highly recommend you do some research about how education works before you continue to argue baseless accusations.

    Your disagreement with my points does not, in and of itself, prove me wrong, it merely proves you disagree with me, Jerome.

    By requiring the “education” curriculum and the licensing requirements, and by setting the work and pay rules, both the government and the unions are able to exert control (and do) over the individual teachers, rendering them powerless (except as a union group) to assert themselves in the trade and control their own status in the workplace.

    If you can’t see the importance of subject knowledge, then you prove my points for me, Jerome. And, the proof is in the results the government schools are having today, where students inadequately educated are graduated from our failing school system to fend for themselves in the marketplace and the world.

    It doesn’t matter what you as a teacher know as much as it matters how to make a student understand the material, and enthuse the student about learning. Connecting to students is more important than being an English genius.

    If the teacher doesn’t know the material, the “connection” is worthless.

    Again, it’s interesting that you attempt, first in your essay, and then again in both #69 and 70 especially, to frame the discussion into what YOU deem to be “legitimate education policy.” I say that whatever the taxpayers consider to be important to the discussion is, by definition, “legitimate education policy;” we are your bosses, and the concerns I am expressing are not only legitimate, they are the crux of what is wrong with our schools and what is wrong with the root philosophy of American education.

    You have yet to seriously address any of these concerns (other than by stating your own unsupported opinions), whether expressed by me or any of the other commenters.

    When I first read your piece, I was appalled by your somewhat arrogant attitude toward your readers’ intelligence and their concerns, as embodied in these two quotes from your article:

    “I didn’t cite sources because I didn’t do specific research for this piece, but rather synthesized years of keeping up on the issues from a variety of sources.”

    And:

    “…feel free to cite studies (that are verifiable) and question facts (if you find a legitimate source that disputes them).”

    It takes a lot of chutzpah to hold your readers to a higher standard than you set for yourself, and for that reason I initially decided not to participate in the discussion.

    I wish now I had stuck to that decision. You don’t really want a debate, you want to dictate (or would that be “teach?”) your views without opposition.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Clavos – I am responding to certain criticisms because they appear as valid points, or ones I may have been unclear explaining.

    I am sorry you feel that way. On most issues, I wouldn’t dare argue with someone knowledgeable without researching and citing sources. I felt giving my background was the source here, as having had many education-specific classes, I have had to research many journals, studies, and papers prior to this essay. And as someone in the education field, I have had practical experience as well. When asking for responders to cite sources, I am asking people who aren’t as informed on education to know what they are talking about. If you were similarly up on the topic, it would be obvious in your responses. I wanted to have an at-level discussion, not respond to wild accusations. My essay responds to many of the wild accusations being tossed around, and knowing how commentors as a group can be, I did not want to see this turn into a baseless mud slinging contest. However, I can see how that could come across as arrogant. That was not the intention, but I apologize if it does.

    As for you repeating that knowledge base is the most important aspect of teaching, the demonstrates such a basic misunderstanding of the field, something that you would have been dissuaded of very early on were you to immerse yourself in the discipline at all, that it is not a real argument. This isn’t just an opinion by me, but one very commonly accepted because of many years of research and study of education. Yes, of course, a basic understanding of the material is necessary, but as a teacher, you can always do independent research and look things up if you don’t know them. Knowing how to teach children is something much harder to do, and a much, much more important component to the process.

    What is wrong with education is when government lawmakers, with no experience in the education field, make policy. It happened with No Child Left Behind, and it happens frequently at the state level. I would never expect a say in plumber policy or doctor policy, and people who have not worked in the schools, who do not know the reality on the ground, should not have a say in what happens in schools. Obviously, people involved in the situation are going to know better what improvements should be made to help the system.

    The decision to let students advance is often decided at this level, another failure, but again, not one you can blame on the teachers, or the unions. The difference between the unions and the government groups, which you frequently lump together, is that the unions are made up of teachers. While sometimes the people that lead the unions are sufficiently removed from the classroom to not understand what is going on, they are still fighting for the educators and the people that know what they’re talking about. Whereas government policy bends to individual legislators’ opinions or popular public voice, not the best source to make an educational system from.

    You call me arrogant, but as someone who isn’t directly involved in such a process, but feel you know better than those who are, aren’t you exhibiting that trait yourself? And that’s the reason education is in trouble. Too many outside voices arguing for changes they do not understand the impact of.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    I like that one!People who haven’t worked in a school should have no say in what happens in the schools…in other words….all you parents…SHUT THE FUCK UP!

    With teachers like you in the school system these days all I can say is I’m glad my kids are already graduated!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    To clarify, I never said that parents shouldn’t have a say. I said that people who are not involved in the education system shouldn’t think they know better what needs to happen than those who are. Plenty of parents get involved, and have an attitude of wanting to help the schools and the teachers. I welcome those parents’ input, as I would anyone who truly takes an interest and cares about the students.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Education works far better as a partnership with parents, than teachers and administrators trying to go it alone.

  • Clavos

    …people who have not worked in the schools, who do not know the reality on the ground, should not have a say in what happens in schools…

    This is so wrong on so many levels, the most obvious of which is it’s letting the foxes guard the henhouse.

    Not only parents, but the taxpayers who pay for the educational system have a right to have input as to how it’s run.

    Education is not so arcane a discipline that only insiders can understand it, any more than medicine is. It’s interesting to me the parallel between the attempts by the physicians to keep outsiders from having a say in the medical system and those by the teachers in education.

    As the poet said, “The times, they are a-changin'” and the change is long past due.

    We taxpayers and parents — the entire nation — have put up with an inferior education establishment long enough.

    “On, Wisconsin!”

    For those readers who haven’t seen it and who are concerned (as are so many) that the government school system is failing our kids and our nation, see the movie, Waiting For “Superman.”

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    The vast generalizations being thrown around on here are part of the problem. Public schools in wealthier suburban districts have higher test scores and graduation rates, and almost assuredly their students are less likely to need remediation in college.

    Poorer urban districts are where many of the problems are, which is Diane Ravitch’s point, and I assume one of the reasons for this article being written.

    Some kids manage to rise out of a poor urban background and succeed. But poverty, a dangerous neighborhood, a crowded, rundown school, a contagious “why bother” attitude, put many students at a disadvantage from day one.

    Simplistically blaming the teachers unions for this is purely political, ideological point-scoring. It’s not about problem solving. Many of the countries out-scoring us in student testing are heavily unionized and probably “socialistic” by the standards of several commenters here.

    Unions are just a scapegoat.

  • Clavos

    Unions are just a scapegoat.

    Sure.

    It’s “scapegoating” to deplore their work rules which make it nearly impossible to dismiss inferior workers; it’s “scapegoating” to decry their obstructionism in regard to good ideas like rewarding outstanding workers (merit pay). It’s “scapegoating” to point out that unions are among the largest political donors and their lobbying activities among the most corrupting of the political process.

    And, while it’s true that the schools in inner cities and other poverty areas are totally inadequate, even the schools in middle class suburbs fall far short of excellence when measured against real excellence in countries where education actually educates.

    The teachers are the front line; they are the actual instrument by which education succeeds or fails, and in this country they have been failing for decades without repercussion thanks to the lobbying efforts of their unions and the unions’ protectionism.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    There must be more to it than that if highly unionized European teachers manage much better results. You’re approaching this politically and ideologically, looking for answers that match your fixed-like-concrete opinions.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    handyguy – Excellent points. And you are right, generalizations are dangerous, because the truth is often complicated, as it is here. If we can figure out a way to solve the poverty problem, it will not correct everything, but it would be a huge help.

    Sadly, I don’t see much work going towards that goal. It’s easier to blame someone or a group of someones, as some commenters on here do, and as some of the more biased media sources do, than to actually learn the facts and try to figure out what we can do to fix the problem. A daunting task, to be sure, but the only way to help children. The smear is a distraction that hurts the real problem.

  • Boeke

    Europeans are producing better results partly by reducing childhood poverty with social welfare programs.

  • Clavos

    There must be more to it than that if highly unionized European teachers manage much better results.

    It’s not the mere fact of unionization, handy, and I never said it was. It’s what unionization imposes in the way of work rules. A great example is the question of teacher evaluation for effectiveness. In Europe, the teachers are consistently and constantly evaluated, whereas here, the unions insist there is no “fair” way to do so, as Jerome has asserted upthread.

    That’s just plain nonsense — every job can be assessed and evaluated; US teachers’ jobs included.

    I found a very comprehensive report on education by the McKinsey consulting firm, titled How The World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out On Top

    McKinsey is one of the world’s most respected management consulting firms, and their studies are renowned for their cogency and insight. The report is in .pdf format, so I can’t copy from it, but there’s the link.

    Early on in the report, McKinsey affirms the importance of teacher quality as being paramount in successful student outcomes, and that there are significant differences in the levels of learning between students taught by good teachers compared to those taught by bad ones.

    As I said, I can’t copy-and-paste, but here’s a quote from the report regarding teacher quality (it’s on page 15):

    “ten years ago, seminal research based on data from Tennessee showed that if two average eight-year-old students were given different teachers — one of them a high performer, the other a low performer — their performances diverge by more than fifty percentile points within three years…”

    There is a lot more in the same vein — with data, and verifiable.

    No “smear” — facts.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Cavlos – I didn’t say there was no fair way to evaluate teachers. I said it is not fair to do so mainly on test scores, which is what is so often thought of as a ‘good measure’ by those outside of the system. Your point that teachers should be evaluated is a true one. I don’t argue they should, I argue about proposed plans to do such evaluation.

    As for your study, three big results they found were:
    * Selecting the right people to become a teacher.
    * Improving instruction through continuous professional development.
    * Creating systems and targeted support to ensure that every child benefits from excellent instruction.

    I believe you have argued against two of those in your comments, especially the middle goal, when you said that the ongoing education teachers were required to do were just a plot by government and unions. You also had criticism for our habit of trying to educate every child. Nor does the study say that people highly intelligent in the subject matter are necessarily the best people to teach. Yes, teacher quality matters. I never spoke against that.

    In fact, I think there is much to learn from some of the best teachers. I wish more were singled out, and their practices studied more broadly. I don’t believe most teachers are bad, but one of the hallmarks of being a teacher is continuous improvement, which I have stated before, and I will again, I am in favor of.

    So, I guess I agree with the study, and how it goes against much of what you said.

  • Maddy Rain

    what are the income tax rates in the countries that perform better than us? And what are the health care systems like? I don’t know but wouldn’t be surprised if these other countries that provide a better social service might have a different structure than the one we have in the US

  • http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/author/danmiller/ Dan(Miller)

    I must disagree with Clavos, who has apparently allowed his unhealthy fetishes with English grammar and substantive learning to overwhelm his common sense and decency. For shame, Sir. Please, for your own good, seek reeducation immediately.

    The public education system in the United States is great. For proof, one need only compare the Libruls, most of whom presumably send their offspring to public schools, and the Conservatives, Bible-thumping, gun-clinging cretins, who presumably send their offspring to private schools; they do so only because they have too much money and lack the understanding necessary properly to evaluate the differences. The only reliable test of such systems lies in the results, and they are obvious to all but those who consider them with warped minds. Those whose minds have been warped by non-public school educations should cease trying to prevent their betters from doing what is right and good.

    There is no need to have much background in history to teach history, and the lack of necessity for such background is well presented here, in an article about how Abraham Lincoln’s legacy has been well taught, leading even the best and brightest to have profound understandings of his motivations. In such arcane fields as English grammar, there need there be no understanding of such obsolete forms as the subjunctive. The trend toward using singular nouns in conjunction with plural verbs and vice versa avoids confusion; with Twitter becoming a major mode of communication these and other subtleties such as the diagramming of sentences are irrelevant and counterproductive; they can even lead to frustration and insanity. Reading at a sixth grade or lower level is more than adequate for college freshmen; should they need to improve their reading skills, that’s the proper function of higher education. Instruction of teachers in proper teaching techniques is far more important than mere substantive knowledge.

    Dan(Miller)

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    I know and have known enough college professors to convince me that knowledge and teaching ability are two vastly different things.

    And Dan’s quasi-sardonic post, as usual, pokes fun at an argument no one here has made or would make, rendering his mirthless jest rather pointless.

  • http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/author/danmiller/ Dan(Miller)

    Re Comment # 86,

    Comment # 61 says, Subject knowledge is merely one element of teaching, and a comparitively [sic] small one at that. But there is a reason the government requires all of those classes, and that is to best prepare teachers so they will have a great chance at succeeding. If you think it’s the teachers screwing up the system, loosening restrictions on who can teach surely won’t help.

    Comment # 69 says, How is knowledge of subject the most important? That demonstrates a luck [sic] of understanding about education. It doesn’t matter what you as a teacher know as much as it matters how to make a student understand the material, and enthuse the student about learning. Connecting to students is more important than being an English genius. The college level is different, because those are already educated students wanting to master a discipline. In K-12, we are just trying to help our students have a knowledge base to prepare them for the world.

    Comment # 72 says, As for you repeating that knowledge base is the most important aspect of teaching, the demonstrates such a basic misunderstanding of the field, something that you would have been dissuaded of very early on were you to immerse yourself in the discipline at all, that it is not a real argument. This isn’t just an opinion by me, but one very commonly accepted because of many years of research and study of education. Yes, of course, a basic understanding of the material is necessary, but as a teacher, you can always do independent research and look things up if you don’t know them. Knowing how to teach children is something much harder to do, and a much, much more important component to the process.

    Obviously, I must have misinterpreted these and other comments due to a deficiency in reading comprehension.

    Dan(Miller)

  • Clavos

    Obviously, I must have misinterpreted these and other comments due to a deficiency in reading comprehension.

    Which indubitably was inflicted upon you in a government school…

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/an roger nowosielski

    Any correlation between knowledge base, love of the subject, and the ability to teach?

    Just a silly question, I suppose; but this, equally-challenged person in terms of reading comprehension and the like would like to know.

  • http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/author/danmiller/ Dan(Miller)

    Clavos, Re Comment #88:

    In a manner consistent with the numerous misunderstandings and misstatements evidenced by your various other comments, you are wrong as to this. I enjoyed the magnificent benefits of a public school education only through tenth grade. Therefore, my difficulties with reading comprehension are not attributable to that but to years I unfortunately spent later in private institutions.

    Dan(Miller)

  • http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/author/danmiller/ Dan(Miller)

    Re Comment # 89 — I certainly think so. In college and even in 11th and 12th grades, I took several history and other course from teachers who had great love for their subjects; it showed. That allowed them to make their courses informative, interesting and even entertaining. I do not understand how anyone not in love with the subject matter he tries to teach could accomplish that, even with multiple courses in education to fill the void.

    Dan(Miller)

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/an roger nowosielski

    But the degree in education in the sixties – undergraduate times for both you and I – was considered a cop-out, only a notch above vocational schools. I’m not about to denigrate pedagogy as a totally useless subject, but the methodology of teaching can’t possibly serve as a surrogate for knowledge, love and understanding of the subject matter. The very idea was destined to fail from the get-go.

  • http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/author/danmiller/ Dan(Miller)

    Re Comment #92

    Roger, I knew that there must be something on which we could agree. I remember in particular four of my teachers in 11th and 12th grades. Two taught history, one math and one English. Both history teachers had advanced degrees in their subject and taught it with affection. The math teacher, a retired Marine Corps colonel, not only knew his subject but had had substantial field experience in putting it to practical use. I must have enjoyed (and therefore benefited from) his courses because I can still (more than fifty years later) solve simple problems in algebra and trigonometry. The English teacher loved poetry and other literature; without him, I might never have become acquainted with, much less come to enjoy, Robert Frost, Robert Burns, James Auden and others. None of them had degrees in education; they did just fine without them; their interest in and devotion to their subjects, as well as to their students, were remarkable.

    Dan(Miller)

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/an roger nowosielski

    Actually, I’m certain there’d be more (areas of potential) agreement) if I overcome my bias against strictly legal/istic- and you against philosophical thinking, and we somehow manage to split the difference. H. L. A. Hart was one such mind.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Roger and Dan – Both of you raise some interesting ideas. I agree, love of subject is an important component. Enthusiasm for teaching also helps. I have enjoyed reading your exchange. Thank you.

    Above, you mentioned how advanced English is no longer need by most people. With Microsoft Word and other tools helping out, you are right, it isn’t. I have often wondered if twitter and texting will result in a vast change in our language structure, and am curious to see the long-term effects. Similarly, I think we should stop teaching cursive writing. Other than to use your name, I know not one person under the age of 35 or so that ever writes in cursive. It’s a lot of work for an unnecessary skill.

  • http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/author/danmiller/ Dan(Miller)

    Mr. Wetzel, thanks for your comment # 95. I was being a tad facetious about proper English no longer being needed. To many people two often use too incorrectly and spell checkers (mine at least) don’t catch that or similar goofs. Nor do similar aids said to help with grammar suggest use of the subjunctive when appropriate or its non-use when inappropriate; sometimes they catch improperly mixed nouns and verbs but not consistently. Ditto the use of adjectives where adverbs would be appropriate and vice versa. IMHO (no, I don’t use text messaging), the best way to learn proper English usage is to read what others, who use it properly, have written. Bertrand Russell has long been my favorite. Douglas Adams is a close second. Here is a piece I wrote at BlogCritics about two years ago in which I called upon both for a seance interview. It was fun and I enjoyed writing it then and re-reading it just now. Both had some useful thought toward the end on education; since I wrote the damn thing, I tend to agree with them.

    As an attorney, one of the things I had to do involved writing and interpreting contracts; that as well as statutory interpretation was difficult if not impossible without using a pencil and paper to diagram some sentences; sometimes but not often the meaning (or lack of meaning) there and even in less technical stuff could not even be gleaned in that fashion.

    As to Twitter and the like, IMHO they will probably do significant damage. Other bastardizations of English have done so and I can think of no reason to assume that they won’t.

    Dan(Miller)

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/an roger nowosielski

    Indeed, I too am encouraged, Jerome, by the fact that you’re amenable to new ideas and expanding your thinking beyond the customary. At first, I thought you wouldn’t be.

    Instead of teaching “to the test,” we should be teaching the young how to process new ideas and symbols, whether in the realm of mathematics/physics or liberal arts. It’s all about thinking. Children have a native ability to do so; they’re made to unlearn in high school; and only if they’re lucky, they may be reintroduced to it while in college. So yes, there’s something definitely wrong with standardized testing. Perhaps the federal government’s overreach is the problem, perhaps the size of the nation. I have other ideas, but now it’s not the time to voice them. In any case, teaching by rot accomplishes nothing, inspires nothing, teaches nothing. If anything, it only discourages young folk from love of learning.

    I must add that I disagree with Mr. Miller concerning his pessimistic views on the future of our language. Native languages have an uncanny vitality, they’ve been through all kinds of assaults in the past, and the present is no exception. No doubt they’ll survive the technological revolution and re-emerge as strong as ever, revitalized. After all, we humans are nothing without a language. We have no greater asset.

  • Clavos

    Roger and Parenthetical Dan:

    I’m very pleased that the two of you have at last found some common ground on which you can agree. I’m even more pleased that said ground was discovered while both of you supported my premise that knowledge of the subject to be taught is of paramount importance.

    Thanks.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Clavos – That actually isn’t what they said at all.

    Dan – OK, point taken. Spell check and grammar checks still need a brain behind them that can see when things are wrong. But they have gotten better, and hopefully, a new generation of the programs won’t need so much supervision.

    Roger – English is a very fluid language. I think the important thing to keep in mind about language is that its primary purpose is to communicate. If the person you are communicating with understand you, than language has done its job. I do not think twitter and texting will change English significantly, but it will be changed by it. I was pondering how absurd some of spelling clashes with our pronunciation. I myself purposely say pro-NOUN-ciation and pro-NUNCE with my friends (not in the classroom with students, of course!). I wonder if perhaps a new group of kids not so concerned about what is ‘right’ might move us towards a slightly less complicated language. Surely, that can’t be all bad?

  • Clavos

    Clavos – That actually isn’t what they said at all.

    Roger (#92): “the methodology of teaching can’t possibly serve as a surrogate for knowledge, love and understanding of the subject matter. The very idea was destined to fail from the get-go.”

    Dan(Miller) (#93): “The math teacher, a retired Marine Corps colonel, not only knew his subject but had had substantial field experience in putting it to practical use. I must have enjoyed (and therefore benefited from) his courses because I can still (more than fifty years later) solve simple problems in algebra and trigonometry…None of them had degrees in education; they did just fine without them; their interest in and devotion to their subjects, as well as to their students, were remarkable.”

    (emphasis added)

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    It’s just that very knowledgeable people can be very bad teachers. Not all of the time, of course, but a substantial number of cases. They can lack the ability to convey their knowledge, to make it compelling.

    Of course you must have at least basic knowledge of a subject. But teaching skill is something separate. And unfortunately too rare.

    On another note, I would assume that the emphasis on college prep and advanced placement courses during the last couple of decades must have made a big difference for some students.

    My guess is that the problem is with students who aren’t, or possibly shouldn’t be, college bound in the first place. They should instead get technical, job-oriented training. The notion that everyone must go to college is wrongheaded.

  • Clavos

    My guess is that the problem is with students who aren’t, or possibly shouldn’t be, college bound in the first place. They should instead get technical, job-oriented training. The notion that everyone must go to college is wrongheaded.

    Quoted for Truth!

    The majority of the countries whose students outscored US students in the PISA tests screen their students and steer them to the appropriate upper schooling. That alone had a significant effect in those countries’ overall PISA scores.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Wow, common ground at last.

  • Clavos

    I started to post something to that effect, myself, and am glad you did. :-)

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/an roger nowosielski

    Except it needs be mentioned that Handy argues here from exception rather than the rule I’m referring to a prior post.