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Obama's roadblock

By Tom Toles

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Teachable moment

Further discussion about a movie I still haven't seen, Waiting for Superman. I don't like to put on a conservative hat often, because it's like joining the avalanche of crazy. And any groups organized for working people in any capacity, particularly teachers, are under considerable erosive pressure as it is. In my own form of limited epistemic closure, I tend to read more liberal commentary than conservative. Even so, I have not yet seen anything resembling an argument that it is NOT too hard to fire a bad teacher.

The best I've seen is that it's not QUITE as hard as it used to be, or not technically IMPOSSIBLE, or there aren't THAT MANY, or various versions of slippery slopery. I don't think these are good enough. I have had enough experience with unions to have seen the way often egregiously bad behavior is the squeaky wheel that gets union grease. Due consideration for due process, but this pattern is BAD for unions, therefore BAD for workers, and in the field of teaching, unforgivably bad for classrooms full of kids who deserve better. (Note: can we expand this conversation to include BAD DOCTORS, a group who seem lately to have skated away from the same level of public scrutiny and outrage, probably because conservatives only seem happy directing their fire at easy targets.) Whatever, but seeing problems and being unwilling to correct them is not the liberal position in any case. So back on with my liberal hat, my version of it anyway. --Tom Toles

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By Tom Toles  | October 4, 2010; 12:00 AM ET
Categories:  GOP, Obama White House  
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Comments

Hear, hear, Toles.

If a reader desires to read the posts firs-to-last, the reader will want to start at the bottom and read upward.

Yet, one writer is outraged that unions represent their dues-paying members... much like the Chamber of Commerce represents businesses, I suppose, and the AMA represents doctors, the Bar Association represents lawyers, the SBA represents small businesses, corporate lobbyists represent corporations... HOW DARE THEY!
Seems to leave room for equal opportunity of outrage, but none exists. Why is that?

And, yes, the "average" teacher's wage, assuming "average" includes teachers from Pre-K to niversity professors and assuming "average" includes the average-AGED teacher, is $40,000 per year... with "time off" for summer to pursue hobbies like, oh, pursuing a higher level of certification in order to improve one's professional stature by working on a Master's degree. As opposed to what average wage for the same level of experience in any other profession?

Is $40,000 per year with 20 years experience (likely post-Master's) doing work that requires a minimum Bachelor's level education for starters something to aspire to?
If so, by all means, choose teaching.

Posted by: jonroesler | October 5, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Nothing said here will resolve the situation or even affect policy in any meaningful way--I would like to point out, however, that the same people who are now insisting that they need the ability to summarily dismiss teachers are the same people who hired all these "bad" teachers in the first place, the same people who trained all these "bad" teachers, the same people who wrote performance reviews throughout the careers of these "bad" teachers that allowed them to win tenure, etc.

It's politically expedient to bash teachers right now but they were the ones who were willing to do the job before the cameras showed up and they will still be there when the cameras leave--I expect that the superstar heroes of educational reform will end up wherever the cameras go.

Posted by: osha1 | October 5, 2010 8:33 AM | Report abuse

To BObbo2
"Barely escaped a dictatorship" is all about the “Party of No" that used to be the "Party of Fear". They were so paranoid that they could see "terrorists" on every corner. "Weapons of Mass Destruction" and "Insurgents" were everywhere and the only solution to the problem was to "Shock and Awe" Iraq. We needed to break the spirits of the terrorists so torture and humiliation became a necessary evil.
When none of that worked the “Party of Fear” realized they were outside of the law. The "Party of Fear" had to get a firm control of the government in order to avoid prosecution. They began controlling communications and limiting human rights and we were headed for a dictatorship. Fortunately for everyone, they did not start a third world war claiming emergency measures because Russia has "Weapons of Mass Destruction". If the "Party of fear" gets back into power; it will be a fatal error.


Posted by: OchamsRazor | October 5, 2010 12:49 AM | Report abuse

To BObbo2
"Barely escaped a dictatorship" is all about the “Party of No" that used to be the Party of "Fear". They were so paranoid that they could see "terrorists" on every corner. "Weapons of Mass Destruction" and "Insurgents" were everywhere and the only solution to the problem was to "Shock and Awe" Iraq. We needed to break the spirits of the terrorists so torture and humiliation became a necessary evil.
When none of that worked the “Party of Fear” realized they were outside of the law. The "Party of Fear" had to get a firm control of the government in order to avoid prosecution. They began controlling communications and limiting human rights and we were headed for a dictatorship. Fortunately for everyone, they did not start a third world war claiming emergency measures because Russia has "weapons of mass destruction". If the "Party of fear" gets back into power; it will be a fatal error.


Posted by: OchamsRazor | October 5, 2010 12:40 AM | Report abuse

Ocham, I, too am amazed by the madness you speak of. An interesting angle: The founding CEO of Fox News is a former Republican strategist, said to have been key in the GOP takeover of the South. Seems he taught the party of business to talk folksy, wave the flag, and push "family values". So, bad thinking or good PR? Both.

Bobbo, I can't defend the unions protecting bad teachers, either, but it is foolish to act as if they are the only problem our education system has. You defy logic, as usual:
"When a teachers union representative says something such as "I will be interested in kids only when they become members of my union" the taxpayer has a problem with the unions that represent the teachers that they pay for."
Corrected logic (and grammar): "When a teacher's ....my union," the rep should be replaced with one who has some sense.

Posted by: spaghettus | October 4, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

If only the webmaster understood that some people like to be able to read first to last.
As if people read books or watched movies that way...

Posted by: zeprider | October 4, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

The problem is not the teachers or the schools, it's the kids. Too many come in never having been read to or exposed to cultural enriching activities that other families take for granted. Basically, more idiots have kids than smart people and the smart people are getting out-numbered. Not sure what the solution to that would be, but that's the truth of the matter.

Posted by: drumdominic | October 4, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

To Tom Toles,
It is important to make it clear that liberal is not a Party; it is an attitude as is conservative. Everyone one is both liberal and conservative depending on the subject matter.
What matters is what is the best solution to the problem.
We need to clear the communications of muddy concepts that undermine realistic solutions to problems.
David Eddy

Posted by: OchamsRazor | October 4, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Barely escaped dictatorship?

Posted by: bobbo2 | October 4, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

To Bobbo2,
You are a sad clown who is distorting the truth and aiding in the creation of deadly conflict.
We barely escaped becoming a dictatorship and the total collapse of our economy and you want to go back to that?
We need to find out what is causing the mental madness that is undermining the stability of our nation. Is it the lead pots or the microwave nuking of the brain?

Posted by: OchamsRazor | October 4, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Concerning your cartoon, obviously drawn in the dark, about the Pledge to America Mr. Toles. Do you gag on the idea that "a free people govern themselves?" Do you gag on the idea that "Government's powers are derived from the consent of the governed?" Do you gag on the idea that the Government should work within the Constitution "as constructed by it's framers and honor the original intent?" I gag on a Speaker of the House saying that "we have to pass the bill to see whats in it." After November you are going to be doing alot of gagging Mr. Toles. Maybe that will improve your "artistic" abilities. I will have to find an alternative to artistic. Because art it ain't.

Posted by: bobbo2 | October 4, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Much of the fearfulness about removing an incompetent teacher settles and dwells on the infamous “bottom line:” in other wrods, it’s just way too expensive for a school district to assemble the parts and proceed with the canning process. And in most states, it’s a process determined by law (which is code for “legislators wrote it.”). In our state, my single example BTW, the largest lobby – which translated means “the largest lobbying group affecting the decisions of the legislators” – is the state’s teachers’ union. Once again – which translates into “this is worth mentioning again” – the group that has the greatest influence (which is code for “gives the biggest pile of do-re-mi”) upon the state lawmakers is the organized labor group representing thousands of P/k-12 teachers, and thousands more teaching at the college level. Given this politically pragmatic perspective as our homework for today, is it any wonder that tenure remains securely on the books, and that school board members start to flush-and-fibrillate when the words “charges against one of our poorer teachers” are uttered by the superintendent in executive session? No major mystery there, TT.

Posted by: dudeupnorth | October 4, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

There are many problems with teachers beyond unions.

1) Many college students become teachers because they think they can teach. Unfortunately, this is not always true. Colleges need a better system to assess the skills of those that want to major in education, before they get too far down the road. Let's face it...some people are simply not cut out to teach, whether they have the degree or not.

2) Teachers are dealing with many more issues in school than they ever did before. Fore instance, cell phones, I think, are something that need to be banned in schools. Students and parents got along for a quite some time without them. These are a major distraction for students, and thus make teachers' jobs that much harder.

3) Social work is becoming more and more a part of what a teacher needs to do, and often times is not prepared to do. So many students are coming from single-parent families, or are latch-key kids with no one home because the parents are working all the time. Teachers are often not equipped to deal with the issues that arise from these situations.

4) Don't even get me started on NCLB and the ridiculousness of some of its provisions.

My dad was a union man, working for railroads back when the unions meant safer working conditions, reasonable hours, decent compensation, and benefits. Unions have a place, but when they start to defend bad employees at all costs, they lose relevance and respect. Teachers unions need to recognize that yes, there are bad teachers, and they shouldn't be allowed to continue to teach our children if they're not up to the task. At the same time, people need to recognize that teachers unions can serve a purpose, making sure that teachers are paid a decent wage and recognized for all the "above and beyond" many of them put in while helping to educate our kids.

Posted by: PrairieDog60 | October 4, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Low pay for teachers? Only four States have an average salary less than $40,000 dollars a year. Plus teachers get all holidays off and the summer. Pretty good deal.

Posted by: bobbo2 | October 4, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

"I have not yet seen anything resembling an argument that it is NOT too hard to fire a bad teacher." Holy double negatives Batman! Am I the only one who had trouble understanding the argument in this piece? In other words, what are you trying to say, Tom?

Posted by: paul6554 | October 4, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Teachers and their union, while a roadblock, are only half the problem. We do need to make it "easier" to get rid of bad teachers, but we need to be able to recruit good teachers too, and with the low pay and routine it practically takes a saint to want to do it for a living. Other countries recruit teachers from their top graduates. We don't and with the low respect and low pay it's pretty much impossible to do so anyways. We also fail to give them adequate support and professional development to change and improve their performance to fit with new methods and ideas. And that's just the beginning of the teacher issues. And yes, again, the union does stand in the way of a lot of necessary reform, but they aren't the only ones unwilling to change and unwilling to invest in education.

It's also easy to blame teachers when the entire system is a mess. It hasn't been changed in a century. Kids go to school, go from one subject to another for a 50 minutes, never connecting any subject with another and seeing how they all fit together to help you understand this world we live in. Kids still get three months off a year to forget everything they learn so they can go work on the farm, for God's sake.

Even well-off school districts lack enough computers for all their students. I mean I'm at work now on a computer. I haven't had a job where I didn't use a computer all day every day in well over a decade (whether this is a good or bad thing is really beside the point--it's reality). They should each have one right there at their desks to use like they will when they're adults. Plus think of the resources they would have at their fingertips with the Internet. With how much textbooks cost it isn't even that much more expensive!

Posted by: jhnnywalkr | October 4, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Be careful what you wish for.

If it's too easy to fire incompetent teachers, it becomes very easy to fire competent teachers with whom the prevailing political thought disagrees.

That's also quite harmful to the educational health of students.

Posted by: GeneTouchet | October 4, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

I know it is a ""family newspaper" but the real view the President has of the Republicans is with them pointed the other way.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | October 4, 2010 8:09 AM | Report abuse

According to the teachers unions, tenure laws ensure due process for teachers. Al Shanker, former President of the American Federation of Teachers said "alot of people who have been hired as teachers are not competent." One New Jersey teachers union representative said "I've gone in and defended teachers who should not have been pumping gas." One representative even said that it was impossible to get a bad teacher out unless they commit a lewd act. It can cost a school district $100,000 to $200,000 to remove a bad teacher. The teacher's unions are interested in one thing and one thing only, their rank and file. When a teachers union representative says something such as "I will be interested in kids only when they become members of my union" the taxpayer has a problem with the unions that represent the teachers that they pay for. Tenure is old fashioned. Unions are old fashioned. Taxpayers deserve excellent service for their money. Parents deserve none but the best teachers for their children. Whether the unions think so or not.

Posted by: bobbo2 | October 4, 2010 6:55 AM | Report abuse

Yes, also firing from the left, I have to agree with your comments on bad teachers and teachers unions. The students of the bottom 20% of teachers learn on average only half as much as the average for their subject, the students of the top 20% learn an estimated 50% more. That means a child in a class with a top teacher will learn roughly a full year's worth of material more than one with a poor teacher. To leave that poor teacher in place is to mistreat - in today's competitive society we could say to abuse - the kids locked in with that teacher.

Unions do themselves no good to fully defend deplorable performance. Yes, their role is to defend due process. But in the case of bad teachers their role should also be to ensure bad teachers are removed from their jobs. It is the only moral position. As such, they should do their best to ensure the process is effective at removing bad apples.

There is a difference between being an iron worker or a UAW member, and impacting on a daily basis the lives our kids. In either case, though, we should have some system of ensuring performance; in one, that of teachers, the bar just needs to be higher, the system for removing incompetence more expedient. And for unions overall, the teachers unions and their intransigence is very damaging. Everyone wants their kids to have good teachers, and the fact that they often don't just upsets parents, who sees their kids suffer through a wasted year - and see unions as the ones that have caused this to the case.

Posted by: harkish | October 4, 2010 12:34 AM | Report abuse

I think some of your elementary teachers should be fired for passing you through the system despite your chronic use of capitalization for emphasis. I doubt even the loony left bloggers you frequent do this. Why do you? What's next, smiley faces? Or, in your case, frowny faces. l8r, dude.

Posted by: skinnynomore | October 3, 2010 10:08 PM | Report abuse

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