Just like you can count on “Back to School” season cranking up retail sales this time of year, you can also count on it bringing on a new volley of criticism aimed at school teachers and their unions.
Leading off the charge this year was an op-ed written by ex-NBC talent Campbell Brown. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, she claimed that “teachers unions go to bat for sexual predators” and that parents in New York City have a “tremendous fear about what is happening in the classroom” due to the “trifling consequences or accountability” imposed on misbehaving teachers.
At the same time Brown was slinging accusations toward teachers and their unions, marketing hype was building for the new movie “Won’t Back Down” that portrays how a group of parents use a law called the Parent Trigger to take over a “failing school” from teachers and their union. Brown, in fact, mentions the movie in her piece as yet more proof of how people have “turned on unions.”
Writing about the movie in The New York Times, Frank Bruni explains that the film portrays teachers unions as having lost their way, “resisting change, resorting to smear tactics and alienating the idealists in its ranks.”
His conclusion is that teachers unions, in sticking up for job protections and working conditions, “seem indifferent to the welfare of schoolchildren” and are prone to “reflexive, defensive attachments to the old ways of doing things.”
Adding a third blow in the pummeling, CNN made an interview with education historian Diane Ravitch — who is a persistent critic of the current education policy — into an opportunity to blame teachers for the alleged poor performance of American students on assessments.
In what was anticipated to be, at least from Ravitch’s expectations, a counter balance to a recent interview with Michelle Rhee — who was allowed during her time on camera to speak freely about the “failure” of America’s public school — what Ravitch encountered instead was “one of the most biased interviews” she had ever experienced.
Amidst this media fascination with blaming teachers and their unions for America’s much-maligned public school system — always an understood assumption in these portrayals — a much bigger and more significant endangerment to the nation’s children went generally unnoticed.
Sexual Predators, Teachers, And Test Scores — Oh My!
What endangerment to children could possibly be worse than sexual predators, teachers’ job protections, and low scores on tests?
First, in the case of Brown’s accusations about the cover-ups of teacher sexual misconduct, there’s a lot more sizzle here than steak. She didn’t describe a single instance when the union actually “went to bat” for a teacher accused of sexual misconduct. Instead, her main beef, hidden under the hyperbolic header, was that independent agents investigate and adjudicate complaints of teachers’ sexual misconduct toward students.
Her preference was to do away with any independent actors, so any accused teacher can quickly be fired by the Chancellor with only “the opportunity to appeal terminations in court.” Sound fair to you?
Frank Bruni’s observations of the movie “Won’t Back Down” took quite a leap in turning a fictional portrayal to an accurate assessment of reality.
To accomplish this feat, Bruni left a lot of the context surrounding the movie completely out of the picture, including the divisive history of Parent Trigger laws, the powerful interests behind these laws, and why opposition to them may be warranted.
Fortunately, Leonie Haimson from Parents Across America explains the bigger picture “Won’t Back Down” leaves out:
While the movie depicts an inspiring story of parental revolt, actual efforts to use the Parent Trigger have been driven by billionaire-funded supporters of privatization… None of these efforts has actually improved a school.
And regarding CNN’s “gotcha” interview with Diane Ravitch, turns out that the indicators of education performance that the news outlet pointed to happened to be completely misunderstood by the interviewer Randi Kaye and the CNN staff.
As Ravitch explained at her own blog, in the interviewer’s “relentless effort to ‘prove’ that US education is failing,” she failed to discern the difference between a scale used to examine trend lines and a standard used to discern performance — wonky for sure, but required knowledge if you want to make statements about the performance of American students on tests. That section of the interview ended up being cut. Ooops!
Meanwhile, Back On Earth
As teachers and their unions experience an assault from the media on their integrity and commitment to children, there’s another far more damaging attack on school children that remains generally under-reported.
Just this weekend, the Obama White House made an attempt to detail the carnage in issuing the report “Investing In Our Future: Returning Teachers To The Classroom.”
Writing at Huffington Post, Joy Resmovits highlights some of the report’s disturbing findings, including
- • 300,000 education jobs lost — 7,000 in the last month alone
• 292 school districts taking drastic measures such as cutting back to a four-day school week and dropping full-day kindergarten
• Pittsburgh laying off 280 teachers and Cleveland cutting teachers and programs in music, art and gym
• Student-teacher ratios, reversing a long trend, increasing to a national ratio 4.6 higher
The rationale behind this hack-job on the nation’s public schools is, of course, a “times are tough” mantra spouted by our nation’s political leaders — especially conservative Republican governors and other supporters of “austerity measures.”
Far too often, media outlets are complicit in spreading the message that the nation’s schools must make do with less while they pile on the pressure to “raise standards” and do more to “measure up.”
This is absurd. The problem, as John H. Jackson, President of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, explained in an interview with the National Education Association, is that the media is helping to enable an environment in which “it’s easier to talk about standards” than it is to talk about what would actually support “teachers to teach and students to learn.”
“Look at it this way,” Jackson continued, “For any student who is drowning at school, moving the life preserver further away isn’t going to make them a better swimmer. Our challenge is to identify the supports that will allow that child to become a better swimmer.”
Those kinds of supports, Jackson maintained, should include investments in high quality early childhood education, reading programs, and a “more student-centered approach” that provides “additional academic, social, and health supports.”
Yet this discussion about “better supports” is barely on the agenda. And now we have a Republican presidential candidacy that is determined to make the situation even worse.
The Republican Party’s Devastating Duo
With expected nominee Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, the Republican party’s presidential platform has cemented the party to a platform that guarantees deeper and crueler cuts to America’s children — especially those who are the least served.
While lots of media attention has focused on Ryan’s record of hurting the poor and elderly, his reputation for hurting children is arguably even worse.
Ryan’s record on supporting the nation’s children — including his budget proposal that passed in the House — is a minefield littered with
- • Cuts to child nutrition programs
• Cuts ($2.7 billion) to Title I grants, the federal funds that go to resources for school districts with low-income students
• Cuts to grants for special education that help students with physical disabilities and learning problems do well in school
• Cuts to the Head Start early childhood education program, which helps disadvantaged kids get ready for school.
Bloggers at Think Progress calculated that Ryan’s budget would result in “$5.3 trillion less in education spending than President Obama’s budget over the next decade,” with massive cuts of 33% less in spending during a time when the nation’s population of school children — especially young children of black and Hispanic origin — will continue to rise.
According to Think Progress, Ryan endorsed the A-Plus Act, which would “strip resources and protections away from disadvantaged children” and “prevent the Secretary of Education from holding states accountable for results until three years after receiving federal funds.”
What Think Progress also noted is that while a Paul Ryan approach to education would require heavy cuts to current programs for children, there would be no new investments in programs that would “actually improve schools once the cuts are made.”
With Ryan teaming up with Romney, what we have is a devastating duo when it comes to supporting children. A page at the website for Care2.org lists even more travesties:
- • Cutting as much as $1.1 billion from early childhood education, denying “more than 2 million poor children the opportunity for high-quality early education.”
• “Blocking support intended to help avoid educator layoffs and prevent ballooning class sizes.
• Increasing support for school vouchers, “which give public money to families to attend private and religious schools.”
Romney-Ryan don’t spare higher education from the assault either, as they’ve voiced opposition to federal funds and lending that help disadvantaged students attend college and promoted privatization of the public university system.
Despite the Republican ticket’s general abandonment of investments in children’s health, education, and well being, so many in the media have portrayed Paul Ryan’s addition as adding “seriousness” and “deep convictions” to the presidential contest. How is that?
The Bands Played On
While the Republicans rolled out an agenda devastating to the well being of children, the media remained more fascinated with the subject of teachers and their apparent Herculean powers to overcome just about any kind of crappy circumstances our society shovels their way.
The preference for fantasy was on grand display at the recent event“Teachers Rock”
During this “celebration of teachers,” there were no doubt (full disclosure: I did not attend) plenty of opportunities for the stars in attendance and those performing to rhapsodize about a “great teacher in my life” and “the sacrifice” that teaches make “for the kids.”
In the meantime, few seem to have noticed that sponsors of the event are some of the very same organizations that oppose teachers unions and push for Parent Trigger laws that most teachers are against. (Scenes from the move “Won’t Back Down” played during the event.)
And one of the charities receiving proceeds from ticket sales was Teach for America, an organization that has developed into more of a leadership pipeline for a political movement than a legitimate source for effective teachers who are committed to years of practice in the classroom.
How odd that America’s affection for teachers is preoccupied with the ones from our past, while we attack the ones in the classroom today. And how confusing that teachers are told again and again how valuable they are to the country as the press fawns over leaders who cut teachers’ support. And then, of course, when teachers organize to speak out about those confusions, so many Very Serious People seem to find that . . . well, unbecoming.
Wonder when someone will make a movie about that?
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