Battle Lines: Edujobs v Teacher Job Leverage

Rick Hess Straight Up Blog on Education Week

Today, as I did my usual morning reading of the education news of the day I ran across this blog on the EdWeek blog site by Rick Hess called “Straight Talk”. Mr. Hess used this blog piece to discuss how the Edujobs bill was harmful and wasteful. I was enraged at large parts of this post, which prompted my to draw some Battle Lines.

Mr. Hess began his piece by claming that “for more than a half century, we’ve spent more dollars on K-12 schooling each year than we did the year before. The problem with this is that no one makes tough choices in flush times.” There are a couple of issues with his claim whether or not it is empirically correct. During the time period that Mr. Hess mentioned that there has been an increase in spending on K-12 schooling there has also been an increase in the amount of students being educated. The increase in student spending comes from the obvious increase in population, but it also comes from federal mandates to educate students of colour, students with disabilities, and students who speak English as a second language. A federal mandate was only necessary due to the fact that these groups had not been given the education investments in the past. The addition of these populations on the educational landscape prompted research for intervention methods and tools to help accommodate these new population groups. Even after all of these years, educators still struggle with English Language Learners, Special Education students, and students of colour. Using the empirical “[spending] more dollars on K-12 schooling each year than we did the year before” is a disingenuous argument even for Rick Hess, which is void of an historical conceptualization of why there has been the increase in K-12 spending.

I agree with Mr. Hess in his argument that K-12 school districts and superintendents need to reassess the programs and the money being devoted to it. Additionally, I believe he was correct in his assertion that “[even] if you’re a tough-minded for-profit CEO or a cuddly koala of a non-profit executive; nobody is eager to squeeze salaries, shut down inefficient programs, seek out savings, or trim employees when they can avoid it [and] a manager who tries when times are good is just a mean-spirited S.O.B. who alienates staff and creates disruptions.” However trying to align K-12 schools on the same playing field as a for-profit or even a non-profit organization is misguided, and it is that type of thinking that has led to the privatization of public schools, the adoption of corporate tactics, and the view that schools are businesses. The Edujobs wasn’t a bill for a particular district, a particular state, or particular school. The Edujobs bill was developed to address an INDUSTRY problem. Using the recession as leverage for advancing any agenda is just plain wrong. Education administrators should not be trying to use the “path of least resistance” to make changes that affects teachers, parents, students, and the community. This is what makes Race to the Top problematic. Race to the Top is using state deficits as leverage to push an agenda. Whether or not someone agrees or disagrees with the agenda, it should be left to the stakeholders in conjunction with the superintendents to make that decision and not just be labelled as perpetuators of the “status quo.”

Barney Frank clearly articulates my issue with the notion of “efficiency-hungry organizations.” “But it is clear that left entirely untouched by public policy, the capitalist system will produce more inequality than is socially healthy or than is necessary for maximum efficiency.” Mr. Hess’ unfounded argument that schools have taken part in a “lethargy that takes root in bloated bureaucracies” is the same tired rhetoric that many people who favour privatization or the adoption of business or “market” tactics in education. While the “market” has garnered many successes and failures in the past (in booms and busts –including the most recent recession) “the market purports to possess divine attributes that are not always completely evident to mortals but must be trusted and affirmed by faith.” (Ideology and Education, Smith, pg. 1). In that vein, Mr. Hess argues “the series of edu-bailouts has made it harder for state chiefs or superintendents inclined to stand up and try to address this trend (lethargy). Visions of free money–especially free money targeted for “job preservation”–makes anyone looking to squeeze payrolls look like a surly killjoy.” Again, I do believe that district expenses need to be re-examined but most superintendents are elected. Therefore the superintendent is accountable to the people they serve and not just the balance sheets, the city, or the federal government. It is only in the most “martketized” school districts do the mayor appoint the superintendent to make those decisions that Mr. Hess is purporting is being stifled by this bill. “If a supe knows that plumping the payroll is going to make things worse next year [and] lock in new benefit commitments” is just plain irresponsible and that supe needs to held accountable.

I am glad that Barack Obama finally showed the leadership on education that he campaigned on during his election (e.g. on the sides of the teacher, community members, parents, students, and UNIONS). Many may read my response and disagree with my arguments. I hope we can all agree on the fact that it would be contradictory for the Obama Administration to want to make us number one on the globe for education, but use its teachers as leverage.

So TEACHERS enjoy your jobs, enjoy your work, and in the words of Richard Hess “Gee, I hope [you[ really enjoy that $10 billion.”

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About mpal219
Educator, Student, Reader, Reformer, & Activist

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