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03/18/2012

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Mitchell K.

Becker writes:
"Unfortunately, every public school system also has really bad teachers who cannot be fired. Some miss many classes, others do not know the materials they teach, while others do not really try to teach, and prefer to joke around or mainly give their opinions."

I speak from experience when I say that many teachers take advantage of the captive audiences in their classrooms to promote personal views that are frequently uninformed and self-interested. This includes the promotion of radical feminist views and pro-union propaganda (especially when it paints teachers and public schools in a positive light).

One English literature teacher that I knew (she also taught the debate class and drama) placed a quote in bold, black letters on her wallpaper that read, "Christianity is the opiate of the masses." She could not defend her decision to place that message in her room because the book that she alleged quoted it from ("Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley) doesn't contain that quotation. Nevertheless, it remained in her classroom for the better part of the school year. This same teacher openly advocated abortion rights, affirmative action, and the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) during class even though the ERA had already been dead for a decade and a half.

A few months later, she won teacher of the year honors.
http://articles.latimes.com/1996-10-30/local/me-59429_1_trabuco-hills-high-school

Part of the problem is that some public school teachers follow the lead of the activist college professors they had when they went to school. Others subscribe to the "social justice" agenda advocated by education professors at various universities.

Becker would like to see an end to the tenure system in K-12 schools and even in higher education. Fringe political activists in the classroom would be a good target for the axe to drop first.

Harris Don

Becker would do away with tenure and leave teachers to the tender mercies of school administrators. In conservative communities throughout America that would lead to the silencing of biology and science teachers on topics involving evolution and climate change. One would also expect to see distortions in history class (e.g., the causes of the Civil War, the New Deal), social studies (e.g., race relations in America), literature (e.g., Huckleberry Finn is still controversial to lots of folks), health and sex education. Those teachers not willing to tow the conservative line would be swiftly removed on the pretext of poor performance or budgetary constraints.

Jack

I gave Posner a B this week, but Becker deserves barely a "gentleman's C". Even that grade is something of a grade inflated gift as his essay is filled with unsupported "beliefs".

I covered some of the reasons for tenure that Posner left out, but here, in short, my reply to Becker is that of the social contract between teacher and employer requiring an early decision as to whether the teacher will be retained at tenured status or not. Teaching is a profession in which the young teacher invests his life in a narrow specialty and if not dismissed in the early years of their careers, deserve some job security.

It's not right that the teacher would spend his/her career on tenterhooks or to find their job cut at the whim of a new superintendent or one of many politically driven causes one can easily imagine.

"Tenured" does not mean that the teacher can not be dismissed for not doing the job in the many ways Becker alleges.

Posner at least had the wisdom to temper his conclusions with "not expecting" the lack of tenured status to do much toward improving education.

Becker? instead, plows on citing the, my gawd! "1966??? Coleman study" which he cites as "family background is a much more important contributor to the overall performance of students than are the type of schools that students attend."

Why? So it's not tenure or teacher's unions but the utterly hopeless nature of educating those of "certain" family backgrounds? Did this 46 year old study of a very different America adjust for then, often segregated schools? POOR funding in many districts, but urban and rural, where "family backgrounds" were suspect?

The aging study likely has validity today in that recent "achievement levels" reported HS drop out rates of 9% for "Asians" 20% for "whites" and 40% for "blacks".

If we've known that "family background" is such a determinant over all those decades, why would we not have put more, rather than less funding and energy into the schools where we know the educational challenge is greatest?

Can we afford to "write off" 40% of "blacks" to create an under-educated subculture likely to continue filling our prisons? Do a bit of public handwringing placing "fault" on the family? rant a bit about poor teacher quality and continuing as a society to fail our next generation?

Lastly, there ARE stats on districts having union (thus tenured) teachers achieving better results than those of non-union districts.

My conclusion it that the sooner the US adopts equitable funding for ALL of our school districts (as is the case in most of the more civilized nations that we lag) the better, and having identified more challenging areas, IF we are to "break the cycle" to provide more not less effort in those areas.

(Optimum number of college grads?)

From last week's topic in which I was asking about "optimum number of college grads" today's paper cited a need for 22 million grads in this decade, of which it speculated we'd fall 3 million short.

Armed and forewarned of a shortfall of 300,000 college grads/year are there not solutions to such a shortfall that come to the mind of economists schooled in tweaking supply/demand curves to approach the ever elusive "equilibrium?" And, as perhaps a matter of national security were we to err, would we not be best off by supplying more, not less than the numbers we project we'll need?

Jack

Mitchell: It appears from your laments that you'd have been happy if the alternate views were predominant.

Difficult to judge from afar but perhaps your "debate/English lit" teacher wanted to provoke debate and questioning with her provocative quote from Marx as compared to the unquestioning assumption most kids go through most of their HS years w/o ever questioning. Strikes me as a good teacher.

One of my friends, many years ago, was to debate "Israel vs Arab" views in class. The wise teacher offered them their choice of sides to argue. Then once they'd picked, told them to switch sides and argue the views of the other. Good exercise, don't you think?

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Amanda Parrish

"Since administrators (or older teachers) cannot readily judge which of the hires will turn out to be good teachers, that provides a strong reason why K-12 teachers should not get tenure, especially not after only a short time of teaching."

Really, why not?

I have only been teaching for four years, and while I certainly don't claim to be a seer, I do think I can identify, after seeing a few lessons, the way a teacher interacts with students, discusses her content, and comports herself professionally, if it is likely she will be a good teacher.

There are many, many reasons I loved my time at the University of Chicago, but I am not being either inflammatory or hyperbolic when I say that the best teachers I had were at my public high school. One, a Chicago grad himself, comes to mind.

I recently published an essay at n+1 about the complicated relationship between teachers and their students. While the essay is not directly about tenure, and I'm not even sure that I'd advocate for tenure, I find the dismissive tone of K-12 educators that pervades both of these blog posts distasteful. There is much to be reformed in both secondary and higher education, but aside from the publication argument, which seems weak to me, given the relative homogeneousness of the political ideas I was exposed to throughout both my undergraduate and graduate educations, I don't see why issues of tenure are more problematic at the high school level than at the college level.

Katie

This blog post demonstrates an unfortunate lack of knowledge about what really happens in schools, what K-12 teachers put up with, and what we need to do to strengthen the profession of teaching, not trash it and disrespect it further. Please read something by Diane Ravitch. Anything. You can start here: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2012/03/why_are_teachers_so_upset.html
... since this post directly relates to the question of teacher tenure. School "reforms" don't work. The privatization of the public system is not the answer and is doing more harm than good. Michelle Rhee couldn't teach her way out of a paper bag. Another blog by a former East Harlem principal whose stats show that she knew what she was doing is empty-playgrounds.blogspot.com

Rob

For K-12 teachers, I think your points are extremely valid. I also believe that the age range that these teachers will be teaching is an important issue. The hiring and/or firing of these teachers needs to be accountable- whether that's a a principle, or governing body. But, if heaven forbid, something goes amiss, the trail of responsibility needs to lead somewhere- there needs to be that responsibility to keep caution at the forefront of the employment of teachers.

Juk

I grew up in a conservative region. I had teachers go on and on against liberal views. I even had a teacher try to teach creationism in the context of a biology course. Trust me. There are *plenty* of conservative teachers who just love to try to indoctrinate their students.

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Tax Relief

Jack, no that is not a good exercise. Forcing people to argue a point they dont believe in.

Jack

Tax... No. Understand that this was an educational exercise to provide the student with the views of others.

As for arguing what "they don't BELIEVE IN" just think; suppose someone forced the right wing extremists to actually debate their, all too often, faith based "beliefs". Surely that would be one path to discovering the bankruptcy of the myth and legend stemming from the Reagan era and amplified by ignoring even the history of Reagan's policies.

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observer

becker's post is useful in that it points out the underlying racism behind the "ideas" that he say teacher unions oppose.

Becker admits that the real problem is, as "the 1966 Coleman Report showed decades ago, family background is a much more important contributor to the overall performance of students than are the type of schools that students attend."

Why doesn't the right attack the real problem---because they are racist and don't want to solve the problem. They sure don't want to ever help anyone in the lower classes

So we have a bunch of red herring crap

The reason for tenure laws is very simple. It is to keep teaching jobs from being political patronage, with each school board election leading to mass firings and hirings of the cousins of the new board members

the rest of Becker is just his usual anti-worker rant. If it is bad for workers to join together to rent labor, why do we permit capitalist to join together, to rent capital.

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Becker notes that the traditional case for tenure at the university level is that tenure gives professors freedom to express unpopular views in their writings and lectures. The second concept that tenure provides a stable group of faculty to judge new recruits is a new one on me but seems reasonable. However, in my view there is a much more important justification for tenure at the university level that is not generally acknowledged. Tenure provides an opportunity for individuals to focus intensely on one subject area or one intellectual problem during their entire lives. This provides a cadre of experts with deep subject knowledge derived from decades of study. These individuals are highly valuable to the society. Employees in the corporate section do not generally develop this level of expertise because companies by their nature frequently change priorities and reallocate their employees to focus on different problems. In my opinion, the benefits of university tenure far outweigh any costs caused by low productivity on the part of a small proportion of professors who take advantage of the system.

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Jack

Observer -- exactly...... and with more from Pentagon.

Ha! thinking of the practical vs theoretical, a joke:

The attractive bartenderess in a bar near the U-district announces that whoever gets there first will be treated very well.

The catch being that on each move the man can only go half the remaining distance. The math major gives up saying "You'll never get there". The engineering student heads out saying "True, but I'll get close enough!"

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Eric

An argument for K-12 tenure I did not see mentioned is the job threat posed by difficult parents, especially in small communities with elected school boards. Giving a low grade to, or disciplining, a student with vocal or powerful parents would be a career-ending mistake in the a sense of tenure.

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School "reforms" don't work. The privatization of the public system is not the answer and is doing more harm than good. Michelle Rhee couldn't teach her way out of a paper bag. Another blog by a former E

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