Deliverance: 411 on the 313—Charter Schools, Political Payback & Union Busting
Of late, our legislature and governor have set their sights on the reform of the public education system. According to a February 22, 2011 Free Press article “more than 50 percent of high schools have fewer than 10 percent of their students ‘college-ready’ with 230 high schools having 0 percent ready.” (I find this hard to believe.) It seems that large chunks of the public school system are failing, and this “crisis” provides another opportunity for our government overlords to once again “fix” everything.
Already forgotten is the last “fix” foisted upon us, good old Proposition A. That boondoggle resulted in hoodwinked voters trading local control of their schools for 30 pieces of silver, oops, I mean reduced property taxes. Before Prop. A, local districts were able to spend whatever they wanted. This liberty led to (surprise!) fiscal inequality between districts. Some districts spent more than others, some had administrators who stole so much that there was no toilet paper in the johns. Rather than arresting and jailing the local criminals, governor Engler instead, sold this proposition A idea of centralization, so that the state could go in and “fix” the mess that “those people” had made of their school districts (gee wiz- sound familiar?).
Even casual observers of history know that the only way to “equalize” inequalities is to drag the top down. So the top districts were guillotined (think French Revolution) to provide cover for cowardly and crooked “reformer” politicians.
At the same time the idea of “educational accountability” became popular. Those darn teachers were not on the job, and we needed to keep an eye on them. This resulted in the MEAP test—the single stupidest idea ever to come out of Lansing. Anyone with a any intelligence could see the naked power grab here. He who controls the test controls the curriculum. Ask the Chinese how testing worked for them. Let’s all wonder how well Thomas Edison and Henry Ford would have done on the MEAP.
Back in the 80s I taught with a gentleman whom I considered to be the finest Chemistry teacher in the state. He was asked to be on the team that made up one of the early MEAP tests. He quit after one meeting and when I asked him why, he responded that, “They are all crazy and none of them knows anything about Chemistry.” This is anecdotal, but you get my drift. The political parties take turns re-writing the test, according to party in power, and educational success becomes a secondary consideration. Thus, “more than 50 percent of high schools have fewer than 10 percent of their students ‘college- ready’ with 230 high schools having 0 percent ready.”
Concurrent with the consolidation of State control over the educational/governmental complex was the rise of union-controlled school boards. The hustle works like this—teachers’ unions give money to school board candidates who then end up neg0tiating big contracts for union members. In the fat years of the 80s and 90s, no one noticed the snow ball gathering mass at the top of the hill. No one ever thought of the ramifications of paying teachers $100,000 dollars a year plus full medical benefits. You cannot pay retired teachers $40,000 a year plus full medical to not work, for a period of time almost equal to as long as they have worked.
The incestuous relationship between the Democratic party and teachers unions cannot be denied and I guarantee you that, at the top, what is best for the children is seldom considered. In the same manner that one can live in a “police state,” we in Michigan live in a “teacher state.” So now, local school boards, rather than determining local issues relating to local educational needs of local student populations, spend their time arguing over how to comply to “dictates” from the wizards of smart.
The solution our current gang of political mucketymucks conjure is to bring in corporations (corporations are people too—or are corporations soylent green?) and encourage “competition” as a means of improving educational choice. Rather than the simple, obvious, logical, and rational solution of letting the state-provided funding amount (around $7,000 per child) follow the child to whichever school the parents decide to send her to—gasp—even a religious school, the state sets up a byzantine labyrinth of charter schools, run through the university system, that allow private enterprises to profit from tax dollars.
This move provides the smooth transition our government/educational complex leader worms need to get into the private sector apple. The newest and most prominent government/educational complex leader is Michelle Rhee, the ex-chancellor of the DC schools, and founder of StudentsFirst, who wants even more emphasis on standardized tests. In a December 29, 2011 USA Today article about her Rhee is quoted as saying, “Her non-profit’s 1 million members in 2012 will lobby for a re-authorization of No Child Left Behind that places even more emphasis not less, on the results of standardized tests.”
The federal government is not the answer—it rarely is.
Why do I bring Ms. Rhee into a discussion concerning education in the state of Michigan? In a word: money. Ms. Rhee has inserted herself into Michigan politics to the tune of $951,000 dollars spent lobbying our elected officials in 2011, even ponying up over $ 70,000 for State Rep. Paul Scott’s recall election (The MEA contributed $140,000 to the effort). The StudentsFirst PAC spent the most money lobbying in the state in 2011. According to Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll, Ms. Rhee was instrumental in writing parts of legislation regarding teacher tenure reform and schools of choice. I think people should understand who is crafting our state’s laws—the newest of which, SB 618, will radically alter the way in which charter schools in Michigan are created. Included in this law is a provision allowing existing K-12 districts to apply for charters. When you combine this with the fact that these new schools do not have to adhere to existing union contracts, and can be located in almost any district, I can predict with fair certainty that these schools will be used to bust the teachers’ union. Rather than having the will and the guts to ban public sector employees from unionizing, our representatives are playing a sneaky underhanded game.
Until the 60s, when President Kennedy waved his magic pen and legalized public sector unions, they did not exist. Even Democrat Franklin Roosevelt (King of the 1%) was against public sector unions. Local school boards used to decide how much their community could afford to pay teachers, and that was that. Teachers were a respected part of the community and considered professionals. With the advent of unionization, each new contract negotiation pitted teachers against taxpayers. People began to look at teachers as “union” types and not professionals. Republicans learned that demonizing teachers is an easy way to garner votes [A2P Notes: Check out this widely shared piece about the demonization of teachers in Michigan by the GOP written by A2Politico writer Chris Savage]. Teachers, by unionizing, have made themselves into a political football. So much of modern education comes down to political posturing and money grubbing, with teachers and education being punted from side-to-side.
The answer, I believe, is to go back to local control. I fully understand that this means the deconstruction of a massive system that was a hundred years in the making, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Go to your child’s school; watch the school board meetings on television if you can’t attend; pay attention to the government/education complex. Having spent ten years in the classroom I can tell you, with fair certainty, that the further you get from the student, the less the student matters to the people in charge. There is a whole industry built to sop up tax dollars in the name of the children, and until we deal with it, we’ll just shuffle from one boss to the next.
In the final analysis, the education of your children is, and has always been, up to you. Just as Prop. A was not the fix, SB 618 is not going to be the “fix” either. As for the expansion of charter schools in Michigan, the MEA had better hold on, because despite the fact that Governor Snyder has said he does not want a work-for-hire state, or to bust unions, their ride is about to get very bumpy.
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