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Any Way You Want It, That’s The Way You Need It?

statehouseIt’s been quite a run recently for Ohio’s schools.  We made national news a few weeks ago with a politically motivated education bill in the Ohio House that would destroy our science and social studies curriculum.

Not to be outdone, The Ohio State Board of Education followed that up with proposed changes to 5 of 8 requirements, which would lower requirements and jeopardize essential services like art, gym, music, counseling services, librarians, and other support personnel in our districts – but in defense of the proposed change would significantly enhance the profit potential of for profit charter schools.

Well, it didn’t take long for the Ohio House to see that bet and then raise the stakes.  Yep, today they doubled down on stupidity by including an amendment to House Bill 343 that would change the way our teachers are compensated so that districts can just do whatever they want.

The chairman of the House Education Committee, Gerald Stebelton was quoted by as saying “Right now, if two teachers who start on the same day and one is a terrible teacher and one’s a really good teacher, they’re still lockstep with their pay,” Stebelton said. “It’s an easy decision for schools to do the lockstep thing, but it’s not in the best interest of the kids.”  Eliminating a basic framework for the equitable compensation of public employees must be in the best interest of the kids because well if he said it, it must be true, right?

But wait… who decides what makes a teacher really good or really bad? What will that be based on? Standardized test scores?  Well, teachers, make sure you only get the smart kids because otherwise you apparently suck.  Is it based on growth? Well make sure you don’t get the gifted kids or the kids with special needs in your class, because they won’t be able to show the growth and you’ll be proven to be a bad teacher.  Is it based on making a meaningful difference in the life of a C student who was in danger of dropping out, but may just have a shot at breaking the cycle of poverty by going to college.  Screw that.  In the new Ohio education systems it’s either straight A’s and big bonus money or pack your book bag, apple & all, and get out of the building. Maybe it can be defined by local school boards, who have shown such consistency and wisdom across the state in recent years.

Let’s be real.  This is not about improving teacher quality.  This is not about strengthening education.  This is about devaluing educators.  This is about pushing more and more great teachers out of our public schools. This is about further destabilizing public education so more money will go to for profit charters and less money will go to the public schools and professional educators who care for and guide our children.  This is about repaying the massive campaign contribution dollars of the for profit charters.

The new mantra seems to be flexibility.  It must have tested well in focus groups.  Flexibility without restriction is the language driving the proposed elimination of 5 of 8 and apparently flexibility without restriction is what’s going to help us improve the quality of our educators too.  Nonsense.  This is really about making all of public education so flexible that it collapses entirely.

Not to be impolite, but as clear as I can say this I will.  Dear Ohio House Education Committee,  This idea is horrible.  Please quit playing games, properly fund our education system, and stop screwing with our schools, our teachers and our kids.  You can’t improve our state without improving education, and you can’t improve education by making it less attractive to professional educators.

Remember that free market you love?  Well if you take a thankless public service job like teaching, that tends to attract mission oriented people who want to make a difference more than they want to make a million dollars, and then you choose to make it risky, boring, unfair, unfulfilling, underpaying and un-flexible, free market theory would predict that you won’t attract the risk averse, mission oriented talent you need. It will drive them away – which again, if we’re being honest, is what you want.

You might retort that this nebulous merit system you’re proposing would make more pay possible for those who excel.  Teachers would be motivated by the possibility of more money if they performed well and face the consequences of less if they didn’t.  First, study after study has proven that this old school, carrot and stick, theory X style of leadership fails to produce any sustainable performance difference – see basically any book by Ohio born author Dan Pink to better understand compensation and motivational theory.  The idea that this would improve education is baseless.  Furthermore, where’s the big bonus money’s coming from.  You’re pushing this to local districts who have none.  The money will come right out of the paychecks of teachers.  You can’t show me the money because it is not there.  This is just a scheme to further cut Ohio’s investment in public education.  If past history is an indicator you want to reallocate our public school investment to the junk bonds of the state education budget known as Private Charter Schools.  Why?  Because in spite of poor performance, proven malfeasance, and no financial or educational accountability, they have demonstrated an unparalleled ability to fund political campaigns.  You win elections and our kids lose their future.

As much as you want to make our schools a completely unregulated free market business, they are not a free market business and never will be.  Unlike a profit motivated, private business, educators have no control over the suppliers and raw materials they work with, and little control over the system they work in – the 4th grade teacher has no control over what happens in the previous 3 grades.  Teachers don’t get to hire and fire under-performing students or abusive parents, and nor should they be able to.  They can’t say that certain kids are defective or refuse to educate kids who are uninterested in specific subjects.  Most choose to work as hard as they can with what they get and try to help kids regardless of the circumstances.  And you can’t just leave a teaching gig in November, start a new one in December, then work there for 18 months until you get a better offer, and so on and so on.  These are obvious realities and yet again we likely are preparing to blindly worship the all mighty standardized test as be all and end all metric of teacher quality to our own demise.

Society is predicated on every child getting an education, and to the extent this happens, our free market economy benefits.  Smart kids get good jobs, avoid prison, make money, pay taxes, invent things, and keep our country and state viable.  This is not a partisan perspective.  This is reality.  Many of these smart, money earning kids will grow up to be Republicans and others will become Democrats, or if we’re lucky they will come up with something better than dysfunctional party politics as usual.  Properly educated, these kids will all be capable of contributing to our free and democratic society as opposed to burdening it.

Cut the bullshit.  If what you want to do is dismantle public education, just come out and say it. Let’s have that debate out in the open.  People are not stupid, and claiming this will improve public education is an insult to the intelligence of Ohioans.  Changing the structure of teacher pay is driven by nothing more than greed.  Charter schools get more and more money, public schools have less and less to work with, and public education eventually crumbles.   We’ll be left with just enough people to administer the standardized tests to kids who won’t be prepared to actually contribute anything to the world once the graduate.

Those in charge when I was a child did not always agree on education, but they valued and funded it.  They didn’t just talk about schools they built them.  They didn’t just hire teachers, they respected and supported them.  They valued education and they gave a damn about the next generation.  They sat down and solved difficult problems, instead of just finding ways to circumvent them to the detriment of society.  They viewed education as essential and their actions showed it.  By contrast, this legislation once again shows you view schools and teachers as your enemy.  To you they are nothing more than a burden, which you’ll fight to shed as fast as possible and in any way possible, regardless of the consequences.  Previous generations were strong enough and smart enough to bear the burden of responsibility for future generations.  In doing so they showed courage, honor, and wisdom worthy of our respect and starkly different from the greed, malice, and selfishness that seem to describe the values driving the educational policies of our current elected leaders in Ohio.

We hear a whole lot about The Ohio Miracle. Well, the real Ohio Miracle is that these people can continue to ignore the serious need to fund our schools, demonize and devalue our teachers, funnel unaudited money to failing charters in exchange for campaign contributions, reduce the quality of our curriculum, place big bets and big money on a never ending barrage of meaningless standardized tests, all while continuing to get a paycheck – oh, congrats on the raise you’re giving yourself by the way.