At both national and state levels, politicians on both sides of the aisle are treating teachers as
assembly line workers. Kansas was the second state to lose due process (“tenure”). These first two efforts were driven by mean-spirited conservatives whose behind-the-scenes motivation was clearly “fire ‘em.”
A month later, California was the third state where teachers lost tenure. But this time, it was by court ruling, and the pressure came from the left as liberals argued that students in poor schools suffered because it was impossible to fire incompetent teachers. This same attack on due process is now being made in New York—and again from the political left.
Before 1965, education was not a political issue. The U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare merely kept national statistics. Then as a part of his “War on Poverty,” President Lyndon Johnson established the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to provide funding, mostly in block grants, for equal access to education. However, the E.S.E.A. did not force states to follow a national education policy. Indeed, it includes wording that forbids the establishment of a national curriculum.
That changed in 2001 when the E.S.E.A. was re-authorized as the No Child Left Behind Act. While it was named and developed by President George W. Bush, it had bipartisan support including Senator Ted Kennedy as co-sponsor. Because there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution providing the federal government with jurisdiction in schooling, and public schooling is mostly funded by states, the only way the federal government can extort state compliance with federal education initiatives is by making receipt of federal E.S.E.A. money dependent on meeting federal educational policy, requirements that now drive teaching-to-the-test and standardizing curricula. Unfortunately, both political parties are so addicted to this federal money that neither is willing to stand up for teacher professionalism.
After eight terrible years of No Child Left Behind tyranny, teachers welcomed the election of President Obama in hopes that N.C.L.B would finally bite the dust. Instead, our president put Education Secretary Duncan in the role of Coach-in-Chief and we ended up with “N.C.L.B. on steroids”—to quote Chester Finn, President Bush’s architect of accountability.
Ironically, today’s political right forgets that President Bush was the main promoter of the federal education mandate. They oppose the “core curriculum” as a national forced curriculum and equate “Obama Core” with “Obamacare.”
The political left responds with a knee jerk reaction to conservative proposals against standardized education and shutting down the U.S. Department of Education with little more reasoning than: if they are ‘agin it, we are for it. Look at the liberal position statements on education at national or state levels and you will discover empty words but no support for teacher professionalism. I envision the late MisterRogers saying “Children, can you say ‘platitude’?”
It takes a competent administrator to fire an incompetent teacher. But just where is that administrator going to find a supply of competent teachers to fill that vacancy? Just how I am supposed to recruit new young teachers when they had best rent all of their life and be treated with disrespect?
When are we going to get a candidate who will end the external standardized testing and let teachers teach different student populations differently? Rural Kansas is not urban Chicago nor California.
Where is the candidate who will consider looking at giving back the federal money that allows Washington, DC to dictate educational policy in our schools? Yes, there will be a cost to educational freedom.
Students come to us as unique individuals and should graduate as unique individuals. Where is the candidate who will let teachers promote creativity and imagination rather than memorization and standardization?
The anti-teacher actions of the current governor and legislature are clear. Kansas teachers clearly have many candidates to vote against. But where are the candidates teachers can vote for?