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NCLB Outrages

The politics of 'no teacher left behind'

Here is an ugly teacher-bashing editorial, a teacher response, and an editorial comeback.

Editorial

There's no doubt that the California Teachers Association (CTA) has
been good for teachers. Their union has helped protect academic freedom
while simultaneously improving the salaries and benefits of teachers
throughout the state, some of whom now make upwards of $100,000 per
year. For this we applaud the organization. But when a union mentality
is applied to legislation, all too often a clear conflict of interest
emerges as the needs of students get subordinated to the "rights" of
teachers.

Take the case of the current campaign by the CTA to derail the proposal
by Rep. George Miller and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to reauthorize the
No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). According to the CTA these legislators
- both California Democrats and hardly supporters of George W. Bush -
are trying to make a bad piece of legislation even worse.

So what's so awful about the reauthorization language?

Well, according to a letter recently mailed by the CTA to its
membership (and just about every teacher in California is effectively
forced to join the CTA, paying dues as high as $938 per year!), just
about everything. For starters, the teachers' union complains that "the
proposal still does not include multiple measures" of student
achievement. One of the measures the union favors is "graduation
rates." Right.

We can see it now: "Ussin's kids all done geraduated so give us da
money."

Come on. NCLB was created in large part precisely because some
low-performing schools were passing on students who had not achieved a
satisfactory level of basic skills. Does anyone think that giving extra
money to schools just because they have a high graduation rate is a
good idea? Another thing that the Miller-Pelosi plan would implement
that really sticks in the craw of the CTA is the implementation of
"merit pay based in part on student test scores for teachers serving in
'high need' public schools." The union mentality argues that all
teachers should be given huge pay increases annually, regardless of
performance. Now what could be more stupid than that?

We believe that all teachers who continue to perform on a satisfactory
level should be given a decent cost of living increase across the board
whenever that is fiscally possible. That's only fair. But after that,
what's wrong with rewarding those teachers who have excelled in helping
their students to develop basic skills - especially in "high need"
public schools that have a hard time attracting the best teachers in
the first place?

Of course the real problem the CTA has with No Child Left Behind is
that this act requires teachers to "teach to the test." It looks to us
that the union would rather have teachers simply "teach to 3:30 p.m.,"
regardless of whether or not the students are learning anything.

Look, if there is something wrong with the standardized tests - if
they don't appropriately measure the skills students need to succeed -
then by all means revise the tests. But let's not allow the CTA to
derail the NCLB just because this organization hates George Bush (which
it clearly does) and wants to make life as easy and as lucrative as
possible for its members, regardless of the impact on the kids.

Comment by Renee Goularte
FIRST I DID SOME RESEARCH ON THE NET ABOUT TEACHER SALARIES.
THIS WAS NOT PART OF MY LETTER.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER SALARIES
Average teacher salary, according to a survey by AFT and EdSource.org,
is $46,720
2003-2004 Connecticut had the highest average teacher salary at $56,516
school accountability report cards
highest teacher salary Paradise Unified $68,000 (Superintendent $95,
195)
highest teacher salary Oroville Elementary $68,691 (Superintendent
$124,547)
highest teacher salary Chico Unified $76,000 (Superintendent $141,185)
Thermalito $69,782 (Superintendent $100,758)
Oak Grove $74.661 (Superintendent $178,382)
San Francisco $70,407 (Superintendent $250,000)

(AND ACTUALLY THIS INFORMATION ABOUT BUTTE COLLEGE I RESEARCHED AFTER
RECEIVING THE RESPONSE FROM THE WRITER)
BUTTE COLLEGE - Faculty Compensation / Salaries
Butte Collegeranks 478th for the average full-time faculty salary.
Average FT Salary - $67,060 ($68,429 male / $65,705 female)

Number of FT Faculty: 195 (97 male / 98 female)
Total Benefits- $3,894,400
http://www.stateuniversity.com/universities/CA/Butte_College.html

Editor for the Day column
by Renee Goularte

As a public school teacher, I take exception to many of the statements
made in the Post's editorial supporting the reauthorization of the
Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known with the catchy
title, "No Child Left Behind." The Post editorial board is certainly
free to have and express their opinion, and many people do support the
idea if not all the details of NCLB; however, smattering an opinion
piece with misleading, derogatory, dismissive and/or arbitrary
statements about schools, accountability, and teachers does not speak
to responsible journalism.

The Post says that teachers "now make upwards of $100,000 per year."
I'm not sure where the Post gets their numbers, but a little research
on the Internet reveals that the average teacher salary in the United
States, according to both the American Federation of Teachers and
EdSource.org, is $46,720. Of course, that's an average, and the Post is
addressing some of those veteran teachers who are getting a higher than
average salary. What are those teachers being paid?

According to the School Accountability Report Cards of a few Butte
County school districts, all of which are available on district
websites, the highest paid teacher salaries for Paradise, Oroville,
Chico, and Thermalito elementary school districts are $68,000, $68,691,
$76,000, and $69,782, respectively. These numbers are not "upwards of
$100,000 per year" by any measure. But that's just in Butte County. How
about other areas with higher standards of living? In Oak Grove School
District in Santa Clara County (also known as Silicon Valley), the
highest paid teacher earns $74,661, while in San Francisco the highest
salary is $70,407. Still pretty far from $100,000. The Post would have
been more honest to use a number closer to $75,000.

The Post criticizes the California Teachersâ Associationâs support for
multiple measures of student achievement and the idea that âOne of the
measuresâ favored by the union is graduation rates with a completely
derogatory, sarcastic statement: âWe can see it now: âUssin's kids all
done geraduated so give us da money.ââ What exactly is the purpose of
this sarcasm? Is the Post suggesting that this is how the average
teacher speaks, or that teachers are stupid, or ignorant, or
illiterate?

The editorial does ask a good question: âDoes anyone think that giving
extra money to schools just because they have a high graduation rate is
a good idea?â The answer to this question is, of course, âNo.â But I
know of no one suggesting that schools should get extra money only
because they have a high graduation rates. In fact, the Post seems to
show a lack of understanding of what âmultiple measuresâ actually
means. The key word here is âmultipleâ and that means more than one.

The Post also weighs in on merit pay for teachers, asking, âwhat's
wrong with rewarding those teachers who have excelled in helping their
students to develop basic skills - especially in "high need" public
schools that have a hard time attracting the best teachers in the first
place?â This sounds very logical and sensible on paper, but we need a
real conversation about how this supposed excellence would be measured.
The easy, lazy measurement would be using standardized test scores, but
there are many reasons why this is a bad idea.

What many donât realize is that children and classrooms are not
identical in August. A class of twenty students is not a class of
little robots waiting to be programmed; it is a group of twenty actual
people.... children, remember.... with individual academic, behavioral,
social, and developmental needs. Even the most excellent teacher in a
school, if working with a disproportionate number of students with
special needs, will have test scores averaging lower than the teacher
next door with students who are more able and/or focused. In this
situation, the less excellent teacher would qualify for a bonus, but
the more excellent teacher would not. Is this really where we want to
go?

Additionally, in many schools students do not work with just one
teacher, especially students at risk. It is not unusual for many
children in a classroom to participate in programs that take them out
of the classroom, whether those be interventions, enrichment, or
English language lessons. Yet the test scores for those students will
be attributed to the regular classroom teacher.

Merit pay puts collegiality at risk. For example, in the school where I
work, our principal and staff are making a great effort to work
together as a team, to collaborate with each other on helping all
students succeed. This kind of teacher sharing and collaboration can be
undermined if competition for extra money is thrown into the salary
mix.

Finally, if we want good teachers to go to underperforming schools,
merit pay for high test scores is not the way to make that happen.

This is why there is growing support among teachers, parents, and yes,
CTA, for âmultiple measuresâ -- not only for making decisions on how
students are graded, placed, and promoted, but also for any
considerations of merit pay for teachers.

The Post editorial ends with a derogatory statement following a comment
about teaching to the test: âIt looks to us that the union would rather
have teachers simply "teach to 3:30 p.m.," regardless of whether or not
the students are learning anything.â Wow. Thereâs a lot of nastiness in
that statement, revealing an underlying negative opinion about teachers
in general. The Post may say that they were speaking about the union,
not the teachers, but the fact is that the union IS teachers.

A majority of teachers, and a growing majority of parents, are unhappy
and frustrated with NCLB, and the Post should investigate why this is
so. This law has resulted in some tremendous changes in the classroom,
a good number of them detrimental rather than beneficial to students.
The most obvious change, as most people know by now, is in the area of
increased testing of students, but there are other related changes that
are less obvious and harder to quantify: the movement of higher level
curriculum down to lower grade levels; less class time devoted to
teaching and learning; more attention given to teaching to the test,
resulting in a disproportionate focus on discrete facts at the expense
of learning deeper concepts; and less time researching content,
teaching for true understanding, and developing other higher-order
thinking skills.

Sarcastic, derogatory statements about teachers doesnât make an
argument for the reauthorization of NCLB. The Post really missed the
boat on this one.

Clarifying our position on 'No Child Left Behind'

Editorial
10/16/2007

Although we do, metaphorically at least, buy our ink by the barrel, we nonetheless make it a general policy not to engage in a public feud with critics of previous editorials. But the well-written, but in some ways misguided, Editor for a Day column, appearing elsewhere in this issue, is deserving of a response.

Although the majority of public school teachers represented by the California Teacher's Association (CTA) certainly makes nowhere near $100,000 a year - especially here in Butte County - our original statement (see our editorial dated 10/6) is valid. In fact, the writer of this editorial is a CTA member, teaching at Butte College, who is fortunate enough to earn a salary slightly in excess of that figure. We'd like to see more teaching professionals earn that kind of remuneration - provided they teach effectively. Teaching well is a difficult job and one that should attract our best and brightest.

We stand by our position that using "graduation rates" as one of the "multiple measures" for receiving funds through the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), as preferred by the CTA, would be a very bad idea. If we go that route we might as well reward those schools that give out the highest percentage of "A's." We readily acknowledge that the CTA has called for many other "multiple measures," some of which certainly have validity. But it's because of such past abuses as graduation rates that the NCLB - or something like it - is needed.

The measurement that makes
the most sense to us, however - and the one upon which the NCLB focuses - is how students do in demonstrating their mastery of state standards. We erred in buying into the CTA's "teach to the test" mantra because, point in fact, teachers do not have access to the test and therefore cannot teach to it. But they can and should teach to the state standards. If those standards are deficient - if they measure irrelevant "discrete facts" at the expense of "deep concepts" - then the CTA should commit itself to reshaping those standards rather than scuttling them.

Nothing in our original editorial on this topic suggests that "merit pay" is easy to administer. We recognize that, if misapplied, it could reward the wrong teachers. But those teachers who do the best job of doing their job should receive the highest pay. That's how it works in the real world, so why should we demand less of our educational system? Collegiality is wonderful, but we don't pay teachers simply to get along with one another. We pay them to teach effectively. Perhaps it's time to reintroduce some healthy competition into our educational system rather than pretend every teacher is equally meritorious.

Finally, nothing in our editorial was intended to demean teachers. Most of the public teachers we know are hard-working, dedicated professionals for whom we have great admiration. (Remember: the prior editorial and this one were both written by a teacher!) Nor was our opinion a full-blown attack on their union. We specifically applauded the CTA for protecting academic freedom and helping to bolster teachers' salaries.

But when the teachers' union seeks to protect the self-interests of its members at the expense of kids, as we believe is the case in its unabashed opposition to the NCLB, we will speak up on behalf of the public. That is precisely what we consider to be "responsible journalism."

— Editorial and teacher response
Paradise (CA) Post
2007-10-06


INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES


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