Teachers and Education

Event Date: 
Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 10:15am - Sunday, April 3, 2011 - 1:00pm

              (As we all know, Judge Maryann Sumi issued a temporary restraining order on this hastily-passed law, stopping it from taking effect. It is unclear what the final result of that will be, but we all know that the Governor and Legislature can go through the process again, this time following all the relevant laws, and re-do what they have already done.)
              (Also, we all know that this law affects a lot more people than teachers. However, because I know more about teachers and education than I do about other state employees, it is just teachers and education about whom I am speaking from here on; and in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that four members of my family – wife, 2 sons, 1 daughter-in-law – are teachers.)
The other article I read in the same newspaper and same section was entitled “Education Report: Raise Status of Profession.”  The subtitle was “Countries outscoring the U.S. have higher bar, accountability, pay and support for teachers.”  It was a report on an international meeting in New York City of education leaders from around the world. It included the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, people from the nation’s largest teacher unions, and education officials from countries who scored high on the Program for International Student Assessment exam. Out of 34 countries, the U.S. scored 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math.
One of the outcomes of the conference was the acknowledgement that the U.S. has one of the most expensive educational systems by international standards, and “it’s one of the systems where teachers get the lowest salaries.”  That’s not a typo. The U.S. has an expensive educational system, and our teachers get relatively low salaries compared to teachers in other, high-scoring countries.
A report that was issued at the conference said that if the U.S. wants to catch up with the best of the rest of the world, it must raise the status of the teaching profession. The higher scoring countries draw their applicants from the same pool as other selective professional careers.  Singapore and Finland were given as specific examples. Another part of the report said that higher teacher salaries – rather than smaller class sizes – were a better indicator of student performance.  Once again, that’s not a typo. Higher teacher salaries are a better indicator of top student performance than smaller class sizes. It must be accompanied by support from school leaders and a work environment that values professional judgment rather than formulas. There also has to be accountability for student performance. Student tests are just one – and not the only – way of determining that accountability.  (In general, it said, teachers welcome effective appraisal systems.)
               Finally, many countries with the highest student performance had strong teacher unions; and once again, that’s not a typo. High student performance and strong teacher unions frequently went together. The unions participated in educational research and had international links with government ministries and universities.
              I think you can see where I am going with this.  Putting those two articles together cannot help but lead one to believe that the actions related to education proposed by the Governor will have a significantly harmful affect on students’ education in Wisconsin schools. Teachers are already feeling they are under attack. Retired Republican state senator Barbara Lorman recently said: I don’t get the demonization of teachers. They just want to teach. Yet the Governor and some members of the Legislature have talked about teachers and other public employees as if they are greedy and only interested in themselves and their self-aggrandizement.
If the actions that the Governor has proposed toward teachers and education are carried out, they will harm Wisconsin education in the medium and long-term. For the immediate period, and assuming they have teaching jobs next year, my wife, my sons, and my daughter-in-law will continue their very fine teaching – loving and caring for their students and doing their absolute best for them. But they will be doing it for less money and in a state that no longer supports their efforts. In the medium and long-term, the Governor’s proposals will hurt education – they will be harmful to students and teachers alike, and they will dissuade our best young people from going into the profession.
We could have had a statewide discussion about education. President Obama’s administration has proposed some changes in education that political moderates and even conservatives have wanted for years. That statewide conversation on education could have been held in the context of the need for a short-term budget fix, but a long-term desire to improve Wisconsin’s educational system. Instead, by attacking teachers and refusing to discuss anything but cuts in education, the Governor has set the stage for a degradation of Wisconsin’s educational system and its students’ achievements.
I’m sad for our students. I’m sad for our state.  This should not be happening.
Curt Anderson

Posted on March 22, 2011 at 11:46 am in Featured Content.

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