Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Exposing the Man Behind the Curtain Part Three

Exposing the Man Behind the Curtain: What's Behind "Education Reform"? Part 3 of 3

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy was instructed to follow the yellow brick road. In L. Frank Baum's political satire this represented the gold standard, measured in ounces...or Oz. Along the way she found the scarecrow, representing the farmers, who was hurt as he stumbled on the yellow bricks. She also found the rusted tin man, representing industrial workers who were suffering from the depression of the 1890s. It was the wicked witch of the east, or the big business interests of the east, who had cursed him. These same big business interests have been financing groups like the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), who in 2010 are definitely cursing teachers. And a careful read of their analysis of the Boston Public Schools tells us in the end, it's still about the yellow brick road.

The 3rd part of the NCTQ analysis addresses the issue of working conditions and compensation. It's here we get the real purpose behind their report and why the business community and pro business foundations like The Boston Foundation bankroll their "studies". More unpaid hours, less compensation, less sick time, lower pensions, and merit pay. Everything the business community values (or devalues as the case may be).

Of course their report is filled with multi colored graphs to "prove" their assertion that teachers do not need or deserve the benefits we have fought for throughout the years. lifting the teaching profession to a point where teachers only occasionally have to work a 2nd job to live. They show us in graphs that Boston has the highest salary structure in the state, but fail to talk about the high cost of living in the Boston area or the cost of commuting if one can't afford to live in the city. They cynically compare with long bar graphs how we have a shorter contractual day than SOME communities, but fail to even estimate the number of unpaid hours every teacher puts in after school or at home. They deride any compensation without acknowledging the thousands of dollars that teachers spend out of their own pockets to teach in underfunded schools every year.

To "prove" they are right they insert anonymous quotes from Boston teachers. Find ONE teacher who agrees with you and use this as evidence that NCTQ must be right. A particular quote that sticks in my craw has a teacher saying, “I find it really hard to be a professional when I am paid only on years of service and coursework.” They use this quote to justify the business demand that we institute merit pay and have teachers compete with each other for additional salary. Is this the type of teacher they want? Ones who cannot feel like a professional unless they have a chance to get more than the other guy?

Years ago I took a business course in college. The invited speaker that day was from the New York Stock Exchange who informed us that the only way to get ahead in business was to knock down the guy in front of you, kick him, and then step over them. Organizations like NCTQ, financed by the business community, want us to institute this type of behavior into public education. But good teachers do not base their status on the size of their wallets, but on the knowledge that every day they come to the profession and work hard educating the next generation. Sure we want fair compensation. But we also want sharing communities in our schools. That is what motivates us, not competing with each other in a dog eat dog world.

As I read through the NCTQ report on improving teacher quality I kept asking myself what does this have to do with education? Is this education reform? Where is this coming from? Of course it's not about reform, it's about exploitation and squeezing more out of an already overworked teaching force. It's coming at us hard now because of the economic conditions in this country after the business community bankrupted it. There is a squeeze on profits and public education cannot exist without a portion of these profits.

But this country is still a wealthy country. The problem is that too much of the wealth is in the hands of the elite, the business elite that finances NCTQ. In 1928 before the Great Depression 24% of the wealth was controlled by 1% of the population. But as working people fought for social security, unemployment compensation, the GI Bill after WWII, civil rights, and equal pay for women this percentage was drastically reduced. In 1970 the richest 1% only controlled 9% of the wealth.

But since 1970 these numbers have been reversed. Through manipulation of the public with rhetoric around taxes as well as shifting the tax burden onto working people we find ourselves again in 1929. The richest 1% again control 24% of the nation's wealth. So instead of accepting NCTQ rhetoric around the "overpaid" school teacher let's start demanding a fairer distribution of the wealth in this society and adequate funding for public education.

Dorothy's life in Kansas was a hard life, made harder from the profiteers of her day. In Oz she met someone else on the yellow brick road. She met the cowardly lion. In Baum's allegory he represented the fiery orator William Jennings Bryan, a hero to the populist movement of the time. His critics often called him cowardly for opposing the Spanish-American War.

Today, critics of teacher unions often portray us as cowardly for opposing them. Our courage can be found standing up for all the Dorothy's who sit in our classrooms every day and exposing the great and powerful Oz standing behind the curtain of what THEY call "education reform". We can't do this as individuals. Our power is in our union. Dorothy always had the power to go home by clicking together her ruby slippers. So as we fight for real education reform let's click OUR heels together and chant - There's no place like our union!

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