"High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation." - Charles Kettering

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Teachers' Unions Skewered in "Waiting for Superman"

In today's Wisconsin State Journal, there is a good review of the documentary "Waiting for Superman." Click on the post for the review. The author tries to paint a balanced picture of the movie, but it's clear that public education fares poorly and teachers unions are the culprit. The premise the director offers is that getting a good education is like winning the lottery. Mr. Guggenheim stated that his own children won the lottery because he could afford to send them to private school. I have not seen the movie nor read much about it, but I have made similar statements in this blog. The quality of public education ought not depend on the luck of where one lives. High quality education is an intrinsic right of every American child whether they live in Massachusettes or Louisiana. A country with the ingenuity to put a man on the moon ought to have the sheer fortitude to solve school finance woes. Perhaps putting a man on the moon is precisely why we cannot provide equitable high quality public education across America. It is, after all, a matter of priorities. A second review (http://host.madison.com/article_4f91a6a8-1179-5e4e-9212-4f0641507d12.html) is available as well that warns that the film is flawed because of its simplistic approach of demonizing the unions. An article in the Sunday paper featured Virtual Schools in Wisconsin and how the Madison School District projects to lose about $700,000 this school year in open enrollment out to virtual schools alone. (http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/education/local_schools/article_8710534e-d2f4-11df-98d6-001cc4c03286.html)
A third article last week featured parents of Madison West gifted and talented students who filed a complaint with the DPI charging that the school violates their childrens' right to an education by denying them access to gifted programming.

( http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/education/local_schools/article_0b363c3e-d0b0-11df-8157-001cc4c002e0.html )

Madison needs to wake up and smell the coffee. All of these news items point to a powderkeg waiting to blow in the world of public education. The underlying issue is money, even if the movie director points out that is not the issue. I know it doesn't solve every problem in education, but everybody has to make tough choices when spending limited funds. Do we buy textbooks to replace the 25-year-old outdated biology texts or purchase PT equipment? Do we hire a 5th grade teacher or a reading specialist to increase test scores? These questions are usually brought to the board one at a time, not diametrically opposed to each other. But ultimately, these are the kind of questions that must be answered during the Program Based Budgeting process. The Board relies on experts to help suss out these tough questions. These experts often stand there wringing their hands, explaining that they need it all. Then they tell the board that not providing this or that resource may result in a law suit. For this, they get paid the big bucks. That effectively settles the question and some very useful program or resource is cut to make way for a litigation free public school experience. This may be good guardianship of our tax dollars, but is it good guardianship for our childrens' education?

Then there's the teacher compensation package. I remember right after I was elected to the board, the district switched to a much less expensive insurance provider. I was thrilled thinking of all those thousands of dollars the district saved. Then I discovered that the district saved no money in this move at all because money saved on insurance cost went right back into the salaries. What the heck is the motivation for the district to find the most cost effective insurance provider if the district doesn't realize the savings? Why should they try to be good stewards of tax funds if the teachers get it either way? The only ones who benefitted were the teachers, who effectively got a raise because of Deb Olsen's hard work in finding a more cost effective insurance provider. It was a harsh but instructive introduction to the world of school finance.

In anticipation of teachers who wish to take umbrage with my position, it's duly noted. I am not very sympatico with your desire for free insurance. The last time I had fully funded health insurance with my employer was in 1985. And schools tout 21st century skills! Sheesh!

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