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Quality Education Declines In California Each Successive Generation

My granddaughter goes to 4th grade next week. She attends one of the best schools in the respected Moreland School District. That should give us hope that she is getting the quality education she needs to be ready to join the 21st century work force.

But rather than hope, I have angst. She’s the sixth generation Cordi to be educated in California’s public education system.

But she is not getting the quality education her dad received and he did not get the high quality education I did.

Take for example the length of the school day. When I went to public school the normal school day was 8 am to 3:30 pm. I have the clearest memories of Mrs. Swanson walking from desk to desk making sure we “got it”.

By the time my son attended school, the day had shrunk to 8 am to 2:30 pm. Often his comprehension was first tested in the homework, which made no sense to me. Learning needs to happen in the classroom to be sure the kids are “getting it”! Now, for my granddaughter, the school day has shrunk to 8 AM to 2:25 pm, except on Wednesday, when it is 8 am to 12:25 pm, including lunch! All of her comprehension is tested in the homework.

She is one of the lucky ones. Her parents and grandma make sure that the homework is all done and done correctly.

I have angst rather than hope when the parents have to give the teacher permission to “challenge” the child to do more work than is required to matriculate. I have angst rather than hope when the parents struggle to explain to the child why he or she needs to try harder when they’re getting all “exceeds”!

I may have angst about the outcome but I am certain of the reason. At its core, the problem is that education in America has become big business. K through 12 education spending is equal to about 7% of United States Gross Domestic Product (GDP)! Add in college and university spending and education totals about 10% of the total economy – plenty big enough to attract the attention of the AFL/CIO – especially at a time when organized labor’s influence in manufacturing and transportation have declined.

Beginning with the establishment of the United States Department of Education, under President Carter, 6 successive Presidents have promised to “fix public education”.

The call for higher standards, more focus on measured student achievement and more accountability for teachers – all fueled by federal spending – created a catalyst for union organization.

Unions are organized when two factors coalesce – money and anxiety about performance based job security. Congressional appropriations were intended to be used to reduce class sizes so that each student would receive the individual attention needed for educational success. But negotiators for the newly organized teachers traded higher salaries and sweetened retirement benefits for continued larger class sizes.

More importantly, the unions promised to protect teachers’ jobs. The union used teacher strikes to negotiate “work rules” that prevented schools from evaluating the individual classroom performance of teachers based on the results of federally mandated standardized student test scores.

Over the last 40 years instead of nurturing our students, we’ve been nurturing our teachers unions. Albert Shanker, American Federated Teachers (AFT) President 1974-1998, is reputed to have declared “when schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children”. Teachers’ union dues became a guarantee of job security regardless of performance.

The AFT pays current President Randi Weingarten more than $1 million a year to protect the jobs of her 1.5 million member teachers. Despite speeches about reform, Ms. Weingarten’s job is to keep student achievement outside of teacher contract negotiations. Ms. Weingarten has been a consistent and vocal opponent of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for one simple reason – it required teacher evaluations that would include student performance on standardized testing.

The AFT played a leading role in the adoption of Common Core Standards to replace NCLB just in time to avoid the required evaluations (2014). Now that Common Core is here – you guessed it – she is calling for a multi-year moratorium on evaluating teachers based on student test results!

How many more years of delayed accountability will be “fair” to parents and students?

I submit that no delay is defensible in the face of reality. In a 2011 study published by The Atlantic Magazine, New York teachers were the best paid in the country ($72,708 average) but their students ranked 31st in both reading and math proficiency. California teachers ranked 3rd highest paid in the nation ($69,434 average) but their students rank 46th in math achievement and 49th in reading achievement.

If I got those results, I’d fire myself.

Photo Credit: Kelly Stone/Morris Avenue School

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