Monday, July 28, 2008

By the way, did I mention that the Wall Street Journal hates teachers?

It seems interesting that the bastion of capitalist thought takes a total reversal when it comes to teachers. 

I'm talking about the Wall Street Journal and its regular thrashings on public education teachers.  The formula is simple.  The Journal attacks public education teachers for being lazy, over-paid, and working in the best interest of themselves and teachers unions.  The paper then discusses the fact that teachers are not knowledgeable in their subject matter and that industry professionals should be teaching the kids, since teachers are certainly not professionals.  Then comes the constant argument for vouchers and school choice, and finally the ultimate slap, that the only good teachers are those that take the route of Teach for America, because they have the guts to volunteer out of elite universities to teach when they could go into more "desired" professions.  All of this drivel comes amid the constant attitude that education is so important to society, but not important enough to pay teachers more. 

Not necessarily capitalism at it's finest.

While I'm not a proponent of simply jacking up the salaries of every teacher in the country (I'm becoming a bigger and bigger supporter of merit pay), you can't simply say that education is important in every way except salary.  The linked article makes light that teachers work fewer hours and have time off in all seasons, and adds that many jobs take work home with them.  I would love to see that list of jobs.  Along with that list, I would like to see how society would react if teacher's simply "worked to rule", and went home along with the rest of the 9-5 world.  Add to that the fact that I make less than a dime an hour when I coach, and you have a system (and a newspaper) that stinks of hypocrisy.  And I have yet to even get into the professional development and money spent on supplies.  Again, it astounds me that the incentive for a more educated society is totally ignored in the paper that represents the capitalist ethic.

We then move to the consistent accusation by the WSJ that educators have little or sometimes no knowledge of their subject matter.  While I'm the first to admit that there are poor members of my profession (like any other), to say that most teachers are not qualified to teach is ridiculous.  Fine, the CBEST is a joke (the basic skills exam for the credential), but the subject matter competency is far from funny.  Besides the B.A. that I received in History/Social Science (yes, I took the whole spectrum), I had to take a written test and pass an exit interview from three professors in the History Department.  It was very rigorous.  I, like most teachers, know my stuff.  The problem is that many external problems arise in teaching that are totally out of control of the instructor, yet end up reflecting poorly on teacher.  What happens when you have a classroom of 34 students, and 25 of them have IEP's with different accommodations?  You are going to have serious hurdles to instruction that are not going to be reflected when the test scores come out.  Yet the newspaper, along with other Republican politicians that I have spoken with, have made the case that industry professionals could easily step into the classroom and be more beneficial to students.  First of all, if they were going to be teachers they would already be in the classroom.  Second, it would be against NCLB because none of them would be considered "highly qualified".  Third and finally, I would love to see "industry leaders" in a classroom situation and see the beautiful test results from that circus.  Kids aren't like the private sector.  You can't just fire them or put them in detention when it doesn't go well.  That doesn't make positive gains on test scores and in some cases can get you sued (see IEP).  And once again, the Wall Street Journal has made mention that more Math and Science professionals would do public education more good, but refused to throw out the incentive of higher pay. 

My final criticism is much more touchy, and isn't meant to be an attack on Teach For America as it is an angry retort to how the newspaper continues to view the profession.  While the above link attacked teachers for making too much, this article from mid-June said the exact opposite, stating that the profession makes less than most other professional careers.  In a more recent article, the WSJ made Teach For America, and the profession as a whole, out to be totally altruistic, as if the job isn't really a profession at all and that people of high caliber are doing it simply to do good for the children, damn the economics and future financial freedom.  Sure, teachers are concerned about the welfare of society or we wouldn't really care about the students, but complete selflessness?  I thought part of the American Dream was the ability to be financially independent through hard work and being a good citizen.  According to the Wall Street Journal, that doesn't apply to teaching. 

And while the WSJ humps Teach For America to death, let's remember one thing.  Twenty percent of TFA applicants don't finish their tenure at the school they are assigned to, and around seventy percent don't stay at that school when their assignment is finished.  I guess selflessness only goes so far. 

Look, I'm not a teacher union lackey.  However, the Wall Street Journal makes every public education teacher out to be some lazy instructor with one eye on the calendar and the other on the teacher's union web site.  That's crap.  I understand that a credential doesn't make a teacher.  I also understand that it takes a certain amount of sacrifice to be in the teaching profession.  However, the Wall Street Journal loses more and more creditability when it decides what is and is not important to the success of education.  Telling teachers that they are important, and then telling them that their wallets shouldn't matter is absurd, especially in a society that needs those teachers to help revamp the system.  If you were to get a two dozen good teachers in a room and ask them to remake the education system, I think the Journal would be surprised at how much they would support a lot of our ideas.  But one of those ideas would have to be the basic economic principle of "incentives matter". 

We are, after all, professionals.                

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