Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Let’s stop the war on public school teachers

Jeff Kolnicksmsu.eduJeff Kolnick

My best friend is a public school teacher, and he is a good one. For 26 years he has been teaching 2nd and 3rd grades in an inner-city school for the Los Angeles Unified School District. As a first-year teacher, he was thrust into a classroom with six different first languages, and almost every student was eligible for reduced or free lunches. He did not shy away from this daunting challenge, but honed his skills and has become a master at the craft of teaching.

Over the years, I have visited his classroom many times and acted as a “guest professor,” offering to help his students as they learn to read, write, do arithmetic, and become productive citizens. His classroom is a safe place and his students are well behaved and attentive. They are happy. They are learning.

After several years, he passed through a rigorous set of standards to become a bilingual teacher and went from a multilingual classroom to a room full of Spanish speakers who learned basic skills in Spanish and English. He and his students thrived in this environment. Eventually, the trends in public education rejected bilingual teaching, and he is now required to speak only English. He remains a great teacher.

He is currently surviving the high-stakes testing regime that limits his creativity and impinges on his craft. He and his students have survived furlough days that cut short his pay as well as the education of his students to save money in tax-starved California. 

Public enemy No. 1

And after all this service to his community, instead of receiving praise and thanks he has a target on his back. Conservative forces in America have made public school teachers public enemy No. 1: If our schools are failing, blame the teachers. If our states are broke, it is the pensions of the greedy teachers. You name the problem and teachers are the cause.

I am sick of it.

I have many friends who are excellent teachers. I contacted five of them to ask about this plague of “bad teachers.” Combined, these five teaches have 113 years of experience. They have taught in rural and urban schools in California and Minnesota, suburban schools in Wisconsin, and internationally in Madagascar. They have, over the years, seen about 850 teachers up close and can think of only 20 who they believe should not have been teaching (three of these were because they could not deal with discipline problems caused by overcrowded classrooms).

Of these 20 “bad teachers,” only nine are still teaching. Three were dismissed using already existing administrative tools under collective-bargaining contracts and most of the rest left because it was not their calling. That nine remain in the classroom seems the result of administrators not using the tools they have more than anything else.

Think about the evidence

Still, the conservative forces blame public school teachers for everything. A colleague of mine related a story to me about a person who blamed public school teachers for failing our students. The person complained that Minneapolis and St. Paul schools failed young people of color and he put the blame squarely on teachers and teacher-preparation programs. Fed up with this garbage, my friend responded that his kids got a first-rate education in the Edina public schools with teachers who had union contracts and graduated from the same teacher-prep programs as the teachers in the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts.

Let’s stop blaming the teachers and think about public education in terms of the evidence.

The attack on teachers is not about educating our young people. It is about ending public education and collective bargaining. It is about taking public dollars from public institutions and turning them over to for-profit corporations.

Milton Friedman’s message

In 1995, free-market evangelist Milton Friedman wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post calling for the privatization of the public school system. Now almost 20 years later, we are on the verge of seeing his ideas become a reality. It is worth quoting him at length:

“Our elementary and secondary educational system needs to be radically restructured. Such a reconstruction can be achieved only by privatizing a major segment of the educational system — i.e., by enabling a private, for-profit industry to develop that will provide a wide variety of learning opportunities and offer effective competition to public schools. The most feasible way to bring about such a transfer from government to private enterprise is to enact in each state a voucher system that enables parents to choose freely the schools their children attend. The voucher must be universal, available to all parents, and large enough to cover the costs of a high-quality education. No conditions should be attached to vouchers that interfere with the freedom of private enterprises to experiment, to explore, and to innovate.”

In December 2005, a little less than a year before he died, Friedman wrote of an opportunity to privatize public schools in New Orleans after the tragedy of Katrina. He called for a radical reform of schools because they failed the students. “New Orleans schools were failing for the same reason that schools are failing in other large cities, because the schools are owned and operated by the government” (original, for purchase to read all of it); (complete free version).

Only one goal

The sole purpose of public educational institutions is to educate. They may not be perfect, but they have only one goal.

The sole purpose of for-profit corporations of to make money for their shareholders. Like public school systems, corporations may not be perfect, but they too have only one goal.

Do we really want to let corporations be responsible for teaching our young people? Come on, let’s get real. Let’s listen to teachers about how to educate our young people and not corporations. Let’s stop this war on public school teachers and instead honor their service and give them the respect they have earned.

Jeff Kolnick is an associate professor of history at Southwest Minnesota State University.


Write your reaction to this piece in Comments below. Or consider submitting your own Community Voices commentary; for information, email Susan Albright.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (42)

  1. Submitted by rolf westgard on 06/11/2012 - 07:53 am.

    Negotiate salaries, not future benefits

    Nearly all of us have had first hand experience as students in public schools, and I suggest most of us would agree that our teachers do a very good job under some difficult conditions. The worst of those conditions comes from home environments which send forth students who are poorly prepared for the educational experience. Teachers work hard, but can’t do miracles
    Teacher unions are currently under fire for the misguided attempt to recall Wisconsin’s governor who was accused of union busting. The average WI voter didn’t see it that way. He saw that public workers had better retirement pay and medical benefits than his. He also knew that those public benefits were substantially underfunded and that new taxes would be required to cover the deficit. It’s OK to negotiate salaries, but retirement benefits need to come from employer/employee contributions and investment returns. It’s actuaries, not labor negotiations, that should set retirement benefits.

    • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 06/11/2012 - 12:44 pm.

      Not Completely Right

      What Walker found was that the public employee contribution to their benefits was far below other government workers in similar roles throughout the country. The unions did not want any of it so he said let’s cut them off as he knew that government employee costs are unbearable. And government employees do get more. One person is making almost $100K at the U of M. They withhold $2K per year and get $15K into their retirement account. No one in the private sector gets an immediate 750% return. And that’s not from actuaries, that’s negotiation.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/11/2012 - 01:47 pm.

        Still Not Completely Right

        Governor Walker came into office intending to make Wisconsin a “right to work” state. Public employee unions were just the stalking horse for that effort.

        What he “found” was whatever he needed to say to justify his new crusade.

        BTW The story of one unnamed person, stripped of all context, is not particularly convincing.

      • Submitted by Sarah Magnuson on 06/11/2012 - 10:46 pm.

        Thank you for your “one” example

        Part of the issue we have with the public/private employee debate is generalization–on both sides of the issue. It would be helpful if we could compare the compensation of an electrician employed by the U of M to the compensation of an electrician employed by say, Target. But what happens is a highly specialized administrator is compared to a janitor, and on it goes. Your example is cherry-picking an outlier and using it as the norm. I can do it too. There is a teaching assistant in New Jersey who doesn’t even get a paycheck because it all goes to insurance and her small pittance of a retirement. This gets us no-where until we research and compare apples to apples…and compare the “Right leaning” think tanks results to the “Left leaning” think tanks results, and realize that the “difference” is somewhere in-between. We will all be better off when we can sit down with the numbers of the 90% who are “average” public workers and have a discussion. If you click on the link enclosed, you can see what the compensation is for the top 100 CEOs in Minnesota, as well as the top Non-CEOs. There is also a link to the top paid public employees. You may want to note that the median salary for an employee at the U of M is about $47,000. The public employee to whom you refer is obviously NOT reimbursed in like manner to the average U of M employee. What is the point of comparing apples to say, caviar? (Besides the obvious conclusion that they are dissimilar in taste and texture?)

        • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 06/12/2012 - 08:33 am.

          There are “many” examples.

          Compare a social worker paid by say Dakota country with the a regular social worker paid corporations. Compare Parks department workers paid by St. Paul/ Ramsey with regular workers. Their packages are generous to say the least. There are plenty of “higly specialized” administrators at every level in the private sector. They in no way get these kinds of packages. Just like the teaching assistant who doesn’t get a paycheck, there are many families whose one members pay goes to pay for health case.

          With regards to CEOS, don’t buy their stock. Then you are not paying for it. The median salary at the U is a straw man, because there are plenty of cooks, janitors who are being used to dumb down the median.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/12/2012 - 09:22 am.

            Compare duties, not titles

            A comparison with the pay for a social worker in Dakota County with one paid by a private agency is meaningless, unless we also compare their duties, experience, training required, etc.

            Incidentally, I’ve seen the specter of the Dakota County social worker raised a number of times. Which right-wing website brings that one up? Or is it something Jason Lewis says?

            • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 06/12/2012 - 02:47 pm.

              Moving the goal post is kinda convenient….

              A social worker in a hospital setting or a private setting is not that different from a Dakota county setting, to justify such fantastic packages for the county employees. Thats a typical lefty argument….”Oh that’s so complicated you won’t understand”

              It does not matter where the specter of the “social worker” argument comes from. Is it irrelevant cause its supposed source is an inconvenient one ?

              • Submitted by Pat Berg on 06/13/2012 - 08:42 am.

                Cites please

                If you’re going to bring this stuff up and expect to be taken seriously, please provide some actual supporting examples. URLs, references to research papers or documentation or links to articles – SOMETHING beyond just your say-so.

                Otherwise, your claims can be dismissed as unsupported and justifiably ignored.

    • Submitted by Sarah Magnuson on 06/11/2012 - 10:19 pm.

      Please back up your opinion

      Rolf, why do you continue to insist that the public benefits in Wisconsin were/are underfunded. You are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts. You could generalize about underfunded pensions, but Wisconsin is not one of them. There are two states who have fully funded pension; New York and Wisconsin. The WRS (Wisconsin Retirement System) is 95-99% funded. It is one of the healthiest pension funds in the nation, public or private. Future payouts are included in this amount. Can you please provided information to back up your claim that the public benefits were substantially underfunded? The argument was that the teachers were paid too much in salary and benefits and that is certainly up for debate. Sheesh…haven’t we had this discussion before?
      Here are links from several sources that back up my facts. Please refer to the PEW report.

      • Submitted by rolf westgard on 06/12/2012 - 08:10 am.

        Wisconsin’s unfunded pension liability

        As of February 2012, Wisconsin’s unfunded pension liability was $252.6 million, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

        • Submitted by Sarah Magnuson on 06/12/2012 - 01:33 pm.

          Thank you, Rolf. If you clicked on the link to the PEW report you would see that the funded amount is 79 Billion (with a B). If the unfunded amount is $253 million, that would make it funded at 99.9%. This is after a huge downswing (to put it mildly) in the stock market. In the up market of the 1990’s, the WRS was overfunded by 5%. The lowest it has been funded (during the stock crash) was 95%. This is a well managed fund, a hybrid of a “defined contribution” and “defined benefit”, which pays it’s own cost of administration.

          • Submitted by rolf westgard on 06/19/2012 - 06:29 pm.

            -$1.3 trillion vs. -$4.4trillion

            The Pew/Northwestern report released today(featured on thePBS News Hour) reported that nationwide the state pension and medical benefit deficit was $1.3 trillion assuming an 8% return on investments. Using the historic return, the deficit goes to $4.4 trillion. Duluth alone is $300,000,000 million in the hole.

  2. Submitted by Ross Williams on 06/11/2012 - 08:05 am.

    Kids are Caught in the Middle of a Political War

    “Privatization” of schools is another example of private industry looking for opportunities to make money from public spending. With millions of students and parents having to manage kids education individually, there are numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs to sell them solutions. They aren’t going to “privatize” paying for those solutions, just the decisions on how that money will be spent.

    We see the same thing with prisons, military, roads and retirement to name several public services that are profit centers for private industry. We are in the process of adding health care to that list and there are proposals to privatize social security insurance as well. All of these are either paid for or heavily subsidized by government.

    Its not really surprising that economists and others who advocate these kinds of policies are also financially successful. The “marketplace” of ideas is a marketplace like any other, where success depends on serving those with the money and interest to pay for that service.

    But I think that privatization is only one small part of the education battle. The animosity towards teachers is really directed at teacher unions. And that is because funding for schools has been taken away from local control. That caused teacher unions to become very active at the state and federal level in advocating for more funding for education. Unlike local school board elections, politics at these levels is highly partisan.

    Successful politicians reward their friends and punish their enemies. As funding became a partisan issue teachers unions became the enemies of Republicans, a process which is self-perpetuating. So the debate over school funding is not a battle between Republicans, who don’t want to do anything that rewards or strengthens their political opponents and Democrats who want to reward their teacher union backers. Kids and education are just caught in the middle.

    Partisan Republicans have no interest in strengthening public education. They want to make it weaker in order to encourage more people to take the money and spend it on semi-private alternatives. Partisan Democrats are interested in making sure money flows to public schools, allowing teachers to bargain for increased pay and benefits. Kids education is caught in the middle.

  3. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 06/11/2012 - 08:15 am.

    It’s Not a War on Teachers

    It’s titles like Jeff’s that distract from what the issues really are. What’s being debated is the high cost of benefits that public union workers are getting and the lines in the sand with no movement by union leaders. Look at EM’s Tom Dooher’s constant empty responses to the LIFO provision that most other states do not have. The unions are outdated and only lining the pockets of those that are willing to give them more. The public is too smart for this and they are tired of it. When people are tired and upset, they are less likely to bargain. When you start to wrongly say it’s a war on people, it just makes people more upset. Of course Jeff would write such an article being a teacher in MNSCU anyway.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/11/2012 - 11:13 am.

      It’s Those Bad, Bad Unions!!!

      The line that the anti-teacher sentiment in this country is really just “anti-teacher union” sentiment is one of the great pieces of misinformation of the day. After all, we LOVE teachers, we just want to get rid of their representatives.

      What do teacher’s unions do? Negotiate pay and benefits for their members? What’s wrong with that? Workers in this country, with a very few exceptions, have the right to organize and bargain collectively over the terms and conditions of their employment. If other workers do not choose to do so for whatever reason (Cowardice? Buying into 30+ years of anti-worker propaganda?), it isn’t fair to make scapegoats out of those who do. “Lines in the sand with no movement?” Has negotiation been tried, or do the radio talkers who set the agenda in this country reject the idea out of hand (it’s nuance, you see. No time/inclination to explain)? Frankly, I might be intransigent, too, if the only proposal an employer made was “We are cutting your pay and benefits, but leaving your workload and responsibility the same. Unless, of course, we decide to increase it. Oh, and if we decide your performance slips, youu’re out on your tuchus. You will have no input in this process”

      We could, of course, go to the old canard that teachers’ unions protect bad teachers. Unions provide due process protections for teachers who are being disciplined or terminated. It isn’t their job to decide who is a bad teacher (that is supposed to be what the administrators–another easy target–do). It is their job to make sure that the administration does not fire arbitrarily, but proves that there is a reason to fire them.

      There are two subcanards to the firing issue. One is the specter of the infamous New York City “Rubber Room,” where teachers with pending disciplinary action sat for years. Those rooms were cleared out quickly, once the City foud hearing officers to hear the cases. The second sub-canard is that workers in the private sector don’t get the same protection. Workers in the private sector function only to maximize profits for their employers. Teachers are charged with educating children. These are two different types of goals, som comparing the two types of protections is meaningless.

      So what are the “real issues?” Yes, our schools need to be improved, and the answers can’t be summed up uin one sentence. Schools do not need to be improved on the backs of the people who are there now. We don’t need facile solutions that are good for nothing more than applause lines, or internet talking points (“If I blame the unions, I can sound serious!”). We need real, workable solutions that are an investment, not a trashing. There is a lot at stake.

      • Submitted by Ross Williams on 06/11/2012 - 03:11 pm.

        What do Teachers Unions do Wrong?

        Teachers unions fund Democrats running for office. Opposition to public school funding from their political opponents both caused and results from that. Kids and public education are just caught in the middle of that fight.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/11/2012 - 05:51 pm.

          Chicken? Or egg?

          Good question: Are campaign contributions to Democratic candidates caused by, or a reward for, support for public education?

          Let’s also remember the traditional antipathy of Republicans towards organized labor and government employees, as well as their more recent embrace of anti-intellectualism.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 06/11/2012 - 12:03 pm.

      Bob has it exactly right.

      When it comes to public education, defenders of the status quo have no choices left to them but distraction and obfuscation. The NEA and it’s affiliates have run roughshod over our kids so long, and so hard, it is impossible to defend them directly; better to ignore their presence.

      But rather than have me do it for them, let’s allow the NEA to tell it’s own story:

      True teaching professionals cringe while watching that clip, and with good reason. A blue collar trade labor union, with all the baggage that entails, has hijacked their profession; there really is no other way to describe it.

      I proudly stand with long suffering teaching professionals, and join them in praying for an early demise of the NEA.

  4. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 06/11/2012 - 08:44 am.

    One correction: The writer says: “Conservative forces in America have made public school teachers public enemy No. 1.” Uh, no, it’s not just “conservative forces,” it is liberals and Democrats, too. Our president is a leading basher of teachers. When Rhode Island fired all its teachers in the state’s poorest district, the president and his education secretary CHEERED. So-called “liberals” are leading the charge in Minnesota and across the US because they get to operate their boutique charter schools.

  5. Submitted by Pat McGee on 06/11/2012 - 10:05 am.

    Public employee pension contributions

    Please stop generalizing about public employee pensions. There are plenty that require contributions from the employee and employer.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/11/2012 - 10:46 am.

    Liberal support for labor is luke warm at best

    I have to agree with Bob, liberals have bought into the anti-labor almost as much as conservatives in this country. They talk about labor but think Unions are historical relics and consequently have participated in creating a declining economy and standard of living in the US. Liberals have also signed off big time on the charter school movement that is distracting us from any real reforms, and defunding public schools. The conservative simply don’t the number to do all this damage, there has been considerable liberal support.

  7. Submitted by James Hamilton on 06/11/2012 - 11:15 am.

    Guilty until proved innocent.

    My brother has taught for more than 30 years. He’s been active in his union and in the development of Q Comp in his school. He’s also studied administration. I listen to him when he’s willing to speak to me about the issues in our schools. The over-arching lesson I’ve learned from him is that there is no silver bullet for any of the problems our schools, our teachers and our children face, except perhaps for people to sit down and act rationally. That is, after all, what we expect our children to learn, isn’t it?

    Instead, we see thousands of axes being ground daily, with no recognition of the possibility that the opinions of ‘the opposition’ may have some merit.

    I was struck recently by a comment my wife made: how is it that we expect public schools to provide educations equalling those found in private schools, for less than the cost of private institutions? This is a particularly true when public schools, other than charter schools, can not cherry pick their students as can and do so many private schools. Special needs? Not here, thanks. ESL? See someone else, please.

    It is rare to hear a proponent of school vouchers address the question of what we do with students whose families cannot afford to pay the difference between the amount of the voucher and private tuition. Do we maintain public schools as an educational ghetto? In many areas, that seems to have become our de facto policy, as charter schools peel yet another layer of involved families from the public system.

    I have many thoughts on the problem but do not claim to have the answer(s). It would be a good first step for others to acknowledge that their own ideas are simply that and start an honest and dispassionate discussion of where we go from here.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 06/11/2012 - 01:58 pm.

      Answers have already been offered.

      James, my children attended private, parochial schools from 4th grade through 12.

      In both schools, scholarships were available for kids whose parents agreed to do volunteer work in exchange. That had the advantage of not only ensuring a broader outreach, but ensuring parents were intimately involved in their student’s day-to-day progress. A “two-fer” if you will.

      If and when more kids move to private schools, there is no reason to believe more such financial assistance will not be extended.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/11/2012 - 11:20 am.

    Contract are not dictated by actuaries

    The benefits that labor contracts dictate are employer obligations that have been negotiated. School districts are employers like anyone else, they are expected to honor their contracts, you can’t just go get a third party bean counter to unilaterally change a contract whenever you want. The budget crises in education is not the product of the labor agreements, it the product of budget cuts on the state level which in turn are part of the war on public education.

  9. Submitted by Rich Crose on 06/11/2012 - 12:14 pm.

    Not Bad Teachers, Bad Managers

    I was talking to an friend from India and told him of a co-worker who was fired for non-performance. He was shocked. He explained that in India, if someone isn’t doing their job, they fire the manager. It is the manager’s job to make sure the people under them perform by training them and giving them the support they need to do their job.

    This should apply to public schools. In America, the incentive is to save money. We reward the manager who cuts the budget. The manager who fires the under-performers gets a bonus. The manager who spends money on developing top-rated employees is fired.

    The superintendents and principals (managers) are in charge of budgets and get bonuses to reduce costs. As budgets are cut, training is cut, support staff is cut, class room sizes grow. As a result, teachers have less time to teach and spend more time doing administrative work –copying papers, correcting tests, evaluating students.

    Ultimately, it is the legislature who sets the budget and starts the whole mess in motion. But of course, we can’t fire the legislature, can we?

  10. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/11/2012 - 02:20 pm.

    It’s funny that people think schools should make do with the money they have. “Throwing money” at the schools won’t fix anything, the schools should learn to do more with less.

    But this attitude never seems to carry over to other parts of government, like the military. Next time the Pentagon wants a new fighter jet, imagine the same conservatives saying the military should “do more with less”, that “throwing money” at the problem won’t fix anything.

  11. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/11/2012 - 03:40 pm.

    There’s really no evidence

    that private schools achieve any “better” results than public schools. You can find outstanding examples of either private or public schools anywhere you look, just as you can find examples of “failed” schools. “Privatizing” is one of those glittering panaceas that seem to offer solutions to misdiagnosed problems. And, as we’ve seen with our health care system, the “greatest in the world” (not), transferring the financing of health care to business corporations operated for the personal profits and aggrandizement of their CEO’s brings neither improved service or lower costs. The problems have nothing to do with unions per se or with the teaching profession.

    What does the public want or expect from its educational system? Is it graduating students who are trained for jobs or employment? Job or employment opportunities which don’t even exist today for college graduates? Whatever it wants or expects, I don’t think it’s wise or reasonable or intelligent to blame the professionals who have doing their best to educate our young people for an economy which has been decimated by the ill conceived financial and economic policies of Milton Friedman and the global financial elites who have come to idolize him.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/11/2012 - 08:10 pm.

      The “ill-conceived” policies of Milton Friedman

      are simply the use of the power of consumer choice. When the education consumer (parents) are given a choice of where to send their children to school, the power of the marketplace will cause schools to compete with each other with course offerings and other academic attractions that causes all schools to improve or risk going under.

      Since K-12 education is a constitutional right in this state, it’s reasonable that the state provide a voucher in the amount currently spent on each public school student … in Saint Paul, that would be about $14,000. And if private schools knew what parents were receiving from the state in the form of pre-paid vouchers, their tuition would adjust to match it, I’m sure.

      But I can’t help but laugh at the general disdain for anything “private” over “public” as if they should be dismissed as unworthy of our support. I once saw Milton Friedman destroy a snotty young college student who had questioned the value of private versus public by asking the student: “Ask yourself, if you were to take a date out for a nice dinner, would you take her to a private restaurant or to the school cafeteria? Who has the incentive to provide you with the best experience? Who has to compete with other similar establishments with the loser potentially going out of business? Certainly not the school cafeteria.” (All the kids in the audience laughed and the young man slinked back to his seat).

      All Milton Friedman wanted was to give you the power to choose. That’s not “ill-conceived” unless you can’t handle your own freedom, which is certainly possible I guess.

      • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/12/2012 - 09:12 am.

        Power to choose?

        It’s not a disdain for anything “public” versus “private”, which is a simplistic dichotomy. Is Excel Energy, a “public utility” even if it’s “privately owned”, i.e. “privately owned” by millions of shareholders and traded on a “public stock exchange”? What “private” corporation of any magnitude is going to be allowed to go under today? If Goldman Sachs is “too big to fail” so is our public education system.

        Minnesota has not made “education” a right; it made “public education” a right in this State which means a) until you are 16 you have no free choice to attend a school, even if it has a cafeteria and b) the public has a corresponding duty to pay taxes to support said public education. If you want to opt out and home school your kid or send your kid to some snooty “private school” so they don’t have to rub elbows with the hoi polloi, you have the “freedom to choose” that too.

        The only purpose of vouchers is to destroy the public schools by allowing education to become a racket like e.g. the “privatized prison” racket. It’s strange way to lower teacher’s pensions and destroy the ability to bargain for things like conditions of employment, which I gather is the true objective of vouchers. Maybe we should give convicted felons the freedom to choose among private and public prisons. Imagine how much the public will save if prison guards are not paid a pension!

        Parents already have “freedom to choose.” What Friedman wants is the “freedom to have your cake and eat it too.”

      • Submitted by Bill DeCoursey on 06/13/2012 - 04:52 am.

        I also can’t help but laugh

        that anyone would find the example of Milton Friedman as making a valid point. What is the core function of the school cafeteria? Certainly not to provide a best experience for a dating couple.
        I recently read an article about various private tutoring programs that have grown under NCLB using gimmicks such as free computers to entice consumers to sign up for their programs. It is wildly sucessful, to the point that the tutoring function of the company suffers. Sometimes consumers are sidetracked by gimmicks and do not make the best choice. Just like someone taking a humorous aside as a telling point in a debate.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/12/2012 - 09:48 am.


      Actually Jon,

      For several years now research has shown that public schools are out-performing, doing a better job than private schools, and most charter schools.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 06/12/2012 - 12:53 pm.

        Lies, damn lies and statistics

        A bit more background on Prof Lubienski’s study:

        “Though private school students have long scored higher on the national assessment, commonly referred to as “the nation’s report card,” the new study used advanced statistical techniques to adjust for the effects of income, school and home circumstances.”

        “The study found that while the raw scores of fourth graders in Roman Catholic schools, for example, were 14.3 points higher than those in public schools, when adjustments were made [using “advanced statistical techniques” ~ ed] for student backgrounds, those in Catholic schools scored 3.4 points lower than those in public schools.”

        “The findings are likely to bolster critics of policies supporting charter schools and vouchers as the solution for failing public schools.”

        Of course they are.

      • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/12/2012 - 03:08 pm.

        I’m not surprised

        but it still depends on what your criteria are. Are kids smarter today than 30 or 100 years ago? Do they get more “A’s” ? Is that really a valid measure of comparison? etc. Still, this link should (but probably won’t) quiet those voices who are convinced our public school system is a complete failure and needs immediate reform.

  12. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/11/2012 - 05:24 pm.

    Darn professors!

    I didn’t realize that public university professors make so much out of the gate. And those benefits! Whew!
    Of course, after researching the issue, I find that the $100k professor with an instant retirement is probably as common as Santa Claus…the real one. Full professors with $100k+ salaries are somewhat common (for 12 month terms), but only after years of teaching and with distinguished careers, and make up less than 30% of all professors. Even then, many professors are expected to fund themselves through grants for part of the year.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 06/12/2012 - 11:22 am.

      Interesting chronicle link

      Notice anything different between professorial pay and unionized public school teacher pay?

      Prof’s are paid according to their field of expertise, ie: Journalism prof paid less than engineering. It’s an example of what I’ve been advocating for k-12 teachers for years. Paying professionals with skills in high demand in the private sector more makes sense, but it’s not feasible while the union demands we pay teachers like drill press operators.

      That’s why confident, skilled teaching professionals are unafraid of shucking their union overlords…in fact they yearn for the opportunity to do so.

  13. Submitted by Simon DeRuyter on 06/11/2012 - 10:02 pm.

    Lets stop pretending that the existing contracts in place for teachers leaves room for firing the incompetent. The process is exhaustive and can be easily subverted by anyone. After beginning the process with paperwork that has to be filed within 1st 6 weeks of school year, the principal then has to complete 90 hrs of observation by mid December, with an additional 4-5 hrs a week in after class reinforcement/ review with the teacher and additional bookkeeping headaches. If for any reason the total case cannot be completed by the December deadline, then the slate is wiped clean and can’t be addressed again until the following school year. One way for any teacher to easily block these actions is to simply take a “mental health” unpaid leave of absence, claiming the investigation is distressing them. Two weeks is usually enough to derail the whole process. All you need is a doctor to sign off, which if your own doctor won’t, the union will provide one that does. This is the reason that only 1 in 2500 union teachers lose their job due to incompetence every year. Compare that to other professionals like doctors 1 in 53, lawyers 1 in 98, and even state liscensed union plumbers, pipefitters, and electricians 1 in 140. Administrators are powerless against these odds.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/13/2012 - 10:34 am.

    Let’s stop pretending that administators can’t…

    …follow directions. We always hear this complaint that managers can’t do anything about problem employees in union environments. The fact is that every contract spells out a way to administer discipline and terminate employment if a such action is warranted. My experience has been that managers simply don’t want or know how to follow procedures. Simon, could you give us a source for the information you provide?

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/13/2012 - 10:57 am.

    Strib article about teachers and discipline

    The Strib actually did a nice article about the quality of teachers and the difficulty firing bad ones. It’s clear that administrators are simply not using the tools at their disposal, and the state has failed to set up some guidelines.

  16. Submitted by Randall Ryder on 06/14/2012 - 06:45 pm.

    Become Informed

    I am aghast at many of the comments on this thread. If you read any reports on comparisons of public and private workers you will find that when you hold education and qualifications constant, public workers earn less in wages, about the same in health insurance, and more in pension plans. This does not account for many private employees in higher paying positions who receive bonuses. All told, public workers earn less when factoring in fringe benefits. There was a time when they had more job security, but that too has changed a great deal in the last decade with the reduction of public employees across the country. So, let’s focus on teachers. Their wages have actually decreased since 1970 on an inflation adjusted basis. Teachers simply don’t get rich, in fact many live at the poverty level if they have children. With that in mind, who would want a such a career in teaching? Well, there are those that love their subject matter and want to share it, and there are those that want to make an impact on children. Great teachers teach students, not their subject matter. And I am afraid that with the crumbling status of the teaching profession, the future will witness fewer great teachers.

  17. Submitted by Ernest Payne on 06/18/2012 - 04:04 am.


    A system that works well in the civilised world appears to fail in the US. The teachers can only do so much for children in a nation that expects them to be a glorified baby sitting service and parents that fail to prepare the children for school. The fault dear Brutus lies with a national attitude that worships stupidity and belittles education.

    • Submitted by Emily Sojourn on 06/18/2012 - 11:31 am.

      I tend to agree ….

      Although Ernest comes across a little more severe than I would have, I’m inclined to agree with him. The national attitude about teachers HAS changed for the worse. The national attitude about being educated HAS changed for the worse. We glorify our children’s deeds on the athletic field but when a proud parent actually wants to celebrate their child’s educational accomplishments — honor student stickers — they are belittled with another’s oh-so-funny satirical jab: “My kid can beat up your honor student.” Wanting extensive education is now considered “elitist.” Speaking well and knowledgeably is seen as “putting on airs.” We want our candidates to be just like us instead of being smarter and better capable of governing than we are. We are so obsessively protective of our children’s precious little psyches we rush to demonize the teacher who implies our child is not taking her education seriously. We natter away about firing “bad” teachers and don’t even bother to define EXACTLY what a “bad” teacher is. Until this changes, I doubt we will see much progress on this issue.

Leave a Reply