Class Warfare Blog

July 28, 2013

Everyone is an Education Reformer

Everyone has an opinion about public education. Not only that, everyone has an idea of how to fix “the problem.” Consider as an example Mr. Francis Clifford’s idea of starting over from scratch. The problems, according to Mr. Clifford, with this sure-fire solution to our public school problem are the unions and the teachers:

“I don’t see this ever happening because the vested interests – unions – would not consent to de-certification, which to me and many other existing and former parents proves that public school teachers in general truly are interested in their own welfare FIRST, not the kids’ learning.

“They (teachers) only continue to seek as culprits outside causes, such as “poverty,” over which they have no control for why some kids from certain homes can’t learn. The analysis always seem to end with teachers blaming these outside forces while nothing is done systemically to eliminate or work around those forces.”

Mr. Clifford doesn’t say why the unions would be required to decertify themselves as opposed to simply agreeing to try an experiment of the nature he supposes. In fact it is hard to see that the unions are a problem at all. If teacher’s unions are such a problem, then they should retard progress in states where they are strong, like California, and increase it in states where they are weak, like Nevada and Georgia. In fact, states where unions are weakest often have the worst educational outcomes. Conversely, some of the states with the highest outcomes, like Massachusetts, are places where the unions have been the strongest. If unions were such a crippling factor, shouldn’t this be the other way around?

With regard to the teacher’s just sitting around doing nothing to solve the problem, that’s a little like saying lawyers are sitting around and not solving the problem of crime. Or doctors sitting around and not solving the problem of disease. Just how are the teachers to act in concert? Through a union? That is indeed what is going on in the strongest unions; they are advocating for effective changes (not fads), but I suspect that that is not acceptable to the anti-union Mr. Clifford.

In this debate, there are two really large problems. One is the amount of debate that is based on magical thinking, you know, “the schools would just be fine if we made the students wear uniforms” kind of thinking. These are opinions that have no basis in reality. If you think the unions are the problem, present your evidence, make an argument, don’t just say “if we didn’t have teacher’s unions protecting incompetent teachers, everything would be fine.” Why would that be so? Prior to the advent of collective bargaining in the State of California, there were many, many stories of administrators “finding” jobs for relatives by “letting go” teachers who “weren’t needed.” It was abuses of this kind that lead to the collective bargaining laws in the first place. Just as the civil service came about because of employer abuses of employees. If an employee hasn’t broken any laws or been proven ineffective, why should they lose their job? Realize that the person doing the “firing” doesn’t own the business, they are just another school district employee, like the teacher.

The other problem with the debate literally shouts at me in that in the past, I trained meeting facilitators to lead groups of people to make decisions (and did that work as well). When a decision regarding “what to do” about any problem is needed, what is the key factor? Do you know? It is quite simple. What you absolutely need to know is what the problem really is. So, what is the problem with public education?

Really. What’s the problem? Describe it in detail. Don’t describe your solution, describe the problem.

If you want to bandy about phrases like “it has failed our children,” as the facilitator I have to ask you how has it failed? I have to encourage you to provide evidence (data) supporting your opinion, because we don’t want to spend a lot of effort trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. We need is a description of the problem . . . in detail.

Do you know what the problem is? If so, prove it and share it with us. What I am hearing from a great many debaters of this issue are hidden agendas, not descriptions of the problem.



  1. Excellent post! I appreciate the way that you tell it like it is. Public education, like any other venue, is flawed, but the problem does not lie with the teachers or the unions. Are there poor teachers? Certainly, but most of them are very good and they truly care about their students. Again, great post, I always appreciate your perspectives on education.


    Comment by thejumbledmind — July 28, 2013 @ 10:11 am | Reply

  2. What is the problem, then? (or, is there actually a problem?)


    Comment by john zande — July 28, 2013 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

    • There are quite a few problems, but the “total failure” trope is a smokescreen by corporate raiders looking to make profit out of the school system and for corporate Republicans who think private is always better than public (socialist!).

      The structural problems are many. many school districts are smack dab in the middle of a poor county and since some of these schools fund themselves through property taxes we have the situation where some districts spend one-third of what others spend, per pupil. Then ther is the poverty itself. Then there is “female flight,” which is women found they could do a whole lot more than be nurses, teachers, and secretaries. Then there has been the social standing decline of teachers (usta be high, now they are are pigs at the public trough. Then there have been the previous reformers, faddists who think they can improve things, but end up screwing things up. For example, I was taught to read phonetically, by using the language I had learned through my ears to channel it through my eyes. My home state of California was talked into dumping that system in favor of “whole word” learning that was developed to teach deaf people to read! (Alright, let’s tie the other hand behind your back and see if it works). Then there was the self-esteem movement.

      I think whatI would like to see is for the teachers to be asked to get together and standardize as much of their efforts as can be. The profession doesn’t seem to act much like a profession. Maybe if we raised expectations and asked more from teachers (instead of somewhat meaningless professional improvement activities) we might get somewhere.

      There is a group of teachers in the Atlanta, GA area that want discipline to be brought back to their classrooms. They want the thugs gone … and apparently so would the students. Check them out here: They will enlighten and amaze you, the thoughts that go on inside teacher’s heads … and these guys decided not to pull any punches, they are talking about race, real race issues, not the bullshit stuff.


      Comment by stephenpruis — July 28, 2013 @ 1:52 pm | Reply

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