Uncommon Sense

June 11, 2021

The Rent’s Too Damned High

Economic myths dominate our political belief systems. Cory Doctorow recently addressed a number of them (on renting and home ownership) here.

Very much worth reading!

Here’s a taste:

The American middle class didn’t emerge thanks to property ownership — property ownership came about as the result of wage gains due to strong (and hard-fought) labor rights, and as a result of public subsidy for private homebuilding (the GI Bill). Homeownership is a good way to covert gains from the a worker-friendly labor market into something durable and insulated — but it’s no substitute for workers’ rights.

It only took a generation for the dream of homeownership to become a nightmare. Trading labor rights for asset appreciation meant that guaranteed pensions became market-based 401(k)s, turning American workers into the suckers in the financial markets’ casino. As these older workers retire, they are forced to supplement their wholly inadequate pensions by liquidating, remortgaging or reverse-mortgaging the family home. Social Security helps, but not much — without a powerful organized labor movement to defend Social Security, the program has withered, offering a sub-starvation cushion.

July 13, 2019

Does This Blog Need a Different Title?

When I began this blog, mainstream opinions regarding there being a class war in the U.S. were little better than scoffing at the idea. It seems now that most people accept this class war as a fact. I began this blog with the intent of just establishing the war is real, but I could continue, focusing on the conduct and disposition of the class war.  Of late, I have been writing more frequently about religion (specifically Christianity as that is the religion I know most about) in that I believe the religion plays a role in the class war.

Religion, specifically Christianity in the U.S., plays a role in our current class war because mainstream religions have always worked hand in hand with secular state power for their own benefit. Religions that do not accrue state power have a hard time surviving. And a religion acquires state power is by exhibiting practices of which the secular powers approve. The example I use often is that Christianity supported the institution of slavery (scripture still does!). Had it not, it never would have been adopted as the state religion of Rome and would not have had Rome’s power to expand the church’s power for over a century. (Does no one else find the name of the Roman Catholic Church ironic? The Messiah (Jesus?) was supposedly coming to remove Rome’s boot heel from the necks of the Jews, then under occupation by Rome. Some actually called them the enemy! Apparently the enemy won.)

Some may argue that the history of the United States belies my conclusion. That in the U.S. state power is forbidden to be used to support or oppose any church. Ah, that explains the tax free status of churches and all of the other laws exempting churches and church leaders from having to comply with state or federal laws. Discriminate against women in your hiring practices? This is fine if you are a church. Discriminate against people of other faiths or—gasp—no faith at all, in your hiring practices? This is fine . . . if you are a church. Discriminate against gays and lesbians in your hiring? This is fine if you are a church. A governmental position of neutrality with regard to churches would mean they would all be taxed the same, not “not taxed at all.” There are many other laws that churches violate with impunity just because they can.

So, I still hold that churches support the status quo when it comes to the secular leaders as they have accrued some political power and they do not want to lose it. And, in reality, some of these churches have gone on the offensive, wanting more power than they have now, trying to make the case that we are a Christian nation, a ludicrous claim. (The Bible does not support any kind of democracy in any way, shape, or form. Nor does it support the forbidding of cruel and unusual punishments or any other of the cornerstone concepts of the Constitution. Sheesh.) They have also arranged to have legislation introduced exempting churches from more and more of our laws.

So, if you have an opinion, does this blog need a new title? (And if you say “yes” do you have any suggestions? I suspect JB would call it “Steve’s Snark” or “Steve’s Ignorance.”)

I Have Said This Before But Hearing It Again Always Helps

Filed under: History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:16 am
Tags: , ,

The cost of liberty is eternal vigilance is, I believe, the correct assessment.

Is There a Global Future for Unions?

January 14, 2019

Why Would Teachers Strike?

The teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are going to strike. Why would they do that? As all union officials know (I was one previously), strikes are “lose-lose” propositions, so their only justification is that without one, the losses will be much greater.

In reasonable school districts, teacher strikes just do not happen, that is because of mutual understanding and respect. On the other hand LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, who came to the job with no background in education, commented to a reporter regarding the strike that “There are ways to educate kids that don’t rely on a physical body.” In other words, teachers are not necessary.

I wonder if the good superintendent would have the same attitude were he to need a substantial surgery, or were facing a threatening lawsuit, or whose tax forms were in terrific disarray? Would he have said “There are ways to operate on people’s bodies that don’t rely on a doctor.” or “There are ways to defend yourself in court that don’t rely on a lawyer.” or “There are ways to straighten out accounting messes that don’t rely on accountants.”?

Were this gentleman a skilled negotiator he would have realized that uttering such a statement, especially to a reporter and no matter how much he believed in it, had no “up-side.” It not only doesn’t produce any positive effect for “his side” but it mobilizes those on the “other side” against you. If you want labor peace, start with respect (it is easy to grant, not so easy to earn) and understanding (The rule for negotiators is: “seek first to understand before being understood.”).

I am not totally opposed to non-educators being selected for these positions, but I am against stupid people being hired for such positions.

September 2, 2018

Imagine a Union …

Filed under: Culture,Religion,The Unions — Steve Ruis @ 11:09 am
Tags: , ,

Imagine as a business fantasy that you are a business owner and that you were able to create a union, unbeknownst to anyone not in the know. You “allow” your people to join the union, even encourage it. The union is supported by dues that the business owner gracefully allows to be deducted from weekly paychecks. The union agrees to a comprehensive contract that actually favors the business owner in subtle ways, making him even more rich. The owner eventually supports “closed shop” status, meaning that you have to be a member of the union to work in his business. “It is the right thing to do,” you say.

The union members are urged to “organize” other businesses as well as support the efforts of their union to support political candidates that support the union and the business.

Union leaders are indoctrinated into the workings of the union without knowledge of who is pulling the strings behind the scenes. The union is a wealth and power generating machine for its sponsor, but is sold as an instrument of the workers to avoid oppression by their paymasters.

Now, take the word “union” in every instance above and change it into the word “religion.” Maybe also change the word “dues” to the word “tithes.”

That about sums it up.

July 12, 2018

Randi Weingarten: The Right-Wing Assault on Unions Won’t Win: It Just Makes Us Angrier

We are in a race for the soul of our country. But if we really double down, if we fight not only for what’s right but for what the vast majority of Americans believe, working people—not Janus’ wealthy funders—will emerge as the real winners. Randi Weingarten

Lovely comment by Randi (Randi is the President of the American Federation of Teachers, my old union), but apparently she hasn’t been watching. The union movement has been taking it on the chin for the last 40 years and it has only gotten worse. If the recent offenses are what it takes to get the union movement to wake up, well, “better late than never” comes to mind.

I am fearful that the response will be too little, too late. It is already significantly too late. This feeling of mine seems to be partly due to the current composition of U.S. labor unions. So, who are these union members, now? They are teachers, nurses, “service workers,” and so on. In the hey day of labor unions, the people in unions were iron workers, construction workers, garment workers, auto workers, many, many men and women who worked with their hands. They needed those hands to support their unions because their oppressors brought clubs, knives, even guns to union rallies. There was literally blood in the streets.

The gains made by unions were made by sheer insistence, yes with a threat of violence, but typically in response to violence. A lot of luck was involved. World War 2 happened with Franklin Roosevelt in office was the biggest stroke of luck. (Roosevelt was called “a traitor to his class” for his pro union efforts and high taxes. His “class,” of course, was the “wealthy.”)

From my youth I remember picket lines, strike funds, strike kitchens and food sharing, shoving matches, dirty tricks, and this was well after the major battles had been fought (which were pre-1960). I had colleagues I was trying to recruit into our teacher’s union who told me they could not because they remembered their father coming home from Detroit union meetings bloodied as if from war. There was indeed some memory of what had been fought over and for.

I was anti-union myself until I experienced a work-related problem I couldn’t solve alone and I received unsolicited help from a union member, who was a colleague, not a “union thug.” I decided that something was wrong there, so I read several books on union history and I was stunned at what the union movement was about. The rapacious greed of the “industrialist” class. The disdain they had for working people. The tactics employed by the people in power (got a strike, have your friends in government mobilize the National Guard to protect your company and brutalize the strikers, or if you didn’t have friends in government hire “strikebreakers” who did just what their name implies).

I also found out that every time a state’s unions urged that labor history be taught in high school, an immense backlash from the rich and powerful occurs. They know that if people knew the real story, unions would be perceived very sympathetically. Instead there has been an unrelenting anti-union propaganda campaign resulting in ordinary American workers being quite anti-union. And we in the union movement have allowed this to happen.

It will be a long slog to get anywhere near back to where we were. And I wonder if people who don’t get dirty from their work are up to the task.



November 12, 2016

Let the Bullshit Continue

Filed under: History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:04 am
Tags: , , , , ,

In an editorial in today’s New York Times, David Leonhart explored how the Democrats managed to lose the recent elections. One comment he made was illustrative of the cluelessness of the pontificating classes. He said “The soul-searching about the Democrats’ loss of the white working class is just beginning, as it should.”


The Democrats didn’t “lose” the working classes, they dumped them, deliberately and out in the open. I have written extensively, for example, about how the union movement in Canada is strong and healthy whereas in the U.S. it is stuttering and failing. The main reason for this difference is that the efforts of conservatives to undermine workers rights and unions were relatively unopposed by unions themselves and to a lack of Democratic Party support for the union movement. The Dems stopped supporting working people and their unions quite some time ago in favor of a new base pillar: professionals.

So, if the Dems are wondering why working people are no longer supporting them, they need only to look in a mirror.

And Trump? His political fate depends on whether the working classes lives get better or not, plain and simple. If he takes care of the working classes, which no one else, save Bernie Sanders, seems inclined to do, he will get re-elected in four years. (The operative question will be: “Just ask yourself: are you better off than you were four years ago?”)

June 11, 2014

Teacher Tenure Rules Have a Negative Effect on Public Education?

A Los Angeles County judge struck down California rules on tenure for teachers in the Vergara v. California case. The plaintiffs argued that the rules made it too hard to fire ineffective public school teachers. Judge Rolf Treu concluded that tenure did have a negative effect on the education of children, especially black and Latino students, saying it violated those “students’ fundamental right to equality of education” under the state’s constitution.

Okay, let me see if I get this right. Teacher tenure rules are simply that there must be a process by which a teacher can be demoted or fired and that process must include a fair hearing. The public understanding of tenure being a “job for life” is mistaken.

To put this in perspective, the vast majority of public school teachers are competent and not a problem. The question is what to do about those who are incompetent. Every school district I have been a part of had such a procedure (as it was required by law). And, in almost every case of an attempted dismissal based upon competence, a court (or NLRB hearing) threw out the district’s case for the same reason: the districts violated the rules of their own procedures. So, apparently this judge threw out California’s tenure laws because of administrative incompetence. Adding to this the greatest number of teacher “dismissals”  resulted in the teacher in question “retiring” or leaving “voluntarily” and so did not appear to anyone as a “dismissal,” but were the equivalent.

And, do not get me wrong, the general population of teachers are frustrated that people they consider incompetent stay on due to administrative incompetence but at the same time support tenure laws to protect themselves from that same administrative incompetence (or perfidy).

Also, to focus on black and Latino students and the role of tenure is appalling. Did they consider that teachers are often assigned to “poor” districts as punishment or to encourage them to resign. Did they consider that administrators “reward” teachers by giving them the cushiest assignments in the schools with the best infrastructure and the best performing students instead of challenging them with the schools that really need the good teachers? Is tenure really an issue at all in struggling schools?

It should not be, but a conservative challenge (funded by the usual billionaire suspects) put in front of a conservative judge who found it to be so.

We will see as this legal charade continues.

August 23, 2013

Introducing the MACE Manifesto

This being my 400th post, I thought I ought to do something special, so for the third time (I think) I am reblogging something. Below you will find a chapter of the “MACE Manifesto,” a rant on public education by a group of teachers and teachers’ union officials who have had it up to here and have decided to tell it like it is, like it really is. MACE stands for “Metro Association of Classroom Educators” which is a union in Fayetteville, GA. Recognize that Georgia is a non-collective bargaining state, which makes union work really difficult, so these guys are dedicated. Check them out and read other parts of the Manifesto at www.theteachersadvocate.com.

And do realize, Dear Reader, that the hostile takeover of public education is just one more front in the Class War. The rich and powerful are trying to dictate to us how our children are to be educated, even when they know little to nothing about education, children, or teachers, but they do know what the like: docile drones who work for low wages and make no trouble.

* * *

The MACE Manifesto: Part Three – Exhaling Rants

We can’t neatly categorize everything, but if you pull up a chair and read some of our rants, you’ll recognize the ring of truth and you, even if you’re a good Baptist, will be saying, “Dammit, they’re right!” – Exhaling Rants

Chapter 35
Merit Pay for Teachers: More Bullshit from Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and Arne Duncan!
by John R. Alston Trotter, EdD, JD

I realized when I began thinking about writing this rant against merit pay for teachers that I had already written a number of articles on this in the past, articles which have different slants but sometimes overlap in a good way. So, instead of writing an entirely new rant, I’ll just give you some of the rants of the recent past.

This concept of merit pay or value-added evaluation or pay-for-performance or tying a teacher’s pay to how well a child does on a standardized test has been around for year. It is a sacred cow of leading educational interlopers, educational denizens, and philanthropic billionaire vultures (now this seems like a oxymoronic description, doesn’t it?) like Bill Gates and Eli Broad and their lap dog the the U. S. Department of Education, Arne Duncan. We understand both of these billionaires pumped some large sums of money into the Chicago Public School when Arne Duncan was the superintendent there. (How he ever became a superintendent is beyond me since he has never been an educator. But, maybe I can become the head of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University or perhaps head of Peat Marwick, even though I am not a medical doctor or an accountant. LOL!) I presume that Arne is smart enough to know that he more than likely will not be the Secretary of Education under another President and perhaps his inordinate loyalty to these billionaire interlopers will secure him future employment. Ah, but I am being too jaded in my outlook.

I know that Bill Gates seems to be getting a bit squeamish about tying teachers’ pay to just test scores, a position that he apparently previously held. He wrote an op-ed in the spring of 2013 in The Washington Post, stating that perhaps other factors besides the test scores of the students ought to be calculated into how a teacher is paid. Perhaps Bill’s been getting too much negative feedback from teachers for his own comfort zone. Now he needs to convince his wife Melinda about his apparent new epiphany. But, ole Arne is still operating under “The Charge of the Light Brigade” mentality because he just recently got into a pissing contest with Dr. John Barge, the State Superintendent of Georgia, over whether Georgia is moving fast enough in tying the Georgia teachers’ evaluations to student test scores. He threatened to withhold $10,000,000.00 Race to the Top funds from Georgia for this perceived desultory action – or lack of action. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has gotten real pissy with Dr. Barge over this threat of losing ten million bucks with the State. Deal had already cut back lots of funding in the States’ budget to the Georgia Department of Education. This latest pissing contest has apparently caused Dr. Barge to thinking, Why not just run for Governor? He would certainly get the teachers’ votes, and the last time the teachers of Georgia got very pissed off at an incumbent governor was in 2000 when Governor Roy Barnes led the charge to do away with teachers’ due process rights in Georgia. Two years later when Barnes ran for re-election, the teachers were waiting with baited breath. They voted overwhelmingly for the very underfunded Republican challenger, Sonny Perdue, and he won.

This whole push for merit pay and for Common Core Curriculum is having great political reverberations. Again, this week, Governor Deal in Georgia announced a slow-down on implementing this curriculum in Georgia. His already-announced opponent, the Mayor of Dalton, Georgia, recently stated that it would have taken him only three seconds to reject Common Core Curriculum. Well, if you think that CCC is unpopular with teachers, just was to see how they react to a fallacious concept like merit pay for teachers in a public school setting.

Now for some of my rants about merit pay. . . .

Merit Pay for Teachers Does Not Work

Perhaps the Good Master would call them “a brood of vipers” [those educational interlopers pushing for merit pay]. I was talking to a teacher tonight who was crying and severely stressed-out by some lying and conniving administrators who appear to delight in making people’s (yes, teachers are real people) lives miserable. Our mission at MACE is to devour administrators (metaphorically, of course; this is not a terroristic threat) who abuse teachers. We don’t do spelling bees and give out tote bags nor do we try to act like we are important by aimlessly walking the halls of the Georgia Capitol. We don’t have time for such silliness.

What does Brother _________ propose to do with the kiss-up, weasling, and booger-eatin’ administrators who immediately label any teacher a “trouble-maker” when ANYTHING is questioned? These are the same administrators who would sell their own mothers “down the river” to ensure that they can hold on to their high-paying jobs and lifestyles. They use the evaluative process in a manipulative, punitive, and retributive manner. They do not tolerate anyone who deigns (1) to point out that some students are acting like hellions and that the teachers need administrative support in order to deal with these miscreant “students” (yes, “miscreant” because their behaviors often cross the line into criminality) or (2) to refuse to simply “go along to get along,” especially when issues of conscience are involved (like lying about student attendance in order to cook the books for No Child Left Behind or changing answers on students’ test sheets so that the Pharoah-Superintendents won’t terminate, demote, or transfer them).

Merit pay has never worked in public education because students are not inanimate objects floating down a conveyor belt in a factory. Students have various IQ levels, have different motivational levels, and definitely come from different home environments which make all the difference in the world. I worked in a public school system in Georgia which was the only school system in the State which actually practiced differentiated pay for teachers. This same school system was hailed in Time Magazine and Reader’s Digest as a forward-looking and progressive school system in Georgia because of “merit pay.” I was allowed to look at the teachers’ salaries at the school, and I can assure you that the salaries did NOT correlate to a teacher’s skill or dedication as a teacher but to the number of butts that his or her lips had puckered up to or whose spouse this teacher was attached to. It was all about politico-familial connections and/or butt-kissing. These factors determine who got the “best” group of kids and who got the “merit” pay. When you can control the input variables, then, and only then, perhaps will some form of “merit” pay work. Until then, it is just a sham and a farce. Teachers start rat-holing everything from teaching materials, lesson plans, and insightful ideas. Teachers become suspicious of each other and become very uncooperative. In fact, they begin to act like 2nd and 3rd year law students who are competitively angling to be hired (or, “enslaved”) by the silk stocking law firms.

Pay the Physician Only if the Patient Is Well or Pay the Lawyer Only if the Client is Acquitted?

This is the issue: The children are never randomly selected and scattered around evenly. The teacher who is teaching at Atlanta’s King Middle School is confronted with a much more difficult job than a teacher who is assigned to Gwinnett’s Trickum Middle School. Or, let’s stay in the same county…Fulton. The teacher at Fulton’s Haynes Bridge Middle School in Alpharetta has an easier time getting students to perform at a certain academic level than students at Fulton’s McNair Middle School. We don’t know all of the answers is the very significant achievement gap between white students and black students but we know that this gap exists and that the low scores in South Fulton is exacerbated by poor conduct among the students. The Fulton County School System is certainly a microcosm for the whole state – and perhaps the nation – on this issue.

In the Fulton County School System, the system is divided by north and south, with the Atlanta Public Schools sitting between the two distinctly different geographical areas of the Fulton County Schools, and the academic performance of the children in these two areas are vastly different. This school system stretches from north of Alpharetta to south of Palmetto — about 75 to 80 miles long. Very diverse, considering that North Fulton is overwhelmingly white and South Fulton is overwhelmingly black. In my job, I deal with teachers in both the north and the south. I have a fairly accurate, I think, perspective. Besides the income disparity being very great, I am sure that if anyone checked the formal educational levels of the parents of the children in both areas, the parents in the north would have higher educational levels to a statistically significant level. This is where the motivation of the students comes in play. If a student perceives that he or she comes from an educated culture, from a family which values formal education, then this student has more motivation to learn. The motivation to learn is the key.

The motivation to learn is a cultural phenomenon. I did not say “a racial phenomenon,” but “a cultural phenomenon.” The African American children, for example, who vacation at Martha’s Vineyard (as pointed in the book Our Kind of People, a revealing book about the “elite class” among African Americans in this country) do not struggle with motivation to learn. In fact, their motivation is to determine into which Ivy League school they will matriculate.

Where there is very little motivation to learn, there automatically is a concomitant amount of disciplinary problems associated with this lack of motivation. If teachers are not freed up to be creative instead of being forced to teach in a straight-jacket (so to speak), then this children will continue to disrupt the learning environments of those students who actually are motivated to learn. Those governors and other people who were and are in positions to dole out monies to teachers based on “performance of the students” never take into their calculations that children are not inanimate objects which were randomly (and thus uniformly) selected to float down some educational conveyor belt.

What if we paid physicians based on how their patients performed? One doctor is sent to the ghetto where health and nutrition takes a back seat to daily survival. But, this physician’s pay is tied to his patients’ blood pressure readings. His patients love ham-hock and fried chicken in their daily diets. But, his counterpart physician (both graduating from Johns Hopkins Medical School) has his practice in Athens, Georgia where most of his patients refuse to eat fried foods, much less fried chicken with all of that ugly chicken skin. They cook with extra virgin olive oil rather than pork lard. This Athenian physician’s patients have lower counts of blood pressure that the patients from the ghetto. Should this physician make more than the physician whose practice is in an area where the patients cannot afford to cook with extra virgin olive oil and are very lucky to be able to occasionally buy Wesson Corn Oil? You get the point, but guess what? Our politicians and vulture philanthropists don’t get the point…probably because they don’t want to get the point. It is so much easier, from a political standpoint, to just blame the teachers. ”We are only going to reward those teachers where the students perform.” Balderdash! We’re only going to pay the physicians if their patients have low blood pressure! We’re only going to pay the court-appointed lawyers if their get their clients are acquitted!

The motivation to learn is a cultural phenomenon, and if the motivation to learn is not there, all of the new curricula fads and gadgets will not mean anything. The best thing that the educrats can do is (1) free up the teacher so that the teacher can be creative in his or her attempts to reach these unmotivated students and (2) support the teacher when he or she is attempting to establish a structured and orderly classroom environment.

Again, Merit Pay Is Incurably Flawed!

Do advocates of Merit Pay think that we should pay lawyers only if the juries find their clients “not guilty”? What if the evidence against the client is overwhelming and the entire jury is fully convinced that the lawyer’s client is guilty, despite the admirable job of his lawyer? So, the “performance” of the client should determine the lawyer’s pay? This court-appointed lawyer (who had rather not represent this client in the first place) will get the lowest pay possible from the State because of Mikie’s (the client’s) “performance” in the Standardized Testing Courtroom. Hmm. It just doesn’t seem right. Why? Because it isn’t right.

What about the physician who is forced to take on a client who overeats each day (and eats all of the wrong food, by the way)? This patient also refuses to exercise. The patient is 120 pounds overweight and smokes three packs of unfiltered Camel cigarettes each day also. He takes no vitamins and drinks two pints of Vodka with a Walmart brand orange drink (full of high fructose corn syrup) each night while he watches TNT movies until four in the morning. He goes to the physician who really doesn’t like being his primary care physician because Bubba (the patient’s nick name) refuses to do anything that he suggests to him. Oh, by the way, Bubba is also diabetic, but he refuses to take his insulin. Well, it’s just too bad for the physician because he is going to get paid from the State based on Bubba’s health performance. Again, absurd.

What about the dentist who always fills Johnny’s cavities and patiently goes over dental hygiene with his new Medicaid patient. He shows Johnny how to brush and floss. He tells him how often he needs to brush and floss. He encourages him to stay off sweets. But, guess what? Johnny ignores all of his dentist’s advice. He eats what he wants. He refuses to brush and floss his teeth, and his teeth continue to deteriorate and some even have to be pulled. Well, well. Too bad for this dentist, right? His pay will be tied to how well Johnny’s teeth perform. Good grief.

Merit pay does seem ludicrous when you have no choice about the performance of those entrusted (mandated) to you. For this reason alone, Merit Pay does not work in the public schooling process. I will not even go into the way that the process will be used in a manipulative, retributive, and punitive manner. Only the kiss-ups will profit from such a flawed system. It will not improve education; it will further destroy the public schooling process.

Teachers Teach Students; They Don’t Learn Them!

Lawyers defend clients; they don’t acquit them. Physicians treat patients; they don’t heal them. Teachers teach students; they don’t learn them. The merit pay concept for education is incurably flawed because the assumption is that teachers actually “learn” students. It’s not even correct English. No, the motivation to learn is a social/cultural phenomenon. If a “student” brings little or no motivation to learn to the schooling process, then there is little that a teacher can do to make this “student” learn. Our clueless educrats and philanthropic vultures have never accepted this. In fact, I don’t even think that they understand this. They still think, metaphorically speaking, that the Earth is flat.

I am not talking about abilities; I am talking about motivation. Many “students” come to class each day without any book, pencil, notebook, etc., and they either stay disengaged (by sleeping or day-dreaming) or they play “cops and robbers” with their teachers, disrupting any viable chance for the students who want to learn to learn. We have proposed that these non-learners be sent to an official Non-Learning Center (NLC). We would actually call it the “Non-Learning Center.” The other students would dog them out, and this would be good! We have to learn to do what other countries do (and are quite successful at it): We need to use peer pressure to improve learning, not to deflate learning. This was done so naturally by American teachers of yesteryear, but we became “sensitive” to the “self-esteem” of our student-thugs, and now these thugs are destroying our schools. Hardly anyone will breathe this, but at MACE, we are just “crazy” enough to tell the truth. No, we would not even go through the pretense of sending instructional lessons to the students who are removed from the regular school environment because of their willful and wanton misconduct. Sending special instructional materials for these student-thugs is just a continual shifting of the responsibility for learning onto the backs of teachers instead of placing it where it needs to be placed…on the shoulders of the parents and their children. Teachers are at the school to teach, not to be police officers, psychiatrists, bouncers, et al. Teachers teach. Students learn or they don’t learn. But, teachers definitely do not “learn the students.”

Merit Pay Again, Jackasses, and the Same Histrionic Insults at Teachers (SH-T)!

Several times, I have been asked about my position on merit pay for teachers. Now the chic phrase used by the vulture philanthropists, Arne Duncan, and other educrats is “valued-added evaluations.” It’s all the same. It’s about tying a teacher’s pay to how well a child does on a paper and pencil test. What do I think of merit pay? It does not work in public education because kids are not inanimate objects floating down a conveyor belt. All are different. Plus, rogue administrators will simply give the worst students (yes, there are some students who are “worst,” despite the fixation on political correctness) to the teachers who refuse to kiss up and/or to have sex with them. How is this so far for bluntness? By the way, if you blog my name along with Arne Duncan’s name, you will see that my comment quoted in an article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution “lit up the blogosphere,” as one observer noted. I just believe in being honest about what is going on in public education. I have written extensively on the woes of merit pay in public education. Arne Duncan was threatening the removal of the administrators and the teachers from schools which did not “improve” (as measured by standardized tests). I simply asked what Mr. Duncan was going to do with the most important people at these schools, the children? I said that many were lazy and unmotivated and undisciplined and that Duncan wanted move everyone want at these schools except the most important people, the children. I think that one gutsy reporter asked Mr. Duncan to respond to my question at a Rose Garden press conference with President Obama.

I have worked in the only Georgia school system in modern times which was on merit pay, and the pay correlated with butt kissing, pure and simple. I saw which teachers were getting merit pay, and it had nothing to do with “merit.” It is another control mechanism which will be severely abused by dishonest, amoral, angry, and abusive administrators. More rampant cheating will take place. But, it may help the State of Georgia balance the budget [receiving the Race to the Top “bribes”], and this is really what it is all about.

Teachers and Blueberries

Mac, I love the Blueberry Story. (If you have never heard this story, please do yourself a favor and read it. http://www.jamievollmer.com/blueberries.) In fact, I was just showing a colleague of mine a letter that I received from my father which is postmarked in November of 2002, and he included the Blueberry Story in this letter. I have had this letter on one of my stacks of papers in my office, intending to have it put on our website at MACE. You have indeed motivated me to post this story on TheTeachersAdvocate.Com. Thanks. It clearly and simply outlines the problem with trying to tie teachers’ salaries to the performance of students. I remember the rich kids from the Green Island Country Club being districted right past my father’s junior high (Daniel Jr. High in Columbus, Georgia) so that they could attend public school at Richard’s Jr. High on the other side of town with fellow rich kids. When the Assistant Superintendent would periodically ask my father why his school’s test scores were not as high as Richard’s test scores, my father, in his wise and intrepid way, would simply say, “Doc, you can’t win the Kentucky Derby with Jackasses.” He was not calling his students jackasses; he was simply stating that you can’t expect his school to have higher scores than Richards Jr. High School if you are shipping all of his rich kids to Richards. It is indisputable that test scores and socio-economic scores are positively correlated. Teachers would have to be financially stupid or financially independent to volunteer to teach in a poor school if their pay were going to be tied to the standardized test scores of their students. What will happen? More and more rookie teachers will be placed in the poor schools. They will not have tenure, and they will be encouraged (ever so subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly) to engage in systematic cheating.

In Georgia, we have had scads of legislative-sponsored educational programs with which to contend (Minimum Foundation, APEG, QBE, ITBS, GTEP, GTOI, GTDRI, CRCT, NCLB, AYP, A+ Foundation, and now Race to the Top). Race to the Flop is more like what is going to happen with the latest educational boondoggle coming from the banks of the Potomac. All of these programs are not worth SH_T. How do you like that acronym? Same Histrionic Insults at Teachers. SH_T. No one wants to address the Four Horsemen of Public Education: (1) Defiant & Disruptive Students; (2) Irate & Irresponsible Parents; (3) Angry & Abusive Administrators; and (4) Systematic Cheating. We often say this at MACE: You cannot have good learning conditions until you first have good teaching conditions. This is a fact, Jack.

Merit Pay: Red Herring & Piltdown Man

This idiotic value-added evaluation continues to drives good teachers out of public education, and it discourages talented young people from entering into to the profession of teaching (whatever is left of the “profession”). I can’t help but to think about the comment that my rather blunt but very funny father said while the family was sitting in the car at a gas station over 40 years ago: “There goes _____________ and ___________. They don’t have a brain between them.” He was looking at two elected officials walking together beside this service station. One was a State Senator (eighth grade education) and the other was one of his former high school students who was a big shot on the Metro City Council in Columbus. It’s these people who get into power and think that they know what is wrong with public education. But, none of them (including U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan) know their butts from deep center field!

What is wrong with public education today is not the teachers. It’s the students – their lack of motivation to learn and their often defiant and disruptive conduct – who are the problems…along with their irate and irresponsible parents. Folks, let’s get real: Most of the problems in public education are located in urban schools. Not all of the problems, but the lion’s share of them are simply urban school problems. But, our politicians and educrats do not have the nerve to hit head-on what the real problems are. They want to appear to be finding a solution to the problems but they are only compounding the problems and exacerbating the problems. Then, these numb-skulled and mean-spirited administrators carry out these truncated and benighted “plans” for improvement with what they think is all due alacrity like good Educational Nazis.

Merit pay has never worked in public education. It will never work. It is the politicians’ Red Herring and the philanthropic vultures’ Piltdown Man of Public Education. © Big Daddy Publishers, 2013.

July 6, 2013

Will We Ever Get to Rational Decision Making?

In my last post I re-posted a blog (Reflections on the Purpose of Education and the Manufactured Crisis) which addressed how we are actually doing vis-à-vis public education as compared to how the “reformers” say we are doing. Part of that post was a list of educational performances (in reading) by country. Here it is again:

Average score, reading literacy, PISA, 2009

  1. Korea 539
  2. Finland 536
  3. Canada 524
  4. New Zealand 521
  5. Japan 520
  6. Australia 515
  7. Netherlands 508
  8. Belgium 506
  9. Norway 503
  10. Estonia 501
  11. Switzerland 501
  12. Poland 500
  13. Iceland 500
  14. United States 500
  15. Sweden 497
  16. Germany 497
  17. Ireland 496
  18. France 496
  19. Denmark 495
  20. United Kingdom 494
  21. Hungary 494
  22. OECD average 493
  23. Portugal 489
  24. Italy 486
  25. Slovenia 483
  26. Greece 483
  27. Spain 481
  28. Czech Republic 478
  29. Slovak Republic 477
  30. Israel 474
  31. Luxembourg 472
  32. Austria 470
  33. Turkey 464
  34. Chile 449
  35. Mexico 425

[Note: data can be gleaned at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/pisa2009highlights.asp ]

Actually, I restructured this list a tad and put it in the form that the critics of public education use it. I reaggregated all U.S. scores and then listed them by place in the “competition.” According to this listing, the U.S. isn’t even in the top ten! And since we know that we are No. 1 in all things, there is something terribly wrong. Obviously our educational system is letting us down, and since we absolutely must have a scapegoat, it is the teachers, no it is the teacher’s unions that is the problem!

“According to this listing, the U.S. isn’t even in the top ten!
And since we know that we are No. 1 in all things, there is something
terribly wrong. Obviously our educational system is letting us down!

Let’s look at the list as it was originally posted:

Average score, reading literacy, PISA, 2009
[United States, Asian students 541]
Korea 539
Finland 536
[United States, White students 525]
Canada 524
New Zealand 521
Japan 520
Australia 515
Netherlands 508
Belgium 506
Norway 503
Estonia 501
Switzerland 501
Poland 500
Iceland 500
United States (overall) 500
Sweden 497
Germany 497
Ireland 496
France 496
Denmark 495
United Kingdom 494
Hungary 494
OECD average 493
Portugal 489
Italy 486
Slovenia 483
Greece 483
Spain 481
Czech Republic 478
Slovak Republic 477
Israel 474
Luxembourg 472
Austria 470
[United States, Hispanic students 466]
Turkey 464
Chile 449
[United States, Black students 441]
Mexico 425
[Note: data can be gleaned at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/pisa2009highlights.asp ]

Here the scores of U.S. students were disaggregated into a number of subsets: Asian-Americans, Whites, Hispanics, and Blacks. Note that Asian-American kids did better than Korean kids or Japanese kids. Where do these Asian-American kids go to school? There surely must be a network of private schools catering to them for their performance to be that good. Actually, I think you will find that the Asian-American kids are going to our public schools. Consequently, the education afforded them, at least when it comes to reading, is as good as anywhere else in the world.

So the real question is: why aren’t whites, Hispanics, and Blacks doing as well?

This is not a complicated question and it has been answered. The answer is not complicated. The major components to the answer to this question are: lack of hard work, poverty, and low expectations. Virtually every high school in the U.S. “tracks” students. If nothing else, higher performing students are encouraged to take more difficult classes. Lower performing students are encouraged to take less difficult classes. (Think of the large numbers of college athletes who major in sociology. Expectations of their performances on the athletic fields are high, in the classroom, not so much. In my four years of college athletics, I was the only chemistry major participating in varsity sports in those schools that I could see.)

There is no faster way to lower performance than to expect less from your students. Most of you know that I am a former teacher. In retirement, I spend much of my time coaching (archery) and it is axiomatic that if expectations are too high or too low, performance suffers. Similarly if there is too little practice, performance suffers. If my athletes can’t afford proper nutrition or proper equipment, performance suffers. This is true in all sports. There is no disagreement.

So, Asian-Americans come out on top in our U.S. educational system because of: very hard work, their families make sure they have what they need to succeed (food, sleep, safety, a place to study, computers, etc.), and they have very high expectations for their children. Children of poverty often have only one parent at home who often works more than one job but still can’t afford all of the physical, emotional, and intellectual support their children need to succeed at high levels. Then the schools inflict the ultimate insult: low expectations.

There are other influences, but these are all that are need to explain gross performance disparities.

So, if these were to be removed? What then?

Let me tell you a story about an actual experiment. A mathematics professor at University of California, Berkeley, one of the most prominent universities in the world, was looking for an educational project to research. His name was Uri Treisman. He decided to explore why the performance of Black students in Calculus classes was so poor. Their average grade and failure rates were, he thought, way out of line. But, you see, the Black students going to U.C. Berkeley and taking Calculus were no slouches. They had high GPAs (they got into the University on merit). They were generally from upper middle class families. In other words, they had no excuses.

So, Dr. Treisman started by asking the faculty why they thought there was such a disparity between the Asian and Black students. The answers he got ranged from “socioeconomic factors” to veiled racism (yes, in the liberal bastion of Berkeley). This still didn’t make sense, so he launched an investigation. He actually tracked the behaviors of Asian and Black students and discovered that the main difference was that Asian students studied in groups while Black students studied alone. (Consider that no “street cred” comes from hanging out in the library.) Students who study alone have no support group, no peer pressure, and have to do everything for themselves. It is a real handicap.

So, Dr. Treisman launched a study group project for Black Calculus students. To avoid the stigma of other “remedial” support groups, he called it an honors project and required attendance and extra work. The Black students attending were placed in groups, coached on how to work in a group, and were given lots of extra work to do.

Three years into the project, the Black student’s GPA in Calculus was the same as the Asian students. (These students did not have to contend with either poverty or low expectations, just working harder and smarter.) If that weren’t enough, he repeated the project with Hispanic students, and with a few tweaks, got the same result.

People, there is no mystery here. Public education ain’t broke. Could it be better? Yes. What couldn’t be. Could teachers be better? Yes, who couldn’t be. So, shouldn’t teachers be evaluated frequently and their pay be based on their success, like everybody else? No. Because everybody else’s pay is not determined that way (another conservative meme), so neither should teachers. The Quality Movement has shown us that you don’t improve quality by increasing the number of inspections. This is the equivalent of expecting the programming on television to become more intelligent because you turned up the “brightness.” You improve quality by investing in processes and empowerment of employees to do a better job.

So, when will we get to a rational discussion of our “issues,” a discussion that includes reality, including the motives of “for profit” agencies criticizing the public sector and a discussion of the motives of certain “reformers?” In this era of debates consisting of countering ideological claims lobbed from the trenches and facts be dammed, I am not holding my breath.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.