Home > Uncategorized > Huffington Post Columnist/Contributor ALMOST Gets it Right…

Huffington Post Columnist/Contributor ALMOST Gets it Right…

I just finished reading “The Public School System is Rigged Against Poor and Black Children” by Paul Gassaway, a Huffington Post commentator identified as an urban school educator and author and self identified as a “…former public school student, teacher, assistant principal, principal, and superintendent“.  With those credentials and that background, I was not surprised to see the title he chose for his article nor was I surprised to read his scathing assessment of standardized tests:

The emphasis on standardized tests may be the most damaging type of deception that public schools practice. Politicians persistently pressure public school personnel to produce improved standardized test results, which are the main measurement of school quality. This places teachers in a dilemma. They either teach to the test, as often directed by school administrators, or they risk their job security.

But he makes a link between this misuse of standardized tests and the power of unions, a link that I believe is tenuous at best. He writes:

Teachers know that if their students’ tests scores are low, they face the threat of a negative rating or termination. This is one reason they support unions: job security.

Other than collective bargaining, the job of teachers’ unions is basically twofold: increase and retain membership. The more members there are, the more money unions raise by collecting dues, money that can be used to lobby politicians for more and stronger job protections as well as higher salaries. In this scenario, children only matter because each child comes with a dollar amount. That is one reason unions fight against any form of school choice. Parents who pull their children out of public school hurt the unions’ bottom line: money.

In my 29 years of experience I found that the unions I worked with wanted to make sure that when a teacher was disciplined that the teachers received due process. That is, that if they were disciplined or dismissed or non-renewed that the administrators acted fairly and even-handedly. Moreover, in the states where I worked the legislature passed laws that enabled local boards to negotiate language that segregated the funds unions raised to serve local issues from the funds they raised to lobby at the State and local levels. This seemed fair to the unions where I worked because they found that their own members occasionally disagreed with the support for some of the candidates the unions membership wanted. This past election would have been a case in point. Most Democratic Party supporting teachers I know supported Bernie Sanders’ candidacy but the union leadership supported Hilary Clinton. And, contrary to popular belief, not all teachers are Democrats! I believe many teachers would have been resentful to find that their dues went to support a candidate they disliked because of their political positions or political party affiliation.

Mr. Gassaway linking of unions to the anti-charter school movement is also contrary to my experience. Most teachers I worked with have long supported school choice within the public education sphere. Vocational centers, alternative education programs, and specialized learning centers were all supported by teachers unions in districts where I worked. The notion of using limited tax dollars to support a child sitting in front of a computer screen in a storefront or at home, though, would leave virtually all teachers cold, union and non-union teachers alike.

Despite this anti-union slant, though, Mr. Gassaway’s closing observation about the structure of schools is accurate:

There is evidence to support the claim that some charter school leaders pressure children with special needs to attend their local public schools. It is also true that some low-performing children are encouraged to leave charter schools. It is, however, ironic that public school educators speak out against this practice when they are guilty of doing the same. It is harder to detect the push-out strategy in traditional public schools because of their size, particularly in New York City, whose public school system serves slightly over 1 million children…

Unfortunately, in public schools that serve majority of poor and Black children, teachers, parents, and children are used as pawns to perpetuate a system that remains unchanged because of deception, fear, and misinformation.

Had Mr. Gassaway focussed more on the deception, fear, and misinformation that result from the misuse of standardized testing and less on his anti-union rhetoric I would have agreed unequivocally. Moreover, had he examined the relationship between our traditional grouping practices and testing it would have been a more powerful condemnation of the status quo.

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