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NYTimes Headline Misses the Point: Virginia Governor’s Race Is Not Being Shaped by “Schools”. It IS Being Shaped by Billionaires Who Seek to Privatize Public Services… Beginning with Education

October 13, 2021 Leave a comment

Lisa Lerer’s article on the Virginia Governor’s race focuses on the issues GOP candidate Glenn Younkin is raising about public education and mostly ignores the issues Terry McAuliffe focuses on. And, alas, Ms. Lerer’s article does NOT follow the money! Earlier this month the Washington Post published an article by Isaac Stanley Becker tracing the roots of the anti-vaxx, anti-mask, and anti-CRT rhetoric spouted by Mr. Youngkin to the usual group of mega-billionaires who want to privatize public services. Do the names Koch, DeVos, Walton ring any bells?

Moreover, buried in the article is the main difference between the candidates when it comes to public education: McAuliffe wants to “invest $2 billion in education, raise teacher pay, expand pre-K programs and invest in broadband access for students.” Mr. Youngkin doesn’t want to talk about those substantive issues. Instead he’d rather talk about bogus topics like “banning CRT”, the “freedom” to infect classmates and teachers by not wearing masks, and the “freedom” for parents to choose what teachers teach.

Should Mr. Youngkin get elected, expect endless debates over book-banning, mask-wearing… and budget cuts… the privatizers can hardly wait!

This Just In: America Discovering that Non-Instructional Part-Time School Support Staff is Underpaid!

September 17, 2021 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features a lengthy article by Giulia Heyward describing the uphill battle public schools are facing to fill jobs for non-instructional school support staff: bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and substitute teachers. Why? Their pay is low compared to the private sector; the work schedule precludes them working elsewhere– and in our economy low wage workers need to hold two jobs to make ends meet; and the working conditions put them in harms way during the pandemic making them risky. 

And who are folks blaming? The federal government for offering overly generous unemployment benefits! But, as is often the case, inconvenient facts don’t support this agreeable fantasy: 

Some employers hope that the end of federal unemployment benefits will push more people to apply for these positions. Ms. Groshen, the labor economist, does not think that most schools will see a big upswing in applicants.

“Some states ended unemployment benefits early, so there is already some research,” Ms. Groshen said. “And when you look at the studies, there was some effect in the market from unemployment ending, but it wasn’t very large.”

And a school bus trainer in NYS blamed school districts for underpaying bus drivers… as if the school districts somehow had oodles of money going to shareholders instead of paying for its workers. 

This just in: if you want a high quality work force in your schools you need to offer high pay, decent working conditions, and you might need to offer some kind of bonus to compensate for the necessarily unpredictable and inconvenient work schedule. And all of this means you’d need to raise taxes. 

Shelby County TN’s Teacher Shortage No Mystery: Underfunded Schools + Test-Driven Reform + Poverty

September 14, 2021 Comments off

Chalkbeat writer Samantha West did an admirable job of writing about the shortage of 227 teachers in Shelby County TN without mentioning the huge elephant in the room: TN is ranked 43 in the nation in per pupil spending on public schools and Shelby County is suing the State because it’s funding formula shortchanges them, because the test-driven reform has taken the joy out of teaching, or the schools face not only the challenge of Covid but the unrelenting challenges associated with poverty. Ms. West reported on a recent school board meeting where Yolanda Martin, the Personnel Administrator for the district, offered an explanation for the departures and the steps the district was taking to address the problem:

The most frequent reason teachers gave in exit surveys, Martin said, was pursuing a new job opportunity, though many former employees gave no reason for leaving, according to district data.

“What we do know is this is a laborer’s market,”Martin said, noting the district is continuing to prioritize offering incentives to help retain staff and keep them from seeking employment elsewhere.

“[The data] pretty much mirrors what we’ve seen in the past, but obviously not to this magnitude right now,” Martin said. “So we can suspect what that could be, but based on the data we have, these are the main indicators as of now.”

To retain remaining educators, the district offers ongoing professional development, annual 2% raises, and new teacher induction programs, among many other tactics. Using data, Martin said the district also tracks which schools have the hardest time keeping teachers so they can find ways to offer more support to school staff and leaders.

I understand why Ms. Martin does not provide what everyone knows is the real reason: there are few teachers who can resist moving to a fully resourced school that pays them a much higher salary to teach the content they love to teach in a way they want to teach it without having to worry about how the students will do on a standardized test.

Well heeled districts that enroll children of affluent well educated parents pay teachers well, offer good benefits, and offer world-class opportunities for professional growth.

Well heeled districts that enroll children of affluent well educated parents do not teach-to-the test. They don’t have to because the children enter school ready to learn and do not experience the life-altering stress that children raised in poverty encounter on a daily basis. 

Well heeled districts that enroll children of affluent well educated parents are always seeking good teachers and, from all reports, are experiencing burnout and turnover now— albeit on a smaller scale than districts like Shelby County that serve children raised in poverty. The difference is that well heeled districts that enroll children of affluent well educated parents can recruit with relative ease. 

And here’s what is especially sad: because this is “a laborer’s market” in ALL career areas, and because teaching is less and less perceived as a viable career choice, fewer and fewer college students are pursuing education as a career. As long as test scores are seen as the focal point of teaching and rabid conservative parents monitor each and every lesson taught in social studies the situation will not improve…. especially for those underfunded districts serving children raised in poverty.