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If there is any particular Republican framing that grinds my teeth to see the left adopt--other than the term "entitlements" to refer to Medicare and Social Security--it is the pointing the finger at teachers' unions as the obstacle to education reform. No one--not one person--who enters the teacher profession, particularly at the K-12 level, does so because they're looking for a financial windfall. The teachers' unions in many cases have made accommodations to states pleading poverty, relinquishing pensions, salaries, health care, even acceding to furloughs. I never thought that the Democratic Party would need to be reminded just how underpaid and unappreciated teachers are and how their unions are the last line of defense in a country going into default on its social contract.
How refreshing in a media climate where even rising star lefties go to union-basher and cheat Michelle Rhee (I'm looking at you, Gavin Newsom) for their ideas on demonizing teachers some more, Melissa Harris-Perry invites an actual teacher on to point out that it's pretty frickin' dispiriting to be a teacher these days. What other profession can one be part of where the pay is low, the conventional wisdom (so aptly portrayed in this clip by Bloomberg's Jonathan Alter) blames teachers for all ills, they have no control over curriculum, they're penalized for teaching kids to think instead of mindlessly parroting test answers and yet somehow they're supposed to rise above it and teach our little darlings?
Look, I speak as a parent and as a product of California public schools at a time when they were ranked at the top instead of the lower 10 percent: we have deep, deep problems in education. California is the eighth largest economy in the world and we spend approximately 50 percent of the General Fund on education But that money isn't making it to the student. And we keep circling around teachers unions as the problem.
Here's an idea: let's look at inequality as a problem. Why shouldn't everyone have access to quality education regardless of zip codes? Let's look food insecurity, where one in five children goes without a single daily decent meal. Let's look at the disparity in parental involvement and try to figure out a way to get parents invested in their kids' education. Let's give teachers more autonomy over their classrooms. Let's stop wasting money on private testing organizations and looking at for-profit charter businesses as the silver bullet that "fixes" education. All of these forces have far more to do with the state of education today. And I think reform in these areas will immediately yield better results than the ability to fire the bottom 10 percent of teachers.
But let's also stop framing this debate as to what's best for children is de facto not good for their teachers.