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School's Out...The Union Should Be, Too
by Chuck Muth

July 2004

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"You are an idiot," writes Bonner Slayton of Norman, Oklahoma. "Maybe you should do some more research before spouting off at the mouth." Fine. Let's dig a little deeper.

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Bonner was responding to my report on a kindergarten teacher in New Jersey raking in $70,000 a year. I suggested that seventy large might be a tad bit out of line with the skill set required for reading Cat In the Hat out loud and playing Simon Sez. And that's what led to Bonner's email, and others, telling me I don't know what the heck I'm talking about.

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Teaching is a tough job, they scolded me. And kindergarten teachers do more than play games and sing songs today. It's not like the "old days." How dare I criticize what they do? That teacher has been teaching for 16 whole years and probably has college degrees up the wazoo, they told me. How dare I complain about what some teachers are being paid? Why, Chuck Muth, you wouldn't last one day in a classroom! You owe every teacher who ever walked into a classroom an apology. Blah, blah, blah.

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Or should I say, "Waaahhhhhh!" Good grief, would you like a pacifier with that whine? As someone once said, Joan of Arc did less bellyaching on the stake.

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Look, I'm not saying there aren't a lot of good and talented teachers in the government school systems. And I know kindergarten teachers do more than play games and read stories these days (that the folks writing didn't realize I was "exaggerating for effect" is a sad indictment of their mindset in and of itself). And I'm not saying they don't work hard or that the job is a piece of cake or that they never take work home or that they occasionally buy supplies out of their own pocket.

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But a LOT of us in the private sector work hard and have tough jobs which we take home with us. And if WE don't put out a good product, WE get the ol' heave-ho. Not so in the cocooned government-run school system. So don't come whining to me about what a tough lot teachers have.

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The problem is, too many government-employed folks don't know what's going on in the REAL world of free market competition. And in the REAL world, folks wouldn't get paid $70K to teach kindergarten-level education based on how many years they've been employed or how many letters come after their name. They'd get paid based on their performance and the work-product put out.

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Nevertheless, Bonner challenged me to "do some more research." So I did. Bonner's not going to be a happy camper. Neither will you taxpayers in the Land of Lincoln, because I found a (Family Taxpayers Network) website listing government school teachers and their salaries in Illinois. You can find it at: http://www.thechampion.org/schools/salaries.asp.

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I particularly enjoyed scanning the list of the Top 100 highest paid teachers. The lowest on the totem pole is high school English teacher Casimir W. Pawlak. He works 10 months out of the year and pulls down $131,477. Nice chuck of change. Let's see, if that's for working the typical 185 days for a school year, Mr. Pawlak is bringing Mrs. Pawlak some serious bacon home at $710.69 EVERY afternoon. That ain't chickenfeed. Although, with a six-figure income I'm sure Mr. Pawlak teaches his charges that "ain't" ain't a word.

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The head of this class is Mr. Robert Ewy. Mr. Ewy is listed as a "teacher" ...but it doesn't say what it is he teaches. It does say, however, that his "role" is that of "consultant." And for this "role," he pulls down a whopping $196,485 a year. Hoo-ha!

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Let's see, let's see. There's a high school trig teacher raking in $173,186 for 10 months of work. An art teacher pulling down $169,663 for her 10 months of work. Oh yeah, and there's a gym teacher stuffing $157,269 into his jock strap...again for 10 months of work. There's another gym teacher banking $152,563 of taxpayer money...but for some reason, he only works 9 months out of the year instead of 10. Probably the stress of the job and some kind of exception his union got for him.

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And let's not forget the indispensable social worker who's cha-chinging his way to the bank at $151,876 for 10 tough months out of the year doing whatever it is social workers do. Or the irreplaceable driver's ed teacher pulling down $151,830 a year for 10 months. And don't even get me started on the ADMINISTRATORS...such as John G. Conyers who, as a district superintendent, is hauling away a staggering $353,351 a year in taxpayer dough. The downside being he has to actually work 12 months instead of 10. Bummer, huh?

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To be fair, these folks all appear to have more than 20 years experience under their belts...and I'm sure they have extensive teaching credentials coming out the ying-yang. But come on, folks! $157,269 to teach GYM? $151,830 to teach DRIVER'S ED? How defenders of the indefensible defend this defies rationality. Beam me up, Scotty.

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Which brings me to a recent USA Today editorial titled, "New ideas in teaching yield dramatic results." It DESTROYS the notion that teachers should be paid based upon how many years they've been toiling in a classroom. Get this.

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Mark Ware is 25 years old. He has a bachelor's degree and a master's. But he has NO teaching credentials. Nevertheless, he's teaching in a Houston alternative school for kids who flunked out of regular public school. And his fellow teachers just voted him "teacher of the year" despite his youth, inexperience and lack of a "formal" teaching pedigree.

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Then there's 23-year-old Ash Solar who just finished up his FIRST year working in a poor Houston elementary school. Check this out: "Although Solar's Hispanic students started the year unable to write a paragraph in English, 89% ended up passing the state's writing test." Hoo-hah! Talk about getting results. And this guy is a ROOKIE.

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Ware and Solar are part of an innovative new non-profit program called "Teach for America" which is placing top college graduates into some of the nation's worst schools for a two-year-stretch. "In spite of their lack of experience," reports USA Today, Ware and Solar "have improved students' math performance more than experienced teachers have, and they've proved as effective in reading instruction as classroom veterans."

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Now, here's a little-discussed factoid from the USA Today editorial which infuriates and offends teachers and should be of grave concern to parents: We ain't exactly getting the cream of the crop in every classroom these days.

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"Students aspiring to be teachers score lower on college admission tests than those planning other careers, and, in many states, veteran teachers have difficulty passing certification tests pegged to knowledge high school seniors are expected to master," the editorial reveals. You wonder why Johnny can't read? Well, maybe it's because his teacher can't either.

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The USA Today editorial recommends four reforms to improve our government schools: (1) Pay teachers based on their effectiveness in the classroom, not mere longevity. (2) Pay generous bonuses and other incentives to keep highly effective teachers in our worst schools. (3) Recruit teachers by luring top graduates from other fields, not just those with "education" degrees. And, (4) Reform the teaching colleges and set higher standards so they start pumping out excellence rather than mediocrity.

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Gee, makes sense to me. Who could possibly argue with that? Umm. The teachers union, that's who.

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In an opinion piece blasting the USA Today editorial, National Education Association president Reg Weaver maintains the reasons public schools suck eggs are...parents and class size. Not that there aren't some bad parents out there, but this is a load of that stuff babies crank out in their diapers. The fact is, there are a lot of lousy teachers teaching the kids of involved and interested parents. This canard is just the union trying to shift blame to hide the failures of its worst-performing members...who pay dues regardless of how badly they stink in front of a chalkboard.

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And as for class size, this is another red herring. Sure, one-on-one education (you know, the kind you get when you home-school your own kids) is the ideal...but talented, motivated and organized teachers can effectively teach large classrooms. They've been doing it for decades. The class size scam is really all about increasing the number of teachers (thus increasing the number of dues-paying members!), not increasing the quality of teaching. And while everyone and his uncle knows that paying for performance is a no-brainer for improving results, Weaver strenuously objects to merit pay because, get this, it would "create a competitive environment." Well, duh.

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Weaver also voiced objections to proposals which would make it easier to fire his dues-paying members...no matter how bad they are and no matter how many kids subjected to their incompetence are sacrificed. That's just a price Weaver is willing to pay. Not that Weaver doesn't have a couple of solutions of his own for fixing the schools: Provide more food and nutrition programs (huh?) and all-day kindergarten...which, coincidentally, would mean...yup...more dues-paying members to the union. Hmmm. Ya think there's any connection there?

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Well, let me wrap this up by making a few of my own recommendations:

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1.) Fire any teacher who isn't cutting the mustard. The future of our kids...not to mention our country...is too important to sacrifice on the altar of union acquiescence. There are rotten apples in every barrel. The good teachers know who they are. They need to stop defending these albatrosses and start working actively to get them the hell out of our classrooms. That is, IF teachers want to be taken seriously as professionals along the same line as doctors and lawyers. And that does NOT mean "bumping up" the incompetent to an administration position. Fire 'em, fire 'em, fire 'em. Maybe Donald Trump could make a reality show out of this somehow?

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2.) Get rid of the teachers unions. Ban them if legal. Buy 'em off if necessary. Legislate them out of existence if possible. Just get them OUT of the schools. They've not only destroyed public education and the futures of at least two generations (and counting) of unsuspecting kids and their parents, they actively block ANY attempt to fix it. They're holding our children hostage. We should refuse to pay their extortion. Wipe 'em out. Goodbye...and good riddance.

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3.) Teachers -- especially the self-described "conservative" ones -- who belong to the union and object to my criticism of our government schools need to clam up until they quit the union (in states where union membership isn't forced upon them)...because as long as they're paying dues they're part of the problem, not the solution.

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4.) Any teacher who does NOT belong to the teachers union needs to take the lead in opposing it...not just sit quietly by. They need to tell parents, elected officials, community leaders and the public in general just how bad the unions are for education. Such arguments will be a lot more effective coming from folks within the system than from folks such as myself who are outside the system. And these teachers need to actively and openly encourage their colleagues to quit the union, as well. Hey, hey, ho, ho...the stinkin ' union's got to go!

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5.) Make classroom discipline THE top priority in any education reform proposals in the immediate future. Any effort to fix the problem has to START with regaining control of the classrooms. Return to teachers the ability to use appropriate corporal punishment on young misbehaving students. Washing a foul-mouthed kid's mouth out with soap should be ENCOURAGED...not punished. And any parents who don't like it can take their rotten, spoiled brat of a child to a private school or teach him at home themselves.

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As for older little hellions, return to teachers the ability to kick them out of the classroom if they don't behave...and restore the ability of principals to kick 'em out of school completely if and when appropriate. "Right" to an education, my butt. What about the right to an education being denied the other students in a classroom just because of one little social delinquent? That punk's "right" ends the moment he starts infringing on the rights of the other kids in the classroom.

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You wanna see more parental involvement in the schools? Start sending little Johnny home for not acting right and following the disciplinary rules. When mommy's little angel is no longer afforded taxpayer funded babysitting services, mommy might finally crack the whip and force her spawn to straighten up and fly right. If not...adios. Kick him out. He was given an opportunity to get an education...and he blew it. Life is all about making choices...good and bad...young and old. And in the immortal words of Judge Schmales in "Caddyshack," the world needs ditch-diggers, too.

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Oh, crud. I guess I'll be hearing from all the ditch-diggers demanding an apology now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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