Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Walker's Education Fairy Tale

Yesterday, Presidential Candidate and Occasional Governor Scott Walker took to the pages of the Des Moines Register to pat himself on the back. His arm was not the only thing getting twisted.

Walker opens with one of the standards of the anti-teacher movement-- the story of a fine young teacher who won a first-year-teacher-of-the-year award and was then furloughed at the end of the year.

Why would they get rid of a new teacher like Sampson — especially in Milwaukee, which was one of the most troubled urban school districts in the nation? Well, under the old union contracts, the last hired was first fired.

In 2011, we changed that broken system in Wisconsin. Today, the requirements for seniority and tenure are gone. Schools can hire based on merit and pay based on performance. That means they can keep the best and the brightest in the classroom

Sigh. First of all, as the husband of an excellent teacher who has just been furloughed because she's the one of the least senior teachers at her district, I think I have a good grasp of just how much that royally sucks. (A lot, is the answer. It sucks with the suckage of a thousand black holes.) But there are three things wrong with Walker's "solution."

First, Sampson (and my wife) didn't lose her job because she was last hired. She lost her job because the state failed to adequately fund her school district, so they decided they'd solve the problem by cutting teaching staff.

Second, the whole empty two-part premise of Walker's solution is the existence of an instrument for measuring which teachers are best and brightest-- and that administrators will use it. But we have no such instrument. VAM and its various forms have been debunked long after the cows came home, ate supper, and turned in for the night. Walker's tiny stack of lost-their-job youngsters is a molehill next to the mountain of tales about excellent teachers whose ratings were crappy.

But of course the efficacy of the measuring stick only matters if someone picks it up. In Walker's universe, teachers can be fired for any reason and paid whatever you feel like paying them. Which means even the best and the brightest can be fired at any time. Which means that--

Third, what good does it tell a young teacher, "Don't worry. You won't be fired just for being the newest," when the next part of that conversation is, "But you could be fired at any time during the entire rest of your career, for any reason. In fact, every raise you get will draw a slightly bigger target on your back. And if you cross the wrong administrator, you'll learn what a (career) killer schedule looks like."

But Walker wants you to know that crushing the unions and destroying teaching as a lifetime profession is totally working. "Scores are going up," he says. "At pretty much the same rate they're going up everywhere else, which is about the same rate they were going up before the current round of reformy foolishness," says anybody who can read the data.

Walker winds up with a plug for choice and local control. As always this is an interesting one-two punch since more choice always seems to equal less local control, because choice is composed of charters that are not controlled by or accountable to the local community. Newark and New Orleans are loaded with choice-ish programs, and yet there is also zero local control.

But mostly Walker wants you to know that he's agin Common Core. This, too, makes an interesting combo with the whole "best and brightest" teacher rating business, since every big teacher-sorting system we have at the moment rests on a big Common Core test. Perhaps Walker is following Chris Christie in demanding that all students be tested on the standards that they are forbidden to be taught.

Walker also supports "moving the money out of Washington," whatever that means. And more vouchers.

It's easy to dismiss Walker as a Koch tool, a bland slice of public-education hating white bread. It's easy to dismiss him until you look around and what he's up against in the GOP. And when we stack him up against the dems-- well, he's more overtly anti-teacher than Hillary, but on choice and charters, I'm not sure I see a heck of a lot of difference between them. This fall's Presidential election is looking worse and worse for public education every day. (Oops-- correction: I mean NEXT fall. It's just that the campaign feels like it's already really in gear.)


  1. I think you mean "NEXT fall's Presidential election."

    1. Sadly, you are correct. Over a year of this left to go... ugh.