union entrapment

I like unions. They protect the worker from say, unfair hours (7am-10pm? Nuh uh), unfair working conditions, (I will not work with a co-worker who calls me vile names and tries to poison my coffee) and unfair hiring/firing practices (no I should not be replaced by your buddy who the district “forgot” to give a job to, my job, this year. It is my job. I also do want fair pay. Let me reiterate, fair.

But that is it.

I just got a new job (woo hoo for me!) And looked ominously at the union paperwork. I scowled at it for a week. I thought about it for a week. I tried to avoid the inevitable for a week.

I joined the union. I pay the entire dues ($105 a month folks) out of my part time employee check (shouldn’t I pay half the dues, as in $52.50?) For probably no protection.

See, I am not tenured so there goes most of the above and beyond logic protection. I am a LIFO candidate, being a mid year hire in a world of mass budget cuts. I am filling in for a temporary leave so there it is folks, right there, my job is temporary. I won’t have it for 35 years, like my mother, my aunt, our neighbor and the gal down the street did. Nope.

So then, why did I join? I could be a fee payer non member and just pay part. Cause the lovely state of California makes you join the union if there is one, or object and still shovel most of the monthly dues their way for no union coverage. So either way, I am supporting them.

Sure, a fee payer’s dues cannot go towards political items, an idea that nearly swayed me to be a fee payer. But either way, my money is going towards some tenured teacher of say 20 years, to keep her job or to spend the $100,000 to fire her. It is going towards keeping her in in the class and LIFO, pink slipping me at the end of the year. So she can keep her job.

Therefore, I feel entrapped. I might as well just join full force, because maybe just maybe, when I am a victim of LIFO and they then maybe call me over the summer and say, hey the budget is better, come back. I can. Because I will have some union member on my side to say hey, re-hire this girl.

I joined so that, if mid year, someone decides I am not one of the cool kids and need to get fired for no reason (being that I am at will) I can file a grievance with the union and have them help me fight to keep my position. You know, if being a temporary, part time, fill in, non tenured teacher means anything to the union. It didn’t once before.

I fear if I don’t join, the union will know and seek to destroy me. Cause they can. They have the power.

Plus, I speak up for injustices in the classroom. I fight for the kids. I am libertarian in nature and think our education system is 100% messed up. And I cannot keep quiet when I see kids like drones in a prison system, being manufactured for a less-than life. That gets me in trouble. A lot. Especially with the union.

So see, I have mixed feelings about the union. But due to the way they function, I have to join in hopes to protect myself and my family. And I just have to bite my tongue when my monies go to the wrong people’s and politician’s hands. And I must instead fight back with words. I will also join organizations that echo my beliefs of STUDENTS FIRST. ALWAYS. Such things likely stand in opposition to what my monies fund but sometimes, words and beliefs get through.

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Quick Update

I’m just taking a blogging break.

Read my previous posts for something more interesting :)

 

I do hope to do a (by then, outdated) post on this http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/25/us-usa-education-testing-idUSBRE88O05Y20120925 at some point.

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End LIFO

80% of California teachers are tenured, but only about 6% were involved in dismissals, whereas the 7% of non-tenured teachers represent 70% of all dismissals. (Thomas Sowell, Inside American Education). If, after 5 years,  a teacher becomes no more effective, and with further degrees (MA, PhD/EdD) they become no more effective, why do years of experience and education equate in pay raises, given yearly? 

No wonder CPS teachers did not want accountability in their evaluations. Sure, it is fine to do such with the non-tenured staff, but the tenured staff is an exclusive, iron-clad club with utmost job protection for….no real measurable reason at all.  

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Teachers and Students, Not Our Best To Offer

American education is failing compared to other nations, cited in too many studies and articles to even mention, but heck here is one, http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=1.

We as Americans may know certain facts, like little mindless automaton ready to pull the lever on the pulley or pick apples from a conveyor belt, or state an opinion we feel strongly about, without really any conviction or knowledge.

There is an educational hierarchy of thought and ability, not like IQ, called Bloom’s Taxonomy. This comes into play in what was once our amazing ability to innovate, create, problem solve, at the drop of the hat. Think about it, America was formed very quickly and is a top player in the international spectrum, and our governmental system was “made up” by people, in a very short time, people with not just wit but creative and innovative thinking and excellent critical thinking skills. With the dumbing down of education (due to many many reasons), we seem to focus on fact-finding and multiple choice answers even if we claim to be teaching rigor.

Think about your children’s school work or even back to your own, while comparing it to Bloom’s Taxonomy. The lowest level is Knowledge, which we excel in. Worksheets, textbooks, exams, often ask knowledge questions with such verbs as, list, name, define, draw, recite. We might bump up to the next level, Comprehension, with explain, estimate, describe, outline, summarize, make a poster of….   do such action verbs ring a bell, seem all to familiar? How about the top two tiers of the taxonomy,  Synthesize and Evaluate. The action verbs may seem foreign in schools, such as, formulate, revise, design, invent, critique, appraise, judge, justify. These verbs, these actions, are performed much more in foreign countries than in the USA.  As our laboring/manufacturing jobs get shipped overseas, so does our need to list, recite, summarize. We are losing to other countries because we are teaching rote skills and what to think, not how to think.

Certainly there are a million reasons why we are not taught to think, and any presumption of the reader’s is probably correct. But one factor, albeit a small one (because really, the system itself is there to teach people what to think, not how) is the teachers. I want to state a disclaimer, that I am not against teachers. I’ve been one for years, worked with them, had friends and family that were teachers. I’ve known excellent teachers, mind-blowing intelligent teachers, and teachers who do a terrible half-arse job and who are lacking in intelligence. There is no one kind of teacher. However, if we are to generalize (a faux pas!) then teachers are….not our best and brightest.  According to Thomas Sowell, in an outdated but still true statistic, the average verbal SAT score for a student choosing a major in education in 1979-1980 was 389; the average verbal score for all SAT scores in that year was 502. That means the education students’ scores were over 100 points below the average SAT score. The good news? In 2005, the average verbal score of prospective educators was 521, compared to the average of 508. But, to every bit of good news, there is some bad news. Teachers in the top quartile of scores are more than twice as likely to teach in private schools than public.

Teacher’s Unions make teaching an alomst “guaranteed life career” when one makes it to tenure. Along with tenure comes union job protection, and each year of additional teaching experience means an increase in pay, under the notion that teacher effectiveness increases with experience. Instead of evaluating teachers on performance metrics, they are just automatically “promoted” with a “raise” each year under the guise that they are better and better at teaching each year.

Union job protection as a teacher means that if you survived your first cut-throat, at-will years as a teacher, often kowtowing to the union, a scripted curriculum, and administrators, keeping quiet about injustices and just smiling and nodding, you will indeed keep your job for life. According to author Terry Moe, only 1 of 1,000 teachers is fired due to (lack of) performance, compared to 1 of every 97 lawyers; with Los Angeles Unified at a rate of 0.2 percent.  To fire a tenured teacher, it can cost the district not just time (up to three years) but money; over $163,000 per teacher in New York City, and over $219,000 in Illinois.

Also, while beginning teacher may not be as effective as experienced teachers (one can find as many studies to prove as to disprove this theory), it seems that most studies show that a teacher’s effectiveness is not measurably different, or better, at say year 5 verses year 25. Therefore, a tenured teacher with much seniority, at the top of the pay scale, is earning possibly up to twice the amount as a 5th year teacher, with salaries going up each year for “experience”, when they are no more effective.

If our experienced teachers- whether they be at 5 or 25 years on the job- are “better” or more “effective” than a beginning teacher, shouldn’t those “experts” be placed in classrooms of greatest need? One would assume, like in business, the “best” at the job would be given the toughest clients or position, because they were proven effective; the new teachers would be given the simplest of tasks and clients. Wrong. Because of tenure, seniority, popularity, the best teachers are often teaching in the best districts and schools with the “best”, least at-risk kids. So it seems a self-fulfilling prophecy, sure, those master teachers are more effective, I mean, look at the excellent test scores and graduation rates of their students! Never mind that the school is next to a golf course and the majority of parents are executives and diplomats. But look! The new teacher in the worst part of Harlem or South Central Los Angeles, her students fail the exams and only 40% graduate! See, new teachers are less effective, so let’s fire them first, and perpetuate the notion of experience= quality.

Is the answer to rid of all unions? Fire every teacher? I’m not quite sure that is the answer. I do, however, propose every citizen of the United States, especially those with children or teaching children, should know these facts plus the top-down, dumbing down, controlling backdrop of the history of American Education. With this information, I think teachers themselves could band together with solidarity (they do it for the union, how about for the kids?) and speak up for what is wrong in the classroom. Toss out worksheets telling students to “list”, shred the scripted curriculum, say no to standardized tests which just marginalize students and teachers, and start anew. I really do believe, to fix the system, we must hit reboot and build anew.

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Dumbed Down

I could certainly speak volumes on this topic but am exercising brevity today.

In reading Thomas Sowell’s Inside American Education, I found out that in the early 20th century, 8th graders wishing to pass and go onto high school had to do things such as define “zenith” and spell “elucidation” among others. A similar example can be found at https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:vhs_mcUsLJsJ:www.eagleforum.org/educate/2004/july04/1910.PDF+percent+completing+8th+grade+1910&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESi2beQWM4TkMmBZOhZzFX5iRGZz0IZlBbH7XM7pfcrdrmRdnRPBci2m_QkkkVJJ3XOP-AIA9WFoz2UbRiHcCvk_AyeN2FCKD_dsO4-EU9ei6c_n2bElldVyZC1BWQ19TA1EEa5R&sig=AHIEtbTSD2GN6L6WTc4oSfX9glyJnCkA-A and http://forums.welltrainedmind.com/archive/index.php/t-48404.html

Some studies claim only 17% of students at that time, enrolling in a high school, completed school. Now, it varies by city from below 40% to 100%, averaging around 72%. 

What also happened between then and now is the idea of a,d mandating of, compulsory education, that every child must attend school until a certain age (often 18). Therefore, schools scrambled with what to do with this influx of once-dropouts, and “socially adjusted” the education through “social efficiency”. giving the masses an education to prep them for a laboring life, not a thinking, academic life. To teach them academics was seen as a waste. Really, it was thought of as “just” to deny many students a decent education.

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LIFO, Unemployment, and Not Being Fair

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/09/14/the-chicago-strike-negotiations-are-down-to-recall-rights–are-they-and-do-they-matter/

This article references something few outside education know, but Students First at http://www.studentsfirst.org/ (mentioned in Waiting for Superman, with “controversial”leader, Michelle Rhee) is bringing to light.

Let’s explain the unemployment and teacher labor market conundrum. Let’s pretend I’m talking about District X. District X decides, due to budget cuts, to do lay-offs of 100 teachers. Those 100 former District X teachers will likely be re-hired, since budget projections come well before the real budget, so they do a “sky is falling” scenario. But now-a-days, budgets are slim so how about they do 100 preliminary lay-offs in March, the budget is still “pretend” in May when they get an inkling towards the actual budget and rescind some layoffs, so they say only 75 are laid off. Some time between May and August/September, the real budget comes in and they re-hire some teachers (without posting jobs, as they just get their job back) and so only 50 teachers are truly let go.

These 50 teachers enter the job market where, at least in Southern California, Chicago, and parts of  Pennsylvania (and many more places, I’m sure), there are between 200-over 1,000 qualified applicants per teaching position. Even “hard to fill, critical shortage” jobs like special ed, math, or science have about 50-100 applicants.

But you know what? Those 50 teachers are kind of lucky, in a sense. When District X opens and posts a position as, say, an elementary teacher, 25 of the former District X teachers apply for the job they once had. Let’s say another 500 people apply, recent school of education graduates, teachers that moved from out of state, charter or private school teachers, etc. Guess who gets the job? One of District X’s laid-off teachers. Why? Because schools often have a clause where they give prior employees first dibs at jobs, for 3 years in California, varying by state. 

Perhaps I’m whining, but I am looking for a job in education and since my last place of employment was a charter school for three years, District X will hire three years worth of prior employee candidates before considering me. This is why, when I talked to an English teacher a month ago, he told me all his cohorts from his credentialing program he completed three years ago STILL have yet to get a job. This is why, when I spoke with a temp agency yesterday, I was told the story of a teacher who got her credential 5 years ago. Credentials must be cleared and renewed every five years now, done through employment. She had yet to get a full-time teaching position….in five years.

Secondly, LIFO, Last In First Out. I am vehemently against this (which makes me the enemy). Non tenured, beginning teachers are treated like second class citizens in the education world. Teachers with tenure can basically do….whatever, and keep their jobs and get yearly salary increases. The non-tenured teachers are at-will and can be fired at any time. Granted, they are on a contract and are usually not let go until the end of the school year, but, they do not have a guaranteed lifetime job teaching grade 3 in District X. They have to “prove’ themselves, and fight uncontrollable factors like budget cuts and LIFO, to keep their jobs. Think of it like a college sorority/fraternity. They sit on a pedestal and are members-only. There is a line of pledgers, walking a tightrope towards the pedestal. Randomly, without any pledger’s control, a pair of scissors come by and snip! the rope is snipped and teachers fall into a pit of fire. That’s LIFO for you. A budget cut comes along and positions must be cut, so they look at the newbies and cut the last in, newest employed, first. They could be excellent teachers, they could be terrible, either way, they are out. 

These “newbies”, when employed, are often looked upon with disdain, like they are less than, the freshman of the organization in all the worst ways. If a newbie speaks up about an unjust practice, gives a solution to a problem, etc, they are ignored because they are not a “master teacher”. If they have a problem on the job and ask for union representation, since they pay dues, they are denied because even though they pay, and vote, they are not tenured and lack any protection.

These newbies likely get laid off. Let’s go back to District X in January, they realize the budget will be less and tell the teachers, hey, take a 2$ pay cut, or we will have to lay off 100 teachers.

One would think, especially in a career built on compassion and helping people, the teachers would say, hey, yep, give us a 2% cut so that our friendly teacher next door can keep her job. Besides, it will mean smaller class sizes, more support for the children, yadda yadda.

Wrong. Here is a real life scenario for you, but again I’ll use District X to protect the victims. I was in a class for my Education MA degree, and District X faced the 2% cut or 100 laid off teachers. I had a bunch of District X tenured teachers in my class. I hate to see people lose jobs, hate to see kids lose a teacher they look up to, so I spoke up and suggested they vote ofr the 2% pay cut. I mean, no one wants less money but 2%? You can make do. So I said as much, and they said that they were voting to lay off 100 teachers. I was appalled to say the least. So I responded, “so instead of a minimal pay cut for you, you will vote to end the job of some of your fellow co-workers, members of your community, parents of your students? You cannot fathom a 2% pay cut, but it is ok for them to fathom unemployment and possible homelessness and hunger?”

Their answer? “Yes. At least it isn’t us getting laid off. We have tenure.”

Seriously. They said that. They meant that. My mouth dropped open and when I was finally able to close it, I asked, trying a new perscpective, “how can you think that way? They could be great teachers as well.”. 

Their response is one I have heard from every single tenured teacher that I’ve posed such a question to. Beginning teachers are not master teachers and are not good enough for the job. Because they lack experience, they do not know how to teach. Experience = skill. (See, the salary schedule gives you more money each year. Experience = pay raise = talent.) Never mind this study that beginning teachers are not terrible at the job.But this is just another example of the predatory nature of many tenured teachers, and why they fear performance based evaluations.

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Suggested Reading List

I love to read, and some book have really fueled my passion for my subject, education, and my drive to hit reboot.

These books offer insight not just into the history of education, current environment, etc, but my own philosophy of education, ideas, passions, and the like. 

The Death of Education by Eric B Olsen http://eric.b.olsen.tripod.com/education.html

(I’ve even “spoken” to him via email a few times. I think parents need to read this, to know what goes on behind the scenes in school)

Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry by Todd Farley, you can get it on Amazon, Nook, and can read about it in this article, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/standardized-tests/-gerald-martineaupost-today-my.html

Left Back by Diane Ravitch Good research into the history, often not so lovely, of education http://books.google.com/books/about/Left_Back.html?id=xyOxAKKwfDYC

Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol, I read this almost ten years ago while working in a school I felt really harmed children’s potential, so it seemed relevant. http://www.amazon.com/Savage-Inequalities-Children-Americas-Schools/dp/0060974990/ref=la_B000AQ3ELQ_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1347633944&sr=1-2

The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America by Charlotte Iserbyt http://www.deliberatedumbingdown.com/ as aa former US DEpt of Ed employee, she knows what she is talking about and has done extensive research,this book is a treasure trove. Controversial, yes, but cited and the like.The truth hurts.  Oh! And her site has a free version of the book.

The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto- wow, what to say? Well, first, you can red it for free at http://johntaylorgatto.com/ I as a child even felt something was wrong with the way schools operated. One of my jobs as a teacher was in a very dumbed-down, controlling school which made me think, this is not right, and Kozol’s book kind of affirmed that. But Gatto got my fire going, his book as self-affirming, enlightening, and an epiphany all rolled in one. I did a group project while getting my MA and my partner and I chatted a bit about education and he sent me a pdf of this book. I ignored it in my inbox for months and finally decided to open it. I read a few pages and was not fully impressed, but I was at a lull in schooling and work and decided to read on. I am so glad I did. I probably looked like a nut, because I kep verbalizing things as I read, as if Gatto were there in person. THings like, “I’ve done that to!” , “that happened to me!”, and most important, many many many “oh my gosh THAT is why__________”

 

So, enjoy. I know there are more inspiring books I’ve read but those are what come immediately to mind. I’m open for suggestions, discussions, etc.

 

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