Can We Make American Education Great Again? Not With Teacher Walkouts

May 4, 2018 by

Education: The National Assessment of Educational Progress is known as the nation’s report card. So what kind of grades are our nation’s schools getting? Not passing, we’re afraid. And that goes for the teachers, too.

The results released a couple of weeks ago were disappointing, showing that scores on reading and math tests for fourth and eight graders remained flat in 2017. Meanwhile, as those results were coming out, across the nation, in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado, schools were hit with teacher walkouts and strikes. The bad test scores and the walkouts are not unrelated.

The weak test scores say a lot. After a brief burst of improvements in the early 2000s, test scores have shown little change or improvement for nearly a decade — essentially the Obama years until today. For all their talk, the Obama administration was a huge failure at continuing early-2000 improvements in 8-12 education.

More damning, however, is that few test-takers are considered by the testing standard to be “proficient.” When it comes to reading, just 37% of fourth-graders and 36% of eighth-graders tested high enough to be considered proficient. In math, only 40% of fourth-graders and 33% of eighth graders were proficient.

These are the future citizens, voters and taxpayers in this country, the people who will inherit the greatest and wealthiest country in history. We’re failing these young people by not preparing them adequately to care for the great gift that will be bequeathed them.

What’s wrong? Whole books have been written about this subject. But the fact is, many things have gone wrong. They all contribute to the problem.

Sure, parents deserve part of the blame. And, in some cases, as teachers often argue, individual schools do need more funding.

But the problems are far broader and more profound. And as cross-country comparisons clearly show, there is no link — none — between more spending per student and performance. It’s a myth.

Truth is, as others have said, the U.S. education system struggles with a host of problems, including the federal government’s meddling in local schools through Common Core and other failed initiatives, ineffective spending by schools, the ongoing attacks on school choice and charters, a loss of classroom discipline and a refusal to link teacher performance to higher pay, to name a few.

Education As Indoctrination

And thanks to the intrusion of far left ideology by unions and progressive “curriculum experts” into our education system, we have turned our public schools into academies of political correctness that poorly teach the tough subjects and rigorous thinking that kids need to thrive in an increasingly competitive world.

Yet today, even as the country faces more union-fomented teacher walkouts and unrest, we’re being asked by these very same unionized teachers to spend more on them — which, they assure us, will benefit the students.

Unfortunately, the evidence for that is nonexistent. But that doesn’t mean they won’t win their fight.

Teachers’ unions have immense political clout, and can demonize anyone who disagrees with their agenda. They’ve been tremendously successful, becoming one of largest contributor to Democratic and left-wing political candidates to get their generally hard-left union agenda past local legislatures and through our nation’s Congress.

As the web site notes, “From 2004 to 2016, (teachers’ unions) donations grew from $4.3 million to more than $32 million — an all-time high. Even more than most labor unions, they have little use for Republicans, giving Democrats at least 94% of the funds they contributed to candidates” since 1990.

The problem with this is simple: The union is more interested in getting money for its members than in student learning. That’s a fact, despite the school unions’ non-stop propaganda. They control the schools and the classrooms, and test scores have gone nowhere. They must be accountable, as everyone else is. They’re not.

Pay For Performance

The best thing that could possibly happen would be to link teacher pay to clearly measurable student improvements. Unions should welcome the competition from home schooling and charters, rather than treating them as mortal enemies. Meanwhile, rewarding excellent teachers and requiring less certification — something that adds little to teaching skills — would attract better teachers with deeper knowledge of their subjects.

That’s something that really does work when it comes to improving student skills and test scores.

U.S. teachers, for instance, often claim that they’re paid less and treated with less respect than teachers abroad. That’s sometimes true. But why?

One big reason why teachers abroad have such tremendous respect is because their students tend to perform better than ours. A recent McKinsey report on global education noted that “the top-performing systems we studied recruit their teachers from the top third of each cohort graduate from their schools system.”

In the case of highly excellent schools in Singapore, Finland and Korea, for instance, they recruit all of their teachers from the top-third of their university classes. In the U.S., it’s just 23%. They get the cream, we often get the dregs.

It is true that many teachers in the U.S. have faced stagnant wages, for which unions often blame “stingy” taxpayers. Not true. While teacher salaries adjusted for inflation fell by 2% from 1992 to 2014, spending per pupil actually grew by 27%. How can that be?

Much of the money spent on schools went to hiring more administrators and non-teaching staff. The result: top-heavy bureaucracies that add nothing to students’ learning, but do add to union membership rolls and make teachers’ jobs easier. That, too, is a union problem.

And while teachers take-home pay has fallen, overall compensation hasn’t. It’s risen sharply. From 2003 to 2014, while take-home pay shrank slightly in real terms, average benefits paid to teachers rose 50%, from $14,000 to $21,000, notes American Enterprise Institute education expert Fredrick Hess.

As Chad Aldeman, an official in the Obama administration, recently noted in a report, “While the average civilian employee receives $1.78 for retirement benefits per hour of work, public school teachers receive $6.22 per hour in retirement compensation.” That’s a huge difference.

The point is, the recent teacher strikes make a few valid points, as we said. But they miss the far bigger picture. Because unions make everything about money, not results, they are doomed to failure.

Teachers’ unions reject and actively sabotage reasonable reforms that would loosen their grip on public school education and require teachers to strive for excellence. Despite their slick PR campaigns, this at the heart of our nation’s failed education system, as evidenced by our abysmal test scores.

America led the world in innovation and economic growth for generations without teachers’ unions. Maybe it’s time for Americans to ask the question: Do we really need unions running our schools?

Source: Can We Make American Education Great Again? Not With Teacher Walkouts | Investor’s Business Daily

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