Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Class Warfare

White vs. Black. Rich vs. Poor. Urban vs. Rural. Red vs. Blue. English vs. Spanish. Creation vs. Evolution. Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life.

It seems like American society is defined by all of these conflicting interests, especially now that Presidential campaigns seem to fill the gap between elections in much the same way that Christmas pre-sale advertisements start somewhere around the 4th of July.

America has long been described as a melting pot, like what you get when you mix all the various colors of PlayDoh together – gray (come on, you've all done it).

I think maybe we're more like a bucket of marbles each covered with a particular shade of paint which reflects our beliefs and takes a very long time to dry. We tend to congregate with other marbles that are painted about the same color as ourselves, so when my wet paint rubs off on you, and vice versa, we end up about the same as when we were before.

Sure, the paint color components that make up our ethnicity may fade over time. No one in the rich neighborhoods shudders when a Black family moves in any more, at least I hope not. But we wholeheartedly support economic discrimination: if you can't afford a house in my upscale suburban neighborhood, you can't send your kids to school here. Po' folks keep out. That melting pot idea isn't for you until you get rich and learn how to behave yourself.

I think one of most gut-wrenching conflicts ahead of us may be along generational lines. We'll see it in the Presidential election this time. Barak Obama and John McCain are nearly 30 years different in age. Interesting that they each chose running mates who bring the average age of each pair to about the same point, isn't it?

And while we Boomers have funded Social Security for our parents and grandparents through our sheer numbers, who is going pay for our Social Security benefits given that our children's generation is smaller? Will we make them sacrifice to support us? It's supposed to be the other way around isn't it?

A reader recently alerted me to a blog called Schoolhouse Rock, whose author has been writing about the conflict in several school districts between senior teachers who like the traditional approach of rewarding teachers for longevity, and the younger teachers who want to be rewarded for performance.

One of the more interesting of these is in the District of Columbia, in which the superintendent of the public schools has proposed a program in which teachers can choose between two plans: a) to trade tenure for a large pay increase (ie working on one-year contracts); or, b) the traditional seniority-based approach, but at lower pay levels (with longer/continuing contracts). However, since the teachers' union is the sole bargaining entity for all teachers, and the teachers' union is controlled by the most senior teachers, the union President has come out in opposition of the superintendent's proposal and is supporting a traditional contract. At least one young teacher is pretty angry about this, as are her commenters.

I've proposed that our teachers' union (and all other employees) accept a one-year rollback in their raise schedule in order to preserve most if not all the jobs of the most junior teachers who will get laid off if the levy doesn't pass. I think this action would demonstrate that the teachers understand the state of mind of the voters, and all-but-guarantees the passage of the levy.

I've received no response to my proposal, and so have to assume that the leadership of the HEA prefers to bet – not their jobs, but rather the jobs of the most junior teachers – that the levy will pass.


  1. Paul, perhaps your rollback proposal needs to get a little more publicity, such as in the local weekly papers?
    I don't remember whether you spoke at the Board meeting regarding this, but I don't recall reading about it if you did. I would bet that Rick Slater is never going to bring it up to his members; plus as already noted both here and in DC, the senior teachers are not going to go for it anyway. I have never been able to figure out how a union president gets so much power that they can speak for the entire membership, particularly when the members are all college graduates, most with advanced degrees no less.
    I suppose it is because Rick has pretty much gotten the teachers what they wanted every year - not that that is helping the 1st year teachers a whole lot, is it?
    As far as families in "poorer" neighborhoods sending their kids to our schools, not sure I get the point. In Hilliard, we have homes from $100,000 all the way to $1 million (granted, not many of those)with the property tax income to the schools reflecting those values. A million dollar home, with one or two kids, is probably paying enough to fully fund those kids - obviously the lesser value homes do not. School districts have to have some kind of borders - if we don't then districts like ours would have buildings bursting at the seams while the inner city schools would become ghost towns, assuming the transportation logistics could be worked out. Unless, and until, property taxes are totally taken out of school funding, there is no other practical way.

  2. Great article Paul - I agree 100%.

    However, without radical changes in the "union mindset" of the HEA, I would not expect anything close to this plan to make any headway.

    In my experience with unions, the leadership comes up with a recommendation and any pushback to that from the rank-in-file is usually met with a stern hand-slap behind closed doors. The problem is that the union leadership is usually senior employees who gain nothing from changes in the status quo. This whole concept needs to change if we are to see our educational system move into the next generation with any fianacial viability.

    What I find ironic, and dare I say reprehensible, is the same HEA membership that scolds the public in letters to the Northwest news about not being willing to shell out extra $$ every month for a levy since it's "all about the kids" refuses to even broach this issue. I marvel how they can so conveniently throw the "good of the kids" argument around when it's to their benefit, yet when this same ideology might actually cause them some financial hardship (example, foregoing 3% raises), all we hear is chirping crickets. Granted, some or many of these teachers live in the district, but honestly their argument loses all credibility when one realizes they benefit personally from any levy. Also, where is this "it's all about the kids" attitude in job action at the schools? I hope the HEA realizes how many "NO" levy votes those shenanigans cost them.

    I have a lot of respect for individual teachers in the district and the job that they do. It is not easy, and I know there are many good teachers there. Their union, however, comes across to the public by their double-talking rhetoric as a bunch of self-focussed hypocrites.

    The only hope our district has to stop this madness is either a grass roots effort by the public to say "no more" (as Paul has been preaching), or a internal upheavel in the union where some fresh faces can restore some sensibility to the whole process.

  3. The way for the public to say "no more" is to say "no more" on Nov 4 and vote No on the levy.

  4. Also, rough back of the napkin estimate....a house with valuation $1 million pays about $10,900 in schools tax... the cost of 1 child.

  5. Hillirdite:

    Economic discrimination is alive and well right within our own school district. Just read some of the comments made during the last redistricting effort. Makes one proud to live it Hilliard, doesn't it?

    And actually, I do think we could and should have schools without borders, because those very borders are our current-day mechanism for discrimination. You said it yourself - the inner city schools would empty as kids flocked to the suburban schools to get a good education. Did you know that the Columbus City Schools spends more per student than Hilliard City Schools? Where do they get the extra money? From us of course. The residents of Hilliard pay twice as much in state taxes as we get back in school funding. The residents of Columbus City Schools get more state funding than they pay in taxes. The excess comes from us.

    So we're subsidizing Columbus City Schools anyway (not to mention the ransom payment that goes with the Win-Win), why not just drop the borders and let the kids go where they want? Make all public schools a charter school.

    There was once a proposal floated in central Ohio to dissolve Columbus City Schools and divide its territory into the adjoining suburban school districts.

    That idea was killed by the residential developers who have made a killing selling new houses in the suburbs to folks who want to, and could afford to, escape Columbus City Schools. It's the reason Hilliard schools has grown from under 1,000 kids when we moved here in 1979 to 16,000 kids today.

    It also scared the hell out of suburban residents who thought their kids would have to go to school with those kids.

    Both Obama and McCain have embraced the notion of choice and competition in public schools. We'll see if whomever is elected actually has the guts to fight the teachers' unions and make it happen.


  6. Well I guess stand corrected! (again)I was not around your blog when the redistricting issue was going on, and I must say, after reading those comments, I am appalled. My kids started at Crossing, and while that was 10-13 years ago, I remember that they had what I consider to be some of the best teachers of their entire school careers. I realize that the demographics have changed since then, but the arrogance of the Hyde Park crowd leaves me shaking my head. I moved north to Hilliard proper, and was not nearly as satisfied with Britton. I am a firm believer that parents make the largest difference in how their kids perform, and who they go to school with makes little difference, as long as the classroom is run in an orderly manner. At the same time, I can somewhat understand the Ballantrae
    comments - driving a mile past one school to attend another does not make sense from a logistics point of view; however, if it was more about who attends Darby, then shame on them too. My high schooler has friends of every ethnic background, and some of them attend Darby, not Davidson as she does. And I consistently see all of their names on the honor roll.
    The idea of "no borders" is a great idea, but not very practical.
    Besides, kids have graduated from the worst inner city schools and gone on to greatness. Kids have graduated from Hilliard schools and ended up going nowhere. It depends on the kids, and their parents, more than the school building. You can put makeup on a pig, and it is still a pig. (Sorry, I couldn't help that!)

  7. I am a big fan of charter schools. My child currently attends a charter school in Columbus and I couldn't be happier with the education being provided. Unfortunately, the only information that most of the public has about charter schools is what is published in the papers and it is the sensationalized news about the poorly operated charter schools that makes headlines.

    I would love to live in Toledo and be able to send my child to Toledo School for the Arts a charter school which has been rated Excellent for 3 years straight. The FAQ page provides a little more background on charter schools.

    I moved to Hilliard schools from UA schools because I wanted more diversity in the school system. I also liked the idea of a 6th grade school. Plus, we still live close to our family and friends in UA.

    I have met some very dedicated education professionals in the Hilliard schools and a principal who is second to none that I've met in UA (an older child attended and graduated from UA schools). But I also have met teachers who absolutely are in the wrong career (from a child/parent perspective - not from the teacher's perspective which is something along the lines of "This is like hitting the lottery - I can't believe I can make this much money and have such unbelievable benefits with so little effort on my part!")

    That is why I think the current system is so unfair to the excellent teachers and why I am frustrated that so much of our money is wasted on the poorly performing teachers. Some people complain that teachers are overpaid, others claim that they're underpaid - well, I think it's both. There are many who are overpaid (and shouldn't be teaching in the first place) and there are many who are underpaid and deserve so much more than they are able to receive.

    There is something definitely wrong with a system that promotes such inequities, all-the-while promising that their system is the only 'fair' way to reward teachers. Thus comes the waste!

    If the levy doesn't pass, and if all of the threatened cuts are made, I'm sure there will be other parents who will pull their children out of the Hilliard Schools and move them to Charter Schools (assuming there are any openings at the charter schools).

    Being an advocate of a free-market economy, I say giving parents the choice of where to educate their children will save all of the tax payers money by identifying the schools that are not sufficiently successful, and hopefully bring about either change or closure of those schools.

    However, I am not hopeful, unfortunately, because the public school system has so many many employees with a vested interest in keeping public schools operating, regardless of their failures, the employees and their unions will continue to pressure politicians to maintain the present monopolistic public school system with no counterbalancing power defending the interests of the students and the tax payers.

  8. kk, some excellent points. I have been one who has until recently not been enamored with the charter schools.

    You are correct you hear most of the time about just the negatives. Money poorly spent, equipment missing,
    non certified teachers etc.

    The one wild card is that behavorial issues come into play..
    Will the charter schools be able to
    cherry pick only the best students.

    Our legal system under the guise
    of "protecting the kids" has produced a significant group of kids and parents who think they can do whatever they want at school.
    This needs to get under control

    Of course our school districts including ours keep saying
    "its about the kids" when it really
    is about contracts and job actions in the classroom.

    Charter schools will get more looks
    as their true success is realized
    and people get fed up with the
    districts and their employees constantly dissing the individual taxpayer with their " you dont get it" attitude.

    A scary thought would be if the individual taxpayer took their ball
    and decided to play somewhere else

  9. I'm still having a hard time dealing with the logic of total open enrollment. A school has bad test scores? So the parents who care about their kids education pull their kids and move them. Then I almost guarantee you, the scores go down even more because you are left with students and parents who just don't care and the scores are based on averages. It is not necessarily bad teachers. I know some teachers who are in the CSD and they spend half their time on discipline and controlling the classroom, not on teaching. This is the schools fault? No. If it were, then all the teachers in the HSD must be awesome since the test scores are so high, at least in most of the schools. The ones that aren't quite so high,is it the teachers? Are all of the marginal teachers in just a couple of buildings? I'll argue demographics with you all day long as it relates to student performance, as well as the fact that the whole idea of grading schools has way too many faults to be of much use.
    A motivated student/parent combo will defy the average almost every time, regardless of where they go. And every school will have it's share of both great and marginal, or worse, teachers.

  10. Hillirdite:

    Student performance isn't the only issue - it's also teacher (and administrator and staff) performance. If funding travels with the kids, then only schools which attract kids get funding. To attract kids, a school will need effective teachers. In fact, the schools will compete for effective teachers, and get rid of ineffective teachers in order to free up resources to hire more effective teachers. Today we're dragging around ineffective teachers, wasting precious resources and shortchanging our kids.

    There would also be greater scrutiny placed on curriculum and extra-curricular activities. Some schools might choose to devote their resources to math and science education and forego athletics (e.g. Metro High here in Columbus). In the same way, another school might emphasize athletics - such as a private high school I read about in New England that produces a substantial number of pro hockey players. Why should such opportunities be limited to kids whose parents can afford private schools?

    I'm advocating the same kind of consumer choices we have in selecting a college. Some of us - those with enough money - do have a choice in public schools because we can afford housing in whatever school district we wish.

    Others don't have that choice. Yes, some kids will rise above it, but why do they have to devote so much energy to doing so when all it takes is a bus ride to put them in a better environment? Is it really about all kids, or just our own kids? Most of have worked hard to be able to afford living in a great school district like ours. We sure don't want to let those who we don't think have worked as hard in on the cheap, do we?

    There will certainly be kids who don't try - rich and poor. Perhaps the best schools have entrance requirements, based on ability and performance. That's the way it works in many other developed countries. Of course the rich kids will get into some prestigious private school anyway.

    The kids who don't measure up are offered vocational education. But that's a hollow gesture if there aren't jobs available and accessible.

    Education isn't the solution to all of our country's problems - jobs are. We're in danger of reaching a tipping point in which the folks who are working can no longer afford to support all those who aren't.

    And taxpayers will be less willing to fund the paychecks of public employees who seem to be getting a better deal. Our upcoming levy vote will be a reflection of this.


  11. Just a point of clarification about the Metro School - those students do not "forgo" athletics. Students can participate in extracurricular activities through their home district, and also receive their diplomas from their home district. So, while the Metro School can focus on math and science instruction, someone is still helping for fund extracurriculars for those students.

  12. Thanks for the clarification.


  13. Re: Charter Schools and Athletics - At my child's charter school, they explained that the students are still eligible to participate in their home district's athletic programs, provided the home district will allow them. In reality, they said that the home districts aren't very receptive to allowing their participation and if high school sports was a priority for the student, they probably didn't belong at this particular charter school.

    Organized sports is not an issue for my child who prefers taking tennis lessons over the general sports programs offered in PE. Charter schools do offer PE (or the students can take it during summer school at any of the districts that offer it - and several do) - but the PE classes offered at our charter school are more along the lines of yoga or frisbee golf - similar to PE offerings in colleges (I took snow skiing and ice skating)

    My nephew attended a high school (in another state) that focused on hockey, but held the students to high academic standards. If you didn't make the grade, you couldn't play - and we're not talking "must receive passing grades that earn a minimum of 5.0 credits" - we're talking a 3.0 average. If you want to play, you have to earn the privilege. The neat thing about charter schools is that there are a limited number of positions and students are held accountable to certain standards.

    And as demand for specialized schools arises, the schools will form in the areas needed. And in order to be viable, the schools will watch their expenses and choose the best teachers to accomplish their goals. The ineffective teachers will not be re-hired.

    All students don't have the same needs, yet the current public school approach is to treat them all pretty much the same. Charter schools can specialize, as Paul stated. There are those that focus on student behavior and structure themselves much like a military academy. Others focus on the arts or math and science or language immersion - specializations that are difficult to do in the traditional school setting.

    Did you know that Columbus has both a Spanish and a French immersion school? The concept is to fully immerse the students in the language by speaking only that language all day - and all classes are taught in that language. A great opportunity for students who value that sort of education. Yet, because of limitations in the Columbus teacher's contract, the Ecole Kenwood was required to hire 2 full-time teachers who don't speak a word of French.

    The problem is a combination of the seniority protection issues and the inability to pay the teachers whose skills are in demand any more than the teachers whose skills are in surplus. (Thanks to the teacher's union - remember, it's all about the kids, after the teachers' needs are met).

    From a National Institute for Labor Relations Research report on How Monopolistic Teacher Unionism Is Undercutting Math and Science Education report
    "...For example, the report quotes Ted Suss, superintendent of the K-12 public school in
    Wabasso, 110 miles southwest of Minneapolis:
    For an open science position (for the 2007-08 school year), I had two fairly
    high-quality applicants from about 10 applications. One of the two turned down
    an interview because a better job came along, so I had one candidate left. But
    that’s just the way it is today. Physics and chemistry positions are extremely
    hard to fill. So are special education positions, especially teachers who work
    with emotional and behavioral disorders.
    Spanish is tough, too. You have to put out every feeler you’ve got to find a
    Spanish teacher. But with elementary education or social studies, you put out
    an ad for one day and you get hundreds of applications."

    I'm not saying that elementary education or social studies or even PE is less valuable to our students than is math or science, but, reality is there are fewer teachers available to teach math and science and the law of supply and demand dictates that we must pay more for those positions.

    The union's response to that argument is that if math and science teachers are worth, let's say $50,000 out of college, then all of the teachers of other subjects are worth the same, so, because we are starting teachers out at $36,160, all teachers are underpaid. And arguments like that are what cause so much waste in the public schools.