City Journal Autumn 2014

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Larry Sand
Escaping Failure « Back to Story

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Ms. McNichol - That the California State Assembly is overwhelmingly Democrat and in the pocket of the California Teachers Association is irrefutable. At the same time, as you noted, I did praise Governor Brown, a Democrat, for vetoing AB 47. But perhaps you missed my support for Gloria Romero, whom I acknowledge as a “former Democratic state senator” and the current “director of the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform.” So, no political football here; just calling ‘em as I see ‘em.
Andrea McNichol May 14, 2012 at 1:43 AM
As a former school teacher, I welcome Sand's well written article here and, for the most part, am in agreement. What bothers me, however, is turning the issue into a political football where the Democrats are the bad guys trying to stop school choice v. the Republicans who favor it. By approaching the subject in this manner, it immediately turns into a political name calling situation rather than a truly needed and worthy discussion on how to make California education better. After berating Democrats for our schools' demise, Sand says that "Thankfully Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the Bill" that he (Sand) and others find so objectionable. Last I heard, Brown has always been a Democrat. Thus, I would urge Mr. Sand, to continue his suggestions on how to start bettering our schools but to try and refrain from blaming the problem solely on Democrats and their undying love of Unions.
I see Stuart's point, since cities, neighborhoods and schools all decline when the mix veers too far toward poor, uneducated and uninterested.

We should admire Stuart's candor, since most teachers insist that they are the ones that "make the difference," and call for more money, higher salaries and higher pensions to help them do so.

But its immoral to allow schools to hold those good kids hostage and penalize interested parents. Cannabilizing the high school years of the good kids for the bad kids is a losing proposal.

First, teachers who really care about kids, should be asking what private schools offer that people pay stunning amounts for, and providing those incentives for the good kids and their interested parents to stay.

Self-directed kids provide an example to smart poor kids, provide groups that smart poor kids can bond with and help propel the school away from drugs, crime etc.

Second, the schools do nothing for the smart poor kids and their parents. They leave too. Why?

Teachers ought to be asking the obvious: why do those good kids leave? The answer is also obvious: indifferent administrators who ought to be fired; abusive and lazy teachers that ought to be fired; dangerous premises that ought to be dealt with.

Teachers who really care about the kids-not teachers who just carry signs that say they do at election time--ought to get rid of their unions, eliminate the tenure rules and get accountability back in the schools. Scary but that is what teachers need to do.

Yes, actually support revisions that will allow principals to fire teachers who would be fired in any private school. Without a decade long battle in the courts.

The problem at every poorly performing school is also unaccountable teachers. Get rid of them, and put in good ones and people will break down the doors to get in.

Poor parents aren't stupid: in California, it was the poor hispanic parents that pressed for english immersion over the white PhD's who wanted a two track system.

The other problem is no one reads: why should they? The old books with great stories for boys have been tossed out and replaced with feminist approved crap that no boy will read.

The history books are not devoted to inspiring stories or people: its endless tales of other people being allegedly oppressed. Very little inspirational material there for kids. Lots of useless lists. Endless diversity, endless oppression: the only thing you learn about asians in History is how oppressed they were. Very little about how hard they work, how seriously they took education, how loyal to the US they have been and how stunningly successful they are.

The US? A source of oppression is what kids are told: very little that makes them proud to be Americans.

Cities used to have "bookmobiles," but most are gone in budget cuts. Of course, we have a surfeit of diversity deans and grief counselors.

Schools need to get out of the business of providing a safe haven for teachers, out of the diversity business, and back to instilling a love for reading, learning and teaching.

And drop the credentialism--no one give a whit if you are an "educator" or have an MA that no one needs for high school kids.


Stuart - I join with David in confirming that your points are so vague and poorly written it is difficult to discern the problems you have with open enrollment.

To the extent that you are attempting to explicate the difficulties of teaching certain low income children who come from homes with little culture of education in furtherance of an argument that poor academic performance is the fault of the unions, I would think that reasonable people would agree that not all of the blame can be placed on unions. Indeed, very few are candid enough to be openly realistic about the nature of the relevant populations, the negative culture which surrounds them, and the government programs which unfortunately subsidize and encourage the negative behaviors.

You do not address a crucial question in your diatribe. Yes, there are difficult populations. But a key measure of success for public schools is whether the poor but ambitious student stands a chance at success. They do exist, notwithstanding your generalizations. (I was one). It strikes me that the union is indeed standing in the way of these students, and because the open enrollment plan may offer real opportunity for the poor but ambitious student. Viewing the question this way, the union is pretty fair game for some tough criticism, is it not?
I am going to say something that I'm sure the author of the previous Comment will disagree with. I believe, however, that it needs to be said. If large numbers of California teachers write in a manner similar to the way Stuart writes, it's no wonder California's schools ("good schools" and "tough schools") are in such disarray. The lack of clarity in Stuart's post is appalling, especially for somebody who is paid to teach children (regardless of the subject matter Stuart teaches). Do teachers' unions really protect educators like this? Please do everyone a favor, Stuart, and re-read what you write before posting . . . and instill this lesson in your students.
I am going to say something that some will disagree with, but as an ex-teacher I think it should be said about open enrollment. You are teaching in a good school having done a mandatory ten years it some tough schools. The parents are motivated and pro-education, the kids generally good kids and interested. Then half the class come from the tough school, as their school is poorly performing, but the parents are not interested in school. The tough school is poor because of teachers unions, everyone knows this, it isn't welfare, drugs and gangs, so go to a good school, annd you get two advantages a college diploma and the price of your drugs is higher.
The most able good kids leave, more poorly performing kids come in, drugs are now prevelant not a rarity. The school grades plummet - union fault of course, not the fact the poorly performing schools too often have very hard to teach welfare and gang children and families. Very poor discipline is a major factor, it is easy to get good grades with middle class well behaved kids, it is harder with uninterested kids that carry knives, guns and take drugs regularly.