Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Response to Andrew Rotherham

I am all for civil discourse, which is why I was happy to see an article on the Wisconsin issue written in an intelligible and polite way. Here is the original article, which might come in handy as I respond to it: Beyond Unions: 5 New Rules for All Teachers.

I was a teacher union member for 9 years (I'm approaching my tenth anniversary as a public school teacher). I quit my union about 2 months ago over incompetence. But I'm still a big supporter of unions and specifically collective bargaining.

All those disclosures taken care of, here's what I think Rotherham either gets wrong or leaves out. His first point, on evaluation, appears logical. Evaluation of a teacher's performance should be based on how it can materially benefit the students. All fine and dandy. What Rotherham leaves out, however, is that many times, Principal/Teacher relations are less than collegial. I've been lucky that I've never had an issue with a principal. I have heard many horror stories, though, of principals who "have it in" for teachers in general or specific teachers. Limiting evaluations is one way of restricting a principal's power to make a teacher's life a living hell. That said, an evaluation process that nurtures collegiality sounds like a great idea. I still caution those who turn to fresh MBAs looking for input on how to evaluate teachers more like private sector employees -- they simply are not analogous.

On his "Last In, First Out" section, Rotherham is largely indefensible. Let's face it: teachers get paid crap and get treated like crap. We have one thing going for us and that is job security. Once we've "paid our dues" we can relax a bit and feel comfortable knowing that we'll have a job next year. That does NOT mean that we relax in our performance. I'd be interested in seeing any credible study that finds correlation between job security (what some call "tenure" but is non-existent in other districts) and job performance. What Rotherham leaves out of his whole article, and which I'll get to below, could go a long way towards supporting his position -- but he leaves it out.

Rotherham takes on the issue of transfers and "bumping" of less experienced teachers by more experienced ones. Keep in mind, teachers are forced into a situation of serving "two masters" so to speak: they are employees of a district while they work at a school. If you ask a teacher where their loyalties lie, they will tell you it's with the school. I believe it's very important to protect a teacher's position at a school. So in this sense, I agree with Rotherham. Teachers should be given the time to develop a relationship a specific school, not as a cog in a district-wide machine. It can't be denied, however, that demographic shifts across a district may make it necessary to change the amount of teachers at each school. It makes sense that if school X needs to cut 3 teachers and school Y needs to add 3, that those with the most time spent developing relationships at school X be allowed to stay.

"Tenure and Due Process" rules approaches the point that I said Rotherham left out, but doesn't make it explicit. The due process example he gives is definitely an exception. I doubt anyone would argue that a teacher who deserves to lose their job should be allowed to keep it due to a beaureaucratic snafu. Tenure on the other hand, is an important concept as I have already mentioned above.

When it comes to salary schedules, Rotherham seems to be ignorant of the fact that many school districts DO pay harder to find teachers more money. Either that or he chose to ignore it. Either way, it proves his argument to be specious. My first year teaching I got an unexpected check. When I asked what it was for, I was told that music was a "critical shortage area." I didn't complain. The next year, music wasn't critical shortage anymore. That certainly didn't affect whether I taught or not. While addressing teacher's pay schedules, Rotherham attacks pay based on seniority and advanced degrees while espousing pay based on
differentiation based on how challenging teaching assignments are, hard-to-fill subjects like math, science, special education or foreign languages, and how effective teachers are in the classroom
The first point I have already addressed and the second was touched on under evaluation. It deserves a bit more space, however.

The idea of "merit based pay" for teachers has been gathering steam. And, no doubt, teachers unions will need to concede something on this topic. Here is my take on it. Let's not call it "merit based pay" when the data used for determining a teacher's merit comes from the students, not the teacher. That would be "merit based pay by proxy." And therein lies the problem: how do you equitably and accurately measure a teacher's merit? I have yet to find a method that meets those two criteria. Yet I do not think we should postpone merit based pay simply because there isn't a perfect method of implementation. So let's take on the task, through collective bargaining, of introducing merit based pay. What is NOT a good idea, however, is the law that was vetoed once and is being debated a second time in Florida (this time with an butthole of a governor) which would make FIFTY PERCENT of a teacher's salary based on their merit. This is simply unethical. We cannot demonize teachers to the point of expecting them to have no idea what next year's salary will be. It's hard enough to buy a house on a teacher's salary. How are teachers going to apply for a car loan, let alone a mortgage!, when they have to answer "How much do you make a year?" with "Well . . . it could be $45,000 . . . . or $22,500" (by the way, I've been teaching for 10 years and have a masters degree, but I don't make 45k yet).

And now for the big point that Rotherham left out!

Teachers should be easier to fire. Many of the issues he brings up could be allayed, if not solved, by making it easier to fire teachers. I don't disagree with this idea at all. But I think it needs to be reconciled with the idea of job security. If a teacher has been working for 3-5 years and has never had an issue on their evaluations, I think that teacher should feel secure in their job. If this is what is called "tenure," I'm all for it. But inside of those 3-5 years of "paying dues," if a teacher is deficient, and the district has offered support, and the teacher is STILL deficient . . . then by all means show them the door.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Atheist or Religious???

See that title? Another false dilemma! This all comes out of an article I read in the Herald Atheist Draws Crowd. I can understand why atheists feel the need to be defensive and attack religion. Religion has attacked atheism for a loooooong time. Here's a quote from the article that shows his posturing:

People often ask him, he said, why he lacks belief in God, but he thinks that is bad phrasing.
“One wouldn’t say that one lacks a belief in fairies and leprechauns,” he said.

God or leprechauns! Not a false dilemma though, but a false analogy.

Anyhoo, does it really need to be a battle? Later on he says,

he makes a distinction between “putting down illogical beliefs and putting down individuals.”
But this refers back to another post I made (Faith Is a Fallacy). Religion is NOT logical. It's not supposed to be! The power of religion, especially Christianity, is in the faith.

A friend recently told me he was agnostic (as well as a day trader--I wonder if those two correlate: Daytradin foo). My response was "We all should be agnostic!" There's no proof of any of our faith. And that's what gives it power.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lift Every Voice and Sing

I teach this song to all my kids every February. I don't get into the misnomer of a "black national anthem," but I think it's a beautiful song and an important one for them to learn.

But better yet is singing this song in church. The Johnson brothers did a great job of writing a song that appeals to a specific time without alienating everyone else. Obviously, the song refers to slavery, but if one were not aware of that beforehand, the song would still be beautiful. They are able to generalize the specific in a great way.

There are a couple hymns that I find very moving. One is the third verse of How Great Thou Art. The last verse of this one is another. Hopefully quoting just one verse won't tick of the Johnson estate. :)

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Jesus's Party Affiliation

The people that appear to read this mainly do so without leaving any comments. With this post, I'd like people to reply.

If Jesus were around right now, which party affiliation would he choose? Let's limit it to D and R. I, of course, have any answer which isn't surprisingly "D." But I'd like to hear from others that think Jesus would side with Republicans the majority of the time. Is there anything scripturally that makes you believe one way or another? Does scripture and Jesus even enter your mind when making political decisions?

Hopefully blogspot let's you post replies without registering. But I'm honestly interested in hearing opinions from people I might not agree with.

Obviously, those who aren't Christian could probably care less. And I'm fine with that.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

There Are No Such Things as Dilemmas

More on fallacies. One of my favorites -- false dilemma. This is the argument where two choices are given as being the only two choices, but there are in fact other choices. I heard this back in 2009 when someone at church said "You can't be Christian and vote for Obama." The argument that there are only two choices, you can chose to be Christian or you can chose to vote for Obama, is a fallacy of false dilemma. I also heard it in 2010 after the ELCA churchwide assembly -- "you can't believe the Bible and think homosexuality is OK." False dilemma.

But the more I think about it, ALL dilemmas are false dilemmas. Are we really so uncreative as to imagine a situation where there are only two choices?

Cake or death!?