Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nation's Teachers Unions Feel Squeezed by Some Former Allies

Unions continue to be battered by the Democrats, and still they stand 100% in lock step behind their candidates... go figure!! Read on.

By Rob Hotakainen
Published: Monday, Sep. 21, 2009 - 7:05 am | Page 16A
Last Modified: Monday, Sep. 21, 2009 - 7:53 am

WASHINGTON – When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed merit pay for teachers and lifting the cap on charter schools, the head of the California NAACP stood by his side.

And when the Los Angeles school board voted to approve a plan that could turn over a third of its schools to private operators, Latino members and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa led the charge.

The nation's public school teachers are feeling the squeeze from all sides these days, and some of the heat is coming from unlikely sources: minorities and longtime Democratic allies.

One of them is President Barack Obama, who is irking teachers by suggesting that student test scores be used to judge the success of educators.

The pressure is particularly intense in California, where U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the state has "lost its way" with public schools.

In an attempt to improve them, the Obama administration is threatening to withhold federal stimulus money if the Golden State does not rescind a state law that prevents the state from tying test scores to teacher performance.

None of this is exactly what teachers had in mind when they knocked on doors to help elect Obama.

"It takes more than the ability to fill in bubbles to be considered an educated person," Marty Hittelman, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said in a letter to Duncan. "We thought President Obama understood that."

As the battles intensify, longtime political alliances are shifting, said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute, a nonprofit public policy center at California State University, Los Angeles.

"They're in flux. There's no question about that," he said, adding that "teacher unions feel somewhat chagrined" with what they're hearing from Washington.

David Sanchez, president of the 340,000-member California Teachers Association, said teachers had high hopes for Obama but that so far there has been little change.

Indeed, when it comes to education policies, he said it's hard to distinguish Obama from his predecessor, President George W. Bush, who placed a premium on high-stakes student testing.

"To be perfectly honest, it's disappointing again," Sanchez said. "Our perception is it's more of the same, and that's not good, because we thought we were going to be able to change something, make some true reform in public education."

Ironically, the teacher unions find themselves opposing some of their former members.

Alice Huffman, the NAACP's president since 1999, helped lead fights against school vouchers and merit pay when she worked as an organizer for the CTA for 13 years. Her thinking has definitely changed, which is why she was standing next to a Republican governor last month.

"The only place the NAACP can be is with this governor," Huffman said. "If the teacher unions put a better proposal on the table, we would stand with them."

For Huffman, the battle is personal. She said too many inner-city minority children are stuck in failing schools and that immediate and revolutionary changes are needed.

"I have watched this for 20 years," Huffman said. "And I have nieces and nephews that have come out of the public schools that can't read, can't write, will never be employable. This is happening right here. … Something profound has to happen. We can't wait another decade and another decade while people tweak with it."

In Los Angeles, Villaraigosa turned against the local teachers union to help push a school-choice plan that was approved last month. It will allow private operators to submit plans on how they'd run 250 schools, including many that failed to meet federal benchmarks on state tests. United Teachers Los Angeles, Villaraigosa's former employer, is opposed to the plan, saying it's the first step toward privatizing the school district.

In Sacramento, state legislators will soon meet in a special session to consider Schwarzenegger's "Race to the Top" plan. Among other things, it would allow merit pay and more charter schools while permitting the state to use test scores to evaluate teacher performance.

John Kaighn

Jersey Benefits Advisors

The Kaighn Report

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Obama Speech To Students Revisited

The controversy eminating from various corners of the country in regard to Obama's speech to schoolchildren abated dramatically when the text of the speech was released and former First Lady, Laura Bush, gave her support to the initiative. Of course the fear was that the speech would be some sort of indoctrination into left wing politics, when in fact it was just a use of the presidential bully pulpit to encourage students to do their best in school. Freedom of speech allows everyone in this country, including the extremists on the left and the right to speak their minds and be heard. Below are some quotes from various news agencies regarding the speech.

A plethora of news outlets covered President Obama's speech to schoolchildren, which took place at "Wakefield High School just outside Washington" on Tuesday. Most coverage was positive in nature, with some sources emphasizing students' reactions to the speech. The New York Times (9/9, Dillon) reports, "Millions of American schoolchildren, oblivious to the uproar that preceded a back-to-school speech by President Obama, heard him exhort them to greatness on Tuesday, watching, applauding and in some classrooms cheering a nationally broadcast address that urged them to set high goals, knuckle down in their studies and persevere through failure."

Education Week (9/9, Klein) reports, "In a speech that triggered advance controversy -- and logistical headaches for school officials -- President Barack Obama...urged America's K-12 students to study hard and stay in school, saying, 'What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country.'" The President's remarks "capped days of criticism, primarily from" his "conservative opponents...who asserted that Mr. Obama might use the address" and corresponding lesson plans from the U.S. Department of Education "to persuade children to support his political agenda."

The AP (9/9, Matheson, Rohr) reports that "for all the hubbub among adults over the back-to-school speech, many youngsters" nationwide "took the president's message to heart." After listening "closely to Obama's story of studying with his mother at 4:30 a.m.," William Geist, "a San Francisco fifth-grader who likes to sleep late," said, "Now since I heard this speech, I'm like, 'Man, I've got to get up early in the morning. I've got to get ready for school. I've got to do this.'"

The Miami Herald (9/9, Sampson, McGrory) reports that "kids interviewed by The Miami Herald called the speech inspiring and seemed incredulous that the 15-minute talk had sparked such outrage nationally." Pines Middle School seventh-grader Chanelle Missick, for instance, said, "I don't see what's wrong with him coming and talking to the kids, trying to give them responsibility and direct them in the right way." Meanwhile, 12-year-old Pines student Carlton Campbell "said he was encouraged when Obama talked about his own struggles. 'He really inspires me," said Carlton, 12. 'Because I was failing last year.'"

The Salt Lake Tribune (9/9, Stewart, Tribune) reports that "Utah students who watched the televised speech in class called it 'inspiring' and 'real.' Still, "some admitted to zoning out and others dismissed it as 'a political stunt.'" Nevertheless, the Salt Lake Tribune adds, after the speech was aired, "all the uproar over Obama using classrooms to push socialism or a hidden policy agenda seemed overblown." The Washington Post (9/9, 2:29 PM, Chandler, et al.) reports that in his speech, Obama "described his own upbringing, noting that he 'got in more trouble than I should have' as a youth. He told the students, 'There is no excuse for not trying. No one has written your destiny for you, because here in America you write your own destiny.'" Jack D. Dale, superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, called the speech "phenomenally good," noting that it focused on "the positive aspects of kids taking ownership of their education."

Tonight we get to hear all about the health care initiative. While it is true most Americans don't want the government involved too much in the free enterprise system, it is also unfair to characterize every undertaking of the government as folly. Perhaps some cooler heads will prevail and we will see some health insurance reform, no public option and mandatory health insurance for everyone, much as we have with auto insurance. Then the government could possibly look at some public/private initiatives which would revive the pure research models, such as Bell Labs and the Xerox program at Palo Alto, which we had when we first attempted to land on the moon. Of course, that would mean that the CEO's and other top management types would have to plow some of the cash from our leading corporations into research and development, instead of their pockets. I guess one could dream a little, huh?

John Kaighn

Jersey Benefits Advisors

The Kaighn Report