Friday, January 07, 2005


Don't Blame Me, I voted for McClintock

Okay, that headline might be a bit harsh (as well as silly) since ol' Tom seems pleased with the Governor's pension plan proposals and his proposed reforms for education.

But it is obvious to me that the neither the Governor nor the Senator have a grasp on the reality of what it is like to teach in the classroom of a public school. I do. I am a teacher. I am a Republican... a very conservative Roman Catholic Republican who agrees with Edmund Burke that the capitalist system needs to provide a quality public education system in order to guarantee its survival. The Governor's vague and screed like State of the State speech launches an ill-conceived attack on the very system we need under the guise of reform.

Here are the pertinent parts of the official summation of the Governor's speech as found on his official state website:

Bringing State Pensions into the 21st Century

In 2000, our pension obligation was $160 million. Today, it has ballooned to $2.6 billion of the people’s money. Taxpayers cannot afford to continue paying for the archaic and enormously expensive state pension plan. Both the private sector and the federal government moved away from this out-dated pension system years ago. It is unfair to taxpayers to expect them to pay for pension plans better than the ones most of them have.

Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed offering new state employees a Defined Contribution plan instead of the current out-dated Defined Benefit plan still in use for state workers.

The Governor’s proposal will move state pensions into the 21st century and bring about a system that is fair to all, efficient and affordable.

Strengthening Education

Our education system is plagued by problems that are unacceptable.

*Thirty percent of students who enter 9th grade do not graduate. [Department of Finance]

*Barely 40 percent of our students are proficient in Math. [Department of Education: “2004 Accountability Report”, 10.7.04]

*Nearly half of all freshmen admitted to CSU need remediation in English. [CSU Analytical Studies Department, 1.28.04]

*Thirty-five percent of California schools failed to meet the federal Adequate Yearly Progress criteria. [California Department of Education, “Progress Report 2004”]

Governor Schwarzenegger is proposing ground-breaking reforms that will strengthen our children’s education by (sic)

1) Rewarding good teachers,
2) Showing parents and taxpayers how their education dollars are spent,
3) Furthering charter schools and
4) Increasing vocational education.


Isn't all that neat?!

I cannot speak as to the conditions of employment outside of a school site situation. Maybe pensions elsewhere are out of line. But after only one year (a few years ago) of teaching in the public school system, I came to realize that the amount of garbage with which teacher's have to deal is so enormous that if the state actually wants to attract the "best and the brightest" they need to make the financial rewards much more attractive than they currently are in professions where such individuals could make more money and have a better retirement package.

About half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years because of the problems they face from the system as a whole. I would be among those numbers if I were not married with two young children. The joys of teaching are often killed by the sorrows of the system. The Governor and his supporters on this issue simply ignore the systemic problems over which teachers have no control.

The Governor's proposals for education, as summarized above, sound wonderful. As general concepts, I can readily support them. However, when one looks at the full text of his State of the State Address, one begins to see the problems. Here is the pertinent part of his address:

Let me say this to every California teacher who is opening the minds of our children and nurturing their lives: I want to reward you for your hard work. I want to reward you for the sacrifices you make. I want to reward you for the learning that you instill.

But I cannot do so under the current system. Help me change it.

We must financially reward good teachers and expel those who are not. The more we reward excellent teachers, the more our teachers will be excellent. The more we tolerate ineffective teachers, the more our teachers will be ineffective.

So, in the special session, I propose that teacher pay be tied to merit, not tenure. And I propose that teacher employment be tied to performance, not to just showing up.

The last sentence is so insulting since it implies that many teachers are simply just "showing up." I completely agree that this is an issue that needs to be handled, but I do not accept the implication that it is a chronic problem. The Governor does not offer any overwhelming proof that "just showing up" teachers are the problem or amount to a significant number in the public school system. He also implies that tenure is the reason that some (many?) teachers decide to "just show up." I think the better question is, "why do some teachers choose to 'just show up?'" Could it be that the administration of the system is part of the problem in some cases? It is intelectually dishonest to imply that teachers fall into one of two categories: "meritorious" (which, if tied to test scores, implies constant score improvement which is statistically impossible) or "just show up;" and, I can only thank the Heavens that he is not a product of the public school system in California.

The Governor also does not bother to define "merit" and "performance." Rumors are that he will tie these to the state standardized tests. That would be a terrible idea, but until I get confirmation on it, I will refrain from commenting further.

I will also refrain from listing the real problems of public education in California (and not just selected results as the Governor did) until I am able to review the Governor's specific proposals. Perhaps his proposed reforms have merit. Perhaps he just gave a terrible speech... and, perhaps he will embrace the teachings of the Church on abortion as it applies to his position as Governor.

I am not holding my breath on any counts.

(Note: and I still haven't figured out how to run spell check for this site on my OSX! Sorry!)

(Edited one line at 10:00 a.m. on Jan. 8, 2005)

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