This weekend in Washington, D.C. a so-called grassroots rally was held to “Save Our Schools”. As with most public education rallies, there were some good points made about the terrible centralized testing culture that is being forced down on schools, plenty of empty platitudes spoken about the importance of public education, and a lot of inane rants as to why competition and fiscal sanity are supposedly bad for public education.
Reason.tv went to the rally to interview people and was able to capture some of the dishonest and delusional positions of the Save Our Schools crowd.
One man responded with umbrage at the idea that teachers are guaranteed their jobs for life. He claims that “teachers that are incompetent can always be fired.” He is right in the sense that any child can also play in the NBA. The reality is that the chances of either happening are nearly infinitesimal. The chances of a high school basketball player making it to the NBA are about 0.03 percent, about the same as the chances of a teacher being dismissed for poor performance in many large cities. In New York City in 2008 only three of 30,000 tenured teachers were dismissed for cause.* Between 2005 and 2008 only 0.1 percent of teachers were dismissed in Chicago, only 0.01 percent in Toledo, and in Akron and Denver it was zero percent.
Matt Damon responds to a question about job security with his usual supreme arrogance. He speaks of his belief in a fairy tale world where every teacher teaches because they want to teach. However, in such a fairy tale world there wouldn’t be a need for tenure. He asks, why teachers would “take a shitty salary, and really long hours” unless they really love to teach. The answer is because the compensation they get teaching is often far more than many teaches would ever get doing something else, and in far fewer hours. He seems to ignore that the teaching corps in America, while it does have good teachers in it, is not exactly filled with people who would otherwise be making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year at law firms or investment banks. Nearly one half of all public school teachers come from the bottom third of their college classes. Their compensation is actually inflated, especially when you consider the quality of the service they provide through public education. In Milwaukee, where the graduation rate is only 68% relative to the state’s graduation rate of 90%, teachers receive annual compensation in excess of $100,000. He also ignores that the “really long hours” that teachers must endure include weekends, holidays and summers off. When a cameraman suggested that perhaps ten percent of teachers weren’t fit to be teaching, his flippant response was “maybe you’re a shitty cameraman”.
When asked about how much money we should be spending on each child’s education, a woman interjects that “there is no money that can be set, price, on a child’s life and learning.” When pushed to answer how much more should be spent per student, she agrees that a billion dollars per student sounds good. Deborah Meier meanwhile believes “we should give as much money as rich people think they need for their children.” Perhaps Meier should be asking herself why rich people spend so much money to get their kids out of public schools.
When asked about the benefits of competition in education, one person resorts to calling public education a “basic social right”, suggesting that the benefits of competition do not apply in this industry. When asked if food was also a basic social right, the guy equivocates and points to food stamps as validation of this point, ignoring that the government doesn’t give anyone a monopoly in food production or delivery (and the closest thing to food stamps is school vouchers). Jonathan Kozol opposes vouchers and charter schools because he claims they will never cover more than 5% of the population, but then goes on to say that increasing the number of vouchers or charter schools is “insane”. Impeccable logic.
Their irrational ramblings aside, the stated goals of the march do not seem all that offensive. They claim that they want their voices as teachers, parents, and concerned community members to be heard, though they seem to be mostly teachers. They say that they want to focus on education as opposed to test preparation, and that they demand a humane, empowering education for every child in America. Unfortunately, they don’t focus on a humane, empowering education for every child in America. They focus on bringing more money into the schools (more teachers), decoupling test performance with teacher pay and school closures (protecting teacher pay and jobs), federal support of the schools (more money, more teachers), and more robust educational offerings and smaller class sizes (more teachers). If they cared about a humane, empowering education for every child in America they would reject the district monopolies, they would embrace competition which would allow parents real choice, and they would stop assaulting the most humane, empowering education available – homeschooling. This rally to save our schools was not meant to save the children, it was meant to save only the most important stakeholders in the public education system: the teachers who pay union dues.
* The difficulty of firing teachers in New York City has been well documented. Reason developed a chart to highlight how convoluted the process is.