Time magazine this week had as its cover story a piece it called, “Rotten Apples”. The subject was, rotten teachers and why “it’s nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher”. It was written by Haley Sweetland Edwards, a Time political reporter, who looks to be in her mid-20’s and who a quick Google search reveals specializes articles about Yemen and Libya. I could be wrong but her only article on education appears to be a 2009 piece about the experiences of a group of Maplewood, New Jersey high school students applying for college.
Nevertheless, Time gave her four pages to bash teachers and gush over the saviors of education: tech millionaires like David Welch one “of a half-dozen teach titans who are making the repair of public education something like a second career.” She writes about the four month old Vergara decision that ruled California’s tenure law “unconstitutional” and voided contractual layoff procedures based on seniority and waxes on about the “reform” movement led “not by activists or union leaders but by Silicon Valley business types.“
She reports on the testimony of the Vergara sisters whose testimony was used in court. One complained about her middle school teachers saying one was “apathetic, verbally abusive and ineffective” and “couldn’t control” the class. Do we really think the testimony of a teenager about what went on in a classroom is impartial and objective and takes into account class size, kids who have chronic behavior problems and what administrators did or did not do to help? (Much later in the article Edwards herself notes that measuring a teacher’s “quality” can be a tricky business and that the teacher one of the Vergara sisters thought was “ineffective” had previously been named Pasadena’s Teacher of the Year.)
Nowhere in the story is there any suspicion that self-interest may be driving the billionaire reformers. Over $600 billion is spent on public education each year in the U.S. and the “titans of industry” are drooling to get their hands on it. Edwards says that job security was once a “popular” idea but now is “controversial” because of the media is filled with “countless stories of schools and districts being unable to fire bad teachers”. Yep, the billionaire owned union-hating media fills their pages with scare stories about teachers and the helpless administrators. Then other billionaires decide the remedy is to take all rights away from teachers.
Tenured teachers are fired all the time. Many are just “eased out” and never show up in the statistics. A teacher is suspended and told the Board is considering termination. Then the days and weeks go by. Paperwork with vague “reasons” comes out and the administration starts hinting that a quiet “deal” would be best for everyone’s reputation. The teacher, full of anger and the fight at the beginning, becomes bored and frustrated as time drags by. Most are advised to let lawyers to do their talking. After weeks or months without colleagues to talk to or meaningful work to perform the teacher grows despairing. Then the lawyers negotiate a deal, the teacher “resigns” or is “retired” and few are the wiser. It takes a lot of guts and a strong union for a teacher to challenge the judgment of top administration in public.
In New York City they had their own method. In most cases suspended teacher were paid, but required to report to an office building where they could read, but couldn’t use electronic devices. They did this every six hours a day as long as their cases went on and the cases stretched out over years. Teachers called these “work” assignments the “rubber room”. Plenty just resigned.
Edwards mentions a critic of the new “reformers” named Michael Petrilli. She notes he “generally does not support teacher tenure and job-protection laws” but thinks Welch and the other anti-tenure court activists are souring things when they need to get teachers on board other large-scale reforms like Common Core. Some critic. Edwards doesn’t dare quote Diane Ravitch who thinks “the Vergara decision is the latest example of the blame-shifting strategy of the privatization movement. Instead of acknowledging that test scores are highly correlated with family income, they prefer to blame teachers and the very idea of public education.”
That Time would put this story on the front page bodes ill. The privatizers and public education haters are up to no good.