Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Ambitious Goals, Merit Pay And Stealing Billions

So sorry for the lull, Fellow Politicos...The hubby had a little of his hereditary heart issue acting up, so I've been slacking on the blog. So, before I begin a tirade re: the state of health care in this country, (which you've all heard before...) I shall turn to current events.

Ambitious Goals
I, for one, am absolutely delighted that we have a President who is willing to talk and chew pretzels at the same time. I love the fact that our President really gets it that there is more than one thing going on in our country and our world. I believe it is truly time that we had a President that has the capacity to multi-task, as, unlike the Bush press core, the world does not wait to lob one softball at a time.

So, what the Hell is all this mainstream media "Is the President taking on too much?" crap??? Are things really going along so swimmingly that the biggest criticism of President Obama's 2 month old administration is that it's too ambitious in its goals for our nation's well-being? Give me a friggin' break. First, it's the "disappointing first month" comment by the RNC, and now, he's .doing too much? Man, they're like the guy who tells the new worker on the job to slow down so he doesn't make the rest of 'em look bad. Aw, GOP, buck up and grow a pair. Take a stand one way or the other, but you don't get to take both sides of the issue. 'Nuff said.

Merit Pay
Now, on the other hand, the Republicans ought to be jumping up and down on their chairs to the education news that President Obama popped off with the other night. Merit pay? Charter schools? What's next? Vouchers? You have got to be kidding me! As an educator, let me just take a second and tell you about these two issues and why they're bad, not just for our kids and our schools, but our country as well.

Now, the concept behind both of these ideas seem pretty reasonable at first glance. First, let's look at merit pay. Pay teachers more if their students' test scores increase. Sounds logical, yes? But let's look a little closer. A couple of problems here: 1) The way scores are measured is not by taking my Little Man's scores and seeing how much progress he made last year. Nope, makes much too much sense. The NCLB related state test scores compare this year's third graders to last year's third graders. So, Little Man's class' scores are compared to last year's third grade class' scores. Uh, how do you measure the progress students have made without comparing them to what they scored the previous year? Thus, there is no appropriate baseline for growth. 2) Who do you think will score better on a standardized test? Kids from low socioeconomic groups who are not fluent, who have parents in jail/rehab/on drugs or abuse/neglect them,
or kids from affluent homes whose schools and families can provide for enrichment, early remediation, a stable homelife, help with homework and a nice, safe place to come home to after school? That's not rocket science. 3) In this era of high-stakes testing, where cheating has already become a problem, do you think adding money to the equation will be helpful or harmful? Will the pressure be on to find ways to "help test scores rise"? Artificial means will be tempting when cash is on the line, and there will be some out there, few and far between, who will fall prey to that temptation. 4) Teachers teach because they love what they do. Along with nurses, they're some of the hardest-working people on the planet. They spend a small fortune out of their own paychecks, even in this bad budget year, to support the education of the students in their classes. It is insulting to think that adding a bonus to their checks based on test scores will further motivate the folks that already work so tirelessly serving our families each day. I know from experience that teachers do that already, and, unlike those in the financial industry, there is no bonus necessary (or award, as the banks now call them) to gain the great devotion to our youth that is already in place in our schools each day.

Now, let's look at charter schools. Sure, in theory, why not provide an environment where there is less red tape, more freedom to experiment and to try new, innovative techniques? Sounds like a great place to send a kid, huh? Again, here are some issues to consider: 1) How do we pay for charter schools? By taking money away from the public schools, of course. Read about any teacher layoffs for lack of funding in your area lately? Me, too. 40+ teachers getting pink silps in one district nearby, 60+ in another...(By the way, in CA, Friday the 15th is "Wear Pink" day to support those teachers receiving pink slips. But I digress...) 2) How do we provide accountability or transparency? We don't. Charter schools don't have to take those state tests to see how the kids are doing. Charter schools can fire employees at will, as their teachers do not have to have a union. I was told by a colleague, and I have not confirmed this, so correct me if I am wrong, but there is no need for a teaching credential, either. 3) Private corporations run some of these schools (there's that fave Republican "C" word again. Follow it, you'll find the money...surprise, surprise!), and can set up their own measures up for success. All that cash into corporate pockets, and no quality control or transparency necessary. Man, why does this all sound like Bush's gal, Margaret Spellings, is still Sec'y. of Education? I'd have sworn we elected a liberal Democrat. Still scratching my head over that one. 4) Even if we deny all the rest, there is a basic, core belief that our founding fathers put forth that is being tossed to the wayside in the advent of charter schools: that an educated populace is necessary for democracy to prosper. It is the cornerstone of our democracy. The people must be educated and able to understand and be involved in the running of their country. From jury duty to voting, to being able to balance a checkbook or read the manual for the job at hand, our citizens have a right to a free, public education. 5) This is simply not what President Obama promised my union, the National Education Association, when he received that endorsement, nor is it why teachers supported him. It's a slap in the face to those who worked so hard to get him elected.
Mr. President, stop trying to pander to the Republicans on the issue of education and look at fully funding or completely revamping No Child Left Behind, because charter schools, vouchers and merit pay will continue to speed up the downward spiral that the budget cuts in education are causing in our schools.

Stealing Billions
Great work, getting Madoff behind bars for several lifetimes. But while he has room and board at taxpayer expense for the rest of his life, how will the pensioners he frauded out of billions get their money back? Will those whose retirement money he's stolen be able to put a roof over their heads? And what about tax refunds for those who unknowingly and honestly reported the false gains he claims to have made for them, only to find out they'd been swindled? Show me the money, Bernie. Pull it all out of the Cayman Islands or Swiss Banks. Dole it out to the people who invested it. And, by God, regulate the banking and investment industries so that this kind of evil, devastating banking crisis and the Madoffs of the world can't ever pull this again! Find the guy in the Bush administration that told the Securities Exchange Commission to look the other way. Extradition to a country that loves to torture is too good for the likes of them! I ask yuou, what hath deregulation wrought?

Well, Kids, that's all I have the energy to post today. But be sure and comment early and often, as I'd love to hear your take on the issues of the day. Are teachers being laid off in your child's school district? What should they do with Madoff and his ilk? Public stoning? Whaddya think of the education policy set forth by our dear President? (He was doing so well thus far...breaks my heart!) Will public pressure be enough to change his course? Speak out and let your voices be heard, Fellow Politicos!