Monday, June 7, 2010

Schooling George F. Will

George F. Will thinks that teachers should suck it up and face the recession like everyone else.

This week, when Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess, many Democrats, having gone an eternity — more than a week — without spending billions of their constituents’ money, will try to make up for lost time by sending another $23 billion to states to prevent teachers from being laid off. The alternative to this “desperately” needed bailout, says Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is “catastrophe.” Amazing. Just 16 months ago, in the stimulus legislation, Congress shoveled about $100 billion to education, including $48 billion in direct aid to states. According to a University of Washington study, this saved more than 342,000 teaching and school staff positions — about 5.5 percent of all the positions in America’s 15,000 school systems.

The federal component of education spending on kindergarten through 12th grade, the quintessential state and local responsibility, has doubled since 2000, to 15 percent. Now the supposed emergency, and states’ dependency, may be becoming routine and perpetual.


While the private sector has shed 8.5 million jobs — 7.4 percent of workers — during the recession, local governments have lost only 141,000, less than 1 percent. Duncan says the $23 billion is for an “emergency.” But, then, what isn’t an emergency nowadays? The Senate just passed a $60 billion “emergency” supplemental appropriation for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are “emergencies” as Washington understands that term: They are regularly recurring surprises. Watch for an attempt to attach the $23 billion for teachers to the war-funding bill.

A couple of points here. First, the stimulus funds that finally got down to the schools were used to pay for the teachers that were mandated by the No Child Left Behind act put into place by the Bush administration. Up until the stimulus funding arrived, most school districts were struggling to meet the requirements for state standards in tests and classroom size reduction, including Florida. Meanwhile, the state legislatures were taking away the state and local funding from education based on the theory that hey, if the if feds are going to kick in a few billion bucks through ARRA, why should we pay for our schools? At the present time, there are no plans to replace the stimulus funds when they go away next year. Then what? Hold bake sales?

Second, on the philosophical level, it’s always amusing — or it would be if it wasn’t so tragic — to hear conservatives put everything into the perspective of “think of the children,” a catch-phrase they use to sum up all of their arguments for everything from shaming a president for having an affair to deficit spending. But when it comes to education, they are perfectly willing to cut the legs out from both the teachers and administrators who actually run the schools by paying them a pittance or by saddling them with requirements and no means to pay for them. It’s bad enough that education is underfunded at the state level and teachers have to use their own money to buy supplies for their classrooms, but to have to put up with the disrespect and derision from the likes of Mr. Will and the crowd that thinks that teachers have it so easy is both disgusting and hypocritical.

If he thinks teachers in the public schools have it easy, I’ll make him a little challenge: work one week in a high school here in Miami. Just one week teaching high school English – after all, he seems to be proud of his grammar skills – and I’ll make it easy for him; I’ll get him a slot at one of our nationally-ranked A schools. And we’ll pay him a salary that is commensurate with his degrees and experience; with a Ph.D. and some college teaching experience he would start in the low $40,000 range. I guarantee that by the last bell on Friday, after teaching five classes a day, doing the requisite paperwork, attending the required meetings and taking a couple of sessions of professional development, attending a few mandatory after-school events, doing a few DIY projects to keep the classroom in shape, and doing some assistant coaching on the baseball team, then going home and doing prep for the next day, he’ll be marching with the teachers union demanding that the schools get all the money they need.