VDARE note- Joe, writing from the agonizing position of being a front line teacher, is certainly entitled to defend his colleagues. Many of them deserve defending. But as Peter Brimelow argues in The Worm in the Apple, the Profession – or its professional representatives, the Teachers Unions—undeniably bear much responsibility for the current mess. As our friend Lance Izumi has recently pointed out.
Teachers are underpaid, overworked and under appreciated.
They are, on the whole, dedicated and tireless in their efforts to educate and nurture young Californians.
Everyday, teachers go to work in overcrowded and under-funded schools
Teaching is a high stress profession. At any time, teachers are subject to the demands of uninformed parents and uninterested—and occasionally hostile— students. They are at the mercy of the Department of Education that develops contradictory and counter productive policies.
Despite all that teachers have to put up with, they are easy marks for critics. If a child isn't doing well, blame the teacher. When test scores are below average, hang the teacher out to dry.
And so it came as no surprise that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his State of the State address, suggested that teachers are responsible for the "disaster" that is California public education.
In his address, Schwarzenegger said that the state isn't getting its money's worth on the $50 billion investment in K-12 education. "The majority of the students," he observed, "cannot even perform at grade level."
"Where do we start?" Schwarzenegger asked rhetorically. "We start in the classroom. We start with those who hold our children's learning in their hands. We start with the teachers."
Schwarzenegger's opinion that everything starts in the classroom with the teachers reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how learning evolves.
Whenever I hear bureaucrats grousing about student performance I recommend they ask two questions before pointing fingers at teachers:
What Schwarzenegger conveniently failed to note is that California's education "disaster"—his word—began forty years ago when the Governor was still an Austrian teenager.
In the 1960s, California schools were widely regarded as the best in the nation.
A 2004 PBS special on California education titled "From First to Worst" offered a timeline of critical events during the last four decades that contributed to California's decline:
1965—The Immigration Act paved the way for a demographic change that created an education system where 55% of the students are either Hispanic or Asian. English is the second language for 40% of California's students; 25% are designated as English Learners. This student body transformation created huge challenges to teachers throughout the state.
1971 and 1976—Serrano vs. Priest unintentionally transferred funding away from poor children and towards relatively wealthy children. The two court decisions also paved the way for Proposition 13.
1978—Proposition 13 reduced property tax rates by 57% and created a steep reduction in local property tax revenue available for cities, counties, and especially for schools.
1988-1994—Whole Language Reform — which ended the practice of teaching reading by sounding out words— was, according to many educators, a bigger factor in the decline of California schools than inadequate funding.
1996—Class Size Reduction spawned an immediate teacher shortage. More than one-fourth of new teachers recruited did not have credentials. Smaller classes also meant fewer rooms and more overcrowding.
That's the history. Now let's look at the make-up of today's California student body. These are the pupils that teachers must—somehow—mold into college material.
According to Children Now, a non-profit advocacy group, 25% of K-12 enrollment is designated as English Learners, 43% speak a language other than English at home, and 33% live below the poverty line.
Schwarzenegger would probably not last one month in the pressure cooker of a K-12 classroom. And the merit pay system he proposed couldn't be administered either effectively or equitably.
What Schwarzenegger should do instead of knocking teachers is acknowledge that despite the challenges today's instructors face, they have helped California rise out of the education basement.
Dead last nationally in test results just a few years ago, California now ranks 41st even though the state tests more English learners and Special Education students than any other state.
I don't know where California schools are headed in the 21st Century. Most certainly, the state will never regain its glory days. The student population is growing too fast and is too diverse for teachers to keep up.
But Californians want to keep trying. A recent poll showed that 62% of voters say that the state should spend more on education.
Daniel Weintraub: Governor gets dose of reality in new survey
Until that day comes, Schwarzenegger will need the experienced teachers already in the system to keep the state moving forward.
Bashing teachers doesn't help anyone.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.