What Really Matters To The Teachers Union? Hint: It Ain't Teaching
I was wrong. I used to believe that the teachers’ union didn’t give a darn about the children they educated and that their sole priority was money. I now know better. Money isn’t number one with the teachers’ union. Doctrine is.
Back in September, the state of Washington was awarded a $13.2 million grant from the National Math and Science Initiative. The NMSI is the creation of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Dell Computers’ Michael Dell and others who are concerned at how poorly prepared American students are to participate in the high tech sector of our economy. Currently, only 18 percent of high school seniors qualify as adequately proficient in science. With a decreasing number of American students graduating with the minimal math and engineering competence necessary to fill the high tech labor pool, these businesses have a vested interest in promoting education in these fields.
More and more, computer and software firms are forced to look abroad for the talent needed to satisfy their labor requirements. Microsoft already outsources a considerable proportion of its software engineering to Communist China. The same United States Congress that has tried every underhanded trick to grant amnesty to illegal aliens has been reluctant to increase the number of work visas for high tech workers. This has created so severe a shortage of competent engineers that it has become an impediment to growth. Unable to find or import the labor they need, our high tech firms have been forced to outsource an ever-greater share of their engineering work, with economic and national security ramifications. For example, computer chips, hard drives and other peripherals imported from China have been found to be infected with trojans and trapdoors that would give Chinese intelligence access to our networks.
Understanding that the current political and educational environment will not solve the problem, the NMSI has endeavored to develop more home grown talent, by encouraging and rewarding education in the needed specialties.
For those who do not practice willful ignorance, the problem stands out in vivid relief. Our teachers know not of what they teach or how to teach what they do know. Two-thirds of all American physical science courses are being taught by teachers who did not major in the subject that they teach. One third of all pupils enrolled in math classes are being taught by non-majors. And, considering that, as a major in college and as a profession, education generally collects those who struggle to keep their heads above water in the shallow end of the aptitude pool, even these woeful numbers overestimate the condition of our math and science education.
Math and science education is so substandard in Washington that the state has repeatedly postponed full implementation of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning graduation requirements. It will now be at least 2013 before the math and science WASL is enforced. And teachers know that all they have to do to force further postponements is to continue doing a lousy job. That’s known as a perverse incentive.
If you want a second opinion, the Scholastic Aptitude Test scores for last year’s graduating class were the lowest in six years.
When the grant was announced, Governor Christine Gregoire crowed, “This award will help us provide significant additional support to teachers and students and, ultimately, will move us closer to a world-class, learner-focused education system.”
But then, her most loyal political benefactors, the Washington Education Association, got involved. The WEA decreed that certain clauses in the grant conflicted with the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the state. Specifically, the offending passages would reward teachers whose classrooms yield the best results. To the WEA, this qualifies as merit pay, and the WEA does not tolerate merit pay.
And so, because the WEA would not permit the state to fulfill its end of the bargain, the state had to give the money back. The Washington Education Association would rather see Washington’s children founder in perpetual mediocrity than allow the infection of merit pay to gain a toehold in the state.
It’s pitiful that while even Red China has permitted market incentives to inject vigor into its economy, American teachers’ unions elect to pursue the same sort of model that has made North Korea and Cuba the cesspools they are. If not for the parasitic passive absorption of vitality from the culture and economy it rejects, the WEA’s prohibitions would yield a similar squalor in our schools.
It’s doctrine first, money second and students last.