“Conservatism Can Cure Classroom Cancer, Blah, Blah, Blah”

George Will’s column in Saturday’s Joplin Globe touted the efforts of John Kline, a Minnesota congressman who is on a crusade—or is it a Marine expedition, since Will makes a major issue of Kline’s military background—to use his position as chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee to, oddly, get the federal government out of education.

Yes, I know. That’s nothing new.  Will’s column touted the usual conservative chestnuts: Teachers’ unions are the root of all education evil, charter schools “operating outside union restrictions” are the answer, conservatism can cure classroom cancer, blah, blah, blah.

But one of those blahs had to do with No Child Left Behind and that law’s decree “that schools shall achieve 100 percent proficiency by 2014.” Will suggested that states, which are nearly en masse failing to meet the current proficiency targets, have “a powerful incentive” “to define proficiency down,” much like the state of South Carolina, heaven-on-earth for conservatives, has.  Then Will wrote this:

There also are reasons to suspect that NCLB‘s threat of labeling schools as failures constitutes an incentive to cheat. In a number of jurisdictions, including 103 schools in the District of Columbia, machines that grade the tests have detected suspiciously high levels of erasures as test-takers changed incorrect to correct answers.

Now, George Will doesn’t say so, but any “cheating” that occurred in the District of Columbia occurred under the tenure of D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, currently a conservative hero (don’t give me any of that, “but she’s a Democrat” nonsense; she is openly cheerleading for Republican governors who are attacking teachers and their unions). 

Rhee—Will once praised her for being “constructively confrontational“—is the leader of the so-called “education reform” movement, which should really be called the “get professional teachers out of education” movement.  

I last saw Rhee, who resigned after her boss, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, was defeated in the 2010 Democratic primary, on the IQ-eroding Fox and Friends, where she exclaimed: “I’m a huge fan of Governor Christie,” referring to the current political champion of right-wingers everywhere, the governor of New Jersey. 

Indeed, it was Rhee, perhaps more than anyone else in the country, who made it safe for Republicans like Christie and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker to bash teachers and trash their unions.

But, because there is still such a thing as journalism, USA Today did an expose of sorts on Michelle Rhee and her alleged success in dramatically improving the standardized test scores in Washington, D.C., most notably of a formerly low-performing school, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus.

Using some old-fashioned authoritarianism, as well as her laissez-faire formula for education success, Rhee fired teachers and handed out awards and bonuses for improved performance, especially using Noyes as the poster-school to validate her approach.

But it turns out that, as Will mentioned without mentioning USA Today‘s reporting, the improvement in test scores may not have been real. The paper reported:

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes’ classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.

Gene Lyons wrote a couple of weeks ago—which is how I first learned of increasing doubts about the Rhee-inspired phenomenon in D.C.—that,  

Although the national media appear determined not to notice, similar testing scandals have taken place in New York, Texas, Georgia, California — basically anywhere school funding and/or jobs have been linked directly to multiple-choice testing. Private charter schools as well as public schools, incidentally.

“This is like an education Ponzi scam,” a teacher’s union official told USA Today. “If your test scores improve, you make more money. If not, you get fired. That’s incredibly dangerous.”

Yes, it’s dangerous.  Test-driven formulas for education excellence, as the conservative George Will and the liberal Gene Lyons both might agree, are not a panacea for the real or imagined ills of our education system. (Lyons points out that over the last 30 years “overall student performance” has actually gone up.)

Now, someone just needs to tell President Obama, who seems to have embraced the idea of test-heavy reforms.

Will says that Rep. Kline,

promises that the current system for measuring “adequate yearly progress” “will not exist when we are done.”

We shall see about Kline’s promise, but if that happens it will be an unwitting repudiation of Michelle Rhee’s effort to, in the words of education historian, Diane Ravitch, “subject public education to free-market forces, including competition, decision by data, and consumer choice.” 

Ravitch continues:

All of this sounds very appealing when your goal is to buy a pound of butter or a pair of shoes, but it is not a sensible or wise approach to creating good education. What it produces, predictably, is cheating, teaching to bad tests, institutionalized fraud, dumbing down of tests, and a narrowed curriculum.

It has also produced a conservative celebrity, sometimes openly promoted by Democrats, Michelle Rhee.

Finally, it needs to be said here that there is no magic in turning ill-nourished kids raised in anti-learning environments, mostly without an intact and interested family, into little Einsteinian prodigies, which, I suppose, is what some Americans expect teachers to do in urban schools and elsewhere.

Standardized tests won’t do it. Cutting teachers’ pay, or taking away their collective bargaining rights, won’t do it.  Devilizing their unions and starting non-union charter schools won’t do it.

Perhaps nothing will do it.

But a start might be to stop blaming teachers and start listening to them. Commenting on the anti-teacher film, Waiting for “Superman,” Richard Kahlenberg wrote in The Washington Post that the movie,

implies that teachers unions are to blame for the failures of urban education and that non-unionized charter schools are the solution. The movie includes no acknowledgment that the things teachers want for themselves – more resources devoted to education, smaller class sizes, policies that allow them to keep order in the classroom – are also good for kids.

Resources devoted to education? Smaller class sizes? Order in the classroom?

Imagine that.  Teachers actually want things that are good for the kids.

Who would’ve thunk it?

America: A Center-Left Country

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, unfortunately for Republican budget-slashers, teacher-bashers and union-trashers, indicates the following:

           Positive Feelings Toward:  Negative Feelings Toward:

Teachers                        73%                                  10%

Teachers’ unions            47%                                  30%

Public Employee unions  38%                                  34%

Labor Unions                  38%                                  36%

 

Government should do more:   Government doing too much:

                       51%                                      46%

 

Top issue for government to address:

Job creation and economic growth  56%

Deficit and government spending….40%

Health care…………………………………..   28%

National Security and terrorism……. 20%

Energy and the cost of gas………….  20%

Iraq and Afghanistan……………………  13%

 

Tea Party Supporter?

    Yep:  29%     Nope: 61%

Favor right to collective bargaining for public employees?

    Yep: 77%      Nope: 19%

Cut Medicaid to reduce the deficit? 

    Nope: 67%    Yep: 32%

Cut Medicare to reduce the deficit?

    Nope: 76%    Yep: 23%

Cut Social Security to reduce the deficit?

    Nope: 77%    Yep: 22%

Cut K thru 12 education to reduce the deficit?

    Nope: 77%    Yep: 22%

Cut unemployment insurance? 

    Nope: 55%     Yep: 43%

Raise income taxes on millionaires? 

    Yep: 81%       Nope: 17%

Eliminate tax credits for oil and gas industry?

    Yep: 74%       Nope: 22%

Reduce Medicare and Social Security benefits for wealthy?

    Yep: 62%      Nope: 37%

Eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood?

    Nope 53%     Yep  45%

Judging by the chutzpah of Wisconsin and Ohio and Indiana Republicans—a Wisconsin GOP Senator has referred to the protesters in the Capitol building as “slobs” and “a different breed“— one would think that public employee unions, including teachers’ unions, were hated by a strong majority of Americans. Nope.

Judging by the chutzpah of national Republicans—cutting spending and cutting taxes—one would think that a strong majority of Americans were pining for a smaller government, for government to do less. Not so.

This is a center-left country, as I have said repeatedly.

Want To Make Yourself Sick?

If you want to make yourself absolutely sick, listen to the conversation below—posted today—between someone pretending to be billionaire and master of the conservative-libertarian universe David Koch and Governor Scott Walker. 

The Wisconsin governor was punked by current editor at the Buffalo Beast, Ian Murphy. The Beast is an online newspaper founded by Matt Taibbi.  As I said, it makes you sick to know for sure—of course, we always suspected it—that this stuff is going on behind the scenes. 

If you want a partial transcript go to the Beast site, but just to give you an example, during the conversation, “David Koch” says, “We’ll back you any way we can,” and then follows it with this:

David Koch“: What we were thinking about the crowds was planting some troublemakers.

Governor Walker: We thought about that…

Here are the two parts of the conversation, which confirms what those of us on this side have said about Governor Walker’s motives:

George Will Rats Out Wisconsin Governor

George Will has done us a favor by ratting out Governor Scott Walker.

But first:

Will’s latest assault on public employee unions is full of his usual lack of candor dressed up as an excess of it.  Writing about the goings-on in Madison, Wisconsin, he says:

This capital has been convulsed by government employees sowing disorder in order to repeal an election.

The convulsion is, of course, a convulsion of democracy, which Mr. Will and his fellow conservatives like Glenn Beck—whom Will resembles more and more with each column—just don’t seem to like all that much.

Unless the convulsive sowers have tea bags hanging from their hats.

Beck said on his radio show on Tuesday:

What is the job of he AFL-CIO?  I contend the job of the AFL-CIO is to create a global disruption…sowing the seeds of a global revolution.

So we have:

Will: “government employees sowing disorder.”

Beck: “AFL-CIO…sowing the seeds of a global revolution.”

As they say, paranoid minds think alike.

George Will (or Glenn Beck) never once characterized Tea Party town hall protesters as sowers of disorder, whose delirious democratic seizures were by design intended to repeal the 2008 election.  Not once. 

But nevermind that inconsistency. Here’s the ratting-out part:

In his Beckish column, Will’s Reaganization—deification, for conservatives—of Governor Scott Walker merely repeats the half-truths, quarter-truths, and lies that is the “it’s my story and I’m sticking to it” strategy of the Governor and his Republican allies. 

But we’ve heard all the misleading statements of the Governor.  No need to recount those. What we haven’t heard, and what Will contributes to the controversy, is this little paragraph about Walker’s motives:

I am convinced,” he says, “this is about money – but not the employees’ money.” It concerns union dues, which he wants the state to stop collecting for the unions, just as he wants annual votes by state employees on re-certifying the unions. He says many employees pay $500 to $600 annually in union dues – teachers pay up to $1,000. Given a choice, many might prefer to apply this money to health care premiums or retirement plans. And he thinks “eventually” most will say about the dues collectors, “What do we need this for?”

There it is for all to see.  No need to learn it from a Democrat or a union leader. The Governor’s goal is to make unions unnecessary by starving them to death, sort of the way Republicans have starved government through massive tax cuts, hoping to shrink it small enough to drown it in a Koch cocktail.

From the start, this was all about killing the public employee unions and there is no hiding that fact now.

And we have George Will, who had hoped to apotheosize Scott Walker, to thank for it.

Republicans And The Neo-Feudal State

In Wisconsin, we have on display the strategy of the Republican Party to transform the entire country into something that will, in some disturbing ways, resemble the feudal states of old.

And Democrats everywhere need to pay attention.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who is good friends with GOP budget guru Congressman Paul Ryan, is undertaking an assault—he has threatened to bring out the National Guard—on public workers and their unions that is unprecedented and it is being done in the name of “a fiscal crisis,” the contemporary battle cry of Republican insurgents. 

Bryan Kennedy, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, said of Walker and his proposal:

It is a power grab, a coordinated effort to kill the union here. This is essentially the governor saying, ‘Sit down, shut up and do what you are told.’

Kennedy said this morning that the governor’s scheme, “Guts workers rights and essentially takes away the right to collectively bargain.” 

William Gould, a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board—the arbiter of disputes involving private sector unions and employers—said about the assault in Wisconsin,

I think it’s quite possible that if they’re successful in doing this, a lot of other Republican governors will emulate this.

Of course they will.  But they will emulate it whether it is successful or not because Republicans believe this is the time to launch a full-throttled attack on the last remaining stronghold of progressivism and liberalism left in our economic life.

It is no secret that public employees and public employee unions have long been a thorn in the flesh of Republicans, particularly conservatives.  There is the obvious practical reason: These unionized folks are well-organized and can mobilize in support of those who support them, usually Democrats. 

But there is a larger, more philosophical, reason that conservatives want to unleash some pent-up hate on government workers, who, through collective bargaining, have achieved decent wages and working conditions and other associated benefits, which in turn help keep upward pressure on wages and benefits in the private sector.  Thus, the public employee unions represent the only bulwark against complete domination of American economic life by the business class.  Period. 

The governor of New Jersey, Chris Jesus Christie, the savior of the Right,* says public sector unions are “greedy, selfish, and self-interested.”   The truth is that Christie and other Republicans, who would never call multi-million-dollar-making CEOs, for instance, “greedy” or “selfish,” don’t like the idea that ordinary American workers can have some leverage in the workplace, some kind of voice that is powerful enough to stand up to the Voice of Business. 

And since Republican propaganda has been very good at turning most of the private sector against unionism, the last redoubts left are the public sector unions.  It’s just that simple.

And my message to Democrats, especially President Obama, is to not only stand with your friends, but get out on the front lines and lead, while there is still time. 

Mr. Obama, who hasn’t exactly been a fearless leader on this issue, did come to the defense of public workers yesterday:

As a general proposition, everybody’s got to make some adjustments to new fiscal realities…on the other hand, some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally, seems like more of an assault on unions.

And I think it is very important for us to understand that public employees, they’re our neighbors, they’re our friends. These are folks who are teachers and they’re firefighters and they’re social workers and they’re police officers. They make a lot of sacrifices and make a big contribution.  And I think it’s important not to vilify them or to suggest that somehow all these budget problems are due to public employees.

So, I think everybody’s got to make some adjustments, but I think it’s also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to the well-being of our states and our cities.

Now, I know some liberals think that was a rather tepid response, but the Right saw it somewhat differently.  Here’s a headline from Fox “News”

Although all of us wish Obama would speak with a lot more lightning in his voice, that’s just not his style when he’s not on the campaign trail.  But it’s important to note that he did hit the right note in his assessment of what’s happening in Wisconsin.  After all, he did characterize it as “an assault on unions.”

The good news is that the good guys are fighting back.  Thousands of protesters have met the governor of Wisconsin head-on this week, and schools are closed in Madison again today, because teachers are joining the fight at the Capitol.   The truth is, though, that Republicans will likely succeed in their union-busting assault in Wisconsin.

And if this sort of thing happens all over the country, it will mean that the last outposts standing against complete corporate dominance of the American workforce will have fallen.  More important, it will mean that the Republican Party—the party of business—will have gone a long way in transforming the country into a neo-feudal state.

______________________________

* Ann Coulter, the Anti-Christ, gets all soggy over Chris Christie.  She said the other day,

I don’t care if he wants to run, his country needs him.

Now, I just want to say, that if you make Ann Coulter soggy, you are a very bad man.  A very bad man, indeed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 621 other followers

%d bloggers like this: