Thursday, October 7, 2010

My Response to "Superman must beat Super Union to succeed" article

My Response to ‘Superman’ must beat Super Union to succeed by Nolan Finley of the Detroit News

I wanted to wait and write a post about “Waiting for Superman” until after I saw the film. There has been plenty said in the educational community, but I wanted to try and keep an open mind until I saw it. This post is not about the movie I have not seen, but about the article in today’s Detroit News by Nolan Finely. The article, “ ‘Superman’ must beat Super Union to succeed” just rubbed me the wrong way. I wanted to respond to some of his comments from a teacher’s point a view. I know listening to an actual public school teacher on education reform is an unheard of practice, but please bear with me.

Mr. Nolan says that educations reform’s “primary villains are the teacher unions that use archaic contracts to block change”. He does a nice job of painting an entire group of professionals as the guys with the black hats and curly mustaches. He also says, “Nobody wins when schools can’t fire teachers who can’t teach.” On this fact, I couldn’t agree with him more. If a school wants to fire a teacher who is not during their job, they actually can. There is a process in place that allows teachers to be removed for being terrible teachers. It is the job of the administrators to identify these teachers through observations and remove them after they have shown no improvement over time. If administration chooses not to go through the motions of removing bad teachers, they should lose their jobs. They get paid the extra money to deal with these issues. Tenure does not protect bad teachers; it actually protects good teachers from bad administrators. Sadly, I’ve heard of stories were good teachers have fallen on the bad side of administrators because they did not agree with school improvement ideas or other admin led plans. Tenure also protects the teachers from school boards that would prefer to save money from cutting good, but expensive teachers, and replacing them with new and cheaper ones. It is really bothersome that people think there are tons of bad teachers and nobody wants to get rid of them. That should not be a knock on the unions, it should be a knock on admins for hiring bad teachers and letting them hang around.

“At the same time, outstanding teachers should be richly compensated. Merit pay would reward the very best teachers and motivate average teachers to excel. It would also bring teacher compensation in line with other professions.” This just really ticks me off. I hate the notion that I would work harder if you waved a twenty dollar bill in my face. I bust my butt because I’m a professional and I love my job. Merit pay suggests that there are teachers everywhere that could be great and only need incentives to work harder. If someone went into to teaching in the hopes of higher pay, they were crazy. Nobody became a teacher because of the pay. Would I like more money? Yes, I would love to get paid more for my job. Who wouldn’t? The sad thing with merit pay is that it would hurt kids and the overall profession. What teacher would volunteer to teach the remedial students? Who lucks out and gets the honors and AP kids? Why would teaches share lessons if their lesson would ensure they get paid more than their peers? Merit pay insults teachers that work hard every day and deal with the hand they have been dealt.

“Finally, we have to stop blaming parents for the failure of their children. Yes, bad parenting is a root cause of the learning crisis in America. But waiting for parenting to improve is wasting time.” Wow, Nolan has given up on parents doing their job. Well done. I have a student in my class for a total of 250 minutes a week. Now, those 250 minutes need to be divided amongst the other 30 students in my class. That division is not equal because of the special needs students and those that just need an extra minute or two to understand the lesson. That leaves me a few minutes of one on one time with a student in my class. I’m not a parent. I hope to be damn good parent when I have kids. Nolan admits that “bad parenting is a root of the learning crisis” but says trying to fix that is a waste of time? I don’t care how much support a school offers, if education is not important in the home, it will not be very important to the students. I’m not suggesting that programs that help students dealing with broken homes are not valuable. They are very valuable, by why do parents get a pass but teachers get thrown under the bus. I have 150 kids a day that I need to look after and teach and it is too much to ask parents on 1 or 2 kids to support them at home? Maybe the problem is that people have given up on trying offer support to entire families. Parents are needed and they need to be part of the discussion. Saying that waiting for parenting to improve is a waste time is a very defeatist attitude and will not solve the real problem.

“We also must free the creativity of teachers. The obsession with standardized testing as a measure of learning has forced teachers to teach the test and provided little room for creative techniques. Memorization is not education. Student achievement must be tracked, but a better formula must be found than layers of tests that encourage rote learning.” This is the smartest thing he said. I couldn’t agree with him more. Standardized testing is a terrible thing that doesn’t test knowledge, it tests memorization. Creative teachers are the best teachers. Teachers need that freedom to show kids how to think critically and solve large problems. Memorization is nice, but not applicable in most situations. Application is what students need to understand. What Nolan doesn’t understand is that you can’t ask for Merit Pay and also suggest getting rid of the standardized testing. How does he think that teachers are going to be evaluated? If he thinks that tests are not going to be part of the process of assessing teachers, it shows that he has no idea of how the government thinks when it comes to assessment.

I love that education is a hot topic right now. It is important and should be discussed. However, why is it that everyone thinks they are an expert when it comes to education just because they went to school? I drive a car, but I do not consider myself an expert mechanic. The Secretary of Education has never taught a day in his life. Does that mean he cannot be a good Secretary? No, but when someone is suggesting to me how I can be better at my job, I would like to know that person has done my job. The Surgeon General is a doctor right?

I’m also not a fan of how all public schools are lumped into the same category. There are many great public school systems that work just fine and send kids to college each and every year. Yes there are bad teachers. I’m not afraid to say that. There are also bad lawyers, doctors and even downright criminal politicians. There are means to remove these people from their jobs if they are found to be terrible. It’s not always an easy process, but it can be done. Bad teachers are removed. It happens. What about criminal school boards or administrators? They seem to stick around for as long as they want. What has happened in Detroit is criminal and it has nothing to do with the Teachers. Corrupt public officials have brought the city and school system to its knees. Blaming teachers is easy when removing the people you voted for turn out to be crooked.

I wish there were more average Joe/Joan teachers that were asked about the state of education. Grab these teachers and sit them down and ask them questions. I think the reason you can’t find any is because we are too busy teaching the kids of the people that are claiming to be “experts” in education.


  1. Excellent response. I hope you email this to the author of the article. He needs to hear your thoughts.

  2. I agree with a lot of your points. Paying teachers more would be helpful, I think, in getting good teachers to stay - attrition is terrible. Absolutely awful. But merit pay is a trickier thing - and if you believe standardized tests aren't so hot, as he appears to, you are in a conundrum. Most merit pay or proposed merit pay plans rely heavily on standardized test scores. Yikes.

    I do think it's much more difficult to have teachers fired than some want to admit. But yes - admins need to let teachers go rather than bounce them around districts. One difficult thing is that teachers don't really seem to hit their stride until a few years after they've started, so it makes it tricky. How long do you support a new teacher? A struggling teacher?

    Great point about parents. You can only do so much, and anyone who pretends home life isn't a real, incredible force in student achievement is ignoring reality.


  3. Another great post. You hit every point on the head and spoke for many of us. Thank you. We public educators NEED to have our voices heard on these matters. Thanks for being such a well spoken one!

  4. If we can't blame parents anymore for their children's failure, does this mean I can't take credit for my children's success? Maybe we should do merit pay for parents of successful children, that way we can really motivate parents!

    Not holding parents accountable for their children may be the stupidest thing I have heard from this whole ed reform debate (and that is saying something!)

  5. I totally agree with "Tenure does not protect bad teachers; it actually protects good teachers from bad administrators." I've seen this in schools, and I think this reason is the biggest upside to tenure.

    Thanks for sharing your reaction.

  6. I very glad you took the time to respond to this author. Thanks!

  7. I agree with you on every point in your blog. Finley misses the mark in his shotgun approach against unions, trying to make the reform movement out to be a war between charter (read: non-union wearing the white hats) and public schools. This notion of public schooling is very complex in a political system that promotes liberty and justice for all. It becomes even more complex as we venture forth in a new era of digital communication in a global society. Pointing fingers before sitting down together in an engaging dialog about policy and programs for our children’s and our nation’s future may not be helpful. Being open minded and respectful will lead to better dialog about the vision we wish to create for hopeful learning environments.

  8. *clapping* this needs to be sent to the editor. Do it right now!
    Your last sentence sums it all up well "I think the reason you can't find any is because we are too busy teaching the kids of the people that are claiming to be "experts" in education". That is exactly right!

  9. So glad you took the time to respond to this article. All you wrote is so true. I am going to share this with many teachers at my school. Maybe you could post this article in the newspaper.

  10. Well stated Nick! And thank you for standing up. I hope you sent a copy of this to the paper, perhaps as an editorial or at least a comment on the online version of the article. I have to say that I agree 95% with what you said. The only point of contention for me is the tenure issue. I actually think tenure's security is an illusion and an oppressive one at that. I agree 100% with the stated need that tenure is supposed to address but I don't think it does it's job. It actually causes many good teachers with experience to be unemployable (when coupled with other contractual measures) and in the case that a teacher is in an abusive position the institution of tenure actually holds them down and makes them endure the abuse. I actually just wrote about this issue last week on my blog:

    How tenure gave rise to Teach for America

  11. Thank you for your wonderful rebuttal to the article. I completely agree with your comments about how there are so many higher-ups who have no teaching/education experience and spout tons of ideas. The government should get input from educators and professionals in the field when making decisions.

    Definitely submit this to the newspaper that published the original article.

  12. Well..the movie just came out so do you have an update?

    I just came across your site after watching the movie. Just a couple issues I have with your points.

    1. You basically say that it's okay that administrators have to jump through a million hoops to fire a bad teacher because they get paid more for their efforts. What kind of backward logic is that? It should be as easy to fire a bad teacher as it is to fire a bad accountant or a bad lawyer or any other professional. The purpose of a school is to educate children... period. Will there be some teachers who get fired for petty reasons? Sure. That happens in every profession. That's life. On the whole, however, making it easier to fire bad teachers will ensure a better education for our students.

    2. Merit Pay. Again, I don't understand your logic. Most professions reward higher performance with higher salaries. I understand that teachers should do their best regardless, but sometimes it's not so much a matter of desire, but ability. Also, in management theory merit pay is not so much a carrot, but is a way to retain quality staff and improve an organization's overall effectiveness. Again, it is about the students. It doesn't matter if you feel personally insulted for some reason.


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