Save public school education: restructure the system
The public-school education system is the foundation of the American nation. For more than 100 years, the American public schools have maintained the American “melting pot” forging a mighty nation from successive waves of immigrants—a nation with common values, a common language, and respect for hard work and public service—a nation whose young people left the public schools and ended the carnage in the trenches of World War I; a nation whose young people left the public schools and saved the free world from the Nazi racism and Japanese imperialism of World War II; a nation whose young people left the public schools and held steadfast to the values that they had learned were the basis of representative democracy and the American free enterprise system long enough to see the end of the Cold War.
The essence of the American public school system are the classroom teachers. The classroom teachers educate our children. The classroom teachers guide our children through the shoals and rapids of competing ideas; the treacherous lures of unscrupulous advertising and the siren song of public relations and “spin”. The classroom teachers promote the intellectual growth of our children and provide them with skills necessary to carry forth the moral and social values of their home and families into the world of work, toil and struggle. The classroom teachers stand in loco parentis during the day and often into the evening and on weekends.
Today, our classroom teachers are taken for granted except when elected officials, bureaucrats, and assorted pundits need a scapegoat for their failures—their decades of wanton profligacy fueled by speculative frenzy based on the irrational delusions of academic economists and greedy financiers. The demagogues are proclaiming that our classroom teachers are expendable and can be discarded like a broken toy or excessed like a surplus commodity or scrapped like an obsolete machine. Not so, however, for school administrators and the educrats in the state education departments and the federal Department of Education.
A conceptual model of public school education
The conceptual model of the public school education system is quite simple. Start with the children in the classroom; add the classroom teachers and the building principal. The taxpayers who finance public school education at the local level are represented by a School Board or Board of Education who employ a superintendent of schools to manage the entire system.
Together with the service workers who support the children in the classroom and their classroom teachers, there is nothing more that our public education system requires other than the buildings and grounds where the children learn and the teachers teach.
If economic exigencies call for layoffs, those layoffs should begin with all those individuals who are not classroom teachers, a building principal, or a worker supporting the classroom teachers and the building principal.
Restructuring public school administration
Since the structure of the public school system is obvious from the conceptual model, it should be just as obvious that the administrative superstructure of our local school districts is top heavy.
The superintendent of schools is responsible for executing and implementing the policies promulgated by the school board and in many cases imposed by the state legislature and the federal government.
Coordination of educational programs throughout the school district is the non- delegable responsibility of the superintendent of schools. If the superintendent needs to obtain help in this task it should come from the most skilled and experienced classroom teachers who can be compensated directly commensurate with the additional work they perform outside of the classroom.
As the chief executive of the school district, the Superintendent needs, in addition to the building principals, only two “direct reports”: a human resources director responsible for personnel issues on a day-to-day basis and a facilities manager who is responsible for the buildings and grounds on a day-to-day basis.
The business functions of the school district can be performed by clerical workers reporting to a controller who reports directly to the School Board which is the organization responsible raising the revenue to run the school district.
Wishful thinking and unfunded mandates
Most of the unfunded mandates which are bankrupting local school districts throughout the nation are the results of wishful thinking by special interest groups. “ No Child Left Behind” and the “Race to the Top” as well as the extreme interpretations of “a free and appropriate public education for each child” in the context of Special Education are expressions of political opportunism not meaningful statements of educational philosophy. When unfunded mandates threaten the economy of the local community, the only recourse of the taxpayers and their elected representatives, the Board of Education, is to just say, “No!”
Collective bargaining and public education
If the American public school education is to regain the status it once held and again become the envy of the entire world, collective bargaining by classroom teachers individually and on behalf of all the children whose education is entrusted to them, is essential. Without collective bargaining by classroom teachers, the quality of public education will continue to decline under the weight of an ever-increasing and more
oppressive bureaucracy and administration.
Today, classroom teachers enjoy the benefits which collective bargaining over the last 50 years has brought them. There was a time, however, before then, when classroom teachers were little more than well-educated peons or serfs who could be fired without cause and whose working conditions were subject to the whims of administrators and school boards. Legislators in Wisconsin and Ohio as well as a number of other states are striving to bring back those “good old days”.
Classroom teachers and school administrators
While the classroom teachers and their school administrators are supposed to have a common interest in the education of the children entrusted to them, they do not have a common interest in the general goals of collective bargaining―wages, benefits, working conditions, and the conditions of employment. In the traditional sense, administrators are “management” and not supposed to be part of the collective bargaining unit whose members they are supposed to manage. While every employee in the public school system works for the taxpayers, the employment relationship between the classroom teacher and the taxpayers is managed by the administration.
Classroom teachers must assert their right to bargain collectively as classroom teachers and only as classroom teachers, because as classroom teachers they are bargaining not just for themselves but for the children they teach and the families of those children.
Since the end of the Korean War, the fundamental American values of thrift and patient hard work towards achievable long-term goals, together with the lessons our parents and grandparents learned during the Great Depression have been ignored. Our elected officials, the rich and famous, our media pundits, and even our fellow citizens and taxpayers are frantically looking for some group to blame for their own failings.
Classroom teachers have become a convenient target.
During the 1950s, a time within the memory of many who are now pointing fingers rather than accepting responsibility, classroom teachers were generally unorganized and unrepresented.
In those days, classroom teachers believed that as “professionals” they could not belong to labor unions because they worked for more than wages. They worked from a sincere desire to educate children and help them grow into informed, responsible citizens. What they did not realize is that their fellow citizens, particularly those seeking political advantage and economic gain were willing to accept and even exploit their dedication but were unwilling to compensate them fairly for their effort. Classroom teachers were hardly more than peons and serfs in the new postwar economy.
In Union there is strength
Since the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution in America, wage earners have
struggled to establish their basic human right to a living wage and safe and appropriate working conditions. American wage earners have also struggled for respect and recognition of their irreplaceable contribution to the American economy and the American Free Enterprise System. On Labor Day each year, to “kick off” the political campaign season, those seeking elected office at every level of government speak eloquently but without understanding about the “dignity of labor” and the importance of the wage earning worker taxpayer. Some of these candidates even make empty promises to improve the quality of life for every working and taxpaying American citizen. Yet, when elected, those same individuals quickly forget how important wage earning Americans are to our nation.
The history of the struggle of wage earners in America to obtain just compensation for their contributions to our society, and safe working conditions and equitable conditions of employment has been marked by epic confrontations: the International Ladies Garment Workers Union campaign to end sweatshops after the Triangle Shirt Waist fire; the Battle of the Overpass at the Ford Motor Company River Rouge plant when Henry Ford’s private security force attacked United Auto Workers attempting to hand out leaflets outside the plant; the plight of the Kentucky coal miners; and quite recently, the 18 year struggle of American Airlines flight attendants who were fired just because they got married.
Because the homeowners of our local communities cannot continue to pay ever higher real property taxes to support local government and public institutions such as our public schools, elected officials are claiming that public-school classroom teachers, with their non-contributory pensions and healthcare benefits are responsible for all of the economic ills that have been visited upon our communities.
The solutions proposed by these pampered princes of privilege and excess are as draconian as they are simplistic. First they would terminate the right of classroom teachers to bargain collectively individually and on behalf of the children they teach and the families of those children. After destroying the Union they would rewrite all the conditions of employment and return classroom teachers to the days when their working conditions and conditions of employment were subject to the whim of whomever signed their checks. Whatever contracts exist could be and would be abrogated without recourse.
Classroom teachers unite!
Before the budget votes each year, the classroom teachers in every public school must unite. The classroom teachers in every district need their own local union to negotiate directly with all the school boards on critical issues such as layoffs, excessing, and program eliminations. The fundamental principle to guide all negotiations by and on behalf of the classroom teachers has to be eliminate administrators before excessing classroom teachers. The parents will understand this and eventually convince their neighbors and the other taxpayers of the wisdom of this policy.
The Chinese ideograph for “crisis” is created by combining the ideographs for “danger” and “opportunity”. What the classroom teachers of America face today is nothing less than a crisis. The danger must be eliminated and only collective bargaining by an independent union whose members are only active classroom teachers can meet that danger with any chance of successfully overcoming it. The opportunity, however, is for a dramatic restructuring of the entire public school administrative organization. If a governor must find ways to cut funding for education in their State, they should look first to cut the bloated bureaucracy of their State Department of Education. Excess the educrats before a single classroom teacher is laid-off.
You who teach the children of our communities, our classroom teachers, must act on your own behalf. No one can and probably no one will do it for you. God bless all of you, and God help all of us.
20 March 2011