Thursday, September 02, 2004

Red Meat For Red Staters

While speaking about last night's speeches by Zell Miller and Richard Cheney, Susan Estrich, Democratic policy wonk, (and manager of the infamous(ly) misbegotten campaign of 1988 Democratic Nominee Michael Dukakis, yeah the guy that rode in the tank) has said that, "Tonight was red meat night, at the Republican Convention." Even though Estrich "blew" the Dukakis election effort, she was "right-on" last evening. Delegates (and we assume the television audience) were told what they wanted to hear.

Among other absurdities, us out here in TV land got to see Vice President (Dick) Cheney preach to us about how well public education is doing in our country. Of course the party goers (otherwise known as delegates) lapped all this up and demonstrated their satisfaction with repeated bleating of, "Four More Years." Like the sheep from Orwell's Animal Farm, it went on and on.

According to Cheney, public education is "on the uptick." To quote the Vice President's remarks, "No Child Is Going To Be Left Behind."

Now let's understand something. Your EdWonk is a practicing classroom teacher, and has been for more years than he cares to disclose. He is one of those unfortunate souls that will be "held accountable" if someone else's children do not learn the state-mandated material in the amount of time given, and to the designated level of mastery. So the EdWonk has more than a passing interest anytime the word accountability is thrown in his direction.

To continue with Cheney and the other Neo Conservatives out there that want teachers to work miracles without miraculous increases in compensation, Mr. Cheney and his ilk still do not think that public school teachers are working hard enough. Their aim is ambitious: "No child shall be left behind." What your EdWonk wants to know is when are all these politicos going to realize that the people that are actually doing the work of teaching students are being left behind?

All the time, educators are being hammered with data. Lengthy statistics are compiled on children regarding test scores, reading level, family income, race, and parent's education level. I am sure that there exists another database, doubtless secret, with such things as whether the child is left or right handed, shoe size, eye color, number of overdue library books, and whether or not the parents kiss their boy or girl on the cheek before sending him or her off to school every day.

Any classroom teacher will tell you that not only are statistics compiled on students, but they are also compiled on teachers. What the bureaucracy does is count the number of students in a given classroom that learn the material at advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, and far below basic levels. If the teacher has a larger number of high achievers, than he or she earns a little praise. Or the teacher is accused of cheating.

If the number of students being labeled as basic and below basic is larger than the norm, then the teacher's job is threatened. This all sounds logical, if not exactly humane.

What is left out of all the rhetoric about accountability is the fact that the teacher has no influence on what students, and at what ability level, and how many, are assigned to his or her classroom. The rule is: "Teach them if they darken your doorway." Who makes these assignments? The answer is that students are assigned by school administrators.

It is a well-known fact in the education world that Principal's Favorites tend to get the more academically gifted and well-behaved students, and those that are on the Principal's Enemies List get the more academically/behaviorally challenged students. That has been the way it has been ever since there have been principals and teachers. Principal's Favorites do well, and outsiders typically do not. Sadly, the Favorites are held up as examples for every one else.

One statistic that your EdWonk would like to see is how many teachers are attending the Republican Convention. After all, many are still on summer hiatus. (It's not a vacation, as there is no pay.) Even though public educators have been labeled as notoriously liberal, those that actually teach in public schools tend to be very conservative people. Those educators that are actually liberal tend to be found on college campuses where they are well-insulated from the actual effects of liberalism.

With all this emphasis on accountability and working much harder for no additional compensation, perhaps it is us classroom teachers that need to be "Educated."