Why Are We So ‘Down’ on Public School Classroom Teachers?
Bob Pritts is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or wilsoncountynews.com.
(Perhaps we are placing our ire on the wrong folks)
The first American public school was authorized to exist by the Town of Dedham in the Massachusetts Bay Colony on January 2, 1643 ... nearly 150 years before the establishment of the United States. Not until after the American Revolution did the states begin to stress the importance of education. Schools were supplied publicly, state by state, community by community, but were not free. They focused on what they termed ‘elementary’ education, grades K-8. In the 1830’s, Horace Mann, an education reformer, became the first Secretary of the Board of Education for Massachusetts. Mann was in the forefront in promoting the institution of common schools. His influence on education in Massachusetts soon spread to all states in the U.S. at the time. By 1870, not only did all states have public education as part of their obligation to the citizenry, but it was free!
Three years prior, in 1867, a federal Department of Education was initiated by then President Andrew Johnson as a cabinet level position. Shortly thereafter it was deemed as unconstitutional and, in 1868, it was demoted to an Office of Education status. It was not implemented to cabinet level status again until President Jimmy Carter, in 1979, signed Public Law 96-88 known as the Department of Education Organization Act, which once again gave it cabinet level authority. This time an ultra-liberal Supreme Court, in 1979, certified it as constitutional, reversing the 1868 Supreme Court! And this presumably from interpretation from the same document ... The Constitution of the United States! President Reagan tried for eight years to have it repealed citing Amendment X of the U.S. Constitution ‘Bill of Rights’ as his reasoning ... “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people”. With an unyielding Congress and an unwilling Supreme Court, Reagan failed.
In 2007 President Bush signed into law H.R. 584 which designated the ED Headquarters facility as the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education Building. Today there are over 5,000 Education Department employees in Washington, D.C., alone with a yearly budget just under $80B. And, our current president wants to raise its budget! Those are your wasted tax dollars, folks! How many federal and state education department employees does it take to educate your child in the classroom ... almost none! Most have never even been in an actual classroom since they graduated, let alone taught in one. As a matter of fact, an inordinate percentage of the employees are lawyers. I wonder why that is?
We need to take a look inside our own state now, and it’s not much different from any other. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has a main office in Austin. This office houses over 900 employees. It also oversees what are called Regional Offices. Region 20 is the office for San Antonio. These offices are filled with master degreed and doctor degreed individuals as well as a host of lawyers. Of course they also include a significant number of clerical and administrative personnel. We’re talking about billions of dollars in taxpayer resources at work. As well, many of these folks have not ever been classroom teachers but are charged with developing programs and mandates for teachers in a good intentioned effort of helping classroom teachers better perform their jobs. Most of the mandates and programs called for in the No Child Left Behind act, passed by George Bush, do nothing more than get in the way of our classroom teachers performing the jobs for which they were trained and hired in the first place. Have you ever heard of ‘teaching to the test’?
Try as I might, the latest figures I could get for the cost of operating the agency and all its subordinate offices and associations was from the 2002-2003 school term. Are they trying to hide recent history? Be that as it may, those taxpayer dollars are spread out as follows ... $17.6B in local revenue (property taxes mostly), $11.1B from Texas government, and $3.3B from federal government. That added to a total of $32B, and that was six years ago. The cost per student public school student was $7,088. We can only assume, using an annual inflation rate of 3%, that Texas taxpayers now spend approximately $35.8B on public school education. The TEA budget to perform these services on behalf of us is not known, or in any case could be found during my research.
In the third paragraph above I stated that it takes almost no federal or state education department employees to educate your child in the classroom. But I’m not naïve enough to believe that certain positions in particular within state government, must be maintained to provide oversight and funding. In the federal government, leveling off funding and providing guidance as to what our leaders believe are a decent set of goals for our schools and students should be about all they provide. That just simply keeps all the individual states on a route to a common goal for the nation at large. Simply put, a high school graduate hired from Texas schools will have the same (or similar) basic education and skills as, say, someone hired from Montana for the same position.
Let’s take a look at just how those programs and mandates dished out by the 7 or 8 thousand government workers above actually disturb and demoralize some of our most talented classroom teachers. Everyone wants immigrants legally entering our shores to learn and speak English proficiently. It’s the language of opportunity and success in America. Do we all agree? So, the TEA issued a program manual called the Texas Observation Protocol (TOP). It contained 387 pages on how a state certified English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher was to properly identify the correct placement of a student in the Texas Public School System. Of course, the responsibility and accountability would fall on the foreign language teacher in the school. Well, it goes much deeper than that.
When the Limited English Proficiency (LEP) student, who speaks a Language Other Than English (LOTE), arrives at the school, he or she is met post haste by the ESL teacher. During a sit down with the student, the ESL teacher administers a Language Assessment Scales (LAS) test. The LAS is nothing more than the old Oral Language Proficiency Test (OLPT), which is an acronym no longer used. The school sends a letter home and asks such questions as “do you speak English in the home”, etc. The LAS test consists of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. After the teacher prepares and assesses the test results, a meeting is called summoning at least one administrator, another teacher, and a parent (who don’t have a clue as to how the ESL teacher plans to immerse the new student in English). But the process fulfills the state mandate. This meeting is called the Language Proficiency Assessment Committee or (LPAC). Follow me so far? It gets worse.
After the child is officially in the school, he or she must be main-streamed into a modified program in the core classes ... History, Math, Science, etc. Sorry, I used ‘modified’ above. The state has now requested that ESL teachers are to instruct the core teachers on how to ‘accommodate’ the LEP student. Apparently ‘modified’ put some kind of politically incorrect stigma on the child. To better serve the efforts of the ESL teacher, the state supplied a set of programs that would fit in with the new manual they were preparing. It is called Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System or TELPAS. It contains many of the same mandates as before but requires much more from the ESL and core teachers.
From the very beginning of the TOP program, all Texas ESL teachers were required to take a yearly ESL Certification test. If they passed, they could continue in the district as a certified ESL instructor. If not, the district had to quickly find a certified ESL teacher to replace him or her since the state also mandates that each district in Texas must have at least one certified ESL teacher. TELPAS requires that all teachers, including the core teachers, take the same ESL test that the ESL teachers have to take on a yearly basis! If the core teachers do not pass the test, they cannot rate the LEP students work during the year. That’s almost the ultimate in stupidity. But, the testing contractor, hired by the state, gets their fee anyway. By the way, when the ESL teacher takes the all day test, the district hires a substitute. That means the LEP student goes yet another day without a qualified teacher and the teacher gets one day farther behind in the process. Government programs at work!
This is only one program. Can you imagine the wasted amount of time taken away from classroom education from all the adherence and documentation required of today’s teachers? It’s enormous.
The above is but one of dozens upon dozens of ridiculous, egregious government programs that take away more and more of the classroom teachers’ time away from the students. At the end of the movie Teachers, starring Nick Nolte, Nick’s character chastised his principle after a fire alarm was set off as a prank by a student. The school emptied. The principle said “where do you think you’re going. Half these kids won’t even come back”. Nick turned and said, “damn it Roger. This school wasn’t built for the system or you or me. It was built for the kids! Besides (smiling) ... half of them will! What can I say? I’m a teacher!”