Saturday, August 14, 2010

More human prop blues for the White House

Remember when President Obama's speech pushing for the extension of unemployment insurance featured a human prop who turned out to have been fired for prescription drug fraud? Well, they had another failure with their choice of human props as Obama signed the new stimulus package to keep teachers employed. This time, it wasn't because of any personal fault of the woman chosen, but due to the reason why one teacher had lost her job. Investors Business Daily has the story.
The scene didn't look unusual. Next to Obama during his morning plea from the Rose Garden were two teachers, one of them Shannon Lewis, who had been laid off at Hampshire High School in West Virginia. Everything looked so normal that we even included in our I&I pages a photo of her at the evening bill signing.

But Lewis wasn't laid off because the government could no longer afford to pay her. She was laid off "because of an enrollment decline in Hampshire County," the Charleston Daily Mail reports.

"Even if the state were in boom times, the current school aid formula would not support her salary."
So is the President's position that taxpayers should keep paying for teachers' jobs even if there aren't enough students for them to teach?
Public school employment, the Cato Institute reported in its @ Liberty blog, has increased 10 times faster than public school enrollment since 1970 — and the result has been stagnant test scores.

Despite these facts, Democrats continue to funnel money into teachers' pockets, rewarding them for a job poorly done. And the party is getting a rich return. Democrats are heavily supported by teachers union money — the top two teachers unions make 95% of their political donations to Democrats, according to — and union members' votes.

This is another set of unsavory facts the Democrats want the public to forget. But when the party's top operator tries to hoodwink voters by bringing in what amounts to a shill for a photo op, he reminds everyone of this unwholesome alliance.
Now some of that increase may be due to the increase in special ed teachers since more disabilities have been recognized and more care has been mandated for those students since the early 1970s. Many states have adopted initiatives to decrease the average class size though the research is ambiguous as to what the results are of lowering class size.
Most often cited is a large-scale, four-year study of smaller class sizes in Tennessee in the 1980s. The study found that by eighth grade, children who had had smaller classes in kindergarten through third grade had substantial advantages in all subjects over their peers who had been in larger classes.

Others dispute the importance of smaller classes; the debate is far from settled.

Researcher Eric Hanushek called it "kind of silly" that advocates still rely on 20-year-old data from Tennessee. He pointed to other studies that showed small to negligible benefits for kids in small classes.

"All the research suggests the number of kids is much less important than who is teaching the class," said Hanushek, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "In the face of budget problems, allowing class size to move a little bit makes all the sense in the world."

"In fact, to the extent you put ineffective teachers into classrooms, you're much better off by keeping larger classes with effective teachers," he said.
With the last hired, first fired rules that the unions insist upon, a low quality teacher may be retained in place of an energetic, gifted new teacher. Students may end up in bigger classes with the weaker teacher.

What school districts should do as their student enrollment falls is a debate worth having. But the White House's choice of a human prop at the Rose Garden ceremony may point to where they stand - keep teachers hired whether or not the students are there for them to teach.

And once again, the dramatists who set the scene for a White House event seem to be incapable of doing their homework. Maybe that's not a lesson they learned in their school classrooms.