Friday, October 07, 2011

Obama's unemployed teacher: who is really to blame?

In Obama's style of demagoguery, people today don't have jobs because those evil Republicans are blocking his miraculous jobs plan that would help people get to work. Ignore for a few minutes that there is no real evidence that his proposals would lead to greater employment when he's just repeating the same thing that he did in his first stimulus bill, but just spending about half as much money. If it didn't work before, why would rinsing and repeating with less money be more successful now?

But just listen to the way he talks about a Boston teacher's job woes in his news conference yesterday.
“I had a chance to meet a young man named Robert Baroz. He’s an English teacher in Boston who came to the White House a few weeks ago. He’s got two decades of teaching experience. He’s got a Master’s Degree. He’s got an outstanding track record of helping his students make huge gains in reading and writing,” the president said.

“In the last few years, he’s received three pink slips because of budget cuts. Why wouldn’t we want to pass a bill that puts somebody like Robert back in the classroom teaching our kids?”
Baroz had gotten a job since he talked to the President, but that is beside the point. So is the fact that he didn't really meet with Obama, just his aides.

But consider his story that he is an experienced and successful teacher who keeps losing his job. How much of his problems are due to the strong hold that unions have on Massachusetts schools? If the unions didn't negotiate contracts that the latest hired is the first fired, perhaps his principals would keep this dedicated and gifted teacher and let go some of the deadweight teachers that every school has.

Massachusetts has had some great success with its charter schools and Baroz is an advocate of charter schools. Students are leaving the public schools when they can to flock to these charter schools. But Massachusetts has a cap on such charters. And due to the power of the teachers unions that control the Democrats who run the state, there is resistance to simply lifting that cap. Instead they have had some easing on the cap but only for the areas with the lowest performance of the schools. If the schools are successful, why not end the cap everywhere? Individual charter schools are out-performing neighboring public schools. The Boston Teachers Union, of course, has been fighting tooth and nail against such developments. They especially want to block any changes in employment contracts that would allow administrators to fire low-performing teachers and reward the better teachers.

I have two colleagues who worked in Boston public schools and they both described the pressure that the school union representatives put on individual teachers not to spend additional time beyond the contracted hours helping students. They were told not to come to work early or stay after school tutoring students because that wasn't in the contract and weakened the position of the more malleable teachers who obeyed their union reps.

If Baroz is indeed such a good teacher, there should be a job for him. But rather than the temporary aid that Obama's aid package includes, what would be much better would be for Massachusetts to lift its cap on charters so that dedicated teachers can find a permanent place to teach. It is the teachers unions that are fighting to stop that from happening. And which party have those unions become the bulwark of? And which candidate will they be fighting to reelect next year? You got it.

It's not the evil Republicans whose policy choices mean that a gifted teacher keeps losing his job; it is the policy choices of the Democratic Party's close allies who have created an environment where mediocre, but senior teachers stay employed and the younger, more dedicated teachers scramble to find work.