December 11, 2013

Dumb And Dumber

Parents, teachers and school administrators are calling for the head of New York State Education Commissioner John B. King, lambasting the state's Common Core Curriculum.

It's a veritable lynching, and King is an easy prey after students – local and otherwise— performed dismally on standardized state tests.

But wait a second – the recently released OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, proves convincingly that the education system in this country is broken, and it has nothing to do with Common Core. American students ranked 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a dismal 25th for mathematics.

Teachers unions, always on the prowl for a defenseless scapegoat, promptly blamed the test scores on the poverty level of students in our school systems, which presumably includes immigrants.

How laughable – and sad. Vietnam had a higher average score in math and science than the United States, and a much-higher poverty level.

We live in the wealthiest country in the world, and our teachers are the highest paid, New York State teachers especially so. On the East End, the numbers are staggering – the average teacher makes a six-figure income with a blue chip pension and medical insurance. Shouldn't they be held accountable? Put another way, if our local students perform no better than their peers elsewhere, why do we pay our teachers so much more?

Sadly, parents quickly lined up against King and behind their school boards, teachers and administrators. Apparently, none of us want to believe our little Johnny isn't getting the kind of education he should be getting – and we're not getting the bang for the bucks we are doling out to our school districts.

Let's tell it like it is: our education system is broken. We throw more and more money at teachers and administrators, our property taxes rise annually, and the results simply aren't there. So we blame the system because the exams are too hard. Our guess is if we gave the Common Core exams to the Chinese and Indians their students would ace the tests.

Part of the problem is the authority wielded by the teachers union. Most teachers across the country get their union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks.

Over the last 20 years, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has given more than $28 million in campaign contributions; the National Education Association (NEA) has given almost $31 million. That's almost $60 million, more than any other organization — but that's just the tip of the iceberg. At the state level, the AFT and NEA combined to spend an additional $61.8 million on candidates and expenditures for ballot initiatives in 2008 alone. Plus, teachers unions spend millions more on uncoordinated expenditures and get-out-the-vote efforts.

A lot of the money goes to candidates who agree not to support legislation that would limit tenure or promote methods that would evaluate the performance of teachers and reveal the identities of inept ones.

That kind of clout means education reformers – like King – face an enormous task: they must try and improve the system in the face of a concerted effort hell bent on maintaining the status quo at all costs. That means guaranteed lifetime jobs take precedence over their commitment to education – a blueprint for mediocrity.

This is not to imply teachers shoulder all the blame – there are thousands of dedicated teachers who excel in the classroom. There is plenty of blame to go around, starting with parents who let their kids spend hours on social media and playing video games, and the students themselves who seem to lack to the drive to excel.

Parents, next time your children complain the tests are too hard, tell them to spend two extra hours each night studying. And next time your school administrators voice a similar lament, tell them you'd prefer the district hire leaders who don't make excuses.

School officials are fond of pointing out that standardized test scores tell only part of the full education experience, and that there is a inherent danger when teachers teach to the test. We get that – but no matter what criteria is used, the same result emerges; our students are not reaching their educational potential.

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