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    Reforming K-12: Scarborough Blames Teachers Unions

    Today on Morning Joe, Joe went crazy accusing Howard Dean of being a liar when it comes to education reform and blaming Democrats and Teachers unions for the state of our k-12 system. Public schools just like reproductive rights attract Republican attacks often.



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    Scarborough was not just rude, he is wrong and it is easy to blame the teachers unions for everything. Joe is wrong when he first begins to speak about education reform, he says: "Republicans love to talk about education reform, it's the Democrats that don't like to talk about education reform." This is where is he is not just wrong he is lying.  Republicans like to talk about getting rid of teachers unions and charter schools, that is all they talk about when they address reforming the k-12  They never discuss the actual problem educating large diverse population with a variety of needs. It is easier though to present the problem as simple, with easy solutions, but if there were such easy solutions as Joe seems to believe, the problems would have been solved 30 or more years ago.

    Joe happens to be continuing to rant on this issue on twitter, which is how I found out he went on this epic rant this morning against Howard Dean. He is ranting to prove himself right. Joe doens't offer facts though, just opinions. He is only convincing people who already believe what he believes, he isn't convincing anyone who knows the facts.

    Let's discuss real reform and why we have many underperforming school districts, this will be something Joe Scarborough and his ilk will not discuss because there is no way to gain the political upper hand if  he were to really talk about how to reform our k-12 public schools.

    Let's take Joe's biggest talking point he said: "We as a nation spend more money per child than any other nation in the world."

    Wrong, we are third coming in behind Switzerland and Norway but that doesn't mean anything really. Our funding mechanisms, student populations are completely different.

    But let's talk about the Charter School panacea, that Republicans never stop talking about. We know now that Charter Schools more often than not do not educate students adequately. And yet they never ever stop with the "We need more charter schools and we need to get rid of teacher unions".

    Charter schools are notorious for not taking students with special needs, public schools are mandated of course through title i, to educate special needs students. This is part of the reason that the job of the traditional public school system, which still educates about 95 percent of all school children, is far more complicated than Republicans and conservatives who advocate reform want you to know. Reform to them is no teacher unions and no title i funding, I wonder how many kids would remain uneducated if Joe and his Republican goon friends got to do what they really wanted to do, complete the circle, subpar education for everyone who doesn't have money and no college education for those who don't have access to at least 50,000 for tuition.

    We also have some facts now on charter schools, let's take Florida's charter school the International Academy, funded by public dollars and run by a private businesses. Well when all the schools took the FCAT, the International Academy garnered a grade of F. Yeah, even though they get to reject subpar students, they still scored an F.  In Miami-Dade a greater percentage of charter schools failed the FCAT than did public schools and in Broward county all the schools that failed were Charter schools. According to a CBS report in Florida;

    "A CBS4 News analysis of Department of Education numbers shows fewer than one percent of public elementary and middle schools received an “F” in grades released last week.  In contrast, nearly six percent of charter schools received an “F.”

    Charter schools got failing grades at a rate more than seven times that of public schools."

    But Florida isn't the only example of this of course, let's talk about New York State and charter schools.

    Charter schools in New York City and everywhere else have yet to prove that they can solve the problem that is America’s education system. In the South Bronx, the Academic Leadership Charter School has been put on probation this week for not randomizing admissions—as charter schools are supposed to do—and possibly testing or interviewing applicants, which they are not, the Times reports.

    This is a typical tactic of charter schools, yet empirical evidence exposes that despite their built-in test-score advantage of not accepting every student, they don't outperform public schools in any meaningful way.

    Then of course we have the Houston, Texas scandal. Is privatizing public schools really the way to educate students? Doesn't seem to be, unless you want uneducated students. Charter schools over and over again, in state after state do not educated children any better than public schools, although in many cases those schools perform worse than public schools and are not educating students. I imagine it is because those private companies who are running these schools care more lining their pockets than they do about educating students.  With Republicans corporate profits = #winning, educating all students = #losing

    New Jersey is just another example of the failure of charter schools. This more progressive state has the same problem with their charter schools that the other states have had, they have a high rate of failure, in fact 40 charter schools in New Jersey have lost their licenses to operate.

    According to the article:

    Advocates continue to argue that charters' freedom to innovate allows them to provide an intense focus on achievement lacking in many traditional public schools, particularly in poor urban communities like Trenton, where test scores remain far below state averages and large numbers of students drop out.

    I have to ask Joe Scarborough why this is adequate for children whose parents can't afford private schools, why it is okay to not serve special ed students equally, and why it is Republicans always blame teachers unions for the failure to educate students when the issue is much more complex and has very little to do with teacher's unions and much more to do with how states and levy's fund school districts and educating diverse populations?  Public schools continue to do a better job in educating our students over-all. Charter Schools have yet to achieve the rigor and standards of public schools. Hey Joe, it's easier to play politics with issue of public schools then solve problems! Yelling a Howard Dean proves this.

    Next blog: Complexity of school funding and educating disaffected populations

    Crossposted @TheAngriestLiberal


    Chris Christie, Republican Governor of New Jersey has made a name for himself by blaming the teachers and the teacher's union for everything but whacking Jimmy Hoffa and burying him in the Meadowlands.  My brother-in-law teaches in New Jersey, and I'm appalled by the teachers of NJ being made scapegoats. Shame on Christie and shame on the GOP, first for undermining the Public school system with all this privatization b*llsh*t and then by making teachers the villains in the state's budget, rather than placing the blame where it really belongs, on the fact that politicians got so obsessed with continually cutting  taxes over the last 30 years, they now can't meet their state's budgetary requirements.  The GOP solution is, of course, never to raise revenues, but to demonize and then try to eliminate the people  that are costing them money, even if means kids get sub-standard educations.  They blame the teachers and their union for the mess?  I blame the political idiots who signed off on the deals without  making sure they could, and would, be paid for.

    I am not surprised the Chris Chrispie does this, he loves to play the part of the New Jersey tough guy. I don't like him.

    Republicans think the answer to everything is privatization, I can't believe we keep letting them get away with that. Argh. Everything else you wrote is spot on.

    I watch Morning Joe in the morning as I get ready for work - the show does have its good moments for MSM - and Chris Christie is a like a god to them, and a frequent guest.  Even usually Obama-supporting Mika fawns over Gov. Christie as the politician who will save the day for us all. 

    Joe has been a consistent attacker of not only teacher unions, but the police and firefighter unions, pointing out the Newark battle between them and the mayor. 

    Joe has a tendency (surprise!) to take one example and claim this represents all situations.  If one union is unwilling to discuss re-negotiating their contract, then all unions are unwilling to do so.

    But Joe is like so many - they are looking for the One Thing that will solve the problem - as if the issues and challenges facing education has a singular solution.

    Over the Xmas holidays, I got to see all my wife's relatives. One of her nieces went into teaching, and found her first, and so far only, job at one of Michelle Rhee's charter schools in DC. She is very artistic, and very much enjoys the teaching challenge, but after several years there, she appears to be burning out on the long hours and low pay. She doesn't express her objections politically—she simply wants to earn more money.

    I've worked on two charter schools so far, both fairly cheap. One was a renovation of a church building and the other was a new metal building dressed up here and there. My impression is that charter schools represent both the WalMart-ing of education and an end run around diversity.

    I was a public high school teacher (physics, of course) for two years before burning out. Teaching the advanced students was challenging enough (they were as hard on me as I was on my teachers), but what did me in was working with the general/remedial students. In most of those classes (general and remedial were lumped together), there was a strong sense of apathy that was almost impossible to shatter. There were a handful of students in a class who actually cared (these were students with learning disabilities, including mild mental retardation), and there were a few others who cared enough about their grades (or at least their parents did) that they mostly paid attention. More than half of them just didn't care as a general principle, and it was really difficult trying to get them to care. (My favorite class experiment was a very unfair tug-of-war involving some pulleys, one of the weaker students, and one of the stronger football players.)

    So, after two years I quit. I'm now making about three times the money with less than one tenth the stress. I do occasionally regret quitting, but only because of guilt.

    Bummer about your niece.

    I think your observation about charter schools representing the Walmartisization of education is very accurate.

    My folks were public school teachers in a poor, rural district.  I don't envy them having jobs where their abilities were assessed based on the capabilities of the students.  But, they had long careers and good relationships and you always see adults running up to them in public with far more vivid memories of, say, third grade, than I have at my disposal.

    They did so much uncompensated work, it's not even funny.  By contrast, in a white collar NYC job, I do almost no uncompensated work.  Actually, I do none.  There's nothing I've done for my employer that my salary doesn't reasonably.  My parents used to buy supplies and teaching materials out of their own pockets.  I couldn't imagine coming to this office with, say, a personally purchased toner cartridge for the printer (and if I did, for some reason, I'd be reimbursed).

    It is amazing the way Republicans talks about public school teachers.  You would think they were all overpaid, coddled, politically connected fat cats, running the country to the detriment of everyone else.  Those teachers, man.  #occupytheplayground!

    That is the greatest thing about teachers, they have incredible relationship with not just their students but the community at large because of the impact they have on students. It's pretty incredible what they do.

    I hate that we've allowed Republicans to politicize what teachers do. They are underpaid for the levels of education we require, and even with those educational accomplishments we still treat them as though nothing more than overpaid babysitters. I hate the irony.

    I also don't like Scarborough who claims to be a centrist moderate thinker, yet he is willing to make inflammatory statements about educators without ever having to produce facts to back up his statements. The facts are privatizing public education isn't the best way to spend public funds or improve k-12 education. I don't think he realizes that just because he yells loudly, it doesn't make what he says accurate.

    edited to add

    #occupytheplayground Wooooo

    All those "Centrist moderates" pick on teachers, it drives me nuts.  Friedman does it.  Joe Klein at Time does it.  Bloomberg does it.  When these people need conserva-cred but don't want to bash homosexuals, they always kick a teacher.

    this is exactly what I meant in my comment on destor's piece about this blog too full of black and white. you criticize scarborough for ignoring facts and engaging in demagoguery, but clearly you must agree that our educational system is failing us and that some reform is necessary. 

    you certainly point out legitimate examples where charter schools have failed but i see very little in the links you provided to prove that they are universally a bad idea. perhaps we've strayed away from the idea of the charter school working closely in conjunction with the public school system, and in fact focusing on some of the poorer areas or more troubled student populations (as opposed to trying to deviously exclude them) but that doesn't mean we should throw out the charter idea completely, does it? i'm quite sure with not so much digging I could find examples and/or studies to counter your 'facts' which suggest that some charter schools are innovative and successful. 

    and while i agree with you that teachers and teachers unions get way more than their fair share of the blame for our schools' problem, surely you agree that tenure is generally a very bad idea, that forcing teachers to adhere to some strict mandated curriculum deters innovation, that some objective measure should be used to try to more effectively weed out poor teachers, and that teacher unions don't always seem to have the kids' best interests in mind (I know in stories on issues regarding the new york city school system, i am almost always most disgusted by comments made by representatives of the teachers union here)

    finally, i don't get what you mean when you point out that we spend the third most on education per capita and then dismiss the fact as irrelevant with a generic comment on funding mechanisms and student populations. if we are to analyze how efficiently we are educating our kids, shouldn't spending per capita be a major metric by which to judge ourselves. 

    i'm really clueless on this issue, and i'm sure you're right the issue is way more complicated than most 'reformers' admit, so maybe i just need clarification on what you think should be done here (i now just saw that you plan on furthering this discussion in your next piece, so my apologies regarding the 'generic comment' above) Im particularly interested as to what you think of obama's race to the top initiative. has it been effective at all. 

    There's a lot here and your questions are really for T-Mac, but... a few points.

    "Surely you agree that tenure is generally a very bad idea..."

    You're into gray areas.  It has its ups and downs, wouldn't you say?  You definitely want tenure when a board of local yokels tells a teacher to teach intelligent design an that teacher decides to say no.  You definitely want tenure if the failures of children of influential parents can lead to teacher dismissals and thus drive talented people out of the field.  I see what you're saying about hard tenure.  You want to be able to fire inattentive, lazy or just plain ineffective teachers.  Seems to me that the gray area answer is to make it possible to fire them but to make it difficult as well, since they really can't be judged by objective criteria anyway.

    "that forcing teachers to adhere to some strict mandated curriculum deters innovation..."

    Another gray area.  I like the idea of national standards in that there are some basics that every American should know.  Seems to me that modern education reformers, by stressing test results, have pushed it too far in the mandated curriculum direction.

    "that some objective measure should be used to try to more effectively weed out poor teachers..."

    I'm not sure it exists, aside from general persistence of failure over a long period of time.  This problem also exists in finance, as you're aware... separating skill or lack thereof, from luck, is very difficult and about the only thing that works is long periods of time and observation.  So if you fire somebody who had a couple of bad years, you may have fired a quality person experiencing bad luck.  If you promote some one after two hot years, you might be dissapointed.

    "and that teacher unions don't always seem to have the kids' best interests in mind..."

    Teachers don't, and shouldn't, pay dues to a union that has "kids' best interests" in mind.  These unions exist because the profession has been marginalized politically, economically and socially.  To ask the union to have the dual function of protecting both teachers and students is unfair.  It dilutes the union's ability to protect its members by half.  A lot of people assume that the reformers do have the student's best interests at heart.  Which ignores all of the money to be made reforming schools, especially in a big city.

    There are no studies to back up the assertion that teachers unions and bad teachers are the cause of failing schools.  I am quite sure both Heritage and CATO have tried with everything they can to prove "tenure" and "bad teachers" are the cause of all the #fail.

    Are there bad teachers, of course, does tenure protect some of those people, yes. Is this wrong, okay it's wrong, but it still isn't the cause of schools that are failing. The problems are much more complex and oversimplification only serves to make sure we never ask the correct questions to begin to solve the problems.

    Underperforming public schools are almost always located in our most economically disadvantaged areas.  Let's take LA Unified, a huge district with a failing record. LA Unified doesn't just serve Beverly Hills High School which is not an underperforming school, it serves many economically disadvantage students, who lack access to many services and almost never get adequate early childhood interventions that could help alleviate this problem.  It is very rare Deadman that the child of a middle or upper middle or wealthy family that they come to school with extreme disadvantages.  Blaming teachers unions for the state of our civilization and our priorities is epitome of oversimplification.

    Part of this is a result of local (state) funding schemes which seem designed to keep the economically disadvantaged from obtaining the same education as a student in a district that thrives . Levy systems and not teachers unions keep our schools unequal, we know this because all of our schools are not failing, but many schools located in economically disadvantaged areas are failing.  Charter Schools have not changed this fact, the facts remain, richer districts are fine and poorer districts continue to suffer. This has little to do with teachers unions.

    (Yikes that is part of my next blog)

    In my community there was as one might imagine a big surge in interest in charter schools by the big philanthropists in the community (i.e. the local business leaders), most of whom were Republicans - for all the reasons one might imagine, but in part because the initial misinformation that was spread about their ability to achieve success.  

    We are now getting through to them about early childhood education - 0 to 6 years of age.  As much as 50% of the children in our community are not entering school ready to succeed.  Some have never held a book or have been read to by their parents.  Some have never held a crayon.  The studies show that these kids without intervention directed towards them are behind a grade or more by the third grade.  Because of the experience of failure and inability to keep up with the class, most of these kids will either drop out or basically limp to a degree and never develop quality job skills. 

    In other words, if we haven't provided them with the skills to succeed by the third grade, the battle is pretty much lost.

    And it really begins during the pregnancy, with the mother's diet and health.   

    There is a direct economic benefit to the community that invest in early childhood - $1 invested in early childhood education results in $7 of economic growth in the local community.  The business leaders like that!

    Of course, once one looks at what it takes to ensure that children enter Kindergarten ready to succeed, one discovers it is about surrounding the children not only with the education resources wealthy communities have, but ensuring their whole family is economically stable, that there is access to preventative health care, etc. 

    And this wrap around of services and support for the children and the parents needs to continue through the 12th grade.

    Now many of our business leaders are seeing the inter-connection of things like affordable housing and having an adequately trained workforce to lure new businesses into the community.  That it is enlightened self-interest to help low-income families have access to affordable public transportation to get to and from work or day care services for working parents.

    Check out the Harlem Children's Zone in Harlem, hcz.og, and his founder Geoffrey Canada - which has been able to achieve success utilizing this comprehensive saturation approach, working with pregrent mothers and kids ready to move from HS to college.  It is successful, breaking the cycle of poverty, but it takes money and the whole community working together.


    Exactly, the problems are very complex and have nothing to do with teachers unions. I was once listening to "This American Life" on NPR and the story was about Geoffrey Canada and his operation, and what great success he has had. It helps prove that we need early intervention in economically disadvantaged areas, very early, from pregnancy on and community support. Ragging on teachers unions does nothing to solve the problems, in fact I would say it prevents us from looking clearly at the problem and finding real solutions. Mr. Canada has done incredible work, if only we could take that approach all over the nation.

    It is one of the happy notes that Canada has become very much in demand as a speaker across the country.  His message is resonating with people - from educators to business leaders. 

    I missed that this morning.  Thank you, tmc, for bringing it here, and for your insight and your links.  Joe Scarborough ought to be ashamed.  Charter schools are the gateway drug for complete privatization and everybody knows it. There's a reason we need to keep nurturing public schools and you've outlined it nicely here.

    The teachers unions are constantly under fire, sometimes for good reason, but for the Republicans they're the ultimate in handy scapegoats whenever they want to show how badly public education needs reforming.  What needs reforming is the attitudes of the people who have our children's educations in their hands. 

    They need to stop playing games and get on with figuring out how to give each and every kid in this country educational opportunities equal to what now goes to the privileged few.  It's no secret that it's much easier to teach kids who eat well, sleep well, and live calm lives.  They do better because they live better.

    If they treated every student as they would a charter school student, we might get somewhere.

    I agree, thanks Mona, nice.

    The very nature of American students has changed in a way that makes it much harder for a teacher to be a primary force or instrument which affects the ultimate outcome of an individual student, much less a room full of them. There is not a teacher in the world who can be a "good" teacher to a room full of disinterested kids.


    You refer to the largest characteristic behind my assertion. I can't argue with*meh* and neither can the teachers.

    Yes, but I was pullin' your leg, LULU.

    First you feed their bodies, then you feed their souls, then you feed their minds.  Every child needs to feel there's a reason to learn.  It's up to society to nurture our children and give them a reason to work toward a future.

    The teacher's main role is to give them the tools, but we expect them to do it all.  It would be wonderful to teach a room full of kids who adored you and hung on your every word, but that's not going to happen.  The next best hope is to reach even a few. 

    A good, caring teacher has the hardest job in the land.  It's by far the most important job,  yet the message they're getting these days is that they're not liked, they're not trusted and they don't deserve a livable wage.  So it's "Shut up and teach."   Nice.



    Lulu, that is a sweeping generalization about children. Do you really believe that in k-12 teachers have a rooms full of disinterested students? I've never seen a kindergarten class filled with disinterested students.

    The problems our public schools are facing are not solved by over-simplified stereotypes of teachers or students.  Some children come to school with such disadvantages, what might seem to be disinterest to the casual observer might actually be a student struggling to learn.

    We have work to do in our public schools, blaming teacher unions or students doesn't solve anything. In fact, I submit that it allows us to ignore the real problems that face our public schools.  I don't think this is fair to our students or to our teachers, but its end result hurts or society over all, because we fail to take any real action towards real reform.

    "...blaming teacher unions or students doesn't solve anything. In fact, I submit that it allows us to ignore the real problems that face our public schools."

    First, notice that I did not blame either teachers, their unions, or the students themselves. I did say that the nature of the students entering schools has changed. If that is a correct statement then I submit that ignoring it is ignoring a real and a very big problem that faces our public schools and which is faced daily by the teachers who get most of the blame for any failings of the system.
     A kid who grows up watching TV from infancy, who plays computer games as long as he is allowed to, who never gets to ride his bicycle a few blocks from home to play an un-supervised game of baseball, who never gets to stay out late playing night games, whose both parents work, who never has the hands on experience of taking things apart to see how they work, who has a poor diet even if he is affluent, who gets little physical exercise, whose image of the cool kid is of one who has the latest designer clothes and is precocious and shows it by being a smart-ass on a sitcom, etc, etc, etc, and who goes to an overcrowded class filled with others raised the same way, has not been ideally set up for success as a student. There is plenty of evidence that their brain may actually be wired differently than one who grew up having his senses stimulated by real things in the real world rather than everything being virtual.  
     And yes, I made a sweeping statement generalizing about the entire population of students taken as a whole. That is who we are talking about isn't it? Certainly there are exceptions, and out of millions of students there are many exceptions, but I maintain that it is the exceptions that prove the [my] rule.  
     Either there is a problem with the results of our system or there isn't. If we once got better results, then point to a time when that was true and try to identify what has changed that is the cause of the degraded performance.
     I am not blaming teachers, but I do not think that teachers can be the entire, or even a very big part of, the solution. I believe that to suggest that by paying teachers more we could get ones that could solve our country's education problems is a simplistic and incorrect conclusion.

      What do you see as the real problems facing our schools today that could be corrected so as to end up better educating the students of today?

    Many parents think the public schools are supposed to teach the kids everything they haven't learned by watching TV or playing video games. For those who think teachers are overpaid, why don.t you become one and see how long you last?

    Perhaps completing a year in a classroom at teacher pay should be a prerequisite for running for more than one term in congress.

    Here in Florida, we would like to make politicians take the tenth grade fcat before they can run. If they fail they can't run for office.

    We had a similar policy in Georgia, except in our case passing the fcat made you ineligible for office.

    A few Florida facts about fcat...Private Charter Schools are not mandated to take fcat. Fcat scores are used to determine pay bonuses for public school teachers and bonuses for school funding. The public school district my grandchildren attend has a K-12 charter school that is run by the school board. They take the fcat. You have to pass fcat in order to graduate from high school but if you attend a private or charter school you are exempt from that rule. Some kids that are attending public charter schools do so because they aren't doing as well in regular school. In third grade in a regular public school, if you don't pass the reading and writing part of the fcat, you will fail third grade. You can see why public school district may have set up a charter school. The state designed the fcat to be punitive to teachers and political appealing to the southern far right. It was to show how bad the public schools are so voucher system could be sold political. The state tried vouchers in the first term of Jeb Bush. Most of the private charter schools did not stay open. The schools just couldn't operate on the cheap. Fcat did not achieve what it set out to do. The state supreme court found the way the state was doing vouchers unconstitutional. The fcat has lost it's popularity in many parts of Florida and there is a push to get rid of it.

    Just to clarify. ..many of the private charter schools closed during the first year. Teachers and kids would show up to find the doors locked. I know this happened in Pensacola also. It was a year or so.later when the State Supreme Court ruled on it. But by that time vouchers had proven to be not as good as public education. There are still vouchers for kids attending good private schools following guide lines set out by the courts. The Bush experiment took the gloss off of private charter schools for Florida in general.

    Good post thanks for bringing this up. I agree with Mr Smith that it has to do with the unwillingness to raise revenue. But there is another reason the GOP uses education as a whipping post, part of their southern strategy. The south was forced to give up apartheid in their school systems. There still is lots of anger there to harness. My grandson graduated from high school last June. According to the fcat he was attending a mediocre high school. It was a urban school in a ghetto and under funded. Newsweek (when they were rating the best public high schools) it always placed it in the top 500 schools in the country out of 27,000 schools. Newsweek started only rating the top 20 this past year. His graduating class of about 200 received 5 million dollars in scholarships. So the state finally decided to grade the school.with a B. The high schools in good neighborhoods in this district never made it on the Newsweek list and don't come close to sending as many graduates off to college always got graded an A. So thanks to some fine teachers in low graded K-12 schools by fcat, he is doing well in college. Pensacola High School is also a top school in Florida ranked 200 on the Newsweek list. Gave the NFL Emmit Smith. Joe S is just blowing smoke because there is a primary going on. It takes more than a chalk board and chalk to educate kids today. Technology is expensive and we need to do more for poverty.

    Hi Moemoe, thanks for all the information, I'll just reply here.
    You have shed some light on what goes on in Florida, very interesting.  Dedicated teachers really can make a huge difference in the lives of their students, if Joe Scarborough really wanted to make good points about education reform, he would quit with the dog whistle BS about teachers unions being the problem, he knows better but I don't think he gives a rats ass. It's easier to demagogue unions though, I am sure it is some of the dues he pays to keep calling himself a Republican.

    So good to see you Moemoe, this is your grandsons first year in college right! Do he and his girlfriend love it!

    Here is hoping we can do something about college tuition too.


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