It seems the Hawaii State Teacher’s Association (HSTA) contract is coming up again. The last time this happened the teacher’s contract could not be readily negotiated so they went out on strike. Then-Gov. Benjamin Cayetano took a lot of heat for this. Few unions are as popular as the teachers. Even Linda Lingle was critical of Mr. Cayetano’s handling of the issue. You’d think for all the rhetoric Republicans put out about controlling the avarice of the public sector unions they’d be a bit more supportive of administration efforts to represent the taxpayers in dealing with the HSTA. You’d think.
The HSTA is gearing up with television ads to help Hawaii residents understand their side of the issue. They will talk about the shortage of qualified teachers in Hawaii’s public schools. They will explain that only higher salaries will cure this shortage. They will do their level best to convince every parent with school age children that their kids’ future depends on granting fat raises to teachers. In negotiations they will complain about the time teachers now need to spend on complying with the Felix Consent Decree and the Federal boondoggle called “No Child Left Behind”. They will fight like tigers to prevent any neutral standards of accountability from being brought into the school system. They will insist that they alone are capable of determining which teachers are worthy of higher salaries. They will pretty much get what they want since the economy is improving and tax revenues are increasing. The other public sector unions that work in the schools will then ask for their own raises tied to the teachers. They won’t do as well as the HSTA, but as long as Hawaii’s economy appears to be on the upswing they will also get fat raises. The Lingle Administration’s excellent tax cut proposals will be tabled to fund the new union contracts. For this the Administration will blame House and Senate Democrats. Taxpayers are a much less organized and effective political constituency than teachers or parents.
Published reports indicate the HSTA wants a 25 percent increase. The average starting salary for their members would rise to about $45,000, the average overall salary to $60,000, and the top salaries to around $100,000. I’m sorry, but this is a lot of money. We have only come to this place by buying into the argument that teaching is a highly technical profession that only highly qualified people are competent to perform. We are supposed to believe that, like engineering or architecture, qualifying someone to teach your first grader how to read or spell must take years of difficult study. Of course this is nonsense. Civilization has flourished for thousands of years without an elite corps of college educated teachers. Literacy was higher in Massachusetts a hundred and fifty years ago, when most kids were taught by their parents. Home schooled kids in our own country are beating the pants off both public and private school students in all measures of performance. Yet their parent teachers may never have spent even one day in college.
A few years back Sixty Minutes did a segment on a home schooled family. A married woman with no college education and six or seven children set up a school in her home. Her children got four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year, of instruction. All work was done in the class. There was no homework. Within a couple of years the woman found she had to start reading college textbooks just to keep ahead of her ten year old. By the time the program aired her oldest was fourteen. He had already completed work to qualify for a college degree and was working on a master’s degree by correspondence.
We have a teacher’s shortage because of the arbitrary qualification process that excludes many people who would make good instructors. Limiting access to a profession is the oldest trick in the books to force up wages. What’s more the “standards” set to evaluate teacher competence have virtually nothing to do with the ability to instruct young people. The highest paid teachers aren’t evaluated on instructional competence but on length of service or number of degrees and classes completed. Take a minute to evaluate the teachers you had in school. Were the most senior and highest paid the best teachers you had? In my experience the most junior faculty were among the best at actual instruction in both primary and secondary schools.
Accountability, where it has been instituted, relies heavily on student achievement in standardized tests. The problem with this is that teachers become motivated to produce “test smart” kids. Classroom time is diverted from preparing students for life to preparing them to take a test that will help improve the teacher’s job evaluation. Without dismissing the usefulness of standardized tests we should look at other measures to ensure this diversion of direction does not undermine education. Any teacher who has been on the job for five or ten years will have former students who can give evaluations of their performance. Most of us as adults can look back and give a pretty fair ranking of our teachers. We know who the outstanding ones were. The evaluations of former students should be introduced to our system to help sort out and reward the best teachers. Getting away from the requirement that a “fancy degree” is the primary qualification will solve our “teacher shortage,” without having to once again stick it to the taxpayers.
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