Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Michael Connelly

As I write this article the battle continues in Wisconsin between the Republican Governor, Scott Walker, the Republican controlled State Legislature, and the powerful teachers unions and their allies. At issue is the future of a state that faces a budget shortfall of billions, yet is required by state law to have a balanced budget.

As is the case in many states across the nation, the financial problems are primarily due to outlandish salaries and benefits being paid by states to public employees, including teachers. Legislation has been introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature to limit the collective bargaining rights of the Teacher Unions and force the teachers to contribute a greater percentage to their own pension plans and health insurance costs. The unions are opposing this even though the contributions would still be far below the percentages in those areas that are paid by employees in the private sector.

If the unions win and the law is not passed the state will be forced to lay off thousands of public employees including several thousand teachers. This is another example of the union bosses caring nothing for their members since the leaders are only interested in maintaining their own political power and high salaries. They are even willing to hold the children of the state hostage because many schools have been forced to close for days due to the illegal absence of teachers from their classrooms.

Unfortunately we can expect to see this scenario played out across the country as state and local governments seek to avoid bankruptcy, and get the runaway public employee unions in check. However, as critical as the economic issues are, there is another area involving the teachers unions that is just as important to America’s future. That is the fact that the deliberate actions of these unions are causing the dumbing down of America’s children.

Every year it seems that worldwide surveys reveal that the children in public schools in the United States are falling further behind in math and science abilities than their counterparts in other countries including Korea, Taiwan, Switzerland, and Hungary, to name a few. In many public schools across our nation the dropout rate continues to climb and often students that do graduate are functioning far below desired levels when it comes to basic skills like the ability to read and write.

In the meantime, the teachers unions continue to steadfastly oppose basic competency requirements for teachers. In many school districts, the union contracts require that teachers have tenure, and it is very difficult to fire even the most incompetent teachers. In fact, it is often virtually impossible to fire teachers for any reason. In New York City for example, thousands of teachers sit comfortably and idly at home because they have been barred from the classroom for reasons that range from gross incompetence to allegations of the physical and even sexual abuse of students. Yet, these teachers continue to receive their salaries and benefits because of the difficulty in terminating them.

It is interesting that none of this is occurring in parochial schools, charter schools, or other private schools. In most of these schools teachers are paid less, and do not receive nearly the benefits of their public school counterparts. In addition, if they are incompetent, they are shown the door. Yet, these schools generally have higher graduation rates than public schools, the students score higher on standardized tests, and a much larger percentage attend college. In addition, most home schooled children also appear to be far better educated than many public school students.

The solution to the problem is obvious. In America we have always cherished our freedom to make our own choices and it should be no different when it comes to educating our own children. Over 25 years ago I served on a state government advisory group on education in Louisiana. I proposed that the state adopt a voucher system that would allow parents to receive vouchers from the state that would let them pay for the schooling that they wanted for their children, whether public or private. Needless to say, I was generally looked on as a radical conservative who had lost his mind. However, now the call for vouchers, or some similar system, is becoming widespread.

Of course, there is very vocal opposition to allowing parents to have a choice in educating their children and this opposition is led by the teachers unions and their “progressive” supporters. I have researched this opposition movement carefully and have come to the conclusion that the reasons behind it are far more sinister than most Americans realize. I will discuss this in the next post to this blog when I talk about the main political agenda behind the dumbing down of America.
Michael Connelly