A columnist's view: It's teachers vs. parents
I recently visited Joanne Jacobs excellent site and came upon this column by Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post. The column is about the Democratic presidential candidates who recently spoke to the NEA convention and (Get ready to put on your surprised face!) for the most part told the delegates exactly what they thought they wanted to hear. I found the tone of Marcus's column annoying, and there were a number of things she said that I would definitely take issue with, but it was her very last paragraph that really got me:
Yes, teachers are an important Democratic constituency, but aren't parents Democratic voters, too -- parents who might welcome a message about accountability and expectations? If, that is, one of the candidates were willing to deliver it.
First of all, let me say that I find the spectacle of presidential candidates pandering to any interest groups--even if it happens to be a group of teachers--sickening. Even though I'm not enthusiastic about the idea of merit pay, I can respect Barack Obama for being willing to discuss it with a group that he knows is against it.
But in her column, Ms. Marcus presents the delegates to the NEA convention as being completely representative of teachers in general. That is not the case. The delegates to the NEA convention are far more liberal and far more supportive of positions that the national union takes than rank and file teachers. Ms. Marcus, as an experienced political observer, should know that.
To read Ms. Marcus's column, one would conclude that teachers are universally against merit pay, and that is obviously not true. As the New York Times pointed out a few weeks ago, many Minnesota teachers are working with their districts to develop merit pay plans. To read Ms. Marcus's column, one would also conclude that teachers all want to do everything we can to protect teachers who are ineffective. That is pure crap. I have written in a book and in a number of posts that I think it's important that principals be given more power to remove their worst teachers, and I have expressed my dissatisfaction with our tenure and seniority systems. I have never claimed to be in the majority on those issues, but the amazing thing to me has been how many teachers have told me they agree and how few have told me that they disagree.
What I really resent about her last paragraph is that Ms. Marcus implies that teachers and parents who are concerned about their kids' education have diametrically opposing interests. It's as if all parents want us to have these high expectations for their kids, and we're just not doing it. We're just interested in padding our pocket books, and being as lazy as we can get away with. It is certainly possible that Marcus is being dishonest, but if this is what she actually believes, she hasn't got a clue.