Governor Daugaard and certain Republican legislators like to scapegoat teachers. Daugaard and friends say we teachers aren't working hard enough. We need both incentives and kick in our collective bargaining pants to improve our performance.
Governor Daugaard and his legislative yes-men are tricking you. University of Illinois at Chicago professor Kevin Kumashiro explains what's really behind the effort to blame teachers for problems in public education:
...the singular focus on teachers prevents us from seeing how the system itself needs repair. Those who lead the so-called “education reform” movement are scapegoating teachers because they want to mask the real problems, the systemic problems that lead to poor performance and problems in education [Kevin Kumashiro, interview with Cindy Long, "Stop Blaming Teachers," National Education Association, November 2012].
What real problems are Daugaard and fellow teacher-blamers avoiding?
One of those problems is funding. One of those problems is funding. Our neighborhoods are even more segregated by income and race than ever before, and because so much of school funding is based on local property taxes, the historically vast wealth gap in our nation makes it easy to see why funding is not equitable, and therefore neither is the quality of education being provided.
Another problem is the narrowing of the curriculum as we place more emphasis on high-stakes testing. Research consistently shows us not only that tests are neither valid nor reliable for the spectrum of consequences (student graduation, teacher evaluation, school turnarounds) that we tie to them, but also that schools should have a rich curriculum for kids to achieve more academically.
Finally, schools do not operate in a vacuum. An enormous challenge is the massive number of children living in poverty who come to school hungry and without access to health care, and who often live in neighborhoods plagued with violence. You can’t focus when your stomach is growling or you have a toothache or you’re afraid to walk to and from school, and you certainly can’t perform well on tests [Kumashiro, 2012].
Recall that the Governor's failed effort this year to "reform" the schools with House Bill 1234/Referred Law 16 completely sucked the oxygen out of the school-funding-formula debate. It overshadowed the discussion of increased standardized testing the state is adopting to satisfy its NCLB waiver. And it went on as South Dakota continues to tax food and resist the Medicaid expansion offered by the Affordable Care Act.
What else is up Governor Daugaard's sleeve as he tries to convince you your teachers are lazy moochers and union thugs?
Public education is now a $500 to $600 billion enterprise, being outsourced and privatized more and more each day. By pointing to low test scores and blaming teachers for them, there’s a justification for dismantling public school systems and outsourcing education, and a lot of profits to be made by doing so.
One way that “the 1 percent” can stay at the top is by making schools for the 99 percent look vastly different than their own. When a school is failing, they say we need to take more tests, spend more time preparing for those tests, and narrow the curriculum further so students focus solely on the test material to raise their scores. In contrast, the most elite schools with highly successful students have a rich curriculum with far less testing and with a strong teacher voice in developing curriculum and assessment – why would we go in the opposite direction in our struggling schools? [Kumashiro, 2012]
The public school system stands as proud counterexample to the vulture-capitalist narrative. The public school system provides the greatest check possible on the power of the elites by making every citizen smart enough to recognize threats to democracy and economic fairness. And it could be a big profit center, the same way McKennan Park could if you bulldozed the trees and gardens and let developers put up fancy mansions and coffee shops.
When you hear Governor Daugaard and his lieutenants resume the anti-teacher drumbeat this coming Legislative session, lift their skirts. Look at decades of negligent state funding for K-12 education. Look at the broader social issues they won't act on to help education. And look at all the tests they are buying right now so corporations can get more of your money while your kids spend more time filling bubbles than learning, creating and growing.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have some French vocabulary to teach.