If I’m reading the cards right, 2018 will go down in history as the year the myth of the bad teacher finally, mercifully, and hopefully was consigned to the dustbin of history.
I say hopefully, because some myths die hard, especially when the powers that be—and that would be you, Governor Rauner—have much to gain by promoting them.
But let’s focus on the good news.
Mayor Rahm, seeking to eradicate his reputation as Mayor 1 Percent, recently told WBEZ he regrets snatching away a teacher pay raise in his first year in office, back when he clearly figured the key to his political advancement was to pound the teachers’ union into submission.
Last week Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle launched her mayoral campaign to replace Rahm by emphasizing how proud she is of the time she spent, years ago, as a CPS history teacher.
And none of the major mayoral candidates are talking about expanding charter schools—as Rahm did when he ran in 2011. In fact, Paul Vallas, candidate for mayor, brags about how there were fewer charter schools when he was running the Chicago Public Schools.
Meanwhile, teachers in red states—taking a page from former Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis—are in the streets, demanding higher raises and better working conditions. As Time magazine ran a cover that shows Hope Brown, a high school teacher in Kentucky, with the pull quote “I have a master’s degree, 16 years of experience, work two extra jobs and donate blood plasma to pay the bills. I’m a teacher in America.”
That’s a huge improvement over the last time Time dedicated a cover to teachers in America. That was in 2014, when it ran the infamous “rotten apples” cover that proclaimed “It’s nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher.”
So, yes, things are looking up when Time treats teachers like flesh-and-blood human beings with real needs, like paying rent. As opposed to bad apples.
I will never understand the lure of this myth, which was largely propagated by billionaires like the Walmart clan—and Betsy DeVos, and Bruce Rauner, for that matter—as well as various high-tech chieftains.
According to its advocates—who call themselves “school reformers”—the reason low-income children in, say, Englewood, don’t score as high as rich kids in, oh, Winnetka, has nothing to do with the benefits that money buys.
Such as counselors, therapists, after school programs, before-school programs, arts enrichment, tutors if you struggle, and so on and so forth.
It doesn’t even matter if low-income kids have to deal with the stress of living in high-crime areas that wealthy kids need not worry about.
No, it’s all about the teachers. If the public school teachers are good, the kids will succeed. If they’re bad, they won’t. It’s as simple as that.
Half the time the reformers and their political allies made it up as they went along. As did former senator Mark Kirk when he erroneously insisted that “nine out of the top ten high schools in Chicago are charter schools.” Or when Emanuel, then a mayoral candidate, claimed that “when you take out North Side [and] Walter Payton, the seven best-performing high schools are all charters.” Or when the Tribune editorialized that local charter schools outscored their neighborhood counterparts even though they didn’t.
Once you’ve turned teachers into scapegoats, everything falls into place. You don’t have to lower class size or offer more programs and counselors to help kids deal with the trauma of crime. You certainly don’t have to pay your teachers more.
On the contrary, to hear the reformers, you’d think the best way to get the best and brightest teachers to teach low-income kids is to pay them less for longer hours and make it easier to fire them.
You know, it would be interesting to see Rauner apply this reasoning to recruiting young talent to his own industry, venture capitalism.
Let’s be real. Many of the leaders of the so-called school reform movement didn’t really give a hoot about bridging the gap between Englewood and Winnetka.
No, their cause was all about politics, or, specifically, busting the teachers’ union. The less power the teachers’ union had, the less money and support it could give Democrats, meaning more political power for Republicans like Rauner.
In the case of Democratic politicians like Barack Obama and Rahm, who foolishly jumped into bed with the “reformers”—well, they made a cynical decision to try and win over suburban swing voters by bashing their Democratic base.
Sort of like Bill Clinton’s attempt to win over white voters by bashing rapper Sister Souljah back in 1992.
In any event, the reform movement, with its scapegoat of bad teachers aided and abetted by too-powerful unions, led to a proliferation of nonunion charters that pay their teachers less even as they proclaimed that the mission of teaching was second to none. And now we have the embarrassing spectacle of teachers like Hope Brown in Kentucky working three jobs to make ends meet.
I have an idea. Let’s flip things around. Pay teachers like we pay venture capitalists and make venture capitalists have to sell blood to pay the rent.
That might be what it takes to get Bruce Rauner to finally endorse a union.