Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dumbing Down K-12 Education

Mark Schug, professor emeritus, Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the school of economics, UW-Milwaukee and President of Mark Schug Consulting, was a guest this week on the WPS Joy Cardine show. The stated purpose of the segment was to have Mr. Schug respond to a recent speech by the Wisconsin State Superintendent of Education, Mr. Tony Evers.

Many proposal advocated in Mr. Ever’s speech came up for discussion, some of which Mr. Schug approved and others with which he disagreed. In general though Mr. Schug is pleased with the actions taken by Governor Walker and the State Legislature removing most of the bargaining power of the state’s teachers’ unions. Particularly he was pleased that the ubiquitous salary schedule could now be summarily done away with by local school districts.

For those not in the know, the salary schedule was a part of the agreement between teachers’ organizations and school boards by which teachers’ salaries were determined based on the number of years they had served the district and the educational level they had attained. Mr. Schug accurately pointed out that years of employment and educational credit do not guarantee quality teaching. Teachers and their unions have known that for as long as the salary schedules have existed. But, in the absence of a better way of objectively determining a teacher’s worth, the salary schedule has served as a means to eliminate favoritism and assure equity among teachers. Mr. Schug, nor anyone else I know of, can deny
that the salary schedule came into being because of inequities generated by favoritism.

There have been procedures in place for forty years whereby competent administrators and school boards could remove incompetent teachers. In too many situations those officials have simply not done the legally required documentation to allow them to do so. Thus they look for an easy and arbitrary way to accomplish what should be done in a fair and systematic fashion.

Schug, a long-time critic of Wisconsin’s Teacher certification process, also expressed a wish that the current method of credentialing teachers be relaxed so that “competent persons” in private sector work could be certified to teach in areas in which they have expertise, regardless of whether they had any training in the methods of teaching. That is an idea that has been floated for several years now. In recent years special exceptions have been made to allow newly discharged military personnel to move from their military service directly into public school classrooms. Of course the idea ignores the fact that a person competent in a particular skill or area of learning may not be suited to dealing with students of varying skills, social backgrounds, or motivation. Those are the kinds of skills that teacher education programs are designed to provide to prospective teachers, and which teacher certification was instituted to assure.

I’m wondering if Mr. Schug believes that anyone with competent knowledge in the field of Curriculum and Instruction in economics could have adequately replaced him in his college classroom. I’m wondering if he believes that competent veterinarians or animal research personnel should be allowed to practice their arts on human subjects. We do, after all, have a shortage of doctors. I would guess not. Yet he is willing to subject K-12 students to untried and uncertified teachers simply because they are competent practitioners in some field related to one taught in the public system.

Schug appears to be another in the long list of those who, having benefited by a generally well thought out system of education, and even having benefited financially by teaching in it, now is willing to pull the rug out from under the system for future generations. I can only hope his influence is minimal. Wisconsin’s educational system has been a model for most other states in the union. Schug, Governor Walker, and the current crop of Republican legislators seem determined to see to it that we don’t remain the model.

Many years ago Tommy Thompson inadvertently made the comment, when arguing against some expenditure sought to insure the high quality of life in our state, “Wisconsin can’t afford to be average in everything.” No need to worry. We will soon be well below average in education, wages, infrastructure and innovation if the current mood prevails.

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