California Must Resist Anti-Teacher Special Interests

Posted on 31 August 2012

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By Duane Campbell
Choosing Democracy

Following assaults on teachers in Tennessee, New Jersey, New York and Florida – among others – the California legislature this week is using the “gut and amend” procedure to change the current teacher evaluation system in the state. The brutal assault in Florida led to the defeat of the moderate governor Christie by Tea Party advocates in 2010.

In California legislators claiming to be responding to a Los Angeles judge’s ruling that Los Angeles was improperly implementing the current law, legislators are trying change the law before Friday using Assembly Bill 5. An active advocate of the yet undefined plan is Michelle Rhee’s organization, so-called “Students First.”

Using the argument that these changes are necessary to respond to the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top, which has never been passed into law, anti-union forces are arguing for test based accountability systems. These are popular politically on the right but they have failed in state after state to improve the schools.

The legislature could improve the schools by doing their job – that is, to adequately fund the schools. As California cuts over $5 billion from the schools, conditions and learning in these schools deteriorate. Instead of doing their job and providing the resources some legislators call for a new system of teacher evaluation.

Recall that the California legislature has a 13% support rate from the voting public. Teachers are one of the most valued professions we have in educating future generations. Assaults from the right are both under-funding our schools and driving people from the profession.

To develop great teachers and teaching – and deal with ineffective teachers – school districts and university teacher preparation programs must overhaul current evaluation systems, but this cannot be done by the poorly informed and corrupt legislature in the last week of a legislative session with limited analysis, discussion and debate. The role of the teacher is to be a guide, a motivator, a caretaker and an engaging intellectual. The teacher's task is to preserve and extend a vision of democratic possibility in education. Central to this task is preserving quality public education.

The campaign of the political right, and the anti-teacher efforts are to weaken the autonomy and the authority of teachers by controlling salaries, evaluation, tenure, unions and decision making. These must be resisted.

For recommended reading:
See: Henry Giroux. “In Defense of Public School Teachers in a Time of Crisis,” in Education and the Crisis of Public Values (2012).


Duane Campbell is Director of the Institute for Democracy and Education in Sacramento and a former Professor of Bilingual/Multicultural Education at California State University, Sacramento as well as the author of Choosing Democracy: A Practical Guide To Multicultural Education. He blogs at Choosing Democracy.