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Ted Reinstein
Holliston, MA

Ted Reinstein

I've taken a passionate approach to understanding issues in my job as a reporter. Now I'd like the opportunity to defend my positions.

Who is halting education reform?

When you grow up with a mom who taught school passionately for more than 30 years, you tend to have more than a passing respect for teachers. And when you grow up with a favorite uncle who was a dogged (if eccentric) New York labor organizer, you're likely to have a soft spot for unions.

All of which I have. Or have had.

But even Uncle Murray--for whom labor unions were holy things-- might bellow in his Brooklyn accent: "Meshugganahs!"

So infuriating is the current state of American public education and the pace of reform. And so confounding are some of the actions of those involved.

Like teachers unions.

No one disagrees the problems in our schools are real, entrenched, and endemic. We are literally failing our students: American students now rank 32nd in math scores; 12th in reading; 10th in science.

All the fault of teachers? Hardly. Parents fail to do their job, as do school administrators. Students are not without responsibilities. Our culture itself is culpable. And for decades, feckless politicians have put money and votes ahead of students, dodging the complicated and contentious guts of real reform.

It all adds up. 

Or, alas, dumbs down.

The good news is that the issue of education reform seems to have passed the point of critical mass, and has become a question now not of "if, " but "how." It is happening, haltingly.

The bad news involves who is sometimes doing the halting.

Like latter-day Orval Faubuses blocking the schoolhouse door, some teachers unions often seem to simply be on the wrong side of progress: against charter schools, against longer school days, against tougher and newer forms of teacher evaluations, against merit pay. Teachers unions have even aggressively opposed elements of the Obama administration's popular "Race to the Top" education reform initiative--to dramatic ends: Earlier this year, citing opposition to (among other things) charter schools, New York's United Federation of Teachers lobbied the state legislature against applying for what might have resulted in $700 million in federal Race to the Top funding.

Class, raise your hand if you think that was a smart move.

Sadly, it was one more maddening move by a union that increasingly seems more ossified than enlightened. And at a time when they desperately need them, teachers unions will make few new friends this way.

But they sure are losing some old ones.

By Ted Reinstein  |  October 11, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Initial Entries
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Part one.

The premise of this piece--that the educational system needs better teachers--is entirely incorrect. The fault and salvation of the educational system supposedly lies in teacher quality. Good teachers are said to elevate all of humanity essentially (every child), while poor teachers are responsible for human failure.

But for all of human history no matter the gifted minds appearing in all fields most of the human race never arrives at giftedness. Furthermore something of a contradiction is stated in declaring gifted teachers the salvation of the educational system: We have a human race with a wide variety of natural ability and supposedly picking the gifted teachers will overcome the natural variety, elevate the less capable.

The fact is fault is not with the teachers but the majority of humanity which is intellectually mediocre. Piling gifted teacher upon gifted teacher will not overcome genetic inability in the majority. In fact education is something of a myth, there is no such thing as education.

Eduction standards are set somewhere in the middle, favoring the average--the genetic ability of the average. This disguises the fact that the bottom twenty or thirty percent are not being educated and makes it seem the top twenty percent or so owe their achievement to being educated when the fact is they are actually genetically gifted to begin with.

Education is a myth--it claims essentially to be able to overcome genetic differences between people, that ironically looking for the gifted teachers, who owe their abilities to superior natural gifts, will elevate the masses to something close to their own level.
What we have is a circular argument in trying to find gifted teachers to save the educational system. We search for gifted teachers who are supposed to elevate the average, but the average proves recalcitrant and so we search harder for gifted teachers who again fail to elevate the average and so on. Eventually the day will arrive when we can blame teachers no longer, when we have as best as possible gifted teachers but human difference in ability keeps proving resistent to education.

Posted by: daniel12 | October 19, 2010 8:22 AM
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Part two.

if a person wants a school to succeed he does not put, charge, gifted teachers with the task of elevating average students, what he does is pick gifted students to begin with--which is the practice in all fields except education apparently. If you want a great sports team you pick the best players; if you want a great music group the best musicians; if you want the best business you pick the more gifted in the required positions to fill the positions. Obvious.

But apparently the education system has as its goal to provide all these fields with high performing material! Completely irrational! As early as Socrates it was understood that if one wants to communicate the more complex things one chooses carefully one's students. As early as the Greeks it was recognized that education is a myth if it is suggested a gifted teacher make something of a mediocre student. Education works only if teacher and student are on the same intellectual level to begin with. A moron can teach virtually anyone to tie a pair of shoes. Someone gifted in a field can transmit his knowledge only to a mind as naturally gifted as himself. So obvious.

It really is only a matter of time before all this becomes accepted, because the genetic sciences are pushing ahead more powerfully every day and getting at genetic differences between individuals, races and ethnic groups. Gradually the genetic sciences will replace education, the human race will arrive at high performing children genetically, making obsolete the concept of trying to elevate children to equality by education. Already it is recognized that the more gifted students have the capacity to educate themselves--increasing I.Q. is corrolated with increasing capacity to self-educate.

Again, the premise of this entire piece is wrong. And the most despicable and ironic thing is that one is not allowed to suggest such at all, not to suggest such in precisely the area in life in which one would expect the most flexible and free of thought. It would not surprise me if my comments here are deleted. Certainly I have never heard them discussed at all no matter how clearly I have stated my position in the past. People just refuse to consider it. Good luck with that tactic in the future. I feel it will not work. Eventually all positions will receive a fair hearing. And I think the current views being put forward by our education czars will be proved wrong.

Posted by: daniel12 | October 19, 2010 8:21 AM
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Does ANYONE really believe teacher's unions have the students' needs as priority one? Of course not.

So why do the unions get to decide how Johnny is taught?

Time to get unions AND govt out of education. Education should be LOCAL.

Posted by: silencedogoodreturns | October 18, 2010 3:11 PM
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Does ANYONE really believe teacher's unions have the students' needs as priority one? Of course not.

So why do the unions get to decide how Johnny is taught?

Posted by: silencedogoodreturns | October 18, 2010 3:10 PM
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Posted by: codcaper
As a college administrator who was in a bargaining unit (MTA) job, I always resented the fact that the union publications, post cards, and multi million dollar political campaigns were partisan and all about what's best for the union and not what was best for the students. They sent the message "we don't care what you think; we're doing what we think is best."

*****************************************************************

I would bet w/o knowing anything else about you and your job or school that you and your school have published numerous documents elaborating on what is good for your institution, but not taking into account the students! Let's see...how about justifying tuition hikes of several percentage points above inflation over the last 10-20 years. Somehow, the schools always seem to feel totally justified, but never really consider the harm to the students.
But of course, you consider your employer justified and, therefore, not against students. Might that not be the same standard as the unions are using? If so, then you are happy to add to the fire of the one so as to avoid being burned in your own home.

Posted by: familynet | October 16, 2010 8:26 AM
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Sorry, but I don't see how you can say there are many factors to failed education, but the unions are the ones to criticize. Is it because you don't have a single entity for the other elements in which to denounce?

BTW, using the proposed standards of teacher ratings, how do you know that your mother would still have had a job for those decades? In fact, you don't.

Posted by: familynet | October 16, 2010 8:20 AM
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Right on, Ted. You tell it like it is. As a college administrator who was in a bargaining unit (MTA) job, I always resented the fact that the union publications, post cards, and multi million dollar political campaigns were partisan and all about what's best for the union and not what was best for the students. They sent the message "we don't care what you think; we're doing what we think is best."

Posted by: codcaper | October 14, 2010 8:18 PM
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Stupid, false, unresearched, unreasoned pro-corporate, anti-working class bias. Of course that makes him a shoo-in for Hiatt and the Wall Street Post. I guess I'll need to go to FOX for some "fair and balanced" reporting. Did he sign the Monkey Manifesto last Sunday too?

Posted by: mcstowy | October 14, 2010 5:30 PM
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Politicians do their part to dumb down students too. In Virginia, Governor McDonnell refused to accept the $250 million in education funds to improve and standardize student’s progress, and bowed out of the Race to the top competition as most student in the state demonstrate falling performances in relation to other states (not counting the well educated and hard working students and teachers of Northern Virginia). McDonnell and Cuccinelli have Virginia in a race to the bottom, and they are taking as many as they can with them.

Posted by: Airborne82 | October 14, 2010 5:16 PM
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OMG are you another Teach For America clone? Another ex-husband of Michele Rhee? Terrible writing. Nothing to say on the subject, and wrong on what you did say. No facts. No understanding of the issues.

Not Top 50. Not Top 50,000. Clearly you have the Teach For America social network, or similar. Unworthy.

Posted by: chucky-el | October 14, 2010 3:55 PM
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This is my high fiber breakfast morning.
One must occasionally hold the nose and gulp down the education-labor union cocktail.
Trouble is, when I drink, I really don't want to end up more sober than how I was when I started.
Sorry, too heavy on top of the whimsical language.

Posted by: realitybased1 | October 14, 2010 10:32 AM
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Details, specifics please.

When have teachers’ unions blocked charter schools? Are charter schools always a step forward? What specific types of teacher evaluations do you favor and when have teachers’ unions blocked them?

Without the facts, the argument doesn’t have much weight.

Posted by: MsJS | October 12, 2010 1:23 PM
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