The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: A Year in Education Policy Review

Good: Walker’s Won Battle
Reducing Union Power and Enhancing District Opportunities

Coming under great siege from unions and left-of-center teachers alike, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s budget and collective bargaining reforms have continued to gain in success stories since the time of its passing. The reforms, which specifically give more power to school districts and less to unions when it comes to deciding matters such as teacher pay or budget allocations, were a hard-fought battle and a win that must be celebrated as the top education victory of 2011. The idea that the elimination of collective bargaining is necessary to the health of school districts has been recognized nationwide, with the state of Idaho being one of the most recent proponents of this policy.
School districts had frequently been held at the mercy of the union voice, which decided matters as important as teacher pay and the hiring or firing of both good and bad teachers. This power had grown enormously due to the lack of rules governing these negotiations. Governor Walker’s proposal eliminated the ability to collectively bargain for all matters other than that regarding teacher pay, which has been capped at inflation under the provision in Wisconsin’s Act 10. The act also returned power to teachers, as they are now given the ability to vote to disband the union, and thus, keep the pay that would have gone to union dues.
When the Yorkville School District gave its teachers the option to vote to disband the union influence, the teachers voted unanimously to do so. The former union president and teacher stated that the district, quote, “never had to use their services.”  Other Wisconsin school districts have also kicked the unions to the curb, including those in Racine and North Cape. Several school districts have also seen expansion of programs provided to students, and property taxes statewide have been reduced by as much as 1.0% due to a decline in school levies. It’s working, Wisconsin.

Bad: Action on Education Reform Nationwide
Why Inaction was Harmful

Lacking any large-scale reforms, President Barack Obama’s recent attempts to revitalize public education have fallen short of any good expectations. The most recent education policy affirmed by President Obama has placed a strong emphasis on a common core of curriculum to be taught in all schools nationwide. Not only does this policy prevent school districts from having to freedom to teach courses applicable to the students in the classroom, but it constricts teachers from exercising the ability to freely teach subject matter meant to impassion students’ holistic development.

Though the recognition of the need to reform No Child Left Behind hit the White House, President Obama has offered waivers to states with the stipulation that they accept his education reform policies: ones which not only have a very low differential to current policy, but also decrease the ability for school districts to have choice in what they teach. This lack of real reform causes students in the United States to keep falling short of their global competition, academically.
President Obama’s ‘Race to the Top’ came under harsh criticism in 2011, as some found that the funds were divided unfairly.  Rather, schools unable or unwilling to adhere to the Obama Administration’s desired educational structure  lost out on funds.

Ugly: Wisconsin Teachers Neglect their Classrooms to Protest
“It’s for the students!”

Ridiculous hoards of Wisconsin teachers abandoned their classrooms to protest Governor Walker’s education reforms which they believed would be “harmful to students.”  Doctors wrote falsified sick notes to ensure protesting teachers would receive pay during their absences, while holding signs offering their medical services outside of the Wisconsin State Capitol.  Often citing such ailments as ‘stress induced by recent political discussions’ or ‘family illness,’ thousands of sick notes were turned into the Madison school district alone. School districts had no choice but to accept the sick notes, regardless of the skepticism surrounding them, and provide teachers with compensation for the days they were not in the classroom.

The pay, which came from the taxpayers of Wisconsin, was given to teachers who evidently believed it to be more beneficial to teach their students how to protest ‘policies that would create harm,’ rather than spending those precious hours in the classroom teaching the very courses they believed were in danger of cuts.

By this action alone, those teachers that accepted pay for fabricated sick days ought to be ashamed at their inability to care for the continued education of students placed under their charge.  Maybe it was never about the students in the first place.

Caitlyn Stenerson // Carthage College // @StenersonMN

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