Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When Government Unions Win, Everybody Else Loses


Not too much good news about public education coming out of our nation’s capital. Michelle Rhee resigned as chancellor of the Washington, DC school system. She was doing everything she could to break the left-wing teachers’ union’s power to protect its deadwood teachers and principals. She modified the teacher evaluation process by taking student progress on tests into consideration and she fired over 200 ineffective teachers and administrators. She had the support of Mayor Adrian Fenty, but other public employee unions including the infamously left-wing SEIU joined up to defeat him and pull the rug out from under Rhee. The American Federation of Teachers spent over $1 million in the effort.

Unions won. Students lost.

This came on the heels of another bit of bad news last year in our capitol city when Congress (which administers the District of Columbia) eliminated a school choice program for 1700 DC school children. President Obama, who sends his children to an expensive private school in DC, did nothing to support the school choice program for poor DC kids. Democrats are beholden to the teachers’s unions, which are the biggest supporters of that party nationwide, just ahead of trial lawyers. School choice anywhere it’s offered is anathema to teachers’ unions. Most of their political capital is spent defeating school choice (voucher) programs nationwide.

Here too, unions won. Students lost.

Shortly after Michelle Rhee resigned, the DC school system started feeding dinner to students as well as breakfast and lunch. According to an article at change.org, “This new early dinner program will feed 10,000 kids who may spend up to 10 hours a day at school in early-care and after-school programs.” So, now US taxpayers are feeding three meals a day to school kids in our nation’s capital. They’re spending ten hours a day in school with early care and after school programs, yet change.org is lamenting that food stamp aid may be cut to pay for it. “Forty percent of households reported not having enough money to buy food at least one time,” the article claims, and the federal government is “robbing Peter to pay Paul” when it cuts food stamps.

Why don’t those households have enough money for food when their kids are getting two or three free meals at school in addition to their food stamps? Are they bartering their food stamp benefits for other things on the street corner? According to an article in the Washington Examiner, the Washington DC school system has the fattest kids in the country. “The District has the highest childhood obesity rate in the country [according to] the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” yet we’re supposed to feed them still more? What the heck is going on down there?

Most newspapers report the per-pupil cost for DC schools at $13,000 per year, but if an article in the Washington Times is correct, the real number is $24,600! That’s the figure you get when you take all the money spent on the schools and divided it by the number of students. My only question at this point is: when are we going to provide beds for them? We babysit them before and after school, we feed them, we teach them to brush their teeth, teach them about the birds and the bees, provide counseling - so what’s left for parents to do? Where is it going to end?

The school choice program that Democrats in Congress cut cost the Washington DC school district only $7500 per pupil. At $24,600 per pupil the District spends, that would be a net savings of more than $17,000 per student. The 1700 students who took advantage of it were thriving. Their parents were happy with it too, but the teachers’ unions were not because it shined a bright light on what a bloated, corrupt education bureaucracy the unions created and preserved. If it expanded and was copied across the country, the teachers’ union monopoly would be smashed and Democrats would lose their biggest constituency. It had to go.

The federal government administers Washington, DC. Its schools are among the most expensive in the country, yet its students score among the lowest on standardized tests. If there’s a congressman or senator who sends his/her kids to the public schools in that city, I don’t know who it is. Nevertheless, that same federal government is taking more and more control of all the nation’s schools through an expanding US Department of Education.

As a long-time public school teacher, I don’t see that as an encouraging trend. How about we get rid of some Democrats next Tuesday?

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18 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You left out one additional suggestion ........ dismantle the Federal Deptartment of Education. Let the states decide what's important which empowers people to experience that their vote makes impact/has affect.

10/27/10, 7:29 AM  
Anonymous Gaffer said...

It is obvious that our education unions are the major cause of the huge cost of education. Until teachers get some backbone and say enough it will always be so. I have no problem with fair salaries for teachers but we cannot continue to fund education at the present rates.

10/27/10, 9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its unlikely that it would matter much but these folks don't even have a voting representative in Congress.

Unions have about used up their usefulness but they have been granted extraordinary powers by the government over the years. Its not just the Democrats and liberals that are ultimately at fault.

10/27/10, 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As usual, you have clarity of the problem, however, I think there are fewer bad teachers than lousy administrators---and way to many of them!

10/27/10, 4:26 PM  
Anonymous Govt2Big said...

SEIU has established some very deep roots in our current governmental systems, and this seems to be a core problem in Maine. Remember in November and we might have a chance to start correcting this problem.

10/28/10, 5:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, are you a member of the teachers union?

10/28/10, 11:14 AM  
Anonymous Clarence C. Wallace said...

Wow, great one Tom! I laughed so hard when I saw that "flipping the bird" picture again! Hee Hee! But than there was ANOTHER one of Pelosi and I thought it couldn't possibly get funnier, but then, oh my god, there was yet ANOTHER one!! I rolled on the floor laughing!! It really looked like they were flipping the bird, hilarious stuff. Your cleverness borders on genius Tom. Keep up the fantastic work!

10/28/10, 11:21 AM  
Anonymous Gary said...

Don't be silly, Anon, if the old hypocrite were not in the union his incompetent ass would have fired LONG ago. He is a prime example of the over-reaching power of unions.

10/28/10, 11:23 AM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

No use pointing out all the absurdities of another late-night rambling diatribe by Tom. The spineless chicken will just hide again like the big baby that he is.

10/28/10, 11:29 AM  
Blogger Tom McLaughlin said...

No.

I used to be though when I was a liberal, and for a little while afterward when various liberal groups were trying to get me fired or get the state to pull my teaching license because of my writing. I thought the union would provide me with legal protection, but then I realized that it was more likely they'd hang me out to dry.

They were also giving most of my $400 per year dues to Democrats.

10/28/10, 11:32 AM  
Anonymous Aaron Sanford said...

Tom, what do you want the schools to do with the children who show up for school unfed and hungry?

What do you want them to do with children who show up to school with rotting teeth and horrendous breath?

You are even against COUNSELING for troubled kids??!!?? The schools should ignore children with serious problems happening in their lives?


You wo't take your usual tactic of dodging these straight-forward questions, will you?

10/28/10, 12:25 PM  
Blogger Tom McLaughlin said...

Schools are expected to more and more and people are letting them. Schools pretend we're discharging all these new responsibilities adequately and we're not. All the extras are negatively affecting our primary mission, which is to teach.

As government takes over more and more aspects of people's lives through schools, social service agencies, housing, food stamps, health care, elder care in nursing homes, and on and on, people do less for themselves. They become infantile and irresponsible - and they vote Democrat.

People seldom take care of grammy and grampy in their homes anymore. Instead, they expect government to pay for nursing home care. People are less likely to exercise and live healthy lifestyles if they get free health care, and so on and so on.

10/28/10, 1:58 PM  
Anonymous Aaron Sanford said...

You avoided the question Tom. What do you want the schools do with the children I mentioned? Ignore them and their troubles?

10/28/10, 2:18 PM  
Blogger Tom McLaughlin said...

No. Don't ignore the problem. Refer them out to non-governmental agencies in the community as we school officials used to. Or, refer them to one of the myriad government agencies which are replacing them - inadequately, I'll add.

10/28/10, 2:36 PM  
Anonymous Aaron Sanford said...

I find it surprising that you are recommending MORE outside agencies
to deal with a problem that is easy to handle at school. You really suggest that yet another big government agency is a better solution?!? We need outsiders coming into our schools to council and feed our children?!? I wonder what the counselor at your school thinks about your claiming that he/she shouldn't be employed there.

10/29/10, 8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In 2009, the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) — generally regarded as a pro-school-choice organization — issued a study of charter-school performance in 15 states and the District of Columbia. The study found that 17% of charter schools outperformed local district schools, 46% performed similarly, and 37% performed worse than local district schools.


These would seem to be dark days for the school-choice movement, as several early champions of choice have publicly expressed their disillusionment. A few years ago, the Manhattan Institute's Sol Stern — author of Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice — caused a stir when he backed away from his once-ardent support. Howard Fuller, an architect of Milwaukee's school-voucher plan and the godfather of the school-choice movement, has wryly observed, "I think that any honest assessment would have to say that there hasn't been the deep, wholesale improvement that we would have thought." Earlier this year, historian Diane Ravitch made waves when she retracted her once staunch support for school choice in The Death and Life of the Great American School System. "I just wish that choice proponents would stop promising that charters and vouchers will bring us closer to that date when 100 percent of all children reach proficiency," she opined in her blog. "If evidence mattered, they would tone down their rhetoric." Harvard professor and iconic school-voucher proponent Paul Peterson has characterized the voucher movement as "stalled," in part by the fact that many "new voucher schools were badly run, both fiscally and educationally,"

http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/does-school-choice-work

10/29/10, 9:56 AM  
Blogger Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

For decades I've been saying CUT ADMINISTRATION. I live in New Mexico where our Democratic governor of the last 8 years put us 500 million in debt - in a state with a population of 1.5 million people.

So what do they do? Here in my small town they fired all the school librarians. Oh, *that's* brilliant in a state where we also already have a high rate of illiteracy. And the local high school has 5 secretaries to take attendance and write passes.

It's infuriating. I'm an author and I write novels for elementary/middle school kids with Scholastic and this makes me crazy. Reading is the foundation of all learning as you well know, Tom, and my state is telling kids, once again, that it's not important. Our libraries are now silent tombs with no reading programs and no librarians in them.

10/29/10, 10:48 AM  
Anonymous Ralph said...

Tom says:

"I used to be though when I was a liberal"

He probably did a lot things back then that he doesn't do anymore. Like make sense.

Tom obviously had a traumatic experience involving liberals as a young man which left him with irrational anger towards them, and an intense desire to try and irk them at any opportunity. Did a hippie chick with flowers in her hair leave him at the alter? More likely, based on the evidence, the experience involved gay men clad in leather, hence his continual fascination.

Whatever it was, he is caught up in trying to “get them back”. His interest in actual political policies seems to match his knowledge in the subject – nil. But who cares, because that bothers the liberals even more, right? Lies and exaggerations will surely irritate those libs, huh? Make the columns as blatantly non-reality based as, say, a Glen Beck or Rush show because Tom knows liberals can’t stand those jokers. Kind of pathetic, really, a Beck/Rush/Hannity/Coulter wannabe, considering how pathetic the originals are to begin with.

But I like playing the game with him. It’s fun, always good for a chuckle. Looking forward to his next little election day dig, as if that little roadbump will actually mean anything in the long run.

11/1/10, 2:36 PM  

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