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Politics // The Right Price
Larry Price

Low Morale Of Our Public Teachers

It’s not easy to be a teacher. There are plenty of hurdles to leap over, credentials to be earned and a long life of continuing education to keep up with your subject matter. And something few look forward to is someone looking over your shoulder to determine if you are being effective – in many cases, uncertified individuals who do not have a clue about how children should be taught.

When politics and education collide, educators are almost defenseless. Teachers are paid with public funds and have to accept, even welcome, criticism from the public. Some of the scrutiny is unreasonable and downright insulting. The morale of our public schoolteachers has got to be at its lowest level in many years. They were forced to take cuts in pay and benefits to help the state balance its budget. Their collective bargaining rights were trampled by the governor, and the union is finding it difficult to represent them. They turned down a contract overwhelmingly because of confusion on how the Department of Education (DOE) was going to measure their effectiveness. Several months later they were asked by union representatives to return to the ballot box and re-vote on the contract, because they didn’t have enough information to cast an intelligent vote. In the invitation to vote again was a warning that a “no” vote would authorize the leadership to call for a strike. Facing such daunting instructions, they voted to accept the contract they had turned down months earlier, only to be told by the governor that the contract they were voting on was invalid and suggested that they should return to the bargaining table.

It seems pretty obvious someone is determined to make it easier to fire incompetent teachers, limit tenure and take away some of their collective bargaining rights. It became apparent when the DOE announced in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that students in kindergarten through 12th grade in 18 schools on the Waianae Coast and the Big Island’s Kau-Pahoa areas took part in surveys to rate their teachers as part of a pilot program, “as just one way to measure teacher effectiveness.”

HSTA officials said that their concern was students would intentionally rate teachers poorly for reasons such as getting bad grades. Others pointed out that according to Jean Piaget, one of the most renowned authorities of cognitive development in children, 5-year-olds don’t have the cognitive capacity to make sound judgements about teachers because their reasoning levels are still developing. In all fairness, there are many who disagree with Piaget’s research, and his findings dealing with assimilation and accommodation of cognitive learning. Howard Gardner’s reevaluation of Piaget’s findings: Still a giant, but wrong in practically every detail. Another critic said, “Piaget’s work on children’s intellectual development owed much to the early studies of water snails.”

And while furloughs have been replaced with new words like “Directed Leave Without Pay Day,” public schoolteachers are no closer to understanding what’s going on now than they were at the beginning of this protracted labor dispute.

The DOE has not released the results of the surveys, saying that the data is still being analyzed. When it is completed, the sampling will be fertile material for a doctoral dissertation, and then will be debated for decades, which is the chosen path of academians, who love to blow theoretical holes in each other’s research.

One thing is pretty sure at this point: The DOE will use the kindergarten surveys. It’s probably a good bet that it will still be engaged in heated debate over measuring teacher effectiveness decades from now. In the end, most of the teachers will be retired, and these kindergarten students could be doing surveys on who should be appointed to the Board of Education and other political agencies.

I don’t have a problem accepting that, because politicians come and go. Teachers are different, their effect on the children they work with is for life.

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