I was listening to the radio debate between Red for Ed advocate, Justin Oakley, and conservative WIBC radio personality Rob Kendall on my way home from work Friday. This debate was set up as a result of Kendall’s comments on Facebook which were seen as an attack on teachers by pretty much every teacher who read them. It didn’t go well for Mr. Kendall on the comment threads. So, it felt as though Mr. Oakley was going behind enemy lines when he agreed to a face-to-face debate in Mr. Kendall’s preferred element. It went exactly as I assumed it would as Mr. Kendall took up most of his–and Mr. Oakley’s–time screaming over everyone else and repeating the same questions over and over. He kept citing the statistics that Indiana lawmakers have already increased the funding of education. He kept yelling about 60% of the state’s budget going to education. He kept asking, “where will it end?–how much is enough?–what do teachers want?” Well, Mr. Kendall, you did a great job of dominating the airways with your incessant screaming of the same questions. You wouldn’t let Mr. Oakley have uninterrupted time, so I’m going to step in here and answer your questions.
Before I begin, Mr. Kendall, let me just say this; your questions reveal your complete ignorance of the real issues that have made the Red for Ed movement necessary. It’s not about how much the state puts into the education budget, it’s about the unfair, inequitable way those funds are divided among schools, teachers, and students. You kept insinuating that the teachers’ anger is focused upon the wrong target. You claim it’s the superintendents and school boards that are mishandling the money. I can’t speak to how well or poorly different school districts appropriate the funds they get. Perhaps better oversight is needed in some situations. However, you are completely missing the big picture. Let’s look at some examples.
The biggest problem, by far and away, facing education right now is the teacher shortage. That wasn’t even brought up in your debate. It should BE the debate. The teacher shortage is critical and getting worse by the day–and it has absolutely nothing to do with superintendents or school boards. It has everything to do with the past 15 years of systematic attacks on public education from our supermajority state legislature. The voters spoke loud and clear that they weren’t happy with the direction Daniels and Bennett were taking things and they soundly defeated Bennett with the unprecedented election of Glenda Ritz. What followed was some of the dirtiest politics ever pulled off as Mike Pence, champion of small government, created an entire new state board of education and effectively stripped all the power away from the duly elected Mrs. Ritz. Mike Pence knocked all the Republican out of me with that move. And so, the attack on public education went on unabated. We had a chance to make some great changes with that election and Mike Pence and the supermajority legislature simply crushed the will of the people.
The increased focus on school choice vouchers has stripped millions of dollars from public schools and added fuel to the wildfire burning through the public education landscape.
When the state of Indiana did away with schools’ yearly graduated pay schedules, it had a devastating effect on teacher pay. The ones who took the biggest brunt of that blow were new teachers. When I started teaching, 20 years ago, I was able to, fairly quickly, work my way out of a paltry starting salary (among the lowest of any profession requiring a college degree) because my base salary climbed at a predictable and steady pace due to the graduated pay scale. By the time the state took that away, I had already climbed up to a much more comfortable salary. But now, new teachers have no assurance that their pay will ever grow at all. Since pay increases are tied to standardized test scores and school letter grades, if a new teacher works in a district with high poverty, high crime rates, high numbers of trauma-affected students, etc., that consistently struggle with standardized testing, they become trapped in a hopeless no-win situation. There are teachers who have taught for five or six years who still are hovering around the same salary they began with as brand new teachers. With no hope of ever climbing out of that financial abyss, as more pressure, stress, and trauma pile up on these teachers, they are leaving the profession in droves. Those who stay, lag so far behind their more senior colleagues in pay that it must be downright belittling for them. There are young teachers in my building who make more than $30,000 dollars less than me each year. They do the same job as me, have the same responsibilities, and if things don’t change, they will never reach the level of my salary no matter how long they teach. All of this is thanks to our state government. Frankly, it’s a wonder some schools have any young teachers. There’s no way I could put up with that.
The state has also made it exceedingly difficult for a new teacher to become licensed. Big money is involved in that process as the testing companies create tests full of obscure, out-of-date, irrelevant questions that often require multiple attempts to pass, if they are passed at all. Every retake is another outlay of $100-200 dollars. I’ve heard from a lot of new teachers who’ve testified that they were soaked for more than $1,000 dollars just in licensing testing fees. Many would-be teachers never make it past this step so the teacher shortage is exacerbated even further.
I’ve already covered what I’ve laid out above in more detail in other articles, so I’m going to leave it at that for now. But let me answer those questions you kept screaming about, Mr. Kendall.
What do teachers want?
We want equitable treatment for schools, teachers, and students. We want a graduated pay schedule that we can count on. We want to do away with this system that makes the privileged more privileged and the underprivileged less privileged. We want education policy to be set and overseen by actual educators instead of politicians with an agenda. We want a fair accountability system that holds us accountable only for what we teach the kids in our own classroom–what did they know about my content when the walked in on day one and what did they know when they walked out on day 180? We want more oversight on how teachers are assessed.
We want respect.
We just want to go back to teaching.