Thursday, March 27, 2014

Students Know More than Most Senators

With all the flap in Philly over the new work rules imposed on the teachers, I got upset over this article written by a York/ Lancaster/Lebanon County state senator, Mike Fowler. Here is my reply to him:

Dear Mr. Folmer,

You are no friend of public schools, students, and their teachers. You have swallowed the koolaid handed out by the corporate so-called reformers who have the privatization of the public school system at the heart of their lies and scare tactics.

You recently wrote an article on your website that railed against bad teachers and smart kids. You claimed that students who spoke at his educational summits and knew about the education budget in PA had been ”educated” in advance by “adults with vested interest in the outcomes.” You included the observation that “Students are well versed on the Commonwealth’s education budget but some have little or no knowledge of our Constitutional republic or its history.” And that one student was “so familiar with school funding formulas she knew more than most Senators.”

It appears as though some Senators may need to go back to school.

You blame the fact that the students know so much on the bad teachers who “used (students) to advance a political agenda.”  If the teachers were bad, would their students know about current Issues in Civics? That is a course of study in high school, after all. Sounds like the teachers did their job well with those students, doesn’t it? And of course, no one in the Governor’s seat or the legislature ever uses educational issues to advance their political agenda, right? Excuse me while I laugh.

It’s a travesty that you believe that students who are “college and career ready” would not have thought to educate themselves on hot-button issues in education. They are, after all, affected by these issues today more than ever. These are students who attended schools that in 2010 were found, by the state legislature itself, to be underfunded by at least $4.4 billion. $1.1 billion being the amount that the city of Philadelphia was underfunded by in that year.  These are students who have seen favorite teachers laid off and arts and music classes cut because of this underfunding. In Philadelphia, these students have had to be educated in schools without enough teachers, without extra-curriculars, counselors, nurses, and materials needed for their studies, and with increases in class sizes. Students are affected by underfunding every single day in our state. They have a much bigger stake in it than any of the adults involved.

The City Paper states, “Pennsylvania, under Corbett, scrapped a measure that considers needs, like the number of students who are living in poverty or are English-language learners. The result: huge shortfalls in poorer districts like Philadelphia, and teachers continuing to spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to buy paper and other basic supplies. Municipalities throughout Pennsylvania are also wary of further property-tax increases. In 2011, a record 135 school districts raised property taxes above the normal legal limit. AThe education-funding crisis, deepened by the budget cuts, has made Philadelphia’s predicament uncomfortably familiar to people in towns and cities statewide.”

In advancing your own political agenda, you turn away from the very real education budget crisis and write about that tired, old, and inaccurate stereotype of the bad teacher that no one can get rid of, even though everyone knows who they are. Are there bad teachers in PA? Certainly. There might even be as many bad teachers as bad legislators on Capitol Hill. If a school can’t get rid of a bad teacher, then the problem is with the principal, who has always had the power to release a teacher after proving the teacher is ineffective. Principals often choose not to wield this power, instead they “encourage” the teacher to transfer to another school, starting the cycle all over again. The members of the teachers unions do not want bad teachers in the profession either, but they do make sure that there is proof of incompetence and they do provide a hearing for that teacher, through tenure. 

Many people, maybe even the senator, are unaware that tenure in the K-12 school community doesn’t mean a teacher has a job for life, good or bad. It basically means that a teacher is guaranteed a hearing if accused of something. Seems to me that is a basic tenet in our justice system, presumed innocent until proven otherwise. If the process takes too long, it simply means that the administrator did not follow protocol to get that teacher out. Put the blame where it belongs.

You state, “However, every day we fail to provide children with a quality education, we adults fail to meet the mandate of our state Constitution: to provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” I agree wholeheartedly with you here. But where you would rather tear down the public schools at the expense of charters and get rid of tenure, I am for bolstering the public schools so they can offer each child a “thorough and efficient education.”

Fair funding for public schools, increased scrutiny of charters, and respecting the job that hard-working teachers do every day will be a good start.

You should go back to school. There are many things you have yet to learn.

 If you wish to leave Mr. Fowler a note: Go here:

Still learning!

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