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How To Select And Slaughter A Scapegoat

Opening our tax bills in the past few weeks and discovering six, seven, even 10 percent increases, only underscored the high cost of Long Island public education. And for most communities in Nassau County, the bare nerve isn’t quality, it’s cost. Some of the best public schools on the planet are right here. So are some of the most expensive.

As we all know, the lion’s share of any school district’s budget is personnel. Thanks to contracts negotiated by school boards with Jell-O spines as well as state laws enacted in very different economic times, raises are automatic (they’re called “steps”) and benefits are much plusher than those in virtually all private-sector workplaces. Many area school districts act as though 2007-09 never happened. Well, it did, and employees in other fields have yet to recover ground lost.

It’s easy to find a villain in the drama — teachers. Those greedy property-tax suckers. But I don’t blame the recipients of the largess. It’s no crime to ask for the moon and accept it when it’s offered. The real problem is our public officials, from the school board, right up to the state legislature, who are too dim-witted or scared to tackle personnel costs head-on. We, who elect them, are accessories to the crime.

In that way, Long Island is different from most of America — we bash our teachers on their cost; other places blame them for just about everything short of global warming.

Take, for instance, the recent Education Nation Summit held in Manhattan. Backed and ballyhooed by NBC, this event was the latest in a “nationally broadcast, in-depth conversation about improving education in America.”

 But from what I can tell, Education Nation isn’t about improving education as much as transforming it into what Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg and hedge-fund enriched “geniuses” believe it should be. That is, a system in which America’s public school kids are educated in a way that’s the opposite of the way these plutocrats’ kids are schooled. Guess which kids get art, music, athletics and school libraries in addition to traditional academics, and which kids get a 13-year sentence to test prep.

Yes, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was at the Education Nation event, but the big unions know better than to object loudly for fear of being labeled “obstructionist” and “married to the status quo.”

After all, while the Democrats and Republicans can’t seem to agree on anything else, they do agree on “school reform” and that if America has one thoroughly evil enemy, it’s the amalgam of public education and the classroom teacher. To think, the system and the people with whom our kids spend 182-plus days a year have assumed a position once held by Osama bin Laden.

While no one has (yet) called out the Navy SEALs, the foot soldiers of “reform” definitely target teachers. Or, more precisely, to make their massacres universally acceptable, “bad teachers.” A field guide to identifying bad teachers has yet to be issued, but Gates, Bloomberg and so many others drinking the Education Nation Kool-Aid assure us that the problem with American schools is bad teachers. They would have us believe that pink-slipping the millions of bad teachers infesting our classrooms will propel our kids’ academic performance past their counterparts in Korea, Japan and Canada. Finally, we’ll put Finland in its place. “Fire a teacher. It’s the patriotic thing to do.”

For all the talk about the Common Core standards training our kids to “think deeper,” be more “analytical,” and be “college and career ready,” much of the support for it really comes from bad teacher bounty hunters.

Consider, for instance, what former Louisiana Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek told Education Nation. His state, which implemented Common Core standards three years ago, won’t be testing kids on it for another two years. That’s a mistake, said Pastorek. Get the tests going ASAP, he says.

 “Some teachers, respectfully, no longer belong in the classroom,” Pastorek said. “And we need to know who they are.”

So much for “deeper thinking,” and “college and career readiness.” The Common Core and the voluminous testing accompanying it are, in large part, about firing teachers.

Once those bad teachers are gone, they can be replaced by energetic young people, fresh out of college who are willing to “sacrifice” a couple of years in teaching. After that, they move on to “real jobs,” and won’t eat up tax dollars with pay raises and pension obligations. In fact, media darling Teach For America (Education Nation swooned earlier this year) gives its teachers just five weeks of training before launching their pedagogical careers. It sure makes me glad we don’t have “Fly Airliners For America,” “Rescue People From Burning Buildings For America” or “Perform Organ Transplants For America.”

But then, we are told, teaching is easy. And it needn’t be expensive. Anyone can do it. Except, of course, those who are doing it now.

John Owens is editor in chief of Anton Community Newspapers.