Teachers face dismissal under new state laws

At last count, 12 states have passed laws restricting what public schools can teach in their classrooms (“Debates, Books on Race and U.S. History Ensnare Teachers,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 24).  Both the NEA and AFT have filed suit claiming that such laws violate free speech rights of teachers.

But the truth is that public school teachers have not been able to make such decisions.  In 2010, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit made that quite clear when it held that because teachers are employees of a school district, only the school board can make that decision.  In short, school boards hire the speech of teachers.

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Disciplining students fairly

Since Black students are twice as likely to be suspended as white students, the argument is made that more Black teachers should be hired because they better understand their own (“Black & Brown kids belong in school: Stop suspending some kids unfairly,” New York Daily News, Dec. 22). But many of the teachers and principals deciding which students are suspended are themselves Black.

The racial paranoia sweeping the nation’s classrooms overlooks the fact that students who attend charter schools with harsh discipline policies have lower rates of criminal activity later in life.  That’s because they’ve learned the importance of taking responsibility for their actions.

If the real concern is for Black students, then it’s imperative to remove troublemakers of any race who disrupt learning. Racial quotas in suspensions are counterproductive in the long run.

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Unionization on campus grows

For too long, universities have exploited teaching assistants. But things are rapidly changing, with labor unions finding strong support among them (“United Auto Workers of the Ivy League,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 17). 

A seven-week strike by 3,000 graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants at Columbia University over wages is evidence that they have had enough. The UAW was also recognized as labor representative for 17,000 student researchers at the giant University of California system.

The truth is that universities could not operate without the work that these teaching assistants do for minimum wages.  Yet administrators refuse to pay them a living wage. 

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The humiliation of teachers persists

In an attempt to raise money for their classrooms, teachers in Sioux Falls, S.D. agreed to scoop up from the ice as many $1 bills as possible (“A demeaning teacher scramble for cash is a symbol of what’s wrong with education funding,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 15). I realize that their decision to participate was well intentioned, but it was disgraceful.

By engaging in the stunt, the teachers reinforced the image in the minds of taxpayers that they have no self-respect.  After all, would nurses in hospitals have done the same thing to draw attention to their plight?  What teachers there should have done is to protest the inadequate funding of schools in a professional way.

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School choice works because of tilted playing field

Market competition between schools is a highly controversial issue. As readers of this column know, I support parental choice.  But at the same time, I have repeatedly stressed that it is hardly perfect. 

Using data from Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program that has been in place since 2002, a new study found that it produces benefits for students in the form of higher test scores in reading and math, as well as lower rates of suspensions and absences (“The Ripple Effect,” Education Next, Winter 2022).

I believe that the No. 1 reason for the benefits is parental involvement.  When parents have to apply for admission to a school, rather than automatically be enrolled, they have skin in the game.  As a result, they make sure that their children study hard and follow the rules of the new school.

Traditional neighborhood public schools, therefore, become the schools of last resort.  Anyone who shows up at the door anytime during the semester must be enrolled by law.  As a result, there is no incentive to study and behave.

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More library censorship

Although we keep talking about the importance of developing critical thinking in students, we take steps that unavoidably prevent achievement of that goal. I’m referring to the latest example in San Antonio, Texas, where a controversy over which books should be in the high school library is unfolding (“A Law, an Email and a Furor Over Curriculums,” The New York Times, Dec. 11).

When State Representative Matt Krause sent a list of 850 books to superintendents claiming they were poisoning young minds, it was reminiscent of similar efforts in the past.  I don’t understand why we persist in believing that high school students today are so naïve.  They are bombarded with images since an early age that makes them more sophisticated than students of previous generations. Yet we refuse to acknowledge the new reality by trying to shield them from certain books.

It won’t be the last time such book banning will take place.  There is too much political advantage to be gained.

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The hypocrisy of race dorms

The trend toward establishing race dorms is the essence of hypocrisy on the part of college administrators (“Reject Black-led racial separatism on campus,” New York Daily News, Nov. 30). On one hand, they say that racial diversity is desirable because students learn from each other outside of lecture halls.  But on the other, they support segregated residences.

They can’t have it both ways.  Open learning cannot take place when dorms are established.  The irony is that when whites attempt to separate themselves from blacks, school officials decry the move.  But they have no problem when blacks attempt to separate themselves from whites.

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Alumni donations counter campus groupthink

With free inquiry on campuses across the country disappearing, alumni are withholding contributions as a sign of resistance (“Alumni Withhold Donations, Demand Colleges Enforce Free Speech,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 30). Who can blame them?

Tolerance for competing viewpoints is virtually nonexistent.  As a result, indoctrination, rather than education, is seen by many alumni as endemic.  They’re expressing their displeasure by the only thing colleges really respect. Whether the Alumni Free Speech Alliance will change things remains to be seen.  But it’s a sign of the pushback that is slowly developing.

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Are good schools a constitutional right?

Despite repeated evidence that public schools overall are failing to educate students, spending per student goes up nearly every year. Calling the situation a “disgrace,” Dave Welch, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, is fighting to get on the California ballot the “Constitutional Right to a High-Quality Public Education Act.”

At its heart is the assertion that bad teaching is a “constitutional violation.”  At first glance, who could disagree? But is the failure to educate solely the result of poor instruction?  What about the responsibility of students to learn?  Other countries whose schools are models of excellence make learning a partnership between teachers and students.

The U.S. is unique in placing the burden solely on teachers.  Until that changes, I don’t think Welch’s initiative will make much difference in outcomes.

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Ability grouping is not elitist

The U.S. is the only industrialized country that refuses to acknowledge reality about its students by refusing to group them by their achievement (“De Blasio vs. educational excellence: NYC schools are moving toward the lowest common denominator,” New York Daily News, Nov. 26).  As a result, we are squandering priceless human talent.

Resistance is based on the belief that the practice is elitist.  But our obsession with democratization comes with a heavy price that we cannot afford.  The fact is that students are different in their innate ability. Moreover, some are willing to work harder than others. No child left behind is a worthy slogan as long as it does not penalize students who are faster learners.

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