“It’s not OK to hate teachers.” Those are the words of the Rev. John Thomas back in 2010, four years ago, right after he retired as General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, joined the staff at Chicago Theological Seminary and started a blog.
“What’s going on here?” asked Thomas. “Certainly union busting is part of what’s going on. Public officials see a rare opportunity to diminish the power of teachers’ unions in this climate and are doing what they can to discredit organizations that have done much to ensure that teachers are rewarded and protected at a level commensurate with other professions… And let’s be honest, for most people passionate interest in public schools begins when the first child enters kindergarten and ends when the last child graduates from high school. How many of us know much of anything about what’s going on in our public schools when we don’t have our own children or grandchildren attending them?”
Well… on the cover of its November 3, 2014 issue, Time Magazine is trying to develop some passionate interest. Or maybe that is not what’s happening. What is Time really trying to accomplish on the cover of its new issue? Here is what the text says: “Rotten Apples: It’s nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher. Some tech millionaires have found a way to change that.” The picture that accompanies this text is of a judge’s gavel poised above an apple. That’s a hint. This must have something to do with former CNN anchor Campbell Brown’s new cause: to file Vergara-type lawsuits across the states to outlaw due process job protection for school teachers. This blog has covered the California Vergara lawsuit here. It has covered Campbell Brown’s new endeavor to organize a legal attack on teachers unions here and here.
This is actually the second time that Time Magazine has attacked teachers with a picture on its cover. Valerie Strauss, in the Washington Post, reminds us that back in December of 2008, Time pictured Michelle Rhee—then chancellor of the schools in Washington, D.C.—poised to sweep out bad teachers with the broom she was holding. “Rhee was,” according to Strauss, “the vanguard of a wave of ‘corporate school reform’ that has used standardized test scores as the chief metric for school ‘accountability,’ promoted charter schools and vouchers, and sought to minimize or eliminate the power of teachers unions and change the way teachers are trained. Rhee was chancellor from 2007-2010, during which she fired hundreds of teachers and principals and started a program that used test scores to evaluate every adult in the building—including, for several years, the custodians. She also collected enormous sums of donations from private philanthropists to start a merit pay system for teachers (even though merit pay systems in education have a long history of failure).” Any test score gains during Rhee’s tenure were later shown to be related to gentrification; the racial achievement gap widened during Rhee’s years; and she left the District under the cloud of allegations of a massive test score cheating scandal that was never fully investigated.
Many have pointed out that Time‘s new article (which is unfortunately behind a paywall), by Haley Sweetland Edwards, is fairer and far more nuanced than Time‘s cover. Sweetland analyzes, for example, not only the likely impact of the California Vergara case, but the series of lawsuits anticipated by Campbell Brown and her funders including California’s David Welch (who bankrolled the Vergara litigation): “(Judge) True’s decision (in Vergara) holds no precedent-setting power and won’t affect any California law unless an appeals court upholds the ruling sometime next year. Both the state and the teachers’ unions have appealed and are waiting a trial date. But on another level, the Vergara case is a powerful proxy for a broader war over the future of education in this country. The reform movement today is led not by grassroots activists or union leaders but by Silicon Valley business types and billionaires. It is fought not through ballot boxes or on the floors of hamstrung state legislatures but in closed-door meetings and at courthouses. And it will not be won incrementally, through painstaking compromise with multiple stakeholders, but through sweeping decisions—judicial and otherwise—made possible by the tactical application of vast personal fortunes.”
Toward the end of her piece, Sweetland calls into question the very kind of Value Added Measure (VAM) testing on which the Vergara lawsuit was based. Sweetland lists several significant pieces of research that challenge the very notion that Value Added formulas based on students’ test scores have validity for evaluating teachers—from the American Statistical Association last April, from the American Educational Research Association last May, and even, in July, from the U.S. Department of Education, whose study, according to Sweetland, “found that VAM scores varied wildly depending on what time of day tests were administered or whether the kids were distracted.”
If you are one of Time Magazine‘s 3,289,377 subscribers, consider carefully the cover of Time‘s November 3 issue. Why would a major news magazine make an editorial decision to promote the scapegoating of an entire profession? Why is Time Magazine urging you to fixate on what it calls “the bad apples”? The American Federation of Teachers urges us all to sign its petition demanding an apology from Time Magazine: “Time’s cover doesn’t even reflect its own reporting. The Time article itself looks at the wealthy sponsors of these efforts. And while it looks critically at tenure, it also questions the testing industry’s connections to Silicon Valley and the motives of these players. The cover is particularly disappointing because the articles inside the magazine present a much more balanced view of the issue. But for millions of Americans, all they’ll see is the cover and a misleading attack on teachers.”
Four years after his column, It’s Not OK to Hate Teachers, Rev. John Thomas just last week published a new column lamenting the corporate attack on public school teachers, on their unions, and on public schools as democratic institutions: “Control and management of our public schools is being systematically removed from parents, teachers, and ordinary citizens, and placed in the hands of mayors, their political allies in state legislatures and governors’ offices, their wealthy donors, the operators of charter schools, and politically well-connected entrepreneurs and vendors eager to make money from contracts for things like technology or maintenance with the charters they themselves have invested in. Local school boards are vanishing and the collective bargaining rights of teachers, one of the few remaining countervailing power bases able to challenge the privatization of our schools, are under assault. Is this what democracy looks like?”