17 May 2011

Teachers & Reform (Addendum)

The movement to reform school systems, now coupled with the drive to bust unions, especially of public employees, in some states, has brought a return of “blame the teacher.” The focus has mostly been on seniority, especially when it comes to laying off teachers as budgets are slashed across the board in both cities and states around the country. According to the existing laws and policies of many states and school systems, if layoffs become necessary, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg insists they are in New York City, the most recently hired teachers will be the first to be let go regardless of their accomplishments and evaluations on the job or their potential as teachers for the future. Bloomberg and his education commissioner, among others, are promoting a change in the law, known as “Last In, First Out,” or LIFO, to allow school boards to choose the teachers to be laid off based on merit rather than seniority.

First off, let’s get away from one topic that’s part of this debate right now: whether state budget cuts inevitably mean teacher layoffs as well. Bloomberg insists the state shortfall requires him to cut the city budget, including the education department, and that that necessitates laying off teachers. Governor Andrew Cuomo suggests that such cuts aren’t necessary, despite his proposed state drawdown and some opponents to the mayor’s budgetary choices also assert that firing teachers isn’t needed, either. (Cuomo’s proposed cuts in administrative expenditures such as bureaucracy, office overhead, and consultants.) To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what the truth is here. I’m far too ignorant about financial matters and the economy to see one way or the other. Furthermore, it’s irrelevant to the issue I want to get into here: whether it’s fairer and better for the schools and students to make decisions about reductions in force based on seniority or merit, irrespective of whether the current situation requires a RIF or not. Whenever the time comes, now or in the future, that teachers have to be fired to meet budgetary demands, that question remains. Additionally, while this discussion is going on in the press and on the airwaves, some activists and spokespeople have taken to maligning the teachers again as a way to weaken the position of the teachers’ unions, which Chris Christie, the new governor of New Jersey, has dubbed “political thugs” in a televised interview. “The teachers union is an institution built to protect the interests of itself,” but not the schoolchildren, stated Tony Bennett, Indiana state Superintendent of Public Instruction. In both Wisconsin and Indiana, Governors Scott Walker and Mitch Daniels have impelled legislatures to pass bills stripping public employees, including teachers, of their collective bargaining rights, a move opposed by Americans across the country by nearly two to one; other states are contemplating similar laws. (You have to wonder, by the way, why all the governors trying to hogtie these unions are Republicans while the unions almost invariably support Democratic candidates.) In February 2010, school officials in Central Falls, Rhode Island, announced plans to fire all the unionized teachers at the high school. The tumult was settled, but politicians around the country cheered the move and morale fell, with 20% of the faculty leaving and daily absenteeism among the rest increasing dramatically. As I said in “Teaching & Reform” (ROT, 29 July 2010), I find these tactics reprehensible.

I will assert, however, that reductions in school budgets aren’t necessarily best addressed by firing teachers on any basis. (Poor-mouthing has long been a good excuse to divide voters and disenfranchise some “undesirable” portion of an electorate.) In fact, we can’t fix our schools, whether for financial reasons or pedagogical failings, by getting rid of classroom teachers. Whenever someone complains about the problems and failures in public education, the first reaction is to blame the teachers. Never mind that schools are notoriously unevenly financed so that schools with problems get fewer resources. Never mind that reversing undeserved tax cuts for corporations and millionaires could restore school funds without burdening budgets. Never mind that social problems in the community like drugs, gangs, or poverty have a greater effect on learning than any teacher does. Never mind that studies show that classroom teaching is responsible for only 20% of a child’s education—that evenings, weekends, and vacations account for nearly as much of the experience. Never mind that school administrations, from the state departments of education to local school boards to principals and administrators in the school buildings are more responsible for what goes on inside a school than the hamstrung faculties. Never mind any of that—if there’s something wrong, it’s the teachers who get the blame first, and the solution is always to fire teachers and take away the few hard-won rights they’ve obtained over the years. Now, as we see in states across the country, the teachers’ meager salaries and benefits are the being spotlighted as the cause of the budgetary shortfalls. The teachers’ contracts aren’t the reason for the budget crunch in the first place (that was Wall Street enabled by oblivious regulators), and firing a bunch of them won’t fix the problem much in the second. In the third place, the teachers who are left, with larger classes and reduced classroom resources—not to mention fewer extracurricular and enhancement programs—are demoralized and marginalized even more.

On the surface, basing the decision to fire or retain teachers based on effectiveness seems like a no-brainer, especially in light of what I wrote back in “Teaching & Reform.” I said then that I was in favor of anything that benefited the students and that merit pay and other inducements to recruit and keep good teachers was sensible in spite of any opposition from teachers’ unions, who back the status quo. I still support any change that works for school kids, no matter on what side of the political spectrum it falls, but there are implications to the seniority-vs.-merit debate that may not be apparent at first look and which muddy the waters considerably. The major question is whether jettisoning the seniority rules applies only to layoffs or whether it will affect other aspects of the system as well.

If we want to make the schools better and keep good, dedicated teachers, then I think pay and layoff decisions have to be based on the effectiveness of the teachers under consideration. Based solely on who’s been around longest, these actions discourage good teachers and encourage the tactic of hanging on without sticking your neck out, keeping your profile low, and not making any waves—or worse, sucking up to the administration. Seniority provides a certain job security, which is good, but it doesn’t promote innovation or originality. Good teachers don’t come into the system and others don’t stay. Seniority may disadvantage new teachers, but how many college grads are likely to sign up for a job that they know going in will be short-lived because they will soon be considered old-timers and subject to dismissal in favor the novices coming up behind them? This doesn’t mean that longevity and loyalty shouldn’t be rewarded, either. Clearly, a teacher who’s been on a faculty a long time is a valuable asset, both for the school and the newer teachers; the students, too, benefit from the continuity and the experience the longer-serving teachers bring to the classroom. In any given school, the administration tends to be more footloose, moving from school to school or even district to district, while faculties remain in place longer, providing a stability that would be lost if senior teachers were regularly dismissed. Schools with the lowest teacher turnover are usually the most successful.

Though there are certainly exceptions, for the most part, teachers who’ve been on the job for 10, 15, 20, or more years must have something on the ball; they get evaluated yearly at least, after all. Neither age nor long service means that a teacher is not good or should be put out on an ice floe. When I was studying Russian 40 years ago, our best teacher was an older woman who’d been a Russian teacher in the Soviet Army: she was the most knowledgeable about how to teach language, the most engaged and responsive, and the most interested of our whole cadre of instructors. (She was also the sweetest person: she took her whole section, of which I was a member at the time, to the student kitchen on the day designated for our class picnic and taught us to make real Russian borscht—not the red Polish beet soup most Americans know—which we then relished along with the rest of our class that afternoon. Now, that was a learning experience!) We can’t afford to lose the experienced teachers any more than we can afford not to get the new, enthusiastic ones.

But what if the loss of seniority protection bears on other aspects of the system? Tenure, for instance, is a subject that’s been argued in this general debate, too. It’s often unpopular among the public (though I believe that’s based more on the way its portrayed in adversaries’ public statements than it is on the actuality). Opponents to tenure, whereby teachers reach a stage where they can no longer be fired arbitrarily and have considerable freedom in their classrooms, assert that it’s a process that protects mediocre and ineffectual teachers who long ago became little more than placeholders. Governor Christie, who’s also told teachers they are greedy, has bluntly declared, for instance, that tenure protects incompetent teachers and Governor Walker’s bills (which still face legal challenges) would deny teachers tenure protection. The unions, such opponents say, protect instructors who are past their prime and should be replaced by younger teachers. Defenders of tenure point out that it protects teachers who’ve earned some autonomy from being dismissed or reassigned capriciously by principals and superintendents with political, social, or personal agendas. Before teachers won the right to unionize and bargain collectively for the conditions of their employment, that’s exactly what happened. And since even without seniority as a criterion, longer-serving teachers earn higher salaries than newly hired ones, firing older teachers and replacing them with new hires cuts costs—as workers in many other fields have seen in recent years. (It also cuts down on pension obligations since the longer teachers serve, the more they’re vested in the pension plans. Reduce the length of service before retirement and you reduce the pension the state owes the retiree.) Furthermore, tenure is awarded, not automatic; there’s an evaluation process before a teacher is granted tenure, no matter how long he or she’s served.

A friend of mine who’s a retired professor from a nearby community college and was very active in her faculty union—she even served as a union officer—got quite heated when discussing the trend toward reducing the influence of seniority and other union protections in teacher employment. Though my friend’s experience wasn’t in secondary or primary school, many of the issues are the same, especially the matter of tenure. Without the protection of tenure, she warned, schools will begin paring away at the independence of the teachers in the classroom and administrations with agendas will be able to insert their programs into the schools’ curricula—and no one will have the authority to fight them. Without the power of union contracts, collective action, and due process protection, administrations can fire teachers they don’t like or who won’t toe their lines, leaving schools with homogeneous faculties who all think alike and follow the same program without variation or dissent. (This is, in fact, what it was like before teachers were free to unionize.) There would be no interplay of varied ideas or open discussion of differences. A school whose faculty is entirely young, unprotected, and inexperienced is much easier to control and bend to the will of a designing principal or superintendent. My friend was very exercised over the trend she sees and the potential consequences if the union-busters prevail.

Now, I confess, I find my friend’s alarm a little hyperbolic, but I can still see her point, especially when it comes to the matter of seniority-based tenure. As readers of ROT should know by now, the freedom of expression, whether in a classroom, a theater, or an art gallery, is almost sacrosanct to me. I was once asked to leave a school because, the director told me, I asked too many questions. I didn’t take enough on faith, he said. Really? A school’s for asking questions. There’s no such thing as asking too many questions in a school. (In my own defense, first, you should know that this wasn’t a secondary school, either, and I was just a few years shy of 30. Second, I didn’t ask all my questions—which I don’t think were excessive in any case—in class; I took them to the instructor afterwards and asked to meet with him.) A circumstance in which questioning a teacher, a principal, or an administrator is discouraged, whether the questions come from a student, a parent, or another teacher, is anathema to me. It leads to an atmosphere not of education, but of indoctrination. Tenure, along with other protections, is designed to promote and safeguard the free exchange of ideas in the classroom; there are also precautions available to prevent abuse and assure decorum, especially in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms where the students are still children. The wholesale removal of the shield against orthodoxy and enforced conformity is a practice common to authoritarian states not, presumably, to a democracy.

Seniority, for all its faults, is at least an objective criterion. It’s easy to tell who’s served longer than whom, even if the system counts years of other government service, either in other jurisdiction’s schools or even in the military. Anyone can add up the numbers and compare the totals, and there’s little debate about the results. But who makes the evaluations for merit as a deciding factor in dismissals (or pay, which runs into the same question)? On what are the evaluations based? Test scores are an inadequate means of assessing a teacher’s work in a classroom, though they’ve been used frequently despite evidence that they are inaccurate, imperfect, and often biased. (Not all subjects are tested, and reliance on tests as a standard also inevitably leads to teaching to the test.) So, individual evaluations, then. Whose opinions count more in the final selections—the principal, the superintendent, a board of some kind? Do peer evaluations play a part? Student appraisals? No matter which of these or other judgments are used, they are all imprecise and subjective, and liable to all kinds of influences that may not be relevant to teaching ability or classroom skill. No school district has come up with an equitable set of assessment standards. This is one of the chief fears of unions who foresee their members being judged on the basis of whims and nonce criteria—or, perhaps worse, someone’s political or social beliefs. New York City’s current procedure puts most of the responsibility on principals to identify ineffective teachers, but there are reports of school principals who themselves have bad records for management and yet have been left in place for years, long enough to be making decisions on teachers’ careers. At the same time, the merit evaluation formula devised for New York State schools is so complex as to be incomprehensible and has often contradicted the personal appraisals of a teacher’s colleagues, supervisors, students, and former students. Seniority and tenure protect good teachers from maltreatment at the hands of a principal or a school board for reasons having nothing to do with their classroom effectiveness.

It also matters where the evaluators work. If they’re from the same schools as the teachers being judged, they get greater access and they know the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the different schools, but private feelings can get into the mix if the evaluators know the subjects of their assessments too well. If the evaluators are from the board level, they’ll be more objective and clinical, but they’re remote from the teachers’ daily work and won’t have full-time contact with the subjects. Which is better, fairer? You could devise an evaluation system that includes some of both kinds of evaluators, but it would probably be cumbersome and complex. What’s the answer? If you’re going to judge teacher proficiency as the basis for layoffs and pay raises, someone’ll have to come up with a solution.

Let’s look at New York City’s situation as an example. Clearly, the final cuts would be decided by the schools chancellor, the head of the city’s Department of Education. But in New York City, the chancellor is a political appointee of the mayor and as such is beholden to him for his job. We can’t know what influence the mayor and his political agenda will have on the decisions to let teachers go; even if Mayor Bloomberg is an honest broker and stays out of the process, the next mayor and chancellor may have a different relationship. (Rudolph Giuliani, Bloomberg’s predecessor, had also tried—but failed—to gain the mayoral control of the school system Bloomberg has. Giuliani was a man who tried to get the Brooklyn Museum of Art evicted from its city-owned building because he didn’t like the art on exhibit. He also fired a successful police commissioner because he acted too independently for the mayor’s taste. What kind of school manager do you suppose Mayor Giuliani’d have made?) On what is current Chancellor Dennis Walcott, formerly the Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development and president of New York City’s school board, going to base his determinations? The last chancellor, Cathleen Black, was a publishing executive, not an educator—she had a lot of difficulty getting approved for the job because she had no background in education either as a teacher or an administrator. Black resigned on 7 April after only three months on the job after Mayor Bloomberg—also a businessman, as most readers will surely know by now—had urged her to step down. Both Black and Walcott were the mayor’s hand-picked choices to run the city’s schools, as was Joel Klein, Black’s long-serving predecessor who was also selected from the ranks of business executives. What does that suggest about independence of action and thought?

(Black’s experience when Bloomberg named her his nominee for the post is a demonstration that demonization and negative characterization can be a tactic on both sides of this issue. Unions declared her incompetent and unqualified for the job as soon as her name was floated and unions and other activists lobbied bitterly to deny her the waiver needed for the appointment. As it turned out, unfortunately, Black was temperamentally ill-suited for the chancellorship, but she was never given a chance to demonstrate that before she was torn apart in the press simply for having been Bloomberg’s choice. She wasn’t a product of the system—and was therefore unbeholden to the people who run it—and that’s all her opponents cared about, as far as I could tell. Joel Klein, considered an effective reformer and manager, had had no more educational experience than Black had had. Klein, the first chancellor of the New York City education department under mayoral control, served for an unprecedented 8½ years.)

There’s also the problem, one of perception both in the education bureaucracy and among the general public, that somehow old equals bad and new or young equals good. Putting this proposition down in writing makes it clear how patently wrong the attitude is, but it’s operating in the debate, especially in the political and advertising dispute that went on over the airwaves and in the press. In addition, even if practicable evaluation standards could be devised, new, younger teachers would be subject to misjudgment as well. No teacher is born good, much less great. (The Gates Foundation has been subsidizing studies, the $45 million Measures of Effective Teaching project, to see if they can determine what makes a good or great teacher and if it’s something that can be taught. But that research has only just concluded.) It takes time and experience, guidance and mentoring (from more experienced teachers), and if a new teacher is evaluated in her first or even second year in a classroom, she might very well look like a hopeless case rather than one who needs a bit of seasoning and direction (and perhaps plain old confidence) before she blossoms into a very good teacher. I can attest from experience that there are many aspects of teaching that you can only learn from experience and I often relied on my veteran colleagues to help me through a sticky situation, from a lesson plan that wasn’t working to a tough disciplinary situation that I’d never have known how to handle on my own. The students would surely suffer if all their teachers were busy discovering fire for the first time. An experienced teacher can obviously also be caught in this bind: even a good teacher can get stale or fall into a rut and then seem to an evaluator as ineffective. But to someone who knows him, he just may need a sabbatical or a refresher course to rehabilitate the skill that had made him a good teacher—but dismissal removes his abilities from the classroom and the schoolhouse permanently. Where’s the long-term benefit in that?

The seniority-merit debate is complex in other ways, too. According to polls, the public, including parents of schoolchildren, overwhelmingly backs decisions based on effectiveness and wants to see an end to LIFO. The unions, as we’ve seen, supports seniority—but union members don’t: by large margins, they prefer to see reductions in force determined by merit, not seniority. (Voters also have said they want to see teacher pay determined in the basis of classroom performance rather than longevity, too.) But, like the way tenure has lost support, I feel that the popularity of performance as the sole criterion for RIFs is evidence not of its effectiveness but of the tenor of the public pronouncements by its supporters. (It doesn’t help that, although Mayor Bloomberg’s popularity has been diminished since his election to a third term, the regard for his main adversary on this issue, the United Federation of Teachers, has dropped precipitously as well.) I believe the almost knee-jerk support for using effectiveness as a standard and entirely rejecting seniority comes in large part from the way teachers, especially experienced, long-serving ones, are depicted in ads and speeches. At present, the debate is over budget cuts and the potential dismissal of teachers as a cost-saving move, but overall, the portrayal of teachers as the root cause of all the problems in our education system has been part of the discussions of school reform, the power and influence of teachers’ unions, and the rights of public workers to form unions and bargain collectively. Aside from the fact that this tactic doesn’t solve anything and dispirits good teachers and motivates them to leave the system, it’s monstrously unfair. First, teachers aren’t the sole influences on a student’s ability to learn. There are equally powerful forces at home and in the community; the teacher and the school only have the most salient impact. Second, the effectiveness of any given school depends more on the administration of the local and state school boards and the school itself than on any individual teacher, who often has to make the best of whatever atmosphere and conditions the school has provided. Teachers are the least in control of their own occupation, largely dominated by women not incidentally, of any similar professional in society: doctors, lawyers, accountants (who are all still mostly men) all have more to say about how they do their work and how they relate to their clients than teachers. Not only do they have school boards and departments of education looking over their shoulders and dictating their curricula and teaching methods, but they have politicians, activists, and interest groups, most of whom have no educational experience whatsoever.

This practice of using non-educators to oversee school systems is really part of the phenomenon in this country where voters see experience and qualifications as marks of elitism and arrogance. The U.S. has always had a streak of anti-intellectualism running through its society and politicians and activists with an agenda have often made use of it to divide people by portraying those with expertise and knowledge as out of touch with the mainstream, the Joe Six-Packs and Soccer Moms who are presented as the heart of the Real America. The idea spread abroad is that anyone can teach: it takes no skills, experience, or training. Early last March, Mayor Bloomberg himself proclaimed, “The length of time that you have worked is irrelevant to whether or not you can do what our children need.” (Ironically, during his campaign for a third term, Bloomberg made the reverse argument to justify his bid to be reelected a second time despite a term-limits law he had swept aside for his benefit. Disconnect, anyone?) As long as this situation prevails, our schools will continue to deteriorate and become training grounds for low- and unskilled workers rather than routes to greater achievement and accomplishment. Demean the teacher and the ones who suffer are the children. When they are old enough to run things, what will become of our society then? We see already a concentration of wealth and power in a ever-smaller segment of the population; debasing public education by continuously cutting funds, programs, and committed teachers will assure that this trend continues and becomes irreversible. Good public schools with good teachers has always been the principal process that has made the United States a nation of upwardly-mobile strivers and achievers no matter what part of society the student started from.

Teachers aren’t on the job to aggrandize themselves. The pay is pitiful and the social standing is closer to that of a manual laborer than of the highly educated professional a teacher is. The very fact that teachers take on the responsibility they do and return to work every day, every year shows the level of commitment they have to the task—a calling, really. To portray them as lazy, shiftless, selfish, overpaid, coddled, underworked, ineffective, and reactionary clock-punchers is simply untrue. It’s worse for the older teachers, who are further maligned for their long service and years of experience doing the most important job our society offers: teaching our children. The notion abroad in this country that the lack of experience is an asset (or, conversely, that previous service is a shortcoming)—it’s the basis for a lot of the political campaigns in recent elections—has little validity in reality, and it has even less in a classroom. Both sides of the merit-vs.-seniority argument are demagoguing, and they’re doing on the backs of the teachers (and, in the case of supporters of teacher effectiveness as a criterion, the teachers’ unions) not because it’s logical or reasonable, but because it inflames the public. Demonization is a wedge tactic: it polarizes the public so that we have to go to one extreme or the other. No one can stake out a position in the center (just as in national politics) because if you support even an iota of the other side of the argument, you will be subsumed in the demonization yourself. If you see benefit and value in both merit-based standards and seniority, then you’re dismissed and vilified by both sides.

Well, vilify away. Now, I’m no education expert, so I don’t know how to implement any of this, and I have no clout with the parties, so I can’t even imagine enough agreement among them to accomplish a compromise. The strong rhetoric that prevails, especially among the anti-union activists, generates nothing but tensions and makes teachers suspicious and resistant to compromise. My solution, however, includes elements of both seniority and performance evaluation. We cannot dismiss the value of a teacher’s years of experience or professional training, accumulated over a whole career. I don’t know how you’d measure that on a scale of standard criteria, so it would have to be calculated in some form similar to the way it is now—total up the years on the job and add in a supplement for additional degrees beyond a bachelors and professional courses taken outside of work. (I also think that some additional consideration should be taken for non-classroom experience a teacher has accumulated such as chaperoning school trips abroad or to distant cities; conducting after-school workshops or activities related, even tangentially, to the teacher’s field; organizing events that enhance the students’ appreciation, understanding, or knowledge of the arts, politics, civics, sports, the economy, and so on; teaching non-credit classes in subjects not offered in the curriculum. You can’t measure these contributions, but they pay off so much.)

Classroom performance, too, must be counted, and greatly. I can’t conceive of a measuring system that works across the board, so one would have to be devised and tested, but it would have to appraise a teacher’s effectiveness in the class currently, but also consider where the teacher is likely to go in the years to come—as she or he gains experience and hones the appropriate skills. It must somehow also assess a teacher’s past contributions and how those can be continued and reinforced. The National Council of Teaching Quality has devised a system of determining a teacher’s position using a combination of measurements. Finally, any new process of hiring and firing teachers must make it easier to dismiss the small number of truly bad teachers that get into the system; the unions, for all the protections and support they offer teachers, must be more responsive when it comes to culling the inadequate and unsalvageable. Tenure should be highly valued, awarded only to the teachers who truly earn it, and should not become a shield for mediocrity or, worse, inappropriate behavior. Perhaps it should be revisited incrementally, say every five or seven years to be sure that a veteran teacher hasn’t settled into a comfortable rut.

In general, we have to stop relying on procedures and methods that have become sacred traditions, defended only because things have always been done that way. The world has changed since the ‘50s and ‘60s when most of those practices were initiated and we’ve learned more about schools, students, and teaching and learning than we used to know. Joel Klein was accounted a successful reformer, even before school reform became a politically popular idea, and he upended the procedures and practices long entrenched in the New York City school system, the largest and most complex in the nation. (Michelle Rhee, the former superintendent of the Washington, D.C., schools, was also a radical reformer and, despite her unpopularity with local teachers and their unions, she, too, made significant improvements in the success of the city’s educational system. Klein’s successors, both the short-term Cathie Black and her replacement Dennis Walcott, promised to continue Klein’s reforms in New York City.) One sweeping change Klein initiated was to turn virtually all the decisions about a school, from hiring and curriculum to spending and building use, over to the principal, as if, Klein put it, they were CEO’s of their own companies and rather than cogs in a bureaucracy. This gives principals unprecedented authority—making teacher contracts an even-more-significant protection—but Klein also established a principal-training academy to prepare his new administrators for the powerful mandate he handed them.

Despite the denigration of experts and scholars, we need to listen to what’s been discovered about pedagogy, intellectual development, teacher training, educational management, and even school funding and budgets and start making changes where necessary. Remember, the definition of insanity is continuing to take the same actions while expecting a different outcome. Things that aren’t working haven’t been working for years now. At the same time, we can’t implement reforms that are based on fads, wishful thinking, or popular notions that aren’t supported by research or empirical evidence. Let’s find new ways—there are people out there with ideas and experiences that work. And stop beating each other over the head with politics. We know that doesn’t accomplish anything.

In the end, though, what this society has to do is elevate the level of respect teachers get so that prospective good teachers don’t run away from the profession and good, experienced ones stay on and keep improving because they are appreciated in the classroom, the department of education, city hall and the statehouse, the home, the media, and the street. Politicians have long declared that they want to improve our schools (insisting that they “honor teaching”), but it’s hard to understand how denigrating teachers and restricting their rights does anything but make matters worse. We’ve been complaining for a very long time that U.S. schools are performing badly in comparison with several systems in the rest of the world, among them South Korea, Singapore, and Finland. Would it surprise anyone to learn that in those countries, and many others with better-performing schools, the teacher is a figure of respect and honor? (They are also paid better than they are here—often as much as first-year physicians or other highly-regarded professionals.) You think there might be a connection? Speak of a no-brainer.

[A contingent of National Board Certified teachers plans to march in Washington, D.C. and around the country to protest the attacks on teachers and teaching. The Save Our Schools March will take place in Washington on Saturday, 30 July 2011, starting at noon with a rally on the Ellipse (preceded by performances and other events). At 2:00 p.m., the demonstrators will march to the Department of Education where they will read a list of demands and issue a call to action. Following the demonstration at DoE, the marchers will return to the Ellipse for a closing ceremony. There will be parallel activities in cities around the country for participants who can’t travel to Washington; information will be available at twitter.com/#!/SOSMarch or www.causes.com/causes/556335-save-our-schools-march-and-national-call-to-action.]

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