In Jacksonville there is more than enough blame to go around

You won’t find the right to a quality public education in the Bill of Rights but like the right to bear arms, worship how you please and to speak your mind, it has become one of the cornerstones of American society. Sadly there has been much debate whether all the children of Jacksonville are receiving a quality education.

Jacksonville has a long history of neglecting certain segments of our population, i.e. the African American community and even though we have been declared integrated for some time now, some people think now the city has just traded one form of segregation for another. They believe the school board just provides for the top students through academic magnet schools and other programs while neglecting the average or “special” student. But regardless if you believe that or not you must agree that the cities terrible graduation rates, our high dropout rates and the fact that 11-of the 19 area high schools are either failing or in a “turn-around” status are indicative that local public education is in big trouble.

There are many culprits, the school board in its various incarnations, the city and state governments and the citizens of Jacksonville to name a few. Instead of giving education the resources and nurturing it needs, often we have treated education and our children like a tree planted in the woods, that’s just crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. There is another offender to add to that list and that’s the local teachers union.

Now I am not talking about them like the talking heads, Beck, Hannity and Limbaugh do. Where they do have the right to speak their minds it’s just unfortunate how they do so. Instead of using the truth they use random statistics as talking points to prove their point that the teachers unions are to blame for the problems in education, but what’s even more unfortunate is that some people listen to them and actually believe them. They to think the union’s only job is to protect bad teachers and of course like the reality often is when the three mentioned above speak; there is nothing further from the truth.

The waters of the education debate are muddied when people claim the unions’ only goal is to protect bad teachers from losing their jobs, when in truth the only thing the unions are protecting is all teachers’ right to due process. Here in Duval county teachers basically have a three year probation period where they can be let go for basically whatever reason. It’s only after they pass this three year point that they receive protections that can stop them from just being summarily fired. After that point the administration just needs to follow a set of guidelines before they fire a teacher. I remind you that most businesses, even non-union shops have similar procedures in place.

The talking heads often complain about the teachers unions protecting bad teachers but you never hear them saying the same thing about police and fire unions. Wouldn’t it stand to reason if it’s true about teachers it would be true about the police and firemen too? It’s especially ironic when the people of Jacksonville and in the state of Florida blame teachers unions for the woes in education because here they don’t have access to what is traditionally the most powerful weapon in labor disputes and that’s the power to strike.

Furthermore if teachers unions are so powerful then why as a profession are teachers some of the most underpaid, overworked and unappreciated workers around? Why when they shout, hey we need some help, are they often ignored?

Are there teachers that should be replaced? I wouldn’t doubt it but there are procedures in place to do so. And for every teacher that should be replaced there are dozens and dozens more that are underpaid and over worked, who have dedicated their lives and many of their own personal resources to teaching children. These teachers are routinely told to do more with less and suffer in anonymity. These are the people that the union represents; and as dedicated civil servants they are routinely disrespected when people ignorantly repeat the talking point that it’s the teacher’s unions fault when discussing the problems in education.

Though that’s not to say the local DTU doesn’t bear some of the responsibility for the problems in education that Jacksonville is facing.

Every day the union allows the school district to violate Article 4, provision E, clause 1, of the teachers contract which states, for the 180 student-contact days, the employee workday shall be seven and one-third hours, including lunch time on campus. If reports or other assignments are given to teachers, the scope shall be that they can reasonably be completed during the workday, about nine thousand times.

That’s to say today’s teachers are assigned more tasks than they can possibly do in a day. They arrive well before the children do and then leave well after. They take home papers to grade and lesson plans to write every night. They work on the weekend and on their days off rarely getting ahead just avoiding falling too far behind. They do all this for free and away from their families and loved ones. Over worked, burned out teachers aren’t the best to have but that’s what the DTU has allowed the school board to create by the thousands.

Furthermore the DTU has tolerated the school board to creating a two tiered system of education with the creation of the dedicated academic magnet schools and it’s not just two-tiered for students it’s two tiered for teachers as well. Teachers at the highly successful magnet schools don’t have to jump through the same hoops as the teachers at the failing or turn around schools. They also don’t have the same type of child who isn’t interested in learning and who thinks they are entitled and can act however they want.

Then the union has allowed the school board to tie principal’s evaluations to suspensions. This not only takes a tool out of their discipline tool box but it has the added detriment of eroding discipline. So many teachers no longer right referrals because they are questioned or nothing happens. Instead they and the student who does want to learn and there are so many of them have to endure a toxic learning environment.

Finally the school board has allowed an environment of fear to be fostered. Many teachers don’t like to openly talk about the problems in the district because they are afraid there will be repercussions and their careers will be hurt. A bad evaluation here, a disapproving phone call there and suddenly a teacher is no longer eligible for performance pay, can’t transfer, is assigned the planning period or teaching assignment they don’t want and/or has to endure a hostile working environment.

When looking around there are many people responsible for the state of education. There is the school board who seems to be in over their head and whose policies often seem counterintuitive to improving education. Theirs the state government who refuses to fund education at acceptable levels preferring to finance tax breaks for a select few and to try and get education on the cheap. Then there’s the citizens of Jacksonville many of who have turned a blind eye and allowed the problems to fester placing their faith in people who either can’t do the job or who don’t care to.
Then finally the local teachers union must share some of the responsibility as well though it’s not because like the talking heads would have you believe that they are protecting bad teachers, it’s because they aren’t protecting the good ones enough.

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