Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why Tony Bennett Lost - The Folly of Beating Up Teachers for Public Education's Problems

Scott Elliott of the Indianapolis Star pens an article discussing five theories why Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction lost.  They are excellent theories.  But rather than imply they are mutually exclusive, they are better labeled as "reasons."  Undoubtedly they all played a role in the demise of Bennett, despite the fact he was so much better known and funded than his opponent.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Tony Bennett

I am a big believer in education reform.  But one thing I've never understood with the Bennett-brand of reform is the desire to go after public school teachers.  Could teachers be better trained?  Absolutely.  Could they have a better grasp of the subjects they teach?  Absolutely.  But on the list of things wrong with public education, those problems would be lucky to break the top 20.

I have taught at the college level for most of the past 25 years.  I have also been a substitute teacher in many of the public schools in Pike and Wayne Townships.  I have a strong interest in improving our public schools.   Trust me, from the quality of students I have seen at the college level since 1987, it needs improving.

In late 1995 through early 1996, I worked on education issues for the Rex Early for Governor campaign.   Of course, Rex lost to Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith, who lost the general election to Frank O'Bannon.  During the primary campaign, we actively met with teachers and tried to make them partners in education reform. One thing you learn very quickly is that there is an enormous gulf between classroom teachers and administrators.  We chiefly saw administrators as obstructionists, while teachers were more than willing to try new things if given the flexibility to do so.

When Tony Bennett was elected four years ago, I was puzzled when he made classroom teachers a primary target.  I didn't think that part of his reform philosophy was correct.  As it turns out targeting classroom teachers is also bad politics.  Teachers are great at networking and voting as a coalition.  Unlike what many conservatives think, however, many teachers are, in fact, Republican.

My Democratic friends though are going to be pretty disappointed when they find out that electing Glenda Ritz Superintendent of Public Instruction is unlikely to stop the pace of education reform in this state.  Education reform is driven primarily by the Governor and the Indiana General Assembly.  Working around Ritz will be a piece of cake.  In fact, an untold story is that Bennett's abrasive style and reluctance to listen to input from others had actually started alienating supporters of education reform, including Republican state legislators.


Cato said...

Teachers, insofar as they hold Education degrees, should be "beaten up," humiliated, excoriated and driven from their jobs.

Education is the easiest degree on campus, of less intellectual rigor than 6th grade at Park Tudor.

Dumb teachers create dumb students. Dumb students beget a dumb society and dumb children. Schools will continue to make America dumber upon dumber as long as we forbid the smartest graduates from the best majors from the blackboard.

Gary R. Welsh said...

People who have held that position in the past have been pretty much status quo managers, Paul. Tony Bennett was not for the status quo. I'm sure he won't lose any sleep over his loss. I think he believed in the changes he was making and would have done the same thing if given a second chance. Only time will tell whether he was right. What we know is that the old system wasn't working.

varangianguard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
varangianguard said...

Just curious Cato, but what are your degrees in?

Cato said...

That you're curious conclusively proves you lack the intellect and regimented command of relevance to deserve the information.

Don't be curious, and don't be a threadjacking troll. Stay on topic. Paul didn't write a blog entry bout me, so stay on task.

Ben said...

Cato and the whack job Cox must be the same person. Bath salts are obviously part of their daily routine.

Indy Rob said...


You make the argument that all teachers who hold Education degrees should be driven from their jobs due to the lack of intellectual rigor.

Does the same thing apply to "Dr." Tony Bennett whose degrees (BA, masters, PHD) are all in education and who lacks any teaching experience?

I do not doubt that there are poor teachers, but I disagree with your assertion that everyone teaching with an education degree is unqualified to teach. Most teachers are are very qualified for their jobs, I have my doubts about whether administrators with no teaching experience are actually qualified to experiment with teaching methods.

Cato said...


Some with Education degrees might be quite qualified to teach. Get the degree entirely out of the way as a job condition.

Simply look at GRE scores, and take the highest five scores for the next five job openings.

varangianguard said...

Do I now? Humorous.

Amazingly, it is easy to posit that your degree then falls outside the range of "scientifically robust" or "academically rigorous". Otherwise, you would most likely be inordinately proud of your own educational background.

And, so you believe that an ability to take tests, or the access to test-taking tutoring qualifies one for anything? Interesting theory, coming from you.

M Theory said...

I never could figure out why they didn't go after administrators either. The educrats are choking education.

Remember Mervilde and his private bathroom?

Cato is right about how easy it is to get an education degree.

Earlier this year, I helped a man on disability to the tune of about $150 a month for a nutritional product he needed and could not afford.

In exchange I asked him to keep an email journal. He had a Masters degree in education. His writing was deplorable, and at times, unreadable.

I grew frustrated with his writing and demanded he try harder and use spellcheck.

He opted to quit instead of sending me emails without misspelled words and incomplete sentences.

I do not have a college degree, by the way. I write better than this man with a Master's Degree in Education. What does that say about an education degree?

Why on earth would he be given a degree if he cannot construct a basic sentence?

Paul K. Ogden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul K. Ogden said...

Actually I strongly agree that teachers would be better majoring in the subject they will be teaching rather than getting education degrees. I am not at all fond of the education degree.

Many of the profs who teach in the Schools of Education have never even taught in their life. It's a lot like having non-lawyers teach people how to be lawyers. Wait a second, that's exactly what happens in law schools.

Then again I don't believe the lack of a strong knowledge in the area one is teaching is even in the top 20 of the problems with public education.

Aspergers.life said...

Tony was taken down by teachers unions. End of story.

Currently, only the de facto Teachers Union Party is participates in school board elections. The GOP State House should take note and end that monopoly by allowing legitimate political parties to participate in the process.

Nicolas Martin said...

One critic of education has towered above the rest. Richard Mitchell -- the Underground Grammarian -- did a magnificent job of dissecting the educational wasteland. All of his newsletters and books are available free online.


I've been reading critiques of education since I was 14, when I would sneak-read John Holt late into the night. Mitchell was the only one who nailed what is wrong with the system, and is therefore indispensable reading.

(And, no, he doesn't lay primary blame on teachers.)

Start by downloading and reading Mitchell's book, The Graves of Academe:


varangianguard said...

Thanks, Nicholas.

Hoosier in the Heartland said...

I do have a master's in education -- and in class after class I was appalled at my fellow students' lack of, ummmm, intellectual rigor.

When I complained to the School of Education dean, he explained the facts of academic life to me.

His budget depends on the number of students enrolled. Ergo, no one ever flunks out.

M Theory said...

Nicholas, you sound like you were a precocious 14-year old and that's just fine.

Indianapolis Observer said...

Interesting (to me, at least) that Bennett's defeat was just one of three similar election results.

See: http://www.salon.com/2012/11/13/phony_school_reform_agenda_takes_a_beating/