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September 29, 2014

Challenging the Public School Status Quo

There is a two-pronged battle occurring in Jefferson County, Colorado, public schools.

There is a two-pronged battle occurring in Jefferson County, Colorado, public schools. And despite every effort by the Leftmedia to highlight one agenda as a means of obscuring the other, a forceful challenge to the miserable status quo that has ruined the nation’s public school system is the most important battle taking place.

We begin with what the media would like the public to believe is the real problem. Last week, students staged a mass walk out because they were ostensibly offended by proposed changes to an Advanced Placement U.S. History program (APUSH). The conservative-controlled school board wants to establish a committee that would review the instructional materials to ensure they “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights,” rather than “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strike or disregard of the law.”

Julie Williams, who is part of the school board majority and who said the point of her proposal was to open up a dialogue about a curriculum recently changed by the adoption of Common Core standards, framed the current program succinctly. “It has an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and America-bashing while simultaneously omitting the most basic structural and philosophical elements considered essential to the understanding of American History for generations,” she said in a statement.

What Williams didn’t say is that the American Left has been emphasizing the nation’s shortcomings for decades. Thus it’s no accident we have a president who has elevated apologizing for America’s “sins” to an art form. Obama reprised that odious worldview during a speech last week at the UN when he used the shooting of a black teen by a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri, to compare America’s “ethnic tensions” to the genocide being perpetrated by ISIL in the Middle East. Aside from the reality that the shooting remains an open case with the facts yet to be determined, such pernicious nonsense is a prime example of the same apologist mindset that has found a home in America’s public school classrooms.

And make no mistake: It is an apologist mindset that has taken hold. A New York Times report on results compiled by the American National Election Study reveals the depressing reality: 78% of the so-called Greatest Generation consider their American identity important, compared to 70% for Baby Boomers, 60% for Generation X, and only 45% for young adults. As columnist Lynn Vavreck rightly notes, “[P]atriotism in America is on the decline.”

So is common sense. Note that the Colorado board has merely proposed a curriculum review committee, and yet that was apparently too much for the students who took to the streets.

Or was it? As the New York Times revealed, last week’s walkout by students followed a sickout by teachers the previous Friday, forcing two high schools to close completely. Why the sickout? The teachers were protesting the implementation of performance-based pay scales. This occurred following what the Times refers to as a “bitter election” that gave the school board a 3-2 conservative majority as of last November. That conservative majority challenged union control beginning last June, when it rejected a tentative contract agreement with the union because there was no specific language regarding teacher performance and salaries. If left in place, the same pay raises that could have gone to teachers with a “partially effective” rating was going to teachers with an “effective” or “highly effective” rating. As Sheila Atwell, executive director of Jeffco Students First pointed out at the time, such a contract “gives raises to teachers that are less than effective, which is exactly contrary to the goal of supporting an effective teacher in front of each classroom.”

Last week the new pay rates went into effect. The highly effective teachers received 4.25% raises, effective teachers received 2.43% raises, and partially affective or less than effective teachers got nothing. Weeks earlier, the same board agreed to increase the total amount available for employee pay increases from $11.7 million to $18.2 million, and raised the base pay for teachers from $33,616 to $38,000. Even the 66 teachers who received the lowest ratings get all of their increased retirement costs covered by district taxpayers. By contrast, the union wanted salaries determined by step increases that don’t take teacher performance into consideration at all. In short, the union despises paying better teachers more money.

When the union didn’t get what it wanted, the sickout ensued. That led directly to the student protests, organized on Facebook after reading what their teachers did. And while the student protests have been focused on an APUSH curriculum yet to be determined, the union’s current contract expires next August. School-board president Ken Witt promises that contract “will be entirely redrafted,” and that the real motive behind the current agitation is “to create turmoil and discredit the board before those negotiations.”

In other words, the real story here isn’t about a history curriculum. It’s about a challenge to union control that might just be successful – and might just catch on in other school districts.

Here’s hoping it does. Public schools are where the ultimate battle for the nation’s soul takes place. The unholy alliance of education unions and a Democrat Party that does their bidding in return for campaign contributions has held sway for far too long. As the protests in Colorado indicate, those who support the status quo will do anything necessary to maintain that control – even if it means using children as pawns. The Jefferson County school board has indicated that the oh-so-familiar agenda of protecting teachers at the expense of students’ education is sufficient grounds for wresting that control away.

It’s an effort that might just end up in the history books.

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