Friday, October 12, 2012

Obamacare: An issue of morality

ObamaCare is a word coined by those who oppose the Affordable Care Act, but President Obama has embraced the term. If we re-elect him and preserve it, a new study shows we’ll soon begin to see powerful results of the law on one of the biggest factors leading to poverty.

Imagine for a moment that there is a medicine with no significant side effects, which if given freely to those who want it, prevents a condition that causes 34 out of a thousand young people to miss significant work time, often leading them to leave the workforce or drop out of school. People who live with the condition are usually affected for at least 18 years, and many fall into poverty and require government assistance during some or all of these years, especially those who have recurring bouts of the condition. In order to avoid some of the effects of this condition, on average fifteen of a thousand elect a procedure that is considered shameful by many.

By now, you probably realize I’m talking about pregnancy, and the medicine to avoid it is birth control. A recent two year study of 9,000 young women in St. Louis that got little fanfare  (small notice near the classifieds in the Charleston Gazette, Oct. 5th ) shows dramatic results in reducing teen pregnancies and abortions.  According to the AP release, “When price wasn’t an issue, women flocked to the most effective contraceptives—the implanted options, which typically cost hundreds of dollars…” The result was 80% fewer teen pregnancies and one-third the abortions of national averages. As Ed Rabel pointed out in his recent entreaty to improve sex education for our teens (Charleston Gazette, Oct. 8), West Virginia, with the 8th highest rate of teen pregnancies among states, has potential to reduce rates even further.

Even if the only legacy of ObamaCare were a dramatic national reduction in teen pregnancy and abortion, the program would likely be seen in the future as having significantly reduced poverty and largely solved a thorny national problem.  Imagine how many girls might avoid the pitfalls of young motherhood and instead finish school, find gainful employment, and then marry and raise a family when they are better prepared emotionally and economically for parenthood. Imagine how many children will avoid the fate of being raised by an overburdened, underprepared teenager or shuffled around to relatives or foster parents who may only grudgingly care for them. Yet birth control is just one of many provisions of the Affordable Care Act that are likely to improve health and reduce poverty.

I would think the pro-life movement would rally behind ObamaCare once they learned of its dramatic effectiveness in reducing abortion, not to mention the expected impact on poverty. To someone opposed to abortion, someone who believes abortion is tantamount to murder, would it not in these circumstances be immoral to oppose provisions in the Affordable Care Act that provide for birth control without co-pays? Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on many issues before and during his run for president, but he continues to say at every opportunity that he would repeal ObamaCare on day one of his presidency. This is one more reason not to allow him a chance.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Romney Can't Buy Our Votes

A lot has been made of Romney’s 47% remarks, surreptitiously recorded while he spoke to wealthy donors in Florida about the difficulty of getting Obama supporters to vote for him. And rightly so—he said that the 47% of Americans who don’t pay federal income tax “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it… my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

In fact, many have pointed out, the 47% of Americans who don’t pay income tax are mostly the elderly and working people who don’t earn enough to reach the threshold of paying income taxes, though they pay Social Security taxes and Medicare taxes, commonly known as payroll taxes. It’s the way our tax system is structured, to encourage people to work rather than tax them back into deeper poverty at the lowest income levels. It’s the way Bill Clinton, with cooperation from Republicans, insisted the tax code be restructured in “Welfare to Work” legislation. Many of those who do not pay federal income tax are not Obama supporters, or at least they weren’t before Mitt spoke so disparagingly of them.

What every pundit I’ve heard has overlooked is what Romney was actually trying to communicate to his rich friends: “Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect.” In other words, the main reason Romney believes people will vote for him is to save money on taxes. He reveals another truth: Republicans are for low taxes because that buys votes, not because, as they claim, lowering taxes creates jobs (there are better ways to stimulate job growth). Romney is saying they can’t buy the votes of Obama supporters because, he claims, most Obama supporters don’t pay income taxes, which he says he’d lower.

Really? Does Mitt Romney believe, do Republicans believe that Americans base their votes solely on how much money they think the winner will save them on their tax bill? Well, I pay plenty of income tax, and Mitt, to paraphrase the Beatles song; I don’t care too much for money. Money can’t buy my vote.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Big Dog, Persuader in Chief

West Virginians who support President Obama wonder how they can explain to those who don’t or who are undecided, many of them registered Democrats, why they should vote for him. In response, I’m turning to master communicator Bill Clinton. His speech to the Democratic National Convention was criticized for length but praised for its detail and accuracy. Unlike Paul Ryan’s speech at the Republican convention, Clinton’s words and numbers hold up to fact checking. Here are the main points of his argument to reelect President Obama:

·      Democratic presidents have created almost twice as many jobs as Republican presidents in the last 50 years (42 million vs. 24 million)
·      The current Republican office holders “think government is the enemy, and compromise is weakness.” President Obama is still committed to cooperation and has shown he’s willing to work with Republicans if they will work with him.
·      President Obama “inherited a deeply damaged economy,” prevented a depression, and “laid the foundation for a modern economy that will produce millions of good new jobs.”
·      We are much better off than we were when Obama took office as the economy was in free fall and job loss was 750,000/month.
·      “No president – not me or any of my predecessors could have repaired all the damage in just four years….But conditions are improving.”
·      Since the stimulus kicked in, 4.5 million private sector jobs have been created. There would be a million more jobs if Congressional Republicans hadn’t blocked his jobs bill.
·      Obama saved the auto industry, bringing back 250,000 jobs. Romney opposed the plan.
·      Obama made an agreement with auto industry “management, labor, and environmental groups to double car mileage…” This and his “all of the above” energy plan save us money on gas now and in the future.
·      Obama made reforms to lower the cost of federal student loans and make them easier for students to repay.
·      Obamacare is not a government takeover. Insurance companies are running it under new, fairer rules forcing them to spend more on health care instead of for profits and advertising.
·      Millions more Americans are now and will become insured, even those who cannot now get insurance because of pre-existing conditions.
·      “And for the last two years, health care spending has grown under 4%, for the first time in 50 years.”
·      The Republican claim that the President is “robbing Medicare of 716 billion dollars” is false. He is saving money by cutting unnecessary subsidies to insurance companies and some providers, and using the savings to save seniors money on prescription drugs.
·      The Republican charge that Obama is weakening the work requirement for citizens receiving welfare assistance is false. In fact, he is working with Republican governors to strengthen it.
·      The President has offered a debt reduction plan of 4 trillion dollars in a decade (fact checkers say this is somewhat inflated because it includes money saved by ending wars). It contains spending cuts of $2.50 for each $1 of increased taxes on high earners.
·      Romney’s budget plan gives more tax cuts to the rich and will either add to the debt or cause tax increases for middle class taxpayers. He won’t say what he would cut, but it would hurt the country to make cuts in the amounts he and Ryan propose.
·      “If you want a ‘you’re on your own, winner take all’ society, you should support the Republican ticket.  If you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities – a ‘we’re all in it together’ society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”

Some people who support the President have asked me how we can talk to those who seem to discount facts and talk very negatively about him. The human brain is an amazing instrument with several parts. Our more primitive brain reacts to emotions, especially fear. That’s why it’s so hard to change someone’s mind with facts, and why folksy charm in politicians like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan is so effective with many Americans,

If you're an undecided Democrat or Independent, I hope you're willing to consider the facts. But folks, don’t take it from me, take it from the Big Dog, President Clinton, “I want to nominate a man who’s cool on the outside, but who burns for America on the inside…I want Barack Obama to be the next president of the United States.”

A version of this was published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on Sunday, September 16, 2012

Monday, August 13, 2012

We're All Economists Now

With the selection of Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate, the “Ryan budget” will be the focus of debate for this election season. Ryan’s plan would turn Medicare into a voucher system, severely cut Medicaid spending, give enormous tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, increase taxes on the middle class, and cut or eliminate unspecified non-defense federal programs such as education, research, parks, environmental protection, and food safety.

In short, if Americans elect Romney and give Republicans control of Congress, the Ryan budget would devastate many poor and middle class Americans and undo the progress that has been made toward recovery under President Obama. Ryan claims the lower taxes on corporations and the wealthy would spur an economic boom that will bring in revenue to decrease debt and deficit. Under Reagan, this was known as trickle down economics. It didn’t work then (he raised taxes to bring in needed revenue), it didn’t work under George W. Bush (the deficit and debt exploded and job creation was anemic), and it won’t work for Romney-Ryan.

 “It’s the economy, stupid!” as Democratic strategist James Carville famously pointed out about presidential elections. If the economy is good, people will vote for the incumbent or his party; if not, they’ll vote for the other party. Most people will judge the economy based on their situation. If they are prospering, have work, feel secure, their savings and investments are growing and their tax burden is reasonable, they judge the economy is doing okay. If not, they vote for a change in leadership.

When Barack Obama ran on a platform of “hope and change,” his hope was that in a time of a worldwide financial meltdown politicians of both parties would pull together to bring the economy out of the deepest recession since the 1930’s, keep it out of a depression, make changes to solve problems that created the mess. After that, he hoped that a growing economy would allow for investments in education and updating of our energy sector.

In the last months of George W. Bush’s term, with the stock market continuing to plummet, worldwide credit frozen and banks “too big to fail” being propped up by massive infusions of government money, it looked like Congress was ready to pull together to pass legislation to fix problems by stimulating growth to create jobs and improving regulation of Wall Street.

After the election, President Obama invited Republicans to participate in the process of shaping the stimulus package.  Obama agreed to extend tax cuts for wealthy Americans even though he had campaigned to end them, and to include new tax cuts, though he knew those tax cuts would not stimulate the economy as much as the infrastructure spending and investments in alternative energy he had proposed. When it came time for votes, despite his efforts to include their ideas and negotiate on ideas they had in many cases proposed, except for three Northeastern moderates, Republicans would not support it.

The Republican leadership made their top priority to “make Barack Obama a one term president,” even if it meant that the economy would suffer, dashing President Obama’s hopes for a new politics of compromise and consensus. They not only refuse to compromise on legislation, but incessantly use the Senate filibuster, once a rare procedure. Bills that would pass with a majority are tabled, since it requires not 51 Senators, but 60 to break a filibuster.

Mitt Romney criticizes the President because this is the “weakest recovery” since the Great Depression. At least it’s a recovery, despite Republicans tactics which have had severe impact on a slowly growing economy, such as the filibuster and threatening default on the national debt. Despite their intransigence, over four million private sector jobs have been added since October of 2009 when stimulus funding and census hiring reversed the downward slide in employment (public sector jobs have not fared so well, especially since stimulus funds to state and local government jobs have ended).

While some Americans are not better off than they were when Barack Obama became president, our economy is better off now that the stock market has recovered, the auto industry is booming, and Americans are protected from the worst abuses of the health insurance industry.

Implementing the Ryan budget, which the Republican controlled House has passed, and supporting the Romney-Ryan ticket would continue the country on the path it was on before Barack Obama intervened, with more wealth at the top, a shrinking middle class, and less of a safety net for the needy. Here in West Virginia, most of us stand to lose in such an economy. 

This essay was published in the Charleston (WV) Sunday Gazette-Mail, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Visit to Shepherdstown, WV and Antietem

I'm in Shepherdstown, WV this weekend, a real gem of a town for our state whose small towns are usually described as depressed and people as hardscrabble. This town, only an hour from D.C., with a three block main street of small shops and a small state university, can't avoid the designation of quaint and historical, and the people on the streets either prosperous or young and hip. My wife and I came to see a couple plays being presented this month during the Contemporary American Theater Festival which premiers new American plays during the month of July. We've seen two: the scripts have been excellent, the acting superb, the topics challenging. This is the first time I've attended; I've never been a theater buff, but I'll be back.

Yesterday, a steady drizzle having settled in preventing us from riding our bikes the thirteen miles to Harper's Ferry on the C&O Canal as we'd planned, we went to the nearby Antietem National Battlefield across the Potomac in Maryland. It was, our friend Marie told us, the best preserved Civil War battlefield of them all. She should know, she is a historian who worked for the National Park Service.

The visitor's center is small, modern, and pleasingly blends into and follows the contours of the landscape, most of it built into a hill a couple hundred yards from Dunker Church (ironically, a pacifist sect), around which most of the heaviest fighting took place. The 1/2 hour film, narrated by James Earl Jones (will there ever be a better voice for narration than his?), did a good job of laying out the context for the battle within the Civil War, not only in terms of troop movements and strategies, but in terms of the issue of slavery and Lincoln's decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The film employed some techniques of documentary filmmaking, showing re-enactors in their camps, on the battlefield, finding Lee's lost invasion plan that gave General McClellan a leg up on the southern forces.

One take-a-way I got from the film that I've either never known or have forgotten (surely it's mentioned somewhere in Ken Burns' Civil War mini-series, which sadly is the most comprehensive treatment of the Civil War I've engaged in--I've never read any of the many histories available) was a scene in which crowds of liberated African-Americans, whole families included, were following the Union Army everywhere they went, according to the narration in numbers as large or larger than the armies themselves. And they wanted to fight, to participate in this war to free their people. Marie told me of a twenty-year battle that historians in the National Park Service fought to get the battlefield parks and memorials to even mention the issue of slavery as a cause of the Civil War against the resistance of Southern advocacy groups that could almost be called "slavery deniers." Apparently, they want to paint their ancestors in the best light possible, as fighting for any number reasons: defending their homeland or their honor, states rights, being anti-federalist, defending the Constitution, you name it, but don't call it slavery.

Around 3:30 p.m. after reading every description of the murals in the small, but fascinating exhibit of Captain James Hope's paintings of the battle made after the war from battlefield sketches he'd produced, the rain finally stopped and we rode our bikes along the eight-and-a-half mile road through the battlefield which most people drive and some walk. I highly recommend taking this tour by bike. We had only an hour-and-a-half, unfortunately, before having to return to get ready for dinner and a play, so didn't have time to stop and read many of the plaques and informational markers along the way. But experiencing the rolling Maryland countryside on the site where over 23,000 men lost their lives on a horrific day in 1862, gives one a perspective that I don't think you get staying in your car.

Without making this sound too much like a tourist promotion  for Shepherdstown, I highly recommend a visit. I plan to come back and explore the area more, enjoy the restaurants, the nearby Harper's Ferry National Historical Park (I've been there before, but it's worth several visits), and of course, the plays in July. Okay, this does sound like a tourist promotion--hey Jefferson County, how about twenty cents a word?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Father Loved Music

In honor of my father, Josh Epstein on this 16th anniversary of his death on Father's Day weekend, I thought I'd explore some memories.

Josh loved music. He was an earnest violin student as a young man, though he also said that his father used the belt on him at least once when he skipped a violin lesson, and perhaps many other times for other reasons. Josh used the belt on me, too, at least once, but I think not much more than that. I think he was disappointed in himself when he lost his temper, which was a somewhat rare occurrence, though he got angry and raised his voice on a monthly or at times maybe even a weekly basis when my older brother Dave and I were young and without doubt "more than a handful". He and mom also argued quite a bit in those days.

He loved to listen to classical music on the record player. It was not a stereo, but a light blonde wood cabinet, perhaps maple, with a drawer that pulled out, which held the record player, and next to that a door, behind which were the records. The speaker was in the bottom behind a fabric or woven reed covering. It might have been categorized as a 'hi-fi'. He sat in his chair, the same one where he read the newspaper after work, no Lazy Boy for him, a small cushioned chair. I still have that chair, or one very much like it that I got after mom died a few years ago. I don't find it comfortable, I have a big recliner.

Josh leaned his head back and listened to Bach, Beethoven, Hayden, Mozart, (I'm embarrassed to admint I never asked what his favorites were), eyes closed, perhaps his lips pursing occasionally and releasing breath, releasing tension.

He had majored in music in music, in the violin, I think, at either City College of NY or NYU. I'm sure one of my sibs knows. But he washed out, he told me, because he failed the music theory class, maybe more than once. I think he put the violin away for a number years--the war, a master's in Social Work at Columbia, a new career, a family, but he would get it out once in awhile and play. We hated it. He was probably rusty or maybe he just hadn't been all that good--I don't know, all I know is that it always sounded somewhat scratchy, hesitant, and out of tune to me. At some point he started playing regularly with his friend Sid Fox, who would come over to the house and play duets with him. Sid was more precise and in tune than Josh, though I can't say I ever sat at their feet and listened. I probably got as far away as I could--most likely outside. 

Dad wasn't a performer and had, I think, no burning need for adulation as some of us, at least David and I, have, regarding music. Dave plays guitar and has a family band in Jerusalem, "The Epstein Family Singers," I'm in a couple bands and perform solo sometimes. Of our two younger siblings, one also plays, but only for his own pleasure. I guess on some level David and I are defined by competition and seeking the attention of our parents. Isn't everyone?

But I think Josh played primarily for the love of the music and community created by playing music with others. In later years, playing in quartets, the community symphony in Bethlehem, PA, serving on the board of the Chamber Music Society, and going away for weekends and even whole weeks to attend music camps where he could play music. He could never play by ear, only by reading music. He had a "tin ear" he said. He could sing (though I can't say I remember his singing voice right now), that is, he could carry a tune, he just couldn't transfer it to his fingers, a flaw in the methods of instruction of the day which were strictly meant to create a musician as a vehicle for the composer. He enjoyed listening to me play, I think, when I began playing fiddle in the '70s, but I, even in the late 80's and 90's, could barely read music for violin from the page, having learned violin entirely by ear. I recall once sitting down and playing a duet with him--maybe even Sid was there and it was a trio piece--it must have been a fairly easy piece, but I had a hard time with it and no doubt sounded worse than he sounded to me when I was a kid. It is only in the last few years that I'm beginning to read simple violin music fluently and get somewhat comfortable playing notes "up the neck" never having studied violin or put in the long hours of practice with scales and exercises that classical players do.

Like Dad, I get a lot of pleasure out of playing music with others, without an audience. The adrenaline of public performance is a different pleasure. I wish I could get together with Dad and play a duet. It's strange to have that thought, and not so much miss him, but miss the possibilities that might exist if he were here and in good health.

And here's a song I wrote and sang in a concert at the WV Culture Center last year on Father's Day weekend: 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

What I've Learned in 25 Years Teaching

As a recently retired teacher, I feel I should impart some grand wisdom about the state of education in West Virginia and the nation. I’m not sure I can. But I can tell you some stories.

When I was in high school during the turbulent 1960’s, I felt that public education was essentially designed so students would blindly conform with social norms and values, such as doing one’s work without questioning authority, maintaining the social order and the status quo, and supporting the government and the military. (If you were against the Vietnam War, you were not considered patriotic.)

In 1969, as one of two graduation speakers for my high school class, I wrote a speech calling for radical changes in education. I called for debate and critical thinking rather than rote memorization to measure successful learning. I opined that it was no wonder young people and disenfranchised communities became angry when excluded from the American Dream through unfair and unequal treatment in jobs, housing, and education, especially when the influence of a powerful military-industrial complex causes government to be unresponsive to people’s demands for change.

When I began teaching in rural West Virginia in 1987, I was much more pragmatic in my approach. Keeping twenty-five fourth graders engaged for six hours a day will always be a challenge, let alone getting them to think critically. I found most students willing to work hard, but resist thinking. They expect to be led to the answers and be rewarded, except for those who are so frustrated they don’t even try.

I would like to believe that becoming a good teacher takes time and experience, as I feel it did for me. Although many people told me in my first years that I was a good teacher,  I knew that I wasn’t in many areas at first.  However, I have seen great young teachers and lousy experienced ones. Most teachers get better as we learn from our mistakes and our successes, from each other, and from various other available sources of professional development. But in the current system, teachers are not given many opportunities to learn from each other.

In the course of my twenty-five year career I’ve seen radical shifts in education at the elementary school level. When I started, teachers were obligated to meet well defined instructional objectives set forth by the state in any way the teacher thought best.  For many, this meant adherence to textbooks purchased by the county school districts and their accompanying worksheets and tests. Most teachers added in project-based learning and themed units of study to tie together learning in different subjects. Some teachers preferred to develop their own materials or purchase supplemental materials, such as classroom sets of books, rather than sticking to the textbooks. These materials enhanced student learning, and that was accepted, even encouraged.  Standardized tests in 4th, 8th, and 10th grades gave students, teachers, and schools a general idea of their progress. Graduation rates and college entrance exams provided additional data.

In 2001, a forward thinking principal at my school felt that a computer lab with an enthusiastic teacher to staff it would help narrow the gap for kids who didn’t have computers. With the help of grants and donations we got computers, and with federal Title I funds (funds given to schools with a high enough percentage of students eligible for free lunches), the principal  hired me as a reading specialist to improve reading and writing through technology. Released from grading, testing, collecting homework assignments, parent conferences, and behavior issues that make teaching a daily challenge, I entered my “glory years” as an educator. Students looked forward to their time with me, even the behaviorally challenged, and using a mix of basic skills software, word processor-based writing activities, and projects using applications such as PowerPoint and the Internet, students in my elementary school had an hour a week to learn using technology. Classroom teachers, many very tentative about computers, could learn along with their students.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) put an end to that and many other creative responses by teachers and schools to the problem of the achievement gap between economic and racial groups.

A disclaimer is in order here. It really doesn’t matter what results the greatest theory of education produces in students when applied by experts. What matters is how real teachers and real schools apply those theories. So in the 1980’s and 90’s there was a great debate about “Whole Language” as a method for learning to read and write. The best practitioners of this approach produced excellent results concentrating on group reading of “Big Books,” individual choice in reading materials once independent reading skills were obtained, and “Writing Workshop” time in which students were encouraged to write whatever they wanted, and the process of writing was emphasized over the correctness of spelling and grammar. However, many teachers with inadequate understanding, support, or skills, applied the methods unsuccessfully and overall reading scores suffered, especially for those who entered school with limited skills and who enjoyed less parental support (which correlates strongly with lower economic status). The achievement gap increased.

The reaction, embodied in NCLB, narrowed the elementary school curriculum dramatically to focus on distinct, measurable skills in reading and math.. Teachers in primary classrooms were required to deliver an hour of scripted phonics instruction. In upper elementary, teachers were encouraged to concentrate on narrow skills such as reading speed or isolated comprehension skills, and to constantly assess student progress. Teachers had little time in their schedules to squeeze in writing activities and were prohibited from teaching writing processes during reading class. Reading scores improved to a degree, but West Virginia learned, as others have, that critical thinking and higher level comprehension skills have suffered. Once again, it may not be the theory, but the application that causes the unsatisfactory results.

In the last couple years of my career I spent most of my time, as most reading specialists do, reading with small groups of students and concentrating on isolated skills as required by the implementation of  NCLB. I no longer had time to staff the computer lab, which got used mostly for testing. Classroom teachers were told to use their textbooks and admonished to be faithful to the prescribed curriculum, including how to introduce and teach lessons and where to be in the book during the course of the year. Principals were required to do “walk-abouts” to insure compliance. At our school, teachers found ways to work in independent reading, writing and projects, but it was difficult to find the time given the requirements.

Today, students spend hours and hours taking a variety of tests, practice tests, assessment tests, skills tests, and computer based tests, in addition to tests teachers give in the course of teaching the required curriculum. They spend literally weeks on required county and state benchmark and standardized tests.

I’m pleased to report that the pendulum may be swinging back to giving teachers more flexibility through the “Common Core,” or “Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives” as West Virginia calls them. However, be advised that only by implementing truly collaborative professional development models which place teachers at the center will better teaching and learning result.

In twenty-five years of teaching elementary school including fifteen years in a second part-time job working with teachers at all grade levels improving the teaching of writing, if I have gained any grand wisdom, it is that

  • Students need to spend most of their time actually engaged in what you want them to learn.
    • During reading time they must read even as they’re mastering the alphabet and its sounds;
    • They need to write about everything they’re learning and learn grammar through the process of working with others to edit their work;
    • In all other classes they need to be engaged in learning and projects of genuine interest to them as much as possible.
  • Teachers learn best with and from their peers, so they need opportunities to spend time with other teachers, seeing how they teach, giving each other feedback.
  • Principals need to be smart, experienced instructional leaders so they earn respect from teachers.
    • They should be collaborative, not authoritarian in their approach
    • Any system of teacher evaluation should have a panel of expert teachers who can either help improve or weed out incompetent or ineffective teachers. Professional teacher associations need to help design these systems.
  • Teacher preparation programs should do a better job weeding out inappropriate candidates.
  • Technology is a wonderful tool for learning, but computer programs cannot replace good teachers. 

NCLB is proof that lawmakers do not understand education. Its basic tenets are untenable, and it has, in my opinion, done more harm than good. Lawmakers should pass laws that support teachers seeking out rigorous professional development, and schools which provide it, bringing in outside consultants as needed. Teachers working in the most difficult teaching situations should be rewarded so the best teachers will seek out and stay in those positions.

I made a decent living as a teacher and feel fortunate to be able to retire with a pension in an age of cutbacks. I hope that our country’s economy improves and that professional educators get the support and respect they deserve, though that support and respect should not depend on the state of the economy. A healthy economy, competent workforce, and an informed electorate cannot be maintained without investment in a professional teaching force.

This essay was published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Sunday, June 10, 2012