Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Politico Wages

While reading about the Atlanta Community Schools' decision to implement a 4 day school week for students, I was reminded of the political decision made in Lansing a few years back that changed the school calendar.  No, not the controversial one mandating all Michigan school districts to schedule their first day of school to follow the Labor Day holiday.  Never mind that calendar conformity ends with the first day of school and makes little sense from district to district thereafter.  The Lansing State Journal editorial "Four-day School Week Draws Interest" comments about the school calendar:

Michigan's changing school calendar injects another complication: Actual class time.
The state used to require districts to offer a set number of days. A few years ago, the Legislature made the ill-advised decision to allow schools to calculate class time by hours, not days. This was supposed to enhance flexibility.
But a review of state documents by the Center for Michigan found that the hour system all too often led to less time in class.

Oh, yes.  Does anyone remember all those time-on-task slogan mouthing Republican politicos?
I think that in the Republican effort to discredit destroy reform public education they "out smarted" themselves with the issue of time.  It wasn't enough to tweak the calendar with additional days past the decades long 180 days of instruction standard.  They just had to mess around with hours and minutes of instruction.

The move to add days to the calendar year was never a problem for Michigan educators.  What's another day?  As long as the school district paid me to teach another day or to come in an additional day to my school for classroom preparation or for building meetings --- who cares?  In Port Huron, we came to a mutual agreement over what percentage of a teacher's salary needed to be added to the salary schedule to compensate for each day added by State Law.  When the lawmakers in Lansing decided on their "student class hours and minutes" scheme to make sure Michigan school children spent "more time on task" there was a misguided assumption by some that Michigan's teachers would just work whatever extra hours were mandated even if districts had previously incorporated the required number of days in their school calendars.  Really?  Not so fast.  The new scheme essentially made Michigan teachers hourly wage employees.  If next's year's calendar required more hours worked in the same number of days as the previous year -- those extra hours have to be paid for by the State.

Really?  When did anyone in the public or in Lansing begin thinking that any worker in the State of Michigan would work for nothing if their employers added time to their day?  Some of us Baby Boomers grew up during the unionization of Michigan and were paying attention to what our parents and grandparents had done to make Michigan a great place to live.  We grew up hearing about collective bargaining, strikes, fair wages, work place safety, the 40 hour work week, 30 & out, etc.  No one I knew was prepared to give the community any more hours or minutes of their lives without fair compensation.  It wasn't a matter of duty, but of pride and fairness.

What seems to be a constant in the State of Michigan is the call for a world-class educational system demanding some state-wide conformity and the failure of Michigan lawmakers to really address the inequality in schools and the unique financial circumstances faced by individual schools.  How fair is it that one school district must use more of their limited resources for busing, snow removal, heating, or other non-classroom expenses that they have little control over?  And, don't get me started over the inequality in school buildings, amount of classroom supplies, text books, supplemental teaching materials, etc., besides the inequality in wages & benefits from one school district to another......

If lawmakers in Lansing continue to nibble around the edges of true reform a quality education in Michigan will be an empty campaign promise this election year and remain to be a meaningless political slogan.  Maybe one of the gubernatorial candidates is right about one thing -- sometimes you just have to reinvent a thing.  Let's start with Michigan's politicos.

No comments: