Teacher Speaks Out Against State Education Agenda

By Scott Sarvay
By John W. Davis

February 10, 2011 Updated Feb 10, 2011 at 10:10 PM EST

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) - A local teacher is speaking out against Governor Mitch Daniels push for education reform in Indiana.

He says Daniels and his Republican House and Senate members do not want true reform, only to break the state teachers union.

Homestead Physics Teacher Matt Elder wrote a passionate e-mail to the Governor but has yet to hear back from the Governor.

Elder is calling out Governor Daniels on a statement he released after Tuesday’s teacher rally in Indianapolis.

Daniels said, "As always, the union's demand is more money, no change. Their priority is their organization, not the young people of Indiana. Their special interest domination of education policy from the local level to the State House has hurt Indiana children for too long and this year, change must finally come."

Elder, a former mechanical engineer says the union isn’t asking for more money.

He says the whole education reform agenda, all 40+ bills, is an attempt to break the teachers union.

He says true reform needs to be done on the local level and not pushed down by state lawmakers.

Matt Elder says, “This is about local control. It's about teacher input and we want real reform which this is not. As a father, I would pick the local. I want the local control, by the local school board, the local administrations and the local teachers. The people in Indianapolis want the control and that's what we're fighting against.”

Other local teachers like Elder say it feels like their in the last hour of this fight because the education reform bills could become law before the end of April.

But they'll keep fighting until their voices are heard.

"As always, the union's demand is more money, no change. Their priority is their organization, not the young people of Indiana. Their special interest domination of education policy from the local level to the State House has hurt Indiana children for too long and this year, change must finally come," said Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels thorough a written statement.

The following letter from Matt Elder is in response to Daniels' statement.

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Dear Governor Daniels:

I find the above statement from you to be greatly disrespectful, highly contradictory, horribly misguided, and just plain wrong. Indiana’s teachers and administrators, as a group, only want what is best for children. To say otherwise is disrespectful to a large part of the Indiana community – many of whom voted for you and the Republican members of our Legislature.

Last night’s rally was not about higher wages. The rally was about local school control and how, as educators, we see that the proposed legislation does absolutely nothing to improve the classroom. The proposed legislation and your words, and the words of others like Superintendent Bennett, are merely thinly-veiled attacks on unions, not true reform of education, which we all agree could always use improvement – or to use a business term, have continuous improvement. Your proposals are nothing but partisan politics at its worst.

On the topic of higher wages, you, yourself, propose that teachers be paid more – based on the performance of their students. While we all want our students to perform better each year, there are many questions that have been left unanswered by you, by Superintendent Bennett, and by the Legislature. For example, if you plan on giving public funds to newly formed charter schools, from where will these “bonuses” come? How will teachers outside the purview of ISTEP+ or End of Course Assessments be eligible for the merit pay? What about Special Education? How do multiple choice tests really test the effectiveness of a teacher? How can a teacher be held accountable for students who just don’t want to work? Will teachers have the option of “hiring and firing” students so we can get the best performers? (After all, that’s what a true business is able to do.)

I’m also very confused by your statement, “Their special interest domination of education policy. . .” Are you referring to the ability of teachers to collectively bargain? Collective bargaining and the requirement to discuss certain items under PL 217 does not hurt the students of Indiana. In fact, bargaining and discussions are what make schools better for our children. When administrators use the knowledge and experience of classroom teachers, situations are most often geared towards the betterment of the students, not the teachers nor the administration. In the business world this would be called empowerment, and if you were to look at good business guides, they would tell you that employee input and buy-in is an essential part of a great organization. Employee morale and contentment are just as much of a motivating factor for productivity as wages and benefits, which is something that often seems to be forgotten when a person leaves the working ranks and takes on a leadership role.

You might say that “professionals” do not need to be a part of a union. I say that it is the height of professionalism to be joined together with my fellow workers so that we can collectively have our voices heard. All organizations, like the American Medical Association, American Pilot’s Association, Bar Association, American Dental Association, National Rifle Association, or the National Governor’s Association are founded for one reason only – to promote, collectively, the interests of like-minded individuals. Some of these organizations also bargain for wages, benefits, and working conditions, but that in no way diminishes the ultimate goal – to collectively present the wishes of the group. Unions, or associations, elect their leadership, the leadership listens to the members by majority rule, and then the association presents that collective viewpoint. To me that seems as democratic a process as there can be, and much different from the autocratic process you and the Republican leadership are forcing on Hoosiers.

I know full and well that you will respond with the old standby that the voters had their voices heard in November, but you and I both know that no candidate campaigned on the sweeping changes being proposed now in the Legislature and coming from the DOE. Voters would not have elected the same officials if they had known that the state intended on removing local control from schools, taking public school money from already struggling schools, and destroying collective bargaining. Had voters known the truth, the results would have been much different.

To the point of the state taking over control of local school districts, it is apparent that you are extremely hypocritical. You constantly decry the “intrusion” of the federal government upon the rights of the state, yet you want greater state control of local school districts. You want to remove the ability of teachers and administrators to discuss and bargain. You want to dictate an evaluation process that might work for one district, but not necessarily for another. You want to mandate merit pay based on student performance even though that might not be the right approach for some schools or school districts. You want to remove state funds from public schools that are failing so they can what, fail even worse? You want to mandate that teachers who have a better health plan than the state be reduced to the lowest common denominator. Aren’t you one of the loud voices opposed to a national health care plan, yet you want a “state” plan? Hypocritical, through and through.

As a side note to the rally and your comments, please do your research before you start cherry-picking portions of collective bargaining agreements as examples of why collective bargaining laws should be changed. The example you used from the bargaining agreement between the Southwest Allen County School Teachers’ Association (SACTA) and MSD Southwest Allen in which the choir director cannot be laid off during a reduction in force is laughable. That request was made by the administration in order to preserve a job and program that requires a long-term commitment for the program to be successful. This had nothing to do with the “strong-arm” tactics of a “bullying” organization – unless you are calling our central administration and school board bullies. If we were to base your pay on that research, you would owe the state a refund.

I would also like to know why there has been no cry of foul play and conflict of interest regarding your Superintendent of PUBLIC Instruction who has strong ties to the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association through his wife, who is a school improvement/new schools development consultant for that group? That certainly should disqualify him from speaking in favor of the charter schools bill, and should sound an alarm to all Indiana constituents that standards only exist to be placed on our political opponents, not on ourselves.

As a final note, I want to thank you for the opportunity to work through my lunch so that I could write my thoughts to you. I thought it more important to fight the newly formed autocracy-disguised-as-democracy on behalf of Indiana’s children, rather than consort with my union cronies on the best way to screw the administration – because that’s what we do all day. (Because I know how politicians love to skew what someone says, I want to clarify that the very last part is sarcasm!)

Sincerely,

Matt Elder
Homestead High School




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