By State Senator Paul McKinley
It’s safe to say I struck a nerve.
Last week, I published a memo entitled, “A Tale of Two Teachers.” The response was extraordinary.
In that memo, I presented a true-to-life scenario and contrasted a hypothetical “Teacher A” and “Teacher B”.
In doing so, I laid out a compelling case why student achievement must again become the focal point of education and urged teachers to rescue their noble profession from the union bosses who currently wield far too much control.
I said it is time to reward teachers based on whether their kids are learning rather than by tenure or credentials bargained for by union bosses. We said it was time and remove teachers from the classrooms who are not performing and put the focus back on classroom teachers (and that includes music, drama and art teachers) by eliminating positions not directly focused on student achievement.
Hundreds of Iowans of all ages, from all corners of the state and from all backgrounds wrote back with some incredible perspectives.
Chief among them were the dozens of responses from teachers and other educational professionals who agreed wholeheartedly with our vision. However, there were a few that took issue with my points as well.
Here is just a small sample of the responses I received:
“We really appreciate what you and your colleagues are doing in government. Please stick to your guns. Unions need to be a part of the solution and not the problem. Teacher A should be rewarded and Teacher B could be counseled and perhaps laid off if there is no change. But the Unions have way too much power”
“Why should they be any different than any other employee? If an employee in the private sector does not show growth in their field normally they would not be rewarded for that. Teacher A’s will be leaving the state of Iowa to pursue the state that does offer the reward system for doing their job correctly.”
“As a former teacher in a private school, I could not agree with you anymore. It is time we get back to the basics of education. When I was volunteering in the prison system, teaching math classes to inmates, I was often met with comments such as, “I never turned in a single paper beyond third grade.”
“That was an excellent piece you wrote contrasting Teacher A and Teacher B. I was a teacher for 31 years in Iowa. Once again a great read with your hammer hitting the nail square on the head! I’m the teacher watching the others march out the door the minute they can!”
“Thanks for the letter. As school board member, I have the same opinion. We enter into negotiations tonight with our union.”
"That was one of the biggest crocks o’shite I have ever seen from an Iowa legislator. Keep your useless claptrap out of my mail box. You wouldn’t know a good from a bad educator if one snuck into your house and skrooed your pig."
“As a former high school and middle school principal, I believe you have touched the surface of the preverbal iceberg with your candid take on our "issues." I have had the opportunity to step back for the past year and a half from education and look in from another perspective; that of just a parent. To cut directly to the chase, your observations are accurate, and there is more to it than you even touched upon regarding why our students are so far behind or just stagnating.”
“Great memo. (Tale of two teachers.) I agree with every thought conveyed. You have a great understanding of the problem. I know you will work hard for a solution.”
“I spent my life as a junior high/middle school teacher…I belonged to the NEA/ISEA…for some years and after getting into it with several local union presidents over union policy and political leanings, left that union. I took early retirement in part because I became tired of the "death by a thousand paper cuts" political atmosphere prevalent in the public school environment.”
“Absolutely- I am 100% supportive of this movement….and good teachers should also be supportive of this. Really hope Iowa will see the light on this issue…keep it up. Signed, A mother of 2, soon to be 3, who will be entering the school system next year and a student of some really bad teachers, who are sadly still teaching today.”
“Very true, education does not promote our/reward our best. Will be interesting to see how things move forward."
"I’m no fan of poor teachers, but in the past few years have been on the receiving end of bad legislation and poor management of the State of Iowa."
“Being an educator that does work longer hours than required and cares about my students’ education, I respect your article.”
“Thank you so much and hopefully more people will realize that unions had their place years ago but now they are fighting so employees can call in sick whenever they want and not meet standards that should be meant in order to retain a job. I appreciate you and the others for fighting for us taxpayers.”
“I agree…the Iowa education system needs to be reformed. REWARD teachers who perform and FIRE teachers who don’t. Treat it like the private sector. Get rid of some of the administrators. We have a lot of school principals just collecting a pay check. Good luck with getting the teachers union to change!”
“ I am a 27 year old graduate student at Iowa State University. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Biology and secondary education from ISU in 2007. For the 2 1/2 years between my undergrad and starting graduate school I taught biology (in an Iowa high school). Probably the most frustrating part of my experience was when the budget cuts came last year and resulted in teacher layoffs. I was told by many staff members that I was "on the bubble" of getting fired because I was such a new teacher (only 2 1/2 years experience).”
“Writing this note to you is the first official act of my spring break. I am a licensed teacher in this great state of Iowa. I kept all three of my children home and educated them with the very best educational materials I could get my hands on. During high school they were shining examples of what can be done when LEARNING is the chief focus of the day, not entertainment. Both of our sons became pilots in high school and one spent the last semester of high school teaching character skills in public schools of Moscow Russia!”
"The reason hypothetical teacher B still teaches is not because of union bosses. The reason is because teacher B is a successful coach. The school board can’t mess with that! Your assumptions about union bosses is bull ****."
“Amen to this article! I would recommend a teacher evaluation system using a 4-year rolling average on student standardized testing. That way one exceptionally bad or good year would not hugely affect the average. Also, teachers would have to plan for a longer time frame, not just the next trimester. WE NEED IT. I agree totally with your article. Good luck against the teacher’s union.”
“Keep up the fight. We have needed merit pay for years. A former school board member, we had to fire a poor teacher and it took 2 years of documentation and records to get it done because of the teachers union. Very costly.”
“We have been hearing for years how underpaid Iowa teachers are compared to other states, etc. etc. But it seems few people, if any, ask why Iowa teachers should be paid the same as teachers who live in areas where the cost of living is very much higher than in Iowa. For example, the cost of living in large metropolitan areas is certainly much higher than in rural Iowa or even in Des Moines. Yet we are asked to pay comparable salaries.”
"So, is poly-tics any different ? How many bills will be passed this session ? How many is that per month ? How has the legislation answered to the voters….. yeah I thought so."
“You forgot to mention that teacher B hands the students worksheets while she/he plays solitaire on the computer. And where are the administrators who are supposed to be putting a stop to all of this and helping teacher B improve or move on? I don’t think the public believes these things really happen, but they do. Hang in there.”
“This is something I have been talking about to for a long time. I have seen it growing up with myself, my children, and now with my grandchildren. I know many teachers, some good ones and ones that just use it as a 9 to 5 job with no extra effort, sometimes beating the children home, but are rewarded the as the ones that put in the extra effort. I agree that the better teachers need to be rewarded for their extra effort and ones not doing their job not. I do support what you are trying to do! Some of my grandchildren attend a private Catholic school and things are handled differently. Thanks for your concern, our children are the future."
“Thanks for this letter. I am going to give it to my wife, teacher A, and hear her response. I believe that you are right on target. Our state employees need to pay for their medical benefits. Keep up the good work.”
“Amen. Preaching to the choir here. My wife is teacher A. Thank goodness Iowa is a right to work state and she can opt out of the union!!! I believe if hard working teachers are not rewarded, our education system will continue to get worse. Ultimately making our kids, our state, and our country noncompetitive. Our children deserve better!”
Clearly, reforming our education system is one that Iowans care deeply about. We have a fantastic heritage in education and we must return to our roots in order to once again lead the state forward.
Senate Republicans pledge to continue to bring about common sense reforms. We would be doing our children and grandchildren a great disservice if we did not continue to work hard on their behalf.
State Senator Paul McKinley (R-Chariton) is the Iowa Senate Minority Leader