Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Good Bye Mr. Chips," Walker, Darling and Brothers Fitzgerald care not a whit about losing experience in public classrooms

The Teachers Herricks, Oshkosh, Wisconsin

The Wall Street Journal has an article today discussing the fact that as Governors across the country take the scalpel (in some cases) or meat cleaver (in others, like ours) to public employee benefits and pay, the logical thing for many older teachers and public employees to do is to retire, taking their wealth of experience with them, but with the effect of perhaps providing the districts with some savings as to compensation.  

If Malcolm Gladwell was right in Outliers, (with his starting point being research by a neurologist, Daniel Levitin) that it takes 10,000 hours (or essentially 10 years) of doing something to become really good at it, then having cheaper brand new teachers replacing these experienced teachers will  lead to a drop in quality of instruction.  But hey, its all about the taxes, right?

The WSJ notes:
In Wisconsin, where lawmakers voted in mid-March to end workers' collective bargaining for future employment contracts, 3,362 people have applied to retire this year, a 73% jump from last year. And 10,975 people since the beginning of the year have taken the first step toward retirement—flooding the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds with requests for estimates of their potential benefits. That's up 134%.
The article quotes Mary Herricks, who with her husband, Len, teach in the Oshkosh public schools:
"Not only am I losing salary and benefits and facing a bigger work load, but now they are taking away my rights," says Ms. Herricks, a 56-year-old elementary school teacher. A teacher for 35 years who earns in the high 50s, Ms Herricks can now retire and collect nearly her former salary. "Retirement was supposed to be something happy. I'm so sad."
The article also notes:
In Wisconsin, many employees have been racing to retire in time to lock in the benefits of their contracts before they expire. Schools are bracing for a stampede before their contracts end in June.

Already in Green Bay, 140 teachers and 15 administrators have applied for retirement, compared with 41 last year, says spokeswoman Amanda Brooker.
I don't know anything about the talent of Ms. Herricks, who after teaching our state's children for 35 years makes a princely salary in the high 50's.  I will just speak from my own experience having had three sons pass through Spring Harbor Middle School in Madison over the last seven years.  I know of several teachers at the school who have retired over the past five years, obviously not because of the current turmoil; and in every instance I felt the school was losing one of the hardest working, brightest and most creative teachers in my kids' classrooms too early.  In a couple of cases I was disappointed my youngest son would not have them as he progressed.  All were teachers who commanded respect, admiration and attention from their students and worked many hours beyond the regular school day to make their students successful.  When I read people posting about the cushy jobs teachers have, I assume they are probably childless as well as clueless.

The GOP meme that the current movement to turn around the policies of the Walker adminstration is being primarily driven by the unions is unmitigated silliness.  Some of the most ardent supporters of placing the GOP8 and the Governor on the scrapheap of history are parents like my wife and me, and our many neighbors, who feel like the Governor, the Brothers Fitzgerald and the WMC can't understand or value anything that doesn't have a pricetag attached to it. 

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