PERRY: Only a teacher strike can make DPS and legislators face the fact that teacher bonus pay is a failure


Everyone loses today as Denver Public Schools teachers go on strike, effectively calling an end to a noble but failed experiment here in Colorado.

Despite what every non-teacher in the state — and especially non-teachers in the state Legislature — has tried to have us all believe, teaching is not like every other job.

As all teachers and as many of the rest of us really know, teaching is like no other job.

Regardless, Congress, state lawmakers, and the Denver Public Schools board have for more than 20 years now tried to fit this tortuous square peg of a profession into endless round holes, to no avail.

It isn’t that teachers haven’t tried repeatedly to tell us. And it isn’t that the numbers haven’t made a host of things clear. We cannot make kids learn more, better, faster by testing the daylights out of them. We can’t improve performance by re-shifiting our paradigms, basing new sites on management, educating all new outcomes, or — especially — creating a bonus- or merit-based teacher pay scale.

It didn’t work. It does’t work in Denver or anywhere else. Get over it.

Paying teachers what is essentially battle pay to suck it up in the worst performing schools in the district, and some of the worst in the state, doesn’t move the needle because teaching isn’t anything like selling insurance.

Talk from school districts like DPS, trying to persuade the public that they don’t suck that bad right now is nothing but Kellyanne Conway-quality propaganda. Too many kids are performing far too poorly in school; nothing schools have done so far have substantially changed that.

Kids don’t struggle with reading, writing and math because of their teachers. In places like the poorest of schools in Denver, Aurora and Commerce City, kids struggle to learn because they’re struggling at home. Many are homeless, or almost there. Thousands only see their parents briefly on weekends, if that. Many don’t speak English as their first language, and some not at all. Some don’t have coats or good food, or any food. I’ve had teachers tell me they’ve enrolled students who’ve never seen books before. These are kids in middle school.

Too many parents can’t find a way to care about their kid’s homework after working two or three jobs or just being run into the ground by a life so hard it would break most of us.

Finding the most clever teachers who never leave a school is pretty close to the least of problems for school districts like Denver.

As Aurora and Cherry Creek schools are finding out, we just can’t treat every student and every school the same and expect the same result just because we wish it so. You can’t get from here to there by trying to a few bribe teachers into making almost enough to pay for rent and food.

Cherry Creek schools is trying to find a way to help its community understand that every child getting the same education doesn’t mean educating every kid the exact same way. It can’t.

Aurora Public Schools is turning that district upside down in an effort to create a bevy of schools and programs that can accommodate dozens of languages spoken in the students’ homes by a veritable United Nations of cultures and races.

In Denver schools that are parallels to under-performing schools in Aurora, many kids come to class to start the last of their elementary education illiterate in their native tongue and unable to speak proficient English.

Battle pay isn’t going to cut it, folks.

The only constant in education is this: Students from wealthier families generally perform better in school than their poorer counterparts. And schools with a majority of wealthier families perform better than schools populated mostly by poorer students.

The rest is a crap shoot.

Colorado has critically underfunded its public schools system for decades. It wasn’t as noticeable in the 1960s when this was essentially a middle-class state where middle-class moms stayed home.

All that is gone. Parents and families across the demographic spectrum struggle with money, time and attention.

And we dump all of this on teachers and public schools. I know teachers who divide their time out of the classroom grading homework and trying to act as on-call social workers for kids facing endless and serious crises in their lives.

Teachers in poorer schools are nurses, psychologists, clothiers, nutritionists, public health departments, truant officers, supply closets, affordable housing coordinators, parking attendants, chauffeurs and so much more. They barely have the time or energy to teach, let alone instruct students in oversized classes packed with increasingly challenged kids.

It’s over, folks. Denver teachers have tried for months to persuade those at the top who think rather than do that the bonus-pay experiment has failed. The answer is so obvious. Teachers don’t need bonus pay, they need help.

They need aids and more teachers to work with the most challenged kids to move them ahead. They need a system that doesn’t just pass under-performing kids along from one unlucky teacher to the next.

They need classes that are sized to the demands made on teachers, not formulas that fit well in a spreadsheet.

Teachers need to make enough money to live on. It costs upwards of $100,000 or more to get a college degree and a teacher certificate now. The cost of living in metro Denver-Aurora has long ago outpaced what we pay teachers.

And if you’re one of those people who think teachers are just whiners who have cushy jobs with summers off, you’re part of the problem.

The answer is obvious, but implementing it is hard. It’s all about money. We have to pay all teachers more than what they’re making now. We have to spend more on students who need more help to get the same result as kids from wealthier families.

Nothing else has worked or can.

Denver teachers have decided to strike to make us all understand that. Once again, the ridiculous plan of running a government like a business has failed. Governments aren’t businesses, and especially schools.

DPS and union negotiators need to return to the bargaining table, and admit to the obvious — bonus pay failed.  They need to find a way to get teachers back into the classroom to finish the school year and look for a realistic solution.

State lawmakers must end their destructive meddling and return control of the districts back to school boards and teachers. State lawmakers must substantially increase funding to all districts — and even more for districts with large numbers of poor and under-performing students.

Anything else is just another losing proposition.

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