“As soldiers arrive on the battlefields of Afghanistan, they face enormous expectations to show "progress." It is an impossible situation: the military's counterinsurgency strategy requires, by all accounts, years to implement and even longer to succeed. Yet officers are pressured, both by political considerations in Washington and command expectations in Kabul, to accomplish big objectives on very short time frames. Because it's rare for a tour of duty to last more than 12 months, commanders are severely constrained in what choices they can make. It's difficult to be slow and deliberate when one must show progress, right now, in time for a Congressional hearing or a strategic review. Those pressures constraint incentives and shape day-to-day decision-making. Officers, perhaps understandably, look for ways to demonstrate short-term gain, sometimes at the cost of long-term success. Today, Tarok Kolache is "cleared." Three years from now, when the Obama administration says it will begin reducing troop numbers, how stable, safe, and anti-Taliban will its remaining villagers really be?” (How Short-Term Thinking is Causing Long-Term Failure in Afghanistan, by Joshua Foust, The Atlantic)
Putting professionals into situation where the emphasis on showing short-term progress in lieu of the overall long-term goals of a particular situation can have devastating and long-lasting effects on an organization. No where is this more true in education than it is in the State of New Jersey, where a recent confluence of political, economic, and social variables threatens to undermine the profession of teaching, and the role that public education plays in our state. The long term effects of these policies and shifts in social values will make it much harder to attract competent professionals to the public schools in our communities, and the effect on students will only serve to exacerbate this looming catastrophe. The game is being played right now in a way that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, unless the root causes for these changes can be recognized, the myths dispelled, and a more ethical and intelligent course of action can be reached by all involved parties.
At first glance, the primary culprit in the changing view of educational professionals can be laid at the feet of our state political system. The attacks on unions, lead primarily by the governor, have fundamentally weakened the public perceptions and the bargaining ability of the unions, both of which are essential to continue their relevance and existence. There are numerous, dubious reasons for these attacks. “In the past five years, we have witnessed a demonization of teachers unions that is close to achieving its goal: destruction of the most stable and potentially powerful defender of mass public education. Teacher union’s continued existence is imperiled — if what we define as "existence" is organizations having the legal capacity to bargain over any meaningful economic benefits and defend teachers’ rights to exercise professional judgment about what to teach and how to do it” (Werner). The successful destruction of the union would have many negative effects on the quality of our teaching workforce. There would be unprecedented numbers of people leaving the profession, and those that would choose to become teachers given the negative way that they would be treated would call into serious question the standards to which these potential candidates hold themselves. Losing good teachers to the demonization of our profession would therefore have a direct impact on the quality of education provided to our students. As with most states that have a history of strong Teacher’s Unions, New Jersey is consistently ranked highly when compare to the other states, with a strong union having an almost direct correlation to highly achieving student populations. The continued deconstruction of the unions is a short-term idea, that would have devastating long-term consequences.
Everyone likes the idea of lowering taxes. This is uniquely true in New Jersey, where we have the highest percentage of property taxes in the United States. It was easy to run on this, as Chris Christie discovered (although he has demonstrated much more difficulty in devising ways to actually lower them), and he eventually passed a 2% cap on local governments that wanted to avoid referendums that went to a vote. Naturally, as local school budgets are tied directly to the property taxes, this in effect created a 2% increase on schools themselves, “thus scoring a political triumph that could give voters greater control over how their towns and school districts raise and spend money. With his signature, Christie lowered the existing ceiling on annual increases from 4 to 2 percent, and closed most loopholes in the existing law. When towns and schools starved of revenue want to raise taxes higher, they will have to get permission from a majority of local voters — something foes warn will widen the chasm between rich and poor communities” (Heininger). Another byproduct of this law, has occurred in the hiring process at local schools. I came to realize this in full after last year’s interviews, where the Director of Human Resources instructed all building principals in our district to not interview any potential candidates with more than 1 year of teaching on their resume. This edict, and various others across our state, make it difficult to hire qualified staff, while at the same time making it almost impossible for established teachers to switch districts if they are unhappy. Clearly, this affects students when they will be increasing placed in front of teachers that are either brand new, and learning on the job, or teachers that are stuck in buildings they may no longer wish to be in. Over the long-term, the effect of this seemingly innocuous short-term decision represents a perilous path for New Jersey.
Recent years have seen the number of students applying to, and being accepted by, colleges rise at an exponential rate. As this national trend has continued, it has had obvious effects on the types of programs being implemented in public schools to prepare students for this eventuality. Schools pride themselves on the number of students that they place into colleges, and the state and federal government adopted new ways of assessing schools by this criteria. Somewhere lost in this seemingly common sense approach however, is a basic truth, “what's still getting lost, some argue, is that too many students are going to college not because they want to, but because they think they have to” (Marklein). Clearly, all students should have the opportunity to go to college, but what is less easy to say, is whether or not all should. The social pressure that districts are under to show that their schools send students to colleges at high rates poses some questions about the degree to which they are assessing and attending to the needs of a diverse population of individuals. No where is this more apparent than the loss of Vocational education programs with normal public high schools. Where once these classes were filled by students confidently preparing themselves for the workforce, we know see scores of students that have simply been removed from the mainstream due to lack of engagement or skill. The social stigma that is now carried by those that aren’t “college material” often means that these students, many of whom have been made to feel less than for much of their academic careers, see where they have been placed not as an opportunity, but as confirmation that they are broken or deficient. When too many of our curricular decisions are made in this regard, we do our students a great disservice, all in the name of “helping” them.
The past few years in education have shown a great deal of upheaval, and a slew of initiatives and changes designed to better the future and opportunities for our students in a new and growing global marketplace. It is our job as leaders within these communities to make sure that the decisions we are making make just as much sense 20 and 30 years down the line as they do in the immediate years to come. The political, economic, and social pressures that are being exerted on our profession are strong, but we as educators have a duty, to inform those around us, in both our teaching and social lives, that these types of knee-jerk reactions will do far more harm than good. Hopefully, we are successful in this endeavor, our students’ future may depend upon it.
Foust, Joshua. "How Short-Term Thinking Is Causing Long-Term Failure in Afghanistan." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 24 Jan. 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
Heininger, Claire. "N.J. Gov. Christie Signs 2 Percent Property Tax Cap Bill."The Star-Ledger. Nj.com, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
Marklein, Mary B. "What If a College Education Just Isn't for Everyone?" USA Today, 16 Mar. 2010. Web. 11 Apr. 2014.
Werner, Lois. "Teacher Unionism Reborn." New Politics. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.