Ari Armstrong, Education, Exclusives, Politics, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Teachers’ union fights for politicized schools

The Colorado Education Association elected a new president, Kevin Vick. Remarkably, Vick promised that, if a majority of Colorado students are not meeting or exceeding expectations on the the language, math, and science sections of the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) within five years, the union will endorse universal school choice.

Ha! Just joking! The teachers’ union never in a million years would support parents overseeing their own children’s education, no matter how bad the public schools.

Vick instead promised that the union will fight for more money for CEA members: “Together, we have fought for better wages, fairer workplace conditions and a fully funded education system in Colorado.” He did mention concern about “the needs of our children” (I guess all of your children are belong to the CEA), although without mentioning any concrete plan for assessing or meeting those needs, at least from what I could tell from the Chalkbeat article.

Meanwhile, here’s some good news! My third-grade homeschooler scored in the 99th percentile on the California Achievement Test! So I felt really good and recognized when the Colorado Board of Education passed a resolution recognizing all the hard work of homeschool parents around the state.

Ha! Another funny joke! Instead of focusing its efforts on improving educational outcomes for the schools it oversees, the Board of Education decided it needed to strip my family, and many other families in a similar situation, of our own education-directed tax dollars, because my son’s instruction is too “parent directed.”

I mean, who do parents think they are, imagining they can direct their own children’s education without the expert help of the CEA? The notion is absurd, obviously. Thank goodness the Board of Ed was there to remind me of my place.

A question of funding

According to nearly everyone on the political left in Colorado, the overriding problem with education is that taxpayers do not throw enough dollars at the public schools. If only schools were “adequately funded,” we hear over and over, schools would by idyllic, children would love school, and academic outcomes would soar.

There couldn’t possibly be any other fundamental problems within the public schools besides a shortage of money, goes this line. Administrative bloat, bureaucratized classrooms, too many subpar teachers, an obsession with political correctness, the coddling of bullies, a focus on expensive fads rather than nuts-and-bolts education—nothing like these things possibly could explain the failures of the public schools. The only problem worth mentioning is the greed of the taxpayers who won’t give up enough of their money to members of the teacher’s union, er, to public schools.

Good news! Vick has announced that the CEA will support a targeted use of new funds to hire excellent teachers and to fast-track their certification to replace underperforming teachers. Such a use of funds might actually improve academic outcomes.

Ho, ho, ho! You’ve caught me in another hilarious bit of comedy. Obviously the CEA never would endorse anything remotely like holding teachers accountable for, you know, educating children in the classroom. What a knee-slapper.

Let’s take a quick glance at funding. According to the Department of Education’s “Education Snapshot” from March, average per-pupil funding was $9,596 for the 2022-23 school year, and the student-teacher ratio was 17:1. Doing the math, that’s around $163,000 per class. Teachers except for those in charter schools (who make less) earn on average $65,838 per year. That’s a lot of money for administration, other support staff, facilities, and supplies.

I don’t think the key problem is money. I think the problem is the way the money is spent.

Violent students

Let’s turn to the grim topic of violence by students in schools. Consider this shocking bit from the CEA’s “2023-2024 Colorado State of Education Report”:

“A 2022-23 CEA survey revealed the depth of this problem [of school safety] in Colorado. Nearly a third (32%) of CEA educators who participated in the survey experienced physical abuse by a student in the two years prior to taking the survey, and only a third (33%) of CEA educators who responded believe that steps taken by administration in response to physical violence are appropriate.”

Chalkbeat relays a story from Vick: “A pregnant teacher . . . was kicked in the stomach by a high school student ‘hard enough to cause bruising, but fortunately not hard enough to endanger the child.'” Unsurprisingly, the teacher immediately quit, and who could blame her?

Students bullying other students also is a serious problem. The legislature’s answer is to create a “task force to study school staff safety issues.”

The basic problem here is that schools cannot easily kick out trouble-makers, nor can a school easily specialize in working with students with behavioral challenges and hire and prepare teachers accordingly.

Standardized tests

Ann Schimke recently wrote a jaw-dropping story for Chalkbeat about the Rocky Mountain Prep Denver charter school. Here I’ll summarize the story as Schimke tells it. I would have loved to include the school’s perspective too, except I contacted the school several times and never heard back.

The school dropped science class for sixth graders in order to add more reading work. Why? If you look at last year’s CMAS results, you will see that it shows results for grades three through eight for reading and math, but only for grades five, eight, and eleven for science. So, apparently, the school cut what was not going to be tested in favor of what was going to be tested.

Schimke writes, “Particularly since the federal 2001 ‘No Child Left Behind’ law put increased emphasis on testing, many schools have shaved minutes off less-tested or non-tested subjects ranging from science and social studies to art, music, and physical education.”

If, as a school, you cannot teach your kids how to read and also teach them science, you’re doing school wrong.

I largely agree with what the CEA says in its annual report about standardized testing: “The current accountability system strips educator autonomy by punitively judging performance based on the unproven science of student test scores. . . . [A] system that pressures educators to boost test scores fosters a practice known as ‘teaching to the test.’ This approach narrows the curriculum, reduces educator autonomy, and consumes valuable class time, leaving little to no room for things such as experiential learning, field trips, and meeting students’ individual needs.”

The CEA calls for “a more holistic and student-centered approach to evaluating educational outcomes,” a “system that places a greater emphasis on a comprehensive assessment of students’ progress, considering factors such as critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, creativity, and social and emotional development.”

Used properly, standardized tests can offer a useful way to gauge a narrow but important range of many students’ abilities, most centrally a child’s ability read texts and solve math problems. Such tests should consume hardly any of a student’s attention. I’m pleased that my child did well on a standardized test; I’m more pleased that he enjoys reading fiction (currently it’s Wings of Fire), doing science projects, cooking, drawing, and playing with his friends.

The problem is that, if government rewards schools whose students do well on tests and punishes schools whose students do poorly, school officials learn to game the tests, often at the expense of substantive and joyous education.

In the worst cases, schools try to cherry-pick the best test takers and push out the lower scorers in order to boost averages. Standardized tests say little about a school’s performance if you don’t hold the group of students constant. A test is supposed to be used to see if particular students improve in certain skills over time. And test results do say something about how students broadly are doing.

You can predict some of the problems with the CEA’s alternate approach. To some degree, available standardized tests do check a student’s “critical thinking” and “problem-solving abilities,” but only within a very narrow range. But how is government, on behalf of the taxpayers, supposed to assess students’ “creativity” or “social and emotional development”? That’s not realistic. So the thinking is that students at least should be able to display a basic ability to read and do math. It’s hard to believe that a school that can’t get the basics right can succeed in fostering things like creativity and social and emotional development.

The fundamental problem with government-run schools is that they are not directly or strongly accountable to parents. The implementation of standardized tests is an attempt to solve that problem and check if schools actually educate children. Removing the tests does not solve the underlying problem.

Teacher autonomy

The CEA complains about a loss of teacher autonomy, but the fundamental dynamic that undermines teacher autonomy, within the public-school system (and this includes charter schools), is teachers’ utter dependence on government funding for their livelihood. And it is that complete dependence on government, precisely, that the CEA works to maintain.

Public-school teachers do not fundamentally work for the parents whose children they teach, nor do they work for the children; they work for the politicians and bureaucrats who fund their salaries, and for the administrators who answer to those political agents.

And yet, incredibly, after spending untold resources ensuring teachers’ complete dependence on government, the CEA complains in its annual report about the “politicization of our schools.” The CEA devotes its entire existence to politicizing schools. The CEA’s complaint is that its leaders are not the only ones with political influence.

They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But that’s just politics as usual.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


Our unofficial motto at Complete Colorado is “Always free, never fake, ” but annoyingly enough, our reporters, columnists and staff all want to be paid in actual US dollars rather than our preferred currency of pats on the back and a muttered kind word. Fact is that there’s an entire staff working every day to bring you the most timely and relevant political news (updated twice daily) from around the state on Complete’s main page aggregator, as well as top-notch original reporting and commentary on Page Two.

CLICK HERE TO LADLE A LITTLE GRAVY ON THE CREW AT COMPLETE COLORADO. You’ll be giving to the Independence Institute, the not-for-profit publisher of Complete Colorado, which makes your donation tax deductible. But rest assured that your giving will go specifically to the Complete Colorado news operation. Thanks for being a Complete Colorado reader, keep coming back.

Comments are closed.