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Outrage Over Teacher Unemployment

Once eagerly awaited as a time of relaxation, summer this year for as many as 150,000 teachers nationwide will be a season of angst. That's because the recession has forced districts to issue pink slips even to teachers in once hard-to-fill subjects such as special education, chemistry, physics and math. The desperation is seen in the lopsided ratio of applicants to openings. This imbalance applies to traditional public schools as well as to charter schools.

Recognizing the implications, the U.S. Senate has a pending bill aptly titled Keep Our Educators Working Act. The best estimate is that it will take at least $23 billion to avoid an educational catastrophe in the fall. As Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, argued in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal: "The federal government didn't let Wall Street fail. Why would we do less for our public schools, which undeniably are too important to fail?" ("Public Schools Need a Bailout," May 20).

Advocates of an open educational marketplace see things differently. They maintain that at last teachers are facing what others face in the "real world." While painful, the experience will make them realize how sheltered they have been for too long. It will help change their attitude toward their hitherto protected profession. Advocates claim this can only be a positive experience in the long run. They further point out that schools now have the opportunity to pick from the best talent out there.

But this reaction sounds like schadenfreude to me. I don't believe that teachers will be more effective when they live in fear of losing their job. Those who choose teaching as a lifetime career do so because they see it as a calling. They are not doing less than they are capable of doing. As a result, threats of firing cannot and will not motivate them to be better. It's a cynical strategy.

We'll all know once and for all this fall if there is a double standard at the federal level about bailouts. If recent events are any guide, we can expect to see teachers unions making even greater concessions in order to get the emergency funding to adequately staff public schools. It's a deal with the devil that will come back to haunt teachers.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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