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Wisconsin Protests Reflect National Anger Among Teachers

Mar 03, 2011

More than two weeks after educators and other public workers began protesting proposed legislation to alter union rights in Madison, Wisconsin, public debate on education cuts and teacher unions has spread throughout the country. Analysts suggest that widespread rallies have been fueled in part by a feeling among teachers that they face unfair criticisms and benefit cuts.

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By Douglas Fehlen

wisconsin protests spread other states Scott Walker governor budget battle legislation teacher educator public school cuts anti-union take-home pay pension healthcare

Growing Demoralization Among Teachers

Talk to a public school teacher, and there is a good chance that he or she may have at least some feelings of ambiguity about the job. While many enter the profession with high-minded hopes to make a difference in the lives of children, the realities of the job are often a shock that cause many individuals to make a career change.

Education analysts point to a variety of factors that have negatively influenced morale among public school educators. Many look back to 2001, when 'No Child Left Behind' - a bill emphasizing accountability and student test scores - was passed. In the wake of this policy, many teachers expressed frustration that they were solely held accountable for poor student performance without acknowledgment of other challenges, including the fact that provisions of the bill weren't fully funded.

While No Child Left Behind may have played a large role in creating a climate where teachers are demonized, it is by no means the only policy to create resentment among them. Current government efforts to reform education have focused even more strongly on evaluating teachers based on student test scores without factoring in student attitudes or home situations. That's not to mention Waiting for Superman, a widely celebrated education documentary released last year that portrayed a broken public education system replete with teachers who routinely fail their students.

wisconsin protests spread other states Scott Walker governor budget battle legislation teacher educator public school cuts anti-union take-home pay pension healthcare

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A Tipping Point

In Wisconsin, Scott Walker's proposal to force educators to pay more of their pension and healthcare costs while limiting the rights of their unions has brought teachers' anger to the forefront. In addition to the weeks' long protests in Madison, rallies in support of public employee benefits and union rights have been held in all fifty states. Teachers have been among the most represented groups in all of these protests.

As the debate takes national stage, educators face unique challenges when it comes to the perceptions of both politicians and the public. Despite efforts to address criticisms, teachers often continue to be singly blamed for widespread academic failures among students. And public schools are increasingly accused of inefficiencies and financial mismanagement so that they continue to lose favor in the court of public opinion.

Advocates suggest that schools generally and teachers specifically have routinely been targeted with unfair criticisms and that the latest efforts in state capitals to cut education for budget-balancing add further insult. While legislative dramas have yet to fully play out, years of growing resentment have at least ensured that educators are willing to come out in support of a profession under siege.

Learn more about the Wisconsin protests and other public rallies sweeping the country.

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