What Dole calls an 'enemy'

September 01, 1996|By Stephanie Salter

SAN FRANCISCO - Sitting in the shabby classroom in which Therese Hickey will teach math and science to 34 sixth-graders, I look for signs of what Bob Dole called the educational "fads of the moment."

In his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination, Dole said these fads are the reason we are "the biggest education spenders and among the lowest of education achievers of the leading industrial nations."

I see a little gray mouse scurry across Hickey's classroom floor. Could that be a fad? The cabinets were full of them a couple of weeks ago, Hickey says.

What about the 11 work tables, which Hickey says are so scarce they are fairly worth their weight in gold these days in many San Francisco schools? Are they a fad of the moment? What about the window blind that has been ripped and inoperable for three years?

"When I came here, that window was broken. The wind blew so hard, the only way to shield the kids was to use the blind as a wind block," said Hickey. "It took more than a month before the HTC [San Francisco Unified School] District could get someone out to replace the glass. The blind finally ripped."

If Hickey wants a new blind any time soon, she knows she has to buy and install it herself. Just as she knew that, if she wanted to cover the grimy, scarred walls of her third-floor classroom - this year - she had to do that herself.

"I got the paint and rollers for $29," said Hickey, with a hint of bargain hunter's pride. "I could get in trouble for it though; it's against the rules. The district is supposed to send people out to do things like this. It's just, they're so backed up. I couldn't wait any longer. It was too dirty."

In her 11th year as a teacher, Hickey herself is an enemy of education, according to Dole.

Hickey is a member of a teachers' union, as are 95 percent of the public school teachers in California. So are more than 3 million women and men nationwide.

Although Dole tried to have it both ways - "I say this not to teachers but their unions ..." - teachers like Therese Hickey didn't see the difference.

"If education were a war, you would be losing it," Dole scolded. "If it were a business, you would be driving it into bankruptcy. If it were a patient, it would be dying."

Why? Because teachers' unions don't buy the Republican dream of "open competition" in education. Because union members believe that vouchers for school "choice" will do nothing for most public schools but destroy them. Especially vulnerable are urban schools.

Last school year, teaching language arts and social studies as well as math and science, Hickey saw her students' test scores rise three points in reading skills and 13 points in math.

The fact that Hickey chooses to work from 7 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. might explain part of the increase. Another factor might be that, on a $38,000 annual salary, she spent about $700 of her own money for supplemental teaching supplies.

Then there were special projects like the African American History Gala that Hickey and her colleagues helped Everett students to put on. Nowhere in the official budget was there money or a month and a half of after-school time for that.

"I don't want you to get the idea that the district is at fault or that Everett is a bad school," said Hickey. "They aren't. The district does the best it can with the money it gets. The teachers and administrators here are wonderful. So are the students. I taught in East Oakland before I moved over here. I can't tell you how much those kids meant to me. For a lot of kids, school is one of the few places in the world they can go where people do care about them."

In March, Examiner education writer Venise Wagner analyzed California public school teachers' salaries. Taking inflation into account, she found that in all but three of the 88 largest districts, entry-level teachers make less money now than they did in 1987. At the top of the salary scale, teachers make less in all but 12 of the 88.

If, as Dole contends, the teachers' unions have such a stranglehold on education funding, they sure have a funny way of demonstrating their power in California.

Then again, perhaps shows of power are like "fads of the moment" - in the eye of the beholder.

Stephanie Salter is a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner. The New York Times News Service distributes her column.

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