Judy’s turn to cry

On Monday we noted Katherine Kersten’s excellent Star Tribune column on the current million-dollar advertising campaign by Minnesota’s teachers’ union. We fearlessly predicted that the Star Tribune editorial page would “fight[] back with a full boat of letters to the editor condemning Kersten and an op-ed column from Education Minnesota President Judy Schaubach tearfully proclaiming her union’s devotion to students.”
The Star Tribune didn’t disappoint. They rolled Schaubach into the full boat of Tuesday’s letters to the editor condemning Kersten:

Kersten got it wrong
I would like to thank Katherine Kersten for drawing attention in her Jan. 23 column to Education Minnesota’s statewide communication initiative, Schools First! Unfortunately, Kersten seems not to have grasped the purpose of this project.
The listening sessions and feedback opportunities to which she refers were never intended to take the place of scientific research. Polling is, in fact, a significant part of our initiative. But surveys alone will not accomplish our overriding purpose, which is to jump-start a public conversation among the broad majority of citizens — not just an anti-public-education minority — on what Minnesotans want from our schools.
As educators, we unapologetically represent a special interest — our students. We would be irresponsible not to advocate for the resources necessary to help them succeed. We think Minnesota students deserve better than huge classes, program cuts and high activity fees. So school funding is an essential part of this statewide conversation.
Minnesota, we need to talk: What do we want our public schools to do for our students, and how will we fund that?
Kersten obviously does not agree with our views; it would have been more informative had she disclosed her own agenda. But this is an issue that should rise above ideology. What affects public education affects all Minnesotans, and we believe it is extremely important to move the conversation into the public arena so we can work with citizens to build the best possible public education system for our students.
We invite all readers to visit www.schoolsfirst.org.
Her own agenda
Katherine Kersten’s response to the teachers union campaign is actually a declaration of her own misguided campaign. Apparently targeting “liberal” college professors is not enough for her. Now she implies that teachers are more concerned about their salaries than they are about their students. Her comments reflect a profound lack of understanding of the challenges teachers face and the sacrifices they make on behalf of their students.
Kersten is nothing but a lapdog of the Bush administration, which has been very clear about its intent to dismantle public education, one brick at a time.
Do what it takes
Comparing the teachers and students of our fine public school system to swine is disappointing and just poor journalism. If Katherine Kersten had researched her topic at all, she would realize that our public education system’s need to seek “public investment in Minnesota’s public schools” is based on the changing classroom.
Our educators are consistently asked to do more with less money. Today, between 90 and 100 different languages are spoken in Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools. In addition, our schools are required, by law, to ensure that all children learn and succeed by increasingly stringent standards. From 2000 to 2005, for example, St. Paul public school enrollment went down from 45,128 to 41,051, but special education enrollment increased from 6,067 to 7,339 and now represents 18 percent of the total.
So, I say to educators “Ask away!” Do whatever it takes to raise awareness, until people support our schools in a way that reflects the classrooms of today.

Reader and interim Crosby-Ironton Courier editor Gary Larson (not the cartoonist) comments:

Precisely as you predicted. Kersten’s selected detractors chime in, all lined up and loaded for bear, acting badly, illogically, in Strib’s letters section today.
Can’t they address issues? Is that too much? Instead they offer only snarling, snide remarks. It’s that old game of attack the messenger. And ignore all criticism. Hubris defined? Not good form, certainly, but what we’ve to expect, and dead on what you predicted at Power Line. Any prediction for the Super Bowl?
It’s all there, just as you said: Griping teachers, and union chief Judy Schaubach, given all the space her heart desires, filled with an almost tearful rejoinder, sticking religiously to her union’s talking — er, lobbying — points.
So it’s all about forming a public dialogue about education? Sure it is. But Schaubach’s own words, to her teacher members last fall in a bulletin, belie that point. Oh well. Many faces of Judy?
To rip thoughtful critics as “anti-public education” is knee-jerk shallow, dead wrong, myopically defensive, but oh-so expected. Sad.
Sadly, too, Strib’s editorial page keepers select only one-sided, issue-twisting responses to blast Kersten’s remarks. Editorial bias asserts itself daily in letters selection. Certainly, at least one Kersten defender’s letter appeared in the bunch they received.

Gary adds:

My editorial today in the C-I Courier actually praises Strib staff writer Richard Meryhew for getting it right about the C-I teachers’ strike last year, dividing our community, in his article last week.

Kersten’s column appears in the Metro section of the Star Tribune. Unlike the offerings of the Star Tribune’s two other Metro columnists, Kersten’s columns are routinely subject to the kind of treatment that Larson describes in his message. The powers-that-be on the editorial page treat Kersten like a foreign object that must be expelled from the body of the paper.
UPDATE: Michigan State University political science graduate student/instructor Jeremy Duff writes:

Your post “Judy’s Turn to Cry” made me wish I was still teaching my public opinion course, which finished with the fall semester. The television campaign and subsequent internet poll conducted by Education Minnesota is a text-book “pseudo-poll” that my students are warned about from day one. We spend about 1/3 of the class discussing polling and all the pitfalls associated with it, drawing much of the discussion from Herbert Asher’s Polling and the Public (CQ Press). The example set by Education Minnesota would have provided my students with a current and salient example of how organizations can use leading questions, question wording, and the response set for questions to get exactly the results they want from a poll.
Not only that, but we discussed at length on how unscientific these “scientific” internet polls are. The fact that they are not randomly polling Minnesota citizens as suggested by Mr. Nathan in Mrs. Kersten’s article, systematically biases their sample from the start. Not only that, anyone who goes to the website to fill out the survey is being manipulated into going by a biased television ad, which means that in the end, a hypothetical majority of their sample will be drawn from those individuals that actually do believe whatever Education Minnesota is telling them in the ad campaign.
With all that working together, it’s not surprising that any results they obtain from the surveys would support the initiatives of Education Minnesota. What I think is particularly sad is that most of the public is not educated on polling and the problems associated with it, particularly on things such as how organizations and individuals with an axe to grind can easily and with subtlety manipulate the structure of polls and the context (which are both being done here) to get the results they want. That is why I have found it very important (and my students have to) to at least teach my 50-60 students every fall exactly these things and hope that some of it carries over for them.
As I said, I wish I has been aware of this campaign during the fall semester, we would have had fun with it in class.


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