Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Teachers Feel Physicians' Pain

This appeared in today's Corpus Christi Caller-Times...

My morning routine goes something like this: first, start the coffeemaker and feed the cat.  Next, go outside and fetch the newspaper.  Third, pour the coffee and slide back into bed to read the Caller-Times, starting with the obituaries and ending with the opinion columnists.

I save the editorial pages for last because they are so entertaining and provocative.  Ann McFeatters and Tom Whitehurst make me laugh.  Leonard Pitts makes me think.  Charles Krauthammer usually makes me mad, but I took special note of his column this past Saturday.

“Doctors’ reasons for quitting” was the headline.  He wrote of the growing number of physicians who are leaving the profession, fed up with government interference in the practice of medicine. 

Krauthammer detailed the complaint of classmates in his medical school class 40th-year reunion report as “not financial, but vocational—an incessant interference with their work, a deep erosion of their autonomy, a transformation from ‘physician’ to ‘provider’.”

Further, he reported that one alumnus wrote, “My colleagues who have already left practice all say they still love patient care, being a doctor.  They just couldn’t stand everything else…a never-ending attack on the profession from the government, insurance companies, and lawyers, progressively intrusive and usually unproductive rules and regulations.”

In particular, Krauthammer lamented the mandate for electronic health records (EHR) and the extent to which the technological and financial burden of implementing the mandate had negatively impacted the practice of medicine and, possibly, the quality of patient care.

I could not help but to think of the similarities among the physicians’ experience and that of teachers, not just here and throughout Texas, but across the nation.  I re-read the column and found it easy to substitute “teacher” for “physician” and  “STAAR test” for “EHR,” and to compare the financial impact of implementing new federal mandates in health care to the billions (yes, that is with a “b”) of dollars spent on standardized testing over the past two decades.  Pearson, the British company who reaped the financial benefits of standardized testing in Texas, just lost their lucrative contract following many years of feasting on the fatted calf of TAKS and STAAR testing in Texas.  Ouch!

A few weeks ago, a gentleman who admitted to being in his golden years wrote a letter to this newspaper recalling the “good old days” when he had to pass tests to graduate from high school, how standards had been lowered from when he was a student, and so on.  He may have been suffering from a bout of “nostesia,” which combines our warm, nostalgic memories of school when we were children with the selective amnesia about what really happened.  Fact is, only recently in Texas have the stakes been so high for students and teachers alike when it comes to one government-mandated test making or breaking a student’s academic chances…or an educator’s career.

The school year is almost over for most districts.  I know many teachers and administrators who are calling it quits—for good—this week.  “Happy retirement,” I say.  For some, it is time. For many, though, it is far too early, and our students will be the losers in the end.

Dr. D. Scott Elliff,
Retired Corpus Christi ISD Superintendent
May 30, 2015