Obama's English Teacher Fiction

President Obama gave yet another speech on Thursday trying to peddle AJA to the American people -- the American Jobs Act, as opposed to the 1977 Steely Dan album.  Obama cited the experience of a Boston English teacher named Robert Baroz to urge passage of the bill.  Unfortunately, the president used a little creative writing to make the story more effective.

Baroz was used by the president as an example of one of the perennial Democrat victims of Republican cost-cutting: "Hundreds of thousands of teachers and firefighters and police officers have been laid off because of state budget cuts."  The president continued:

I had a chance to meet a young man named Robert Baroz. He's an English teacher in Boston[.] ... In the last few years, he's received three pink slips because of budget cuts. Why wouldn't we want to pass a bill that puts somebody like Robert back in the classroom teaching our kids?

This last question was expressed in tones of earnest sincere puzzlement (the video is here at 3:15), which was Obama's way of communicating that any opposition to AJA is beyond the pale; it is simply inexplicable that Republicans don't want kids to get an education and utterly baffling that a human being could harbor such hatred for teachers.  It was a moment of despicable dishonesty and insincerity -- accusing Republicans of "the usual political gridlock" while playing brass-knuckle partisan politics.

The clueless Boston Globe put Mr. Baroz on their front page ("Hub teacher gets nod in Obama's jobs pitch").  He comes across as a nice fellow who works hard, loves teaching, and is modest about "his moment in the national spotlight."

Mr. Baroz's story, however, has a few problems. For one, we don't need to put Mr. Baroz back in the classroom because he's already in the classroom.  He is currently working in the Curley School in Jamaica Plain.

When the Boston Herald pointed this out to Baroz, he responded with the classic relativistic argument: according to the Herald, "he doesn't mind if the president -- or his speechwriters -- took some liberties with the facts. It was all in aid of a higher truth, he said."  Dan Rather used the same "higher truth" argument when he was caught lying about President Bush's National Guard record.

Secondly, his pink slips were not pink slips in the English meaning of the phrase -- i.e., layoff notices.  Even the Boston Globe hints at this:

In his first three years in the Boston school system, Baroz was notified each year that he might not be rehired. Although this is standard practice for many new Boston teachers who go on to keep their jobs, Baroz said the uncertainty takes a stressful toll on a profession that needs more good educators.

Obama points out that Baroz has "two decades of teaching experience" and "an outstanding track record," but he neglected to mention that Baroz is just beginning his third year in the Boston school system.  When you change school systems, you do not carry seniority.  My mother was a teacher for 25 years in New Hampshire, and when she retired to Florida, her seniority clock started at zero.  This might be bad policy, but has nothing to do with budget cuts; it is an agreement reached between state regulators and teachers' unions to protect local union fiefdoms.  According to the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993:

Massachusetts law does not use the term "tenure[.]" ... A teacher who has taught in a school district for three consecutive years is now entitled to "professional teacher status." Under prior law, such a teacher was considered to be "serving at discretion." (Mass. Ann. Laws Ch. 71, § 41)

Since Mr. Baroz is considered a new teacher who has not yet earned "professional teacher status," he receives a notice for his first three years of employment that he does not have a guaranteed job for life.  Although this might be "stressful," the alternative is giving tenure to teachers on their first day of work.

Third, Mr. Baroz's pink slips have nothing to do with budget cuts.  The recent history of the Boston school budget shows only one year when the budget declined:

According to

Boston School Dept.

According to

Mass. DOE

FY 2005

$680 million

$919 million

FY 2006 

$712 million

$978 million

FY 2007 

$734 million

$1.064 billion

FY 2008 

$782 million

$1.111 billion

FY 2009 

$832 million

$1.148 billion

FY 2010

$812 million

$1.079 billion (latest)

FY 2011

$821 million

FY 2012

$829 million

Public schools are tied into union contracts that guarantee automatic salary and benefit increases, so budget increases often lead to cuts in service and are described as budget "cuts."

Fourth, Mr. Baroz's pink slips have nothing to do with, as Obama claims, "state budget cuts" in aid to municipalities. According to the Massachusetts Department of Education:

On July 11 Governor Patrick signed the FY12 state budget which authorizes $3,990,504,093 million [sic] in Chapter 70 education aid to Massachusetts school districts[.] ... The formula replaces all of the $20.7 million in FY11 federal "sfsf" grants with Chapter 70 aid, and funds an additional $119.0 million in foundation aid. However, the $200.5 million in education jobs grants which were run through the formula in FY11 were one-time stimulus monies and are not folded into the FY12 base. This means that statewide, total aid falls from $4.072 billion to $3.991 billion, a reduction of $81.5 million or two percent.

In short: ARRA stimulus funds increased state aid, but now that ARRA money has run out, the State has made up the shortfall, with a meager 2% cut for 2012.

Finally, funding for Mr. Baroz's position as a "literacy coach" has in fact been dramatically cut.  Boston schools once employed over a hundred literary coaches, and now the number is five or six.  At the same time, the budgets for administrative bureaucracy rise every year.  It's thus a deliberate decision to take money out of the classroom and put it into more paper shuffling.  The American Jobs Act will likely lead to more of the same.