Wednesday, June 02, 2010

On Teachers’ Unions, Accountability and School Reform

I'm having a hard time being patient reading this lengthy article, taking notes as I go along, because I want to hurry up and dismiss it out of my mind, to hurry up and read the comments at the end, and to add my own (now closed). They will include these disputes:
  • First of all, the article's conceit -- and its protagonist, Jon Schnur -- falsely assume that all teaching talent and earnestness resides in the young.
  • Secondarily, again the blame falls on 'seniority equates complacency', or worse. Where's the principal accountability? If a particular teacher is underperforming, it's not the tenure law that's holding back education, it's the supervisors that lack the temerity or the prioritizing to properly and adequately evaluate them. There are processes for removing teachers, just like any other industry sector, all the teacher's unions ask is that they are followed.
  • My problem with merit pay is it's naked inability to factor in other contributing issues which can hold education back: malnutrition, at-risk populations, special services and circumstances, etc. Is the article positing that the Grosse Pointe Schools of the world be evaluated, funded, and compensated against the Benton Harbors? There are substantially more kids who eat breakfast in Grosse Pointe than there are in Benton Harbor.
  • Has Jon Schnur ever actually taught for an extended period? Or at all? It's cliche' to say, but no less true that he's an ivory tower Princeton idealist, not a 'boots on the ground' realist. Spend five consecutive years teaching in a school district struggling with pressures financial and curricular, mandates state and federal, parents overly-vocal or uninvolved, and then let's all talk about education reforms.
  • I'm all for educational reform that pushes a positive agenda, similar to that attempted by Race to the Top, as opposed to the No Child Left Behind type negative disincentives. It's not political or personality-based, it's philosophical: push the carrot, don't use the stick.
  • These types of reforms strongly advocate for, and use standardized test scores, as does our own State. I'd like to get to the point in my career where there's less emphasis on testing, and more on critical thinking and real world solutions.
  • The article's publisher seems to be less New York Times, and more Fox News in the way that the article is unbalanced. Example: "Nonetheless, almost all the states that submitted first-round applications proposed school reforms that a year ago would have been seen as pushing beyond what the teachers' unions would allow. Some moved further than others either because the lure of the Race to the Top money trumped the unions' opposition, or because political leaders and educators were able to persuade union leaders to get on the train instead of standing in front of it." His words, emphasis mine, but slanted nonetheless.
  • How is the New York Assemblyman Sheldon Silver character any different than Jon Schnur? They're both politicians with agendas, yet reformers that fight teacher unions are always automatically considered good.
  • The assertion that charters are typically run by nonprofits? Where's the citation?
  • Charters also allow in who they wish, and can and regularly do exclude those with special needs. The American system of education is built upon democratic ideals, where all kids, regardless of disabilities, are provided an education.
  • "Teachers are not obligated to receive phone calls from students or parents at home." Well, of course not, for chrissakes, we're allowed a little free time, n'est ce-pas?
  • Unsubstantiated rumors in the New York Times"I'm told that the people from Nysut" — New York State United Teachers — "and the U.F.T. drafted the poison-pill provisions," Tisch said. Silver denied that, adding, "If it's something someone doesn't agree with, they call it a poison pill." Silver told me he "supports charters, but to me the real need remains supporting public education with the resources to lower class size." And then, in the very next paragraph, the author actually uses the phrase 'comic overstatements.' Pot and kettle, pot and kettle.
  • Tenure is important for educators in that it avoids potential personality issues between teachers and administrators: Teachers in Washington can be graded "ineffective" or 'minimally effective'" and "according to another clause, 'a nonnegotiable item' determined solely by Rhee and her staff."
  • "School reformers would argue that the difference between the two demonstrates what happens when you remove three ingredients from public education — the union, big-system bureaucracy and low expectations for disadvantaged children." I argue that if you got rid of our district's bureaucracy, you'd have a much more productive school district too.
  • There's a reason this Race to the Top nonsense wasn't embraced by several counties in East Michigan, and not all of them have to do with the bad teachers unions, it's much more nuanced than that.