11 July 2009

NEA Blocking Improved School Performance

Houston Chronicle: Grading teachers

Last week, at the big annual gathering of the National Education Association, members of the teachers’ union behaved badly — behaved, in fact, like out-of-control middle-schoolers commanded to stop texting and do something in class. When speaker Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education, called for higher professional standards, the teachers booed and hissed.

Duncan was suggesting something that, outside the public-education establishment, seems perfectly plain: Some teachers are much better at their jobs than others, and American schools would work better if we rewarded great teachers, improved mediocre ones, and got rid of lousy ones.

But inside the establishment, that statement of the obvious counts as hiss-worthy heresy.

The hacked-off NEA members appear to prefer what Duncan described as “the industrial, factory model of education that treats all teachers like interchangeable widgets.” That every-cog-is-equal model is great for union solidarity and teachers’ job security, but it’s rotten for kids stuck with teachers who can’t teach. And it’s high time that our kids took priority.

Teachers don’t work in a vacuum, of course. “Where you see high-performing schools, it’s the culture,” Duncan said — a culture of high expectations, a culture in which students, teachers and principals are all expected to achieve great things. We need more schools like that.

“The president understands that the nation that out-teaches us today will out-compete us tomorrow,” Duncan said. “That’s why he wants America to produce the highest percentage of college graduates by the end of the next decade. This is our moon shot. This is our call to action.”

Those words are worth remembering as the Houston Independent School District picks its next superintendent. We’ve already taken steps toward reform, but we need a superintendent willing to hold teachers and principals ever more accountable for their students’ performances.

If high expectations are heresy, we need a heretic.

More here about the position of Education Secretary Arne Duncan: Duncan Presses NEA on Merit Pay, Tenure

Teachers’ unions must be willing to reconsider seniority provisions, rework tenure provisions, and work with districts to create fair ways of incorporating student-achievement growth in teacher evaluation and compensation, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said today.

Although the Obama administration has put an emphasis on both performance pay and evaluation in recent months, Mr. Duncan’s speech to members of the National Education Association comes as the clearest sign yet that the U.S. Department of Education will likely put federal funding behind initiatives that incorporate student data as one of several measures of teacher performance.

Speaking before 6,500 officials and local delegates of the NEA, who are meeting here for the union’s annual Representative Assembly, Mr. Duncan underscored compensation, evaluation, and tenure reform as crucial to improving the quality of the education workforce.

“I believe that teacher unions are at a crossroads. These policies were created over the past century to protect the rights of teachers, but they have produced an industrial, factory model of education that treats all teachers like interchangeable widgets,” Mr. Duncan said. “When inflexible seniority and rigid tenure rules that we designed put adults ahead of children, then we are not only putting kids at risk, we’re putting the entire education system at risk. We’re inviting the attack of parents and the public, and that is not good for any of us.”
Here is an example of the problem with the NEA: NEA General Counsel: Union Dues, Not Education, Are Our Top Priority

General Counsel Bob Chanin: "This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing drop rate rates, improving teacher quality, and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary these are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights, or collective bargaining. That is simply too high a price to pay."

If you have the time, do watch the whole 25 minute address. Chanin recounts the rise of public sector collective bargaining, with a rapid rise in teacher unionization in the late 60s. He talks about all the victories the NEA has won for teachers since then. But ask yourselves, as the NEA has exploded in membership, budget, and power, how have American students fared? What have unions done for their education? Absolutely nothing.

To the NEA establishment, educating children is secondary. If children could be better educated by changing work rules, then too bad. Disgusting.

It is good to see the Obama Administration confront this attitude somewhat, although they are too tentative. Still, it could be their "Nixon goes to China" moment.

More here: Everybody Hates The Teachers' Unions Now

How can we know when the tide of respectable opinion has decisively turned against the teachers' unions? When a panel that includes Father Hesburgh, Birch Bayh,. Bill Bradley, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Roger Wilkins goes medieval on them, saying their resistance to reforms designed to hold schools accountable has hurt "disadvantaged students" and led to "calcified systems in which talented people are deterred from applying or staying as teachers ..."

The report follows up a much heralded establishment call for reform in 1996 that was endorsed by two union presidents. But it notes that in the twelve years since, "few of the necessary reforms" have been put in place. ("Twelve years--the entire length of a child's education--is a long time.") In other words, it implicitly serves as an argument against trying to reform the schools in cooperation with the unions, and in favor of trying to reform the schools by defeating the unions.

Via Eduwonk (which writes "There is little love for their policies and stances these days ..." ) here's another link to the above-referenced report entitled National Teachers’ Unions and the Struggle Over School Reform (PDF).

The report was compiled by The Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, which while bipartisan, includes more prominent people from the left than from the right. That make the report's conclusions and opposition to the teacher's unions even more meaningful. The report makes the point that the failure to reform hurts disadvantaged students especially, concluding (excerpts below, read the whole thing) :

The initiatives included pay for performance, a decreased role for seniority in hiring practices, increased involvement of parents and the community in the decision making process, and enhanced professional development and career opportunities for teachers.

This sequel on the role of national unions in school reform stands in stark contrast to our earlier report on the work of some local leaders. Over the last decade, the national leaders of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have made their unions implacable foes of laws and policies designed to improve public education for disadvantaged children.

The unions have battled against the principle that schools and education agencies should be held accountable for the academic progress of their students. They have sought to water down the standards adopted by states to reflect what students should know and be able to do. They have attacked assessments designed to measure the progress of schools, seeking to localize decisions about test content so that the performance of students in one school or community cannot be compared with others. They have resisted innovative ways—such as growth models—to assess student performance.

We urge that the NEA and the AFT reconsider their positions on the critical elements of reform—accountability, standards, and assessment.

We firmly believe that this is the course unions must take if they wish to preserve public education as a vital institution in American society.

Previous posts:
Reforming the Teaching Salary System
Improve Education With Differential Pay

No comments: