"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Placing Blame Where it Belongs

Walt Gardner has a blog post, Blame it all on the Teachers Union, in which he rebuts the claim that all the ills of today's "crisis in education" are the fault of America's teachers unions.

He discusses Juan Williams' essay in the Wall Street Journal (complete essay available only with subscription).
Williams says that when schools are free of unions, they succeed because they can fire ineffective teachers, implement merit pay, lengthen the school day, enrich the curriculum and deal with classroom discipline.
Gardner responds,
First, if teachers unions are responsible for low student achievement, then students in states where teachers unions are weak should do much better than students in states where teachers unions are strong. This is not the case. In Massachusetts and Minnesota, where teachers are heavily unionized, students post the highest scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation's report card. Conversely, in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas, which have few teachers union members and virtually no union contracts, students have the lowest NAEP scores
Teachers in the highest scoring states (and nations) are all or mostly all members of teachers unions. How, then does it follow that unions are somehow "responsible" for the problems in public education? This question has been asked before...and I would still like to hear the answer to that...

Williams also states that teachers unions obstruct any attempts to change the status quo.
[Williams] claims that teachers unions are "formidable opponents willing to fight even modest efforts to alter the status quo." Their obstructionism is responsible for the one million high school dropouts each year and for a graduation rate of less than 50 percent for black and Hispanic students.
As Diane Ravitch has said many times, the status quo is No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Charter schools, standardized testing, mayoral control, standardized testing, using student scores to evaluate teachers, standardized testing, public humiliation of teachers and schools, standardized testing...all that continues unabated and we're still waiting for the improvement. The "reformers" own the status quo, not the teachers unions.

Now, let's back up for a moment and look at what Gardner didn't respond to in Williams' comments.

1. Williams said that when schools are free of unions they succeed because they can fire ineffective teachers.

I know that Juan Williams isn't going to read this, but I'd like to know where he gets that information. Firing teachers -- and administrators -- has been tried. Schools have been closed, teachers and administrators fired or replaced, and still the students who were struggling continue to struggle. A cheer arose from the corporate reformers (including Arne Duncan and Barak Obama) when the entire staff of Central Falls High School in Central Falls, RI, was fired. Did their achievement improve?

Did the achievement improve for the students in NYC who have been shuffled around from school to school following closings and firings and re-openings as charter schools? Not according to the all-important test scores.

And, do I need to repeat it again and again? Incompetent teachers can be fired if administrators would do their jobs. Unions exist to protect teachers rights. If teachers get good evaluations year after year, and then an administrator suddenly decides that they are not good enough to be in the classroom, that conclusion needs to be justified and proven...just like teachers have to justify the grades they give students. Teachers are entitled to due process...just like other citizens.

2. Williams said that when schools are free of unions they succeed because they can implement merit pay.

Someone should inform Williams of the facts.

Teacher performance pay alone does not raise student test scores
Rewarding teachers with bonus pay, in the absence of any other support programs, does not raise student test scores, according to a new study issued today by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development in partnership with the RAND Corporation.
3. Williams said that when schools are free of unions they succeed because they can lengthen the school day.

Some studies show that increasing the school day results in improvements, however charter schools in Illinois, which usually have a longer school day than regular public schools, did no better on the most recent round of achievement testing.

I think that the first answer to this comment is that a longer school day needs more study.

The second answer is to respond with some questions. Why might teachers be against a longer school day? Is it because they are asking for something in return for working more hours? Would your *attorney bill you more if you asked him to work more hours? Would your doctor charge you more if you scheduled two appointments instead of just one? Would your trash company not raise your rates if you demanded two pick ups a week? Would the cab driver turn off the meter if you suggested he drive around for an extra hour on your trip to the hotel or airport? Would you ask for more money if your employer asked you to work an extra 5 - 8 hours a week?

Are teachers somehow immune to the demands of increased hours on their schedule? If we need to work more hours, then we should be paid for them...just like doctors, lawyers, cab drivers, and trash haulers.

*Maybe teachers should start charging by the client hour like attorneys. Let's see minimum wage in Indiana is $7.25 per hour. So...$7.25 per hour, for 8 hours a day, for each "client." Let's start with a small class...like 25 students. The school year in Indiana requires that students have 180 school days...so, here's the math.

$7.25 * 8 hours * 180 days * 25 students = $261,000 for 1 school year.

Maybe I should come out of retirement...

4. Williams said that when schools are free of unions they succeed because they can enrich the curriculum.

I didn't know that teachers were against enriching the curriculum. In my experience it's been states and school districts who have cut the arts and asked teachers to focus on reading and math in order to get more students to pass "the test." Where are teachers unions asking that their schools offer less curricular offerings?

Oh...maybe teachers want to be paid for more work...if that's it, see #3 above.

5. Williams said that when schools are free of unions they succeed because they can deal with classroom discipline.

What unions are against dealing with classroom discipline? If anything, unions ask school systems to provide teachers with more support for classroom discipline. Both the NEA and the AFT have extensive resources on classroom and school discipline. Why does Williams think that unions are against dealing with classroom discipline?

Gardner concludes,
I don't know why Williams chose to perpetuate hoary myths at this time, but his charges will only set back the cause he claims to espouse. Teachers unions are not saintly, but neither are they evil. Bringing about change first requires the acknowledgement of reality.

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